To Argyllshire, not an area much associated with pheasant shoots. While pheasants do indeed thrive in boggy ground, they can’t actually swim, which always seems to me to be one of the key requirements for survival on much of the west coast. That and a total disregard for midges.
I set off on an hour-long journey over forestry, hill and lochside tracks to a modest two-up-two-down lodge with extensive pre-war corrugated iron extensions. Various bits of redundant sawn-off plumbing and wiring hung or protruded through the wood-lined walls and ceilings. A Rayburn throbbed in the kitchen, a coal fire in the snug.
No wives had been asked, with the result that six blokes spent two days talking absolute bollocks. A cook drafted in for the duration produced mountainous fish pies and date cake and racks of lamb. The first day was a walking day. With the keeper and a cheery bunch of beaters, we struggled through oak woods studded with huge boulders, mossy bogs and dead bracken concealing pits to fall in and rotting trunks to trip over. It either rained incredibly hard or the sun came out.
Crumpet behaved immaculately and found two cocks which came down against a deer fence. No one, including me, saw where they fell. Later, Waffle picked a bird I swore she had “pegged” (killed) but on examination it was found to have been shot earlier in the day but not located at the time.
Lunch of huge bacon softies took place before a roaring fire in an earth-floored bothy, the old natural stone walls still standing but the heather/turf roof now replaced with the traditional wriggly tin. We went into bogs over the tops of our boots, rain trickled down our necks and everyone was thrilled to bits.
The next day was driven birds from plantations halfway up the sides of the glen. The birds were stratospheric, like planes creeping across the sky, but without vapour trails, which disappeared into the lowering cloud. All we could do was laugh at the impossibility of hitting one. By the last drive, some were getting the measure of the high birds.
I let the dogs roam as no one seemed to mind and Waffle, who had disappeared for rather too long, suddenly reappeared with a dead hen pheasant. It was later reported that, unbeknownst to me, she had swum the river in full spate, picked the bird and swum back, landing 100 yards downstream from where she started. I later proudly relayed this feat to my wife. Mistake. “You don’t watch the dogs… totally irresponsible...” But she’s still a very clever doggie.