MY wife’s old friend Harry rings to ask if we would like to go to Dell where he is with a party of friends who have rented the place for a week. Dell is just north of Fort Augustus on the south side of Inverness.
To begin with I rashly think he is asking me to shoot red-legged partridges. Dell has one of the best partridge shoots in Scotland; the birds weave, zoom and soar over rocks and heather and anyone who has done it comes away fairly chastened.
Er no, says Harry, walked up grouse. Ah. Well not exactly the same thing as 200 driven partridges and hellish hard work, but an invitation to be jumped at.
So, we drink far too much the night before and in the morning make our pieces in the kitchen (staggering how much food some people take with them) and are introduced to Colin and Scott Barclay, the jovial father and son keepering team, and debate endlessly what we should be wearing. At ground level it may be hot. At 1,500ft it could be driving rain, followed by snow followed by excessive heat. So we head off into the hills until we ditch the vehicles and pantingly climb up onto one end of a huge horseshoe ridge. And from there on it is a slow but not unpleasant slog, six guns in line, heaving up and down and in and out of peat hags and black holes with Waffle and Crumpet rushing about just in front.
The sun comes out, the wind gets up, but it’s not wet. The birds are jumpy and take off a long way ahead. But there are plenty about. At the end of the day the number seen, as opposed to shot, is something between 60 and 100. We have a long and grateful stop to search for a bird which someone thinks was hit.
We climb to 2,000ft for lunch and can see almost every windfarm in the Highlands and the ill-starred Glendoe hydro scheme below. The view is heart-stopping, windfarms or no.
The gun on the far right shoots a bird which he declares dead. The dogs work away to no avail when suddenly Crumpet and Waffle take off 30 yards from the presumed mark and find it. To my horror they then start fighting over it. This is all I need – mother and daughter tearing birds apart. The same thing happens with the next bird they retrieve, although I rescue it before it’s in bits. Back to the drawing board.
Brilliant day though, in spite of missing everything, and seven and a half brace in the bag. Back at Dell, before baths, we sit in the sun in a circle outside the game larder plucking the birds from a previous day for supper that night.
Hard to beat.