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