Join­ing a fine English tra­di­tion

Ug­brooke Park pro­vides a driven pheas­ant shoot in the finest English tra­di­tion but it is also earn­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for chal­leng­ing duck shoot­ing and if you do ven­ture there, you will be wel­comed to the coun­try es­tate with a fa­mil­iar “G’day”.

Field and Game - - UGBOOKE PARK -

Es­tab­lished over cen­turies, the drives are set in a serene val­ley in the Devon coun­try­side that has been the fam­ily seat of the Clif­ford fam­ily for more than 400 years.

The cur­rent cus­to­di­ans are The Honourable Alexan­der Clif­ford and his wife Dr Caitlin Blake-lane, a Mel­bourne girl who is also a prac­tic­ing vet­eri­nar­ian.

The cou­ple met at the Mel­bourne Cup and as their re­la­tion­ship blos­somed the man she knew as Alex said he would even­tu­ally have to re­turn to the fam­ily busi­ness.

Caitlin imag­ined it might be a fish and chip shop over­look­ing one of Devon’s sandy beaches, but Alexan­der is the el­dest son of Lord Clif­ford of Chudleigh, Devon, and Suzanne, Lady Clif­ford of Chudleigh.

The fam­ily busi­ness is Ug­brooke Park, con­sid­ered one of Eng­land’s finest coun­try es­tates.

The house has a his­tory dat­ing back 900 years, which in­cludes pe­ri­ods of stately grandeur and des­per­ate, troughs of dis­re­pair. Req­ui­si­tioned as a school dur­ing World War II, it later served as a refuge for the Pol­ish army and a lowly grain store. The Clif­ford fam­ily res­cued the build­ing in 1957 and painstak­ingly re­stored the stately home.

There is still a Pol­ish con­nec­tion, be­ing one of the many pheas­ant breeds raised and re­leased on the es­tate.

“We put a lot of birds over each group so the needs of clients and ev­ery stan­dard can be catered for,” Alexan­der said.

Devon is renowned for the high pheas­ant and Pol­ish, English, French and Scan­di­na­vian birds are used, as well as the michi­gan blue and kansas blue­back breeds from the United States.

“The really sport­ing gun wants to have a chal­lenge so if you have hun­dreds of birds fly­ing over you but all fly­ing dif­fer­ently, I think that is a chal­lenge,” Alexan­der said.

Caitlin is by ad­mis­sion, at the other end of the spec­trum.

“I’m a Mel­bourne girl, a city girl but I’ve al­ways been a horsey per­son so I spent a lot of time in the coun­try grow­ing up. I did a bit of pest con­trol on friends’ farms and I had to have a firearms li­cence for ve­teri­nary pur­poses as a large an­i­mal vet in Aus­tralia, but that was the ex­tent of it,” she said.

“This was com­pletely new to me and it has been a steep learn­ing curve.

“For peo­ple like me who are just get­ting into shoot­ing, very keen but in need of a lit­tle con­fi­dence build­ing, that is where our load­ers come into it.”

The fam­ily tra­di­tion is to have gentle­men load­ers, peo­ple from the

com­mu­nity, re­tirees, and friends of the fam­ily who act as load­ers through the sea­son in re­turn for a day or two shoot­ing.

“With the chang­ing of the guard, a lot of Alexan­der’s friends are start­ing to come in and they will help load the guns but also act as a coach and pro­vide a bit of guid­ance if needed,” Caitlin said.

“I love hav­ing a loader who will give me a bit of en­cour­age­ment, just to build my con­fi­dence up a bit.”

The gentle­men load­ers also act as safety of­fi­cers.

“Be­tween 20 and 40 beat­ers are out in the woods in front of you and you can’t see them; my first duty is to pro­tect them and also the other guns in the line. I trust the load­ers and will back them to the hilt,” Alexan­der said.

“Other shoots have pro­fes­sional load­ers who come in and look af­ter a gun for the day with the ex­pec­ta­tion of a stonk­ing tip start­ing at £80 ($135), whereas our gentle­men do not (it is specif­i­cally for­bid­den) get paid, we give them a day or two shoot­ing at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son.”

An­other key in­gre­di­ent to the suc­cess of Ug­brooke Park as a shoot is Alan Easter­brook, who is help­ing a third gen­er­a­tion of the Clif­ford fam­ily and is in his 55th year as game­keeper.

“We are in a very spe­cial po­si­tion and what’s fab­u­lous about Alan is we haven’t had some­one who is stuck in his ways; he’s gone from putting a few pheas­ant eggs un­der some broody hens in the early 1970s to a full op­er­a­tion now where we can breed up to 20 000 pheas­ant,” Alexan­der said.

“We know we have clients come back year af­ter year be­cause they know what they are get­ting; in any busi­ness, if you have sta­bil­ity it makes ev­ery­thing more re­laxed.

“With Alan’s ex­pe­ri­ence, if things go rocky he knows what to do.”

Alan also in­tro­duced driven duck to Ug­brooke Park, which adds an­other di­men­sion to the ex­pe­ri­ence, although Alexan­der jokes his fam­ily has been slow to learn.

“When my Grand­fa­ther took him on and we started with Mal­lards he would say to him, ‘You’re only putting out ducks, where are the drakes? All of our guests would like to see these beau­ti­fully coloured drakes.’ He didn’t re­alise it wasn’t un­til much later on that they got their colour.

“My fa­ther again said the same thing to him and I said ex­actly the same thing to him again when I first took over,” Alexan­der said.

“I’m proudly the only Clif­ford who hasn’t asked that ques­tion; as a trained vet, I knew that,” Caitlin chimed in.

Driven duck is only pos­si­ble due to changes to the grounds com­mis­sioned in the mid-18th cen­tury.

Lancelot ‘Ca­pa­bil­ity’ Brown, con­sid­ered Eng­land’s great­est gar­dener, earned his nick­name for telling prospec­tive clients that their prop­erty had “ca­pa­bil­ity for im­prove­ment”.

At Ug­brooke Park, his im­prove­ments in­cluded three dams cre­ated along a stream that ran through the val­ley but these days they look like nat­u­ral lakes formed in the land­scape.

Mal­lard driven from ponds at the top of the val­ley will fly to one of the lower stretches of wa­ter, pass­ing high over the guns at ev­ery con­ceiv­able an­gle.

“In the past, driven duck shoot­ing in the United King­dom has had a bad rap and peo­ple gen­er­ally haven’t liked it be­cause of the style of shoot­ing: it wasn’t really sport­ing,” Alexan­der said.

“There’s plenty of duck here but they are test­ing, com­ing from all an­gles and they are high; we have a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion in the UK and some would say they are the best in the world. Caitlin and I both like to say that Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown al­most de­signed it for shoot­ing; we wouldn’t have the edge with the ducks with­out his work — no Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown, no duck.”

The ninth Lord Clif­ford started the shoot at Ug­brooke Park when he re­turned from his trav­els, which in­cluded hunt­ing buf­falo in Amer­ica with Gen­eral Custer’s >>

>> ex­pe­di­tion. Alexan­der dis­cov­ered his great, great, great un­cle’s game book from 1896 record­ing bags and drives around the es­tate that are still in use to­day.

The es­tate caters for large par­ties who spend a lux­u­ri­ous week­end in the main house and day trip­pers who just want to join the fray.

“It does vary, there are dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple: you get the true sports­man who is look­ing for that chal­leng­ing bird, vari­a­tion of birds and a chal­lenge but you also get clients who see red and want to shoot ev­ery­thing in front of them; they are not se­lect­ing the birds, which can be dis­ap­point­ing,” Alexan­der said.

“You also get the so­cial guns who like to shoot a cou­ple of birds, drink a bit of sloe gin, have some good food, have nice claret, and en­joy time with friends.”

Caitlin said the grandeur of the es­tate doesn’t equate to a life­style fa­mil­iar to view­ers of clas­sic pe­riod dra­mas.

“It is hard work,” she said. “It is very dif­fer­ent to life in Aus­tralia and hard to ex­plain but those who stay here see that it is really a team ef­fort; we live in the house but we don’t live in all of the house all of the time, we don’t need that many be­d­rooms.”

Caitlin works off the es­tate as a vet as well as help­ing with the shoots.

“It hasn’t chal­lenged my val­ues; the birds are bred and raised on site, and they are farmed an­i­mals. I ob­vi­ously like to see them dis­patched in a hu­mane man­ner but I’m not a veg­e­tar­ian, they are a farmed an­i­mal and they are eaten as well.

“I haven’t had to wres­tle with my con­science and on the other side I see the liveli­hoods we sup­port; there are so many peo­ple that de­pend on the shoot for their liveli­hood and I see those ben­e­fits,” she said.

“I’ve really en­joyed be­com­ing a part of the shoot com­mu­nity, through an owner’s point of view, a con­ser­va­tion­ist point of view and also as a lady gun. There aren’t too many of us girls at the mo­ment but there are more and more get­ting into it; I’m lov­ing be­ing part of this lit­tle up­ris­ing of girls with guns.”

For a co­hort of sport­ing guns a driven shoot in the UK is a pil­grim­age, some­thing you must ex­pe­ri­ence.

“You can find great shoot­ing all over the UK and we are cer­tainly not say­ing we are the best shoot but we are the best ex­pe­ri­ence. If you want a true coun­try house ex­pe­ri­ence with all the trim­mings, Ug­brooke Park is the shoot,” Alexan­der said.

It is also the only coun­try es­tate with a fair dinkum wel­come.

“That” it, G’day, how’s it go­ing?” Caitlin laughed.

And per­haps by the time you get there, an­other Aussie roam­ing the es­tate.

“I was on ebay last night look­ing at kelpie pups,” she said.

You can find out more about Ug­brooke Park at­

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