Span­ish style at Chal­la­combe

How would French redlegs, bred and reared in Spain, per­form dur­ing a West­coun­try south­wester?

The Field - - Contents - WRIT­TEN BY JANET MEN­ZIES ♦ photography BY hamish mitchell

How would French redlegs, reared in Spain, fare in the West­coun­try?

Janet Men­zies went along to find out

It was the sec­ond day of the sea­son but the French red-legged par­tridges at Chal­la­combe, on the western edge of Exmoor Na­tional Park, flew bril­liantly, overcoming both gale and rain – and, in­deed, many of the guns. This last achieve­ment was prob­a­bly the Span­ish-bred-and-reared par­tridges’ finest, as the team in­cluded some of the coun­try’s high-bird spe­cial­ists.

Chal­la­combe shoot, for­merly at­tached to Cas­tle Hill, is now part of a group of shoots run by the Bray Val­ley Sport­ing Club. This in­ter­est­ing con­cept – run­ning an elite syn­di­cate as a club – was ex­plained by one of the founders, Charles Fus­sell. “We set up the part­ner shoots of Chal­la­combe and Edg­cott about seven or eight years ago as sport­ing clubs, or­gan­ised as a com­pany with an in­de­pen­dent board. So it is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tional syn­di­cate shoot. An­gus Barnes, who

owns Loy­ton Lodge where we all stay, is also our man on the ground. An­gus is the brains be­hind the op­er­a­tion. He li­aises with the keep­ers and takes re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­sign­ing drives and if we take on new ground, and gen­er­ally run­ning the shoots. Then he will re­port back to the board. Mem­bers have a fee to join and there are fees de­pend­ing on how many shoots you at­tend. The whole struc­ture seems to work very well. You can tell be­cause the cen­tral core of the membership all gets to shoot to­gether about three or four times a year and, when we do, we all en­joy it and there is a real party at­mos­phere.” It was one of th­ese days that The Field was in­vited to at­tend, with Editor Jonathan Young show­ing his met­tle.

home from home

The club’s home, Loy­ton Lodge, is a beau­ti­ful, con­tem­po­rary, clas­sic lodge near More­bath, owned by the Barnes fam­ily. An­gus Barnes’s sis­ter, Iso­bel, ex­plained how what has been voted “one of Eng­land’s best party houses” came into be­ing. “An­gus and I grew up at Loy­ton, a lovely place for chil­dren. My par­ents came down to Exmoor to farm here orig­i­nally. When it came to pass onto our gen­er­a­tion, An­gus had the idea to con­vert what had been the old milk­ing par­lours into an en­ter­tain­ment venue. Now the lodge has been created from the build­ings around what was the main farm­yard. We are so pleased that the con­ver­sion has worked so well to cre­ate this lovely court­yard space.”

Now, how­ever, it was time to set out to shoot in glo­ri­ous West­coun­try Septem­ber sun­shine. Few be­lieved the gloom mer­chants who were pre­dict­ing a south­wester by mid­morn­ing, or we would have been a bit more fo­cused about fin­ish­ing our multi-course break­fast. But the storm came as swiftly as a covey of par­tridges over a hedge, dark­en­ing the sky, lash­ing up the clouds and dump­ing large quan­ti­ties of pen­e­trat­ing Exmoor pre­cip­i­ta­tion upon us. We lined out for the first drive, Reser­voir, with the epony­mous wa­ter be­hind us and a steep gorse bank ris­ing up into a doom-laden sky.

With the flush­ing point so far above us, any par­tridges that did join the party were ob­vi­ously go­ing to be chal­leng­ing. Sure enough, birds be­gan to ap­pear in view, sil­hou­et­ted omi­nously against the sky­line. In no time they were upon us. The first cov­eys tended to fly along the ridge and then curl over the far end of the line. As the drive pro­gressed, the flush­ing point moved across the bank so all the guns got some good shooting – with var­ied re­sults. Guest gun Rus­sell Ball, who had just flown down from Scot­land, didn’t mind ad­mit­ting that it took him a while to adapt. “This is my first trip to Exmoor so I am learning about th­ese high birds. I wasn’t giv­ing them enough lead at the be­gin­ning but the drive was great fun and now I’m en­joy­ing watch­ing the dogs work on the wa­ter retrieves in the reser­voir.”

There were plenty of retrieves to be made, as the birds had flown hero­ically. Al­though not ideal for shooting, the weather gave the shoot a chance to prove that its Span­ish-par­tridge ex­per­i­ment works. It was re­ally no­tice­able how strong and well grown the birds were for this point in the sea­son. Chal­la­combe’s redlegs are not brought over from Spain to Exmoor un­til they are ready to be re­leased. The the­ory is that the bet­ter Span­ish cli­mate will bring the birds on and en­able them to show well on chal­leng­ing West­coun­try ter­rain.

Cer­tainly the birds had done their bit on the first drive. Now it was up to the guns to prove that they too could put on a good show

de­spite some un-span­ish weather. Shoot chef Tom God­ber-ford Moore may not have been able to do any­thing about the weather but be­fore the next drive he cer­tainly matched Span­ish re­fresh­ments with a se­ries of tapas-style nib­bles and hot bev­er­ages.

De­spite be­ing well for­ti­fied, it was hard work just get­ting onto our pegs for the sec­ond drive, aptly named Niagara. Guns lined up down the val­ley fac­ing a bank of beech trees, with the flush­ing point screened be­hind the trees. This made for some snap shooting with lit­tle time to see the bird as it skimmed by high above. The guns all re­sponded well to this; they were de­ci­sive and swung through pos­i­tively in a style that works well for par­tridges.

This suited Curly Hugh Smith. “I think it suits my type of shooting,” she ex­plained. “I’m afraid I was dither­ing on the first drive about when to mount and shoot when you see the birds com­ing from a long way out.” Her hus­band, David Hugh Smith, had shot both drives with a lovely clas­sic English style, no doubt ac­quired from his fa­ther, the late An­drew Hugh Smith, a well-known Exmoor shot. We agreed his fa­ther would have loved the day and Hugh Smith ad­mit­ted to a cer­tain mod­est sat­is­fac­tion, too. “I did man­age to shoot a very nice high sin­gle par­tridge, which I was rather pleased about. I think all the guns have shot well on this drive – that first chal­leng­ing drive cer­tainly sharp­ened us up.”

Span­ish beau­ties

But no mat­ter how brave the par­tridges, ex­pert the guns or warm­ing the food, the first storm of au­tumn was de­ter­mined to stop play, so once we had a good bag it was de­cided to give the birds an op­por­tu­nity to get into shel­ter while we did the same thing. A Span­ish-in­flu­enced lunch of chori­zos and smoked to­ma­toes and lob­ster gave God­berFord Moore a chance to dis­tract us from the storm out­side. And I was able to get the full story of the Span­ish par­tridges from their breeder, Javier López de Car­ri­zosa Mora-figueroa, who had flown over to shoot and see how his birds per­formed. Mora-figueroa told me how th­ese noble

There were plenty of retrieves to be made as birds had flown hero­ically

Span­ish par­tridges – true hi­dal­gos – were able to pro­vide us with such good sport. “Al­though the birds may look like a big­ger breed, ac­tu­ally they are not it’s just that they are al­ready a lit­tle bit older than an Englishreared bird at this time of the year. We can get started much ear­lier in Spain be­cause of the cli­mate, so we are able to bring the birds over to Eng­land in July and they are a few weeks ahead. Of course, the fact is that with the dif­fi­cult weather in Eng­land it makes it much harder for par­tridges. By rear­ing the par­tridges in Spain we are tak­ing on the risks of those early months and im­prov­ing the chances of suc­cess be­cause our weather is more re­li­able – it is al­ways a good year. It’s not about the warmth, though, it is more that it is dry – it can be quite cold.

“But for me, per­son­ally, I think even more im­por­tant is the ge­net­ics of the birds. I have been se­lec­tively breed­ing for quite a few years now. I be­lieve we have in­creased dis­ease re­sis­tance and I’m now reach­ing the point where I am very happy with the birds and they are do­ing well. But there is work to be done all round be­fore you can pro­duce a great bird over the guns – the way the drives have been laid out and the beat­ing by the head­keeper, Rob Eg­gins, and his team are equally im­por­tant. I have been work­ing closely with the shoot so that I give them healthy birds that are able to adapt to the cli­mate. I must ad­mit I was ner­vous to­day to see whether the birds flew well in this weather. I am sup­ply­ing all four shoots in the Bray Val­ley Sport­ing group and ul­ti­mately I would like to bring my birds to more shoots in the UK. I started with this project four years ago and it is great to see the birds fly­ing so excitingly. I wanted to shoot to­day and I’m thrilled to see it all com­ing to­gether – the care­ful ge­netic se­lec­tion, the rear­ing in the Span­ish cli­mate and the ter­rain to show them fly­ing well.”

With our tweeds steam­ing gen­tly as we ate, we agreed that it was the full spec­trum of care­ful plan­ning and hard work that had made the day spe­cial. Cook­ery writer Jac­que­line Roe, shooting with her hus­band, Ni­cholas, ap­pre­ci­ated the help the shoot was able to give her with her health prob­lems. “I have se­vere os­teoarthri­tis in both knees, they’re both go­ing to need to be re­placed. The Exmoor keep­ers and load­ers have gone out of their way over the past cou­ple of years to keep me in the field, mov­ing my peg where ap­pro­pri­ate and al­ways en­sur­ing that a ve­hi­cle is avail­able to get me there. I know this isn’t about how the birds fly – but per­haps there’s more to a shoot than the num­ber of drives or the bag? I al­ways look for­ward to go­ing to one of An­gus Barnes’s shoots and feel that I have a gen­uine re­la­tion­ship with the keep­ers, load­ers and han­dlers.”

Roe is right: a car­ing team and at­ten­tion to de­tail make Chal­la­combe and Loy­ton spe­cial places to be. Chal­la­combe is very much a 21st-cen­tury shoot. Its new ap­proach to rear­ing and sup­ply­ing par­tridges is bring­ing re­sults. The man­age­ment of the syn­di­cate along sen­si­ble, busi­ness-like lines is a re­fresh­ing change and the ac­com­mo­da­tion and food are mod­ern and lux­u­ri­ous. If this is a model for the driven shoots of the next decade, the fu­ture is ex­cit­ing.

For let days and pack­ages at Chal­la­combe, con­tact An­gus Barnes on 01398 331174 or email enquiries@loy­ton.com

For de­tails about Loy­ton Lodge and as­so­ci­ated shoots, visit www.loy­ton.com

Top: Paddy Raf­ferty and David Hugh Smith

Above: the day’s sus­te­nance had a Span­ish theme

Left: The Field’s Editor, Jonathan Young

Above: par­tridges were well ad­vanced for the time of year (top); a wet day for the dogs, too

In­set: the beat­ers are com­mit­ted to the cause… Be­low: re­triev­ing on the Reser­voir drive

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