DORBACK

INVERNESS-SHIRE

Shooting Gazette - - Wel­come - WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: ADRIAN BLUN­DELL

The sport­ing vi­sion of two broth­ers is be­ing re­alised on a vast es­tate in the Scot­tish High­lands.

Any visit to a grouse moor means a good day out in my book, but I was look­ing for­ward to vis­it­ing Dorback. It’s in the heart of Spey­side, which is a good start. The easy de­scrip­tion is a clas­sic mixed sport­ing es­tate with 15,000 of its 18,000 acres devoted to grouse – and ac­cord­ing to An­drew Ding­wall-fordyce, the man who in­vited me, it showed par­tic­u­larly good and fast birds, and that’s why he takes a few days there each year. Even bet­ter, the moor had en­joyed a good breed­ing sea­son.

Thanks to glacial events over a se­ries of Ice Ages dat­ing back as far as 22,000 years ago, Dorback boasts ut­terly breath-tak­ing and unique scenery. The es­tate now en­com­passes the fringes of the more re­cent an­cient Aber­nethy Cale­do­nian For­est and the ‘Braes of Aber­nethy’, which are lo­cated in the north­ern reaches of the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park, the largest and high­est Na­tional Park in the UK. An­drew’s party were mainly re­turn­ing guests and friends who were there for back-to-back days, although on day one they were be­ing joined by the rel­a­tively lo­cal Adam Smith and a cou­ple of his friends from the UK. The only de­ci­sion I had to make was which day I should at­tend. The first promised to be windy and the sec­ond day was pos­si­bly misty, so day one seemed a good bet. My com­fort was An­drew’s con­fi­dent com­ment, “the fore­cast may be ter­ri­ble but don’t worry!”

In our brief­ing at the lodge, head­keeper Brian Hamilton, who’s been work­ing at Dorback for some 35 years, con­firmed we were set to face high winds which re­stricted our op­tions, but he was hope­ful they could cope. He was even able to sur­prise some guns with his op­ti­mism for see­ing black game later in the day, as some beats now had a shootable sur­plus, thanks to the suc­cess of their man­age­ment pro­gramme and a cou­ple of good breed­ing sea­sons.

The rov­ing re­porter

So, up from the quiet of Dorback Lodge to our first drive, a new one called Let­terait­ten. Some of the butts were tucked away in hol­lows to our left but the pal­let butt Jeremy Clay­ton and I were in was a good spot, so we kept a low pro­file as the wind blew birds from our left across the line. It was only part way through the drive when the wind changed and, when they passed us

at heather-height, we could see them as tall birds from the butts hid­den out of sight in the gully.

“I’m get­ting bet­ter!” Jeremy an­nounced as his labrador, Dini, searched out his five birds, helped by keeper Bryce Coutts.

Af­ter mov­ing around the hill, I joined Don­ald Brown for the sec­ond drive along the hill face. He was rev­el­ling in the day out, “I’m just happy to watch this” as he put it, but he was soon pressed into ac­tion as the wind picked up speed. You’ll have heard the old ex­pres­sion “it was so ex­cit­ing my hat nearly blew off”, but when Don­ald’s hat was torn off by the wind he didn’t no­tice or care as he was con­cen­trat­ing so in­tently on the in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult shoot­ing.

With the third drive came the chance to join one of the Bel­gian guns who clearly looks for­ward to join­ing An­drew Ding­wall-fordyce ev­ery year. “I’ve taken two or three days with my brother for 10 years,” said Paul Cordie. “We love hunt­ing here although it can be very chal­leng­ing. We are spend­ing a very windy but mem­o­rable day to­gether with you, An­drew, six sym­pa­thetic hun­ters, the game­keeper and also his beat­ers!”

With the wind, as head­keeper Brian Hamilton put it, “try­ing to blow us off the hill”, he nev­er­the­less en­gi­neered large cov­eys over the line thanks, he in­sisted, to ster­ling work by his flankers Ash­ley Gallagher, Hamish Cameron, Ian Smith and Chris Sal­mon. “We’re lucky to have them,” Brian told me. “It’s a job that needs tim­ing and sub­tlety - mind you, on some drives they’re up and down the butts like trains.”

When we’d fi­nally picked-up, it seemed a prag­matic time to head off to Fae Bothy for lunch and see how the weather de­vel­oped. Re­fur­bished 16 years ago, Fae was the ideal venue with a hid­den se­cret - a cel­lar that Brian has used both as a talk­ing point and to keep drinks cool in re­ally hot weather. With An­drew’s and Adam’s friends each having brought their own food it was an op­por­tu­nity to gen­er­ate a lit­tle friendly com­pe­ti­tion – with the dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties com­par­ing each other’s catering.

Back out to the butts

Out again and with the wind still push­ing the birds, we looked for shel­ter fur­ther along the hill and

Pick­ing-up af­ter the sec­ond drive, over­look­ing Dorback’s home beat.

Ash­ley Gallagher (back left) and Hamish Cameron (back right) with Chris Sal­mon (front left) and Ian Smith (front right) – the flankers who do such a cru­cial job at Dorback.

Grouse at all heights and an­gles for Jeremy Clay­ton at Let­terait­ten in an ex­posed butt where we stayed well out of sight.

It was a tough walk down to the Bridge of Brown butts for Erik Verellen but worth the ef­fort.

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