WILL GARFIT

My joy at see­ing my grand­chil­dren in the beating line.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - By Will Garfit.

Ahigh­light for me last sea­son was that, on our Christ­mas shoot, my two grand­daugh­ters came with their fa­ther Justin to beat for the first time. Jemima was 13 and Pia eight. All friends who help on my old gravel pit shoot at Haux­ton were thrilled and wel­com­ing. Many have been in­volved with the shoot and other ac­tiv­i­ties for nearly 50 years, so have seen my chil­dren grow up. Now it seems all the more spe­cial to wel­come the next gen­er­a­tion.

A year or two ago I wrote of the dis­ap­point­ment of not see­ing more young peo­ple out beating. So many have lives that re­volve round tablet screens rather than ex­plor­ing the coun­try­side. I am proud to say that Jemima and Pia are more bal­anced in their in­ter­ests and though very whizzy on their com­put­ers and ipads, they are en­joy all as­pects of na­ture and coun­try life with me.

From when they could first walk we went on “ad­ven­tures” in the woods where they learned to

As they dis­ap­peared into the jun­gle they could ex­pect few pheas­ants — but there might be a tiger.

creep through the un­der­growth, avoid­ing net­tles and bram­bles, so they be­came com­fort­able in the thick­est wood­land en­vi­ron­ment. At Haux­ton this meant “jun­gle ad­ven­tures” in the sum­mer or “swamp ad­ven­tures” in win­ter: the odd scratch was all part of life and fun.

They learned their way around with fea­tures we made up on our trav­els. The Queen of the birches was the tall, grace­ful old lady, the first to colonise the place. The girls would hug the tree and kiss the smooth sil­ver bark or, on one oc­ca­sion, coil a dead, half-eaten grass snake be­tween her roots as a fi­nal rest­ing place. The “skip­ping path” was where golden au­tum­nal wil­low leaves lined the moss; the “ski slope” where we slith­ered down a steep bank; the camp­site where we made a fire and cooked bananas. Haux­ton was na­ture’s playpen.

As they grew older they learned to catch lit­tle carp on mag­gots and can now han­dle larger ones. One evening this sum­mer Jemima landed a 14lb carp, now her age, and next cast Pia caught a 9lb carp to equal hers.

So the day of the shoot dawned and ex­cit­edly they ar­rived kit­ted out in their wel­lies and warm clothes. Jemima had a smart new cap and Pia a woolly bob­ble hat. With hazel sticks cut from the cop­pice they were ready. My car­ing friends helped as they tripped over in the dense, 8ft tall maize or be­came dis­ori­en­tated in the thick­est tan­gle of wil­low wood­land.

The third drive is the Ever­glades, where tall wil­lows grow on the ridges of the aban­doned gravel work­ings and wa­ter fills the fur­rows. Fallen wil­lows make it a maze to ne­go­ti­ate but two nim­ble girls could climb over ob­sta­cles, jump over wa­ter or duck un­der bushes as eas­ily as the beater’s spaniels. They tapped ev­ery tree they passed and were oc­ca­sion­ally star­tled by the whirr of wings as a pheas­ant was flushed and climbed at speed up through the canopy and over the Guns. It all brought a thrill of ex­cite­ment and joy as en­cour­age­ment so the girls knew they were do­ing a great job.

The Church drive is never fruit­ful, be­ing a small strip of wood­land on the north­ern edge with tall reeds and as the two in­trepids dis­ap­peared into the jun­gle they could ex­pect few pheas­ants — but there might be a tiger or al­li­ga­tor. I had placed the Guns on their pegs and stood be­hind in case an old cock should break back. The five birds in the drive all did just that and, af­ter fly­ing out to­wards the church, they curled back over me. Hav­ing picked-up at the end of the drive I met up with Jemima, who came back to carry my birds and I pulled her leg say­ing that she was sup­posed to drive the birds over the other Guns not back­wards to old Grandpa.

Warm­ing soup re­ju­ve­nated the two and they en­joyed chat­ting to the Guns. Then two longer ma­noeu­vres around the lakes com­pleted the day be­fore they helped lay out the game on the grass out­side the shoot cabin when Guns get the chance to chat and thank the beat­ers. Jemima’s ex­cited ob­ser­va­tion was “it was just like a grown up ad­ven­ture, Grandpa”.

Justin and the girls, then with hearty ap­petites, were ready to come to lunch at the pub with the Guns. They had loved the day and their eyes lit up as they each went home with £10 note as thanks for their help. They are keen to come beating again this Christ­mas.

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