TUFFON HALL, ES­SEX

A mixed bird shoot with links to the vines goes down well with a team of young guns.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - A young team en­joys mixed sport in wine coun­try. By Mary Brem­ner.

Es­sex is pos­si­bly one of Britain’s most ma­ligned coun­ties. Think of Es­sex and images of sur­gi­cally en­hanced women, wide boys and ur­ban sprawl might spring to mind. But all is not as it seems. Look and travel fur­ther and you will find vast acres of rolling farm­land, beau­ti­ful prop­er­ties and ex­cel­lent shoot­ing. And this is what we found on our visit to the Tuffon Hall shoot, just out­side the quin­tes­sen­tial vil­lages of Cas­tle and Si­ble Hed­ing­ham. What is also un­known about Es­sex is that it is home to many vine­yards where grow­ers are pro­duc­ing ex­cel­lent English wine. Tuffon Hall just hap­pens to be one of them.

An­gus Crowther, owner of Tuffon Hall, grows five acres of vines, planted in 2011. They are just reach­ing ma­tu­rity and he is now pro­duc­ing 10,000 bot­tles a year. He grows four dif­fer­ent types of grape - Bac­chus, Pinot Noir, Chardon­nay and Pinot Me­u­nier (the third in­gre­di­ent of Cham­pagne) - all rosé or white wine grapes. The vine­yard has been very suc­cess­ful, win­ning gold awards for the Bac­chus 2015 and Pinot Noir rosé this year as well as sil­ver and bronzes in pre­vi­ous years.

“Al­co­hol is in my blood,” says An­gus. “My fa­ther was a malt­ster in the High­lands and we grow malt­ing bar­ley for lo­cal beer and whisky on the farm here in north Es­sex. It seemed a nat­u­ral step to plant vines as the to­pog­ra­phy is ideal for them. We even have chalk un­der­neath the sandy clay.”

The shoot cov­ers 1,200 acres and was es­tab­lished 30 years ago by An­gus’s fa­ther who planted many spin­neys and wood­land to make some ex­cel­lent drives. They have shot ev­ery year since then. The wood­land is now fully ma­ture and An­gus is reap­ing the ben­e­fits; he has let days - 14 in all - but only to fam­ily and friends, and they are very much in de­mand. Bright young things The day we vis­ited, in mid Oc­to­ber, was their first day of the sea­son. It was go­ing to be a par­tridge day and was hosted by neigh­bour Laura Green­less who had in­vited her univer­sity friends to join her. Re­cently grad­u­ated from Ed­in­burgh, it was good to see young peo­ple shoot­ing, and even bet­ter that three of the guns were fe­male. The guns were de­lighted to

“An­gus has let days - 14 in all - but only to fam­ily and friends, and they are very much in de­mand.”

be back at Tuffon Hall, this be­ing their third visit, so they knew the ropes. To­day was go­ing to be a 150-bird day and, as this was the first day out for vir­tu­ally all of the guns, there were a few first day nerves.

Pegs were picked and An­gus es­corted the nine guns to the first drive, High Field. We walked through the vines to­wards the pegs, but un­for­tu­nately we had missed the har­vest as the grapes were picked the day be­fore. High Field looks out across the farm to­wards the house and vines so it was an ex­cel­lent first drive to get your bear­ings. Stand­ing in newly sown crops the ground was firm, even and dry. Be­fore long the first birds popped out of the cover. Fly­ing fast and at a good height it took some of the guns a while to get their eye-in but they all got some ex­cel­lent shoot­ing and some de­mand­ing birds were shot.

At the end of the drive I met An­gus’s game­keeper, Dean Choat. Tow­er­ing over ev­ery­one at about 6’ 7” he is a com­mand­ing fig­ure de­spite his rel­a­tive youth. Hav­ing been brought up on the farm he started as game­keeper aged 21, tak­ing over from Paul Harper who now runs a gun­dog train­ing busi­ness, and was pick­ing-up to­day. That was eight years ago and he has brought the shoot on tremen­dously, rear­ing his own birds for the shoot and for many other shoots through­out the coun­try. He leads his team well and ef­fi­ciently, no shout­ing, just qui­etly in­struct­ing. As An­gus says, tongue in cheek, “We never have any trou­ble with tres­pass­ing.” I can see why.

Sam­pling the past and the future

The sec­ond drive, Great Gal­lows, was go­ing to be an experiment. Over­look­ing the Nor­man cas­tle, Cas­tle Hed­ing­ham, in the dis­tance, An­gus and Dean had de­cided to re­verse the drive so the par­tridges flew down the hill to­wards the

guns rather than up it. The weather was slightly cloudy with the wind just start­ing to get up. The guns moved up four pegs and qui­etly walked to their spots. As we waited, a buz­zard flew out of the cop­pice and, un­for­tu­nately, some par­tridges ap­peared and flew away from the guns. Was the experiment not go­ing to work? Out popped a hare, but any ground game was not to be shot.

And then the birds came. An­gus and Dean need not have wor­ried, the drive worked per­fectly with the birds fly­ing well and go­ing just where they wanted them to. It was very amus­ing to see one bird fly along the line of guns, who all shot and missed, for it to be brought down by Jess Dixon, who was stand­ing on the far peg. An

Jess Dixon is pre­sented with plenty of sport­ing chances on Py­lons.

the Crowther fam­ily, own­ers of tuffon hall, in the pinot noir.

Camilla hill watches out for move­ment on the hori­zon.

head­keeper dean Choat and an­gus Crowther dis­cussing tac­tics.

The team of guns on Great Gal­lows, named af­ter the gal­lows op­po­site the cas­tle that en­cour­age good be­hav­iour from passers-by.

Picker-up Richard Black­well and his team at the drive’s end.

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