Cold hands, hot bar­rels

You cease to feel the cold once a flight is un­der way, says J. Went­worth Day — when the blood is up, those chill win­ter morn­ings are a singing joy

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

De­cem­ber came with snow and ice. The wind off the North Sea was bit­ter cold. Snipe were driven to prob­ing in the salt­ings or tread­ing dain­tily among the tin­kling, ice-fringed reeds on the oozy edges of the fleets. Foxes were on the prowl by night and day and, un­der the bit­ter blue of the win­ter sky, car­rion crows hunted the marsh like ghostly har­ri­ers. The great sad­dle-back gulls sailed in no­ble in­so­lence over the fleets and salt­ings and sea-chan­nels, their tiger-eyes and sav­age beaks ready for any poor wounded duck or float­ing body.

Mean­while, on the Con­ti­nent and in the skies above us, the war, though we did not know it, was march­ing ir­re­vo­ca­bly to its thun­der­ous end of flame and car­nage. On Satur­day, 8 De­cem­ber, a few of us — Lord Lisle,

Philip Martin, Joe Studholme, Colonel James Gor­don-dick­son, my an­cient fowl­ing part­ner, Jack Budd of Tat­ting­stone Place and one or two oth­ers — shot the up­lands round the Court. Fell had mus­tered a dozen school­child­ren and they, aided by an an­cient farm labourer or two, marched the frozen plough­land while we lined the hedges on the high fields that look out across the glim­mer­ing marsh and the shin­ing creeks to the wide mouth of the es­tu­ary, and the lu­mi­nous hori­zon of the sea be­yond.

There were not a lot of par­tridges, but what there were came strongly, straight and well. We picked up 7½ brace and a hare; and the next day, be­ing Sun­day, went down in the dark be­fore dawn to the marsh. The de­coy pond had frozen over but Joyce’s Head was open and the long and steely stretch of Pen­ny­hole Fleet was crisped into wave­lets by a wind that would have shaved you.

I went down the marsh road as far as the sea­ward end of Joyce’s Head. There, with the tow­er­ing ram­parts of the sea wall on the right-hand side and the great wind­ing fleet stretch­ing for half-a-mile or more to the left, I en­sconced my­self with the sheep-pound at my back and a wall of reeds in front. The faith­ful Mr Soapy Sponge planted him­self at my feet, tail wag­ging fu­ri­ously from side to side, sweep­ing a thin layer of frozen snow like fly­ing white dust.

Black morn­ing

It was still dark. The wind swished like a knife through the dry reeds. Out­side the sea wall, the tide was flood­ing. Ice floes cracked and tin­kled against the piles at the foot of the wall. Curlew whis­tled like the ghosts of boatswains. Red­shank fluted up and down the flats, yelp­ing their rest­less ways. Far out in the chan­nel sounded the cronk­ing of black geese, rest­less and on the move. It was a black morn­ing be­fore the dawn, fit only for witches and wild wings and the ghosts of drowned men.

The other Guns moved off into the black­ness, stum­bling their var­i­ous ways along the nar­row cat­tle-tracks across the tus­socky marsh. Some were for points higher up Joyce’s Head. One went to the teal pond where, if you fall in, the mud would swal­low man or bul­lock with­out trace. The rest, led by Fell with his un­canny SHOOT­ING TIMES & COUN­TRY MAG­A­ZINE • 45

“Snipe were driven to tread­ing dain­tily among the tin­kling, ice-fringed reeds”

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