My joy at seeing my grandchildren in the beating line.
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.