Where should you be­gin your quest for the per­fect cloth­ing to co­coon you on shoot days? And should you opt for new trends or stick to tra­di­tion?

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY Neil cross

Shoot­ing coats for wet days, es­sen­tial knitwear, the stoutest of brogues and Neil Cross’s guide to hav­ing a shoot­ing suit built

A shoot­ing suit is a one-off cre­ation, more akin to a Mor­gan than a Ford

Of all the good things still left in this world, the sport­ing tweed en­sem­ble is perched firmly amongst the top boughs, rid­ing the gales of cheap im­i­ta­tions and nasty, “tech­ni­cal” al­ter­na­tives like a rook in March. It is ab­so­lutely cor­rect that a set of shoot­ing tweeds be “built” rather than made. There is struc­ture and sub­stance here that speaks more of Tu­dor house-build­ing than tai­lor­ing. This is coun­try­side con­struc­tion at its best and it has en­dured for cen­turies for sev­eral very good rea­sons: first off, and most im­por­tantly, it works. Proper tweed pro­tects the wearer from the worst a Scot­tish moun­tain or Cor­nish snipe bog can hurl at it, and it does so in style. By “proper” tweed, we are talk­ing about Bri­tish wool, wo­ven tightly in a style once known as “thorn­proof”. This needn’t be so heavy that it feels like a suit of ar­mour. I have tweeds by Henry Poole, built some time in the late 1950s, which are supremely weath­er­proof but sur­pris­ingly light in weight. An ideal com­pan­ion on an early sea­son par­tridge day, they still hold their own (and keep the weather out) when crawl­ing for a stag in Oc­to­ber. That is not to say that a very se­nior 28oz thorn­proof has no place on the (re­in­forced) rail of the sport­ing wardrobe. My per­sonal bat­tery of tweeds was made for me in this weight by Hag­gart’s of Aber­feldy when the com­pany ruled the roost with its High­land es­tate tweeds. Hewn from its sig­na­ture B101 pat­tern, it is a true set for all sea­sons with a belted Nor­folk jacket and plus eights, com­ple­mented by trousers, waist­coat and hack­ing coat. It is equally at home slith­er­ing down a peat run­ner, ri­fle in hand, in Suther­land or worn as a three-piece rac­ing get-up on a chilly day at Chel­tenham. I’ve even de­ployed the plus eights on the Cresta Run and the waist­coat in Africa, where the colours work sur­pris­ingly well when the bush is lush.

A shoot­ing suit is a one-off cre­ation, more akin to a Mor­gan than a Ford. Its foun­da­tions are hefted from Che­viot wool, horse­hair and can­vas and its lin­ing is there to line, not to catch the eye. Brown or green is prefer­able to scar­let or elec­tric blue here and the lin­ing will have a hard time if the owner is us­ing it prop­erly. The back lin­ing and un­der­arm ar­eas will soon dis­in­te­grate if style is cho­sen over sub­stance. A proper shoot­ing coat might also have vo­lu­mi­nous “poacher’s”style pock­ets stitched into the lin­ing, with but­toned re­tain­ing straps as these are in­valu­able for stow­ing one’s gloves, map and piece when on the hill or moor. They’ll also stow a few cou­ple of snipe should the need arise. It should also have work­ing lapels, with a throat-lash to but­ton these across the wearer’s neck when the go­ing gets tough and the sleet creeps in. Per­haps the most crit­i­cal as­pect of this gar­ment, how­ever, is its back pan­els. For a coat to earn its keep and do its job, it must af­ford per­fect mo­bil­ity. It should en­hance the swing of a gun or the mount of a ri­fle and, for that rea­son, it must have an “ac­tion-back”. That is to say, it ought to com­prise twin gus­sets, cut into the shoul­ders and run­ning down to the belted or semi-belted lower back. These are not easy to con­struct prop­erly as they con­tain a dou­ble fold of cloth and must sit flat and cre­ate an el­e­gant line when not in ac­tion.

How­ever, when the gun comes up, they need to ex­pand ef­fort­lessly and pre­vent the back pan­els from im­ped­ing move­ment or the cuffs rid­ing up. When the ac­tion back is done prop­erly the ac­tion man or wo­man will know it just as they will know when the gun mount fails in the face of in­dif­fer­ent tai­lor­ing as the last grouse of the day slips past on the crest of a gale.

The term “breeks” never seems to quite be­fit the lower half of a set of shoot­ing tweeds. To be ef­fec­tive, I favour the some­what Ed­war­dian style of plus fours or longer. These be­he­moths, so beloved of other moths, are cut to sit four inches below the knee over gaiters and al­low rain­wa­ter to run off and pre­vent the dreaded gap be­tween stock­ing and buckle (never, ever Vel­cro) when crawl­ing or hop­ping a stile. The back should be high and cut in the “fish-tail” style to sit snugly and well up un­der the waist­coat. When held in place with braces, this style al­lows max­i­mum move­ment with­out cre­at­ing a gap or caus­ing the shirt tails to ride up when the ac­tion gets hot. I tend to go for the belt-and-braces op­tion as a belt can be a god­send on the hill. As well as hold­ing up overtrousers or car­ry­ing a knife, it might also be needed to drag a stag or splint an arm if things don’t go to plan.

Whether one chooses a Nor­folk-style coat (which, in my view, is al­most un­equalled in terms of style and prac­ti­cal­ity) or an­other de­sign, it will al­ways be let down by in­ad­e­quate leg cov­er­age. Some favour long trousers as an al­ter­na­tive to plus fours and the van Cut­sem broth­ers are dis­ci­ples of this style. It is down to per­sonal choice and full-length trousers can be tucked into socks or boots and do a fine job of avoid­ing the Wat­ford gap. Of course, on a driven day, boots can be quickly swapped for loafers or brogues when lunch beck­ons.

start in scot­land

So where should one start in the quest for a per­fect set of shoot­ing tweeds? Un­doubt­edly Scot­land would be a good step­ping-off point as EP Har­ri­son points out in his sem­i­nal Scot­tish Es­tate Tweeds with the ob­ser­va­tion that, “the Bat­tle of Cul­lo­den Moor on 16 April 1746 was a wa­ter­shed in Scot­tish his­tory. Af­ter Cul­lo­den, High­land so­ci­ety changed due to mil­i­tary de­feat, laws and leg­is­la­tion and most of all eco­nomic pres­sure. The ori­gin and story of es­tate tweeds can be found in those changes and there is a sense in which tweeds can be seen as a strand of Scot­tish so­cial his­tory”. The land re­forms, clear­ances and mass graz­ing of sheep in­stead of the old black cat­tle caused a boom in wool pro­duc­tion and, by 1792, Sir John Sin­clair of Ulb­ster had brought the first Che­viot sheep to Suther­land. This was a breed of sheep, “which yielded a third more meat and wool and which showed con­sid­er­able stamina in the harsh win­ters of the High­lands”. The crofters were cleared to make way for these sheep and soon a mill to com­pete with those in the north of Eng­land was built in Spin­ning­dale. By the time Prince Al­bert de­signed the Bal­moral tweed in 1853, a revo­lu­tion had taken place with wool at its core.

John Sug­den of Camp­bell’s of Beauly has a deep un­der­stand­ing of these mat­ters. “His­tor­i­cally, tweed was the fab­ric of choice for cam­ou­flage on the hills and, there­fore,

When the ac­tion back is done prop­erly the ac­tion man will know it

the shade of the tweed would of­ten use the pal­ette of colours from the hill ground on which it would be worn. Take Bal­moral Es­tate tweed, for ex­am­ple, the grey shade re­flect­ing the gran­ite Beinns of Aberdeen­shire and the brighter overcheck colours of yel­lows and pur­ples, for ex­am­ple, would rep­re­sent colours from the hill; pur­ple shades rep­re­sent­ing the heather in bloom, yel­lows per­haps the bracken in au­tumn or even the gorse bushes”. To­day, his com­pany is thriv­ing in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket where he proudly as­serts that, “we cher­ish our his­tory, her­itage and tra­di­tions. Our prove­nance is not con­trived and we’re pas­sion­ate about main­tain­ing the skills in our tai­lor­ing work­shop above the shop, em­ploy­ing two tai­lors and six seam­stresses.”

Although tastes have changed and the old 26oz to 28oz stalking tweeds have now been largely re­placed in favour of lighter weights, with Sug­den rec­om­mend­ing an 18oz tweed for driven shoot­ing and 24oz for stalking. As he puts it: “These days, some es­tates pre­fer a slightly lighter weight, some­times around 18oz to 20oz, but the ma­jor­ity of es­tates that Camp­bell’s work with [more than a hun­dred] would stick to tra­di­tion and use a sturdy 24oz weight, or heav­ier.”

lighter-weight tweed

An­other ex­pert in this field is Jeremy Shaw at Carter’s Coun­try Wear in Helm­s­ley, who broadly agrees that tastes have changed in favour of lighter-weight tweeds. He points out that, “I al­ways like to see peo­ple for a con­sul­ta­tion be­fore we make a suit to dis­cuss what they need the suit for. Peo­ple who shoot early days tend to need a lighter­weight tweed of around 10oz to 12oz. Stalking

has al­ways stayed the same with clients opt­ing for 24oz to 26oz. The main dif­fer­ence these days is the lin­ings. We now of­fer silk, cot­ton, Ten­cel or Gore-tex, which mean you can have a lighter tweed but still be wa­ter­proof and wind­proof.”

This blend­ing of the tra­di­tional with the lat­est per­for­mance fab­rics keeps the tweed suit rel­e­vant in a world that de­mands style and sub­stance on the peg or hill. Whilst styles may have changed lit­tle over the years, Shaw of­fers some sage ad­vice: “The main thing peo­ple should re­mem­ber is ‘keep it sim­ple’, let the cut of your suit do the talk­ing. Don’t add too many fea­tures other­wise it ends up look­ing silly. The first to wear out will be your plus fours so it’s a good idea to have two pairs or a pair of trousers.” The taste for loud checks and gar­ish colours is prob­a­bly best left on the covert­side, as Sug­den ex­plains. “For driven shoot­ing and stand­ing on a peg the world is your oys­ter in terms of choice, and it is sim­ply down to the in­di­vid­ual’s taste and there­fore why not have some­thing bright and cheer­ful? The ex­cep­tion to the rule might be driven grouse shoot­ing where it is en­cour­aged to be rel­a­tively dis­guised in the butt as if the grouse catch sight of you they tend to change course and it makes the shoot­ing even more dif­fi­cult.”

The work­ing tweed suit is alive and well in this time of man­made fi­bre and that is largely down to the fact that sport­ing peo­ple tend to en­joy tra­di­tion and wish to co­coon them­selves in gar­ments that look great and keep out the worst of the Bri­tish weather. With tra­di­tional tai­lors pro­vid­ing true, be­spoke qual­ity and choice, it looks like it’s here to stay. Af­ter all, if the Che­viot sheep could thrive in these threads then the mod­ern gun or ri­fle should take a leaf out of their pat­tern-book and pull on the wool.

Camp­bell’s of Beauly, es­tab­lished near In­ver­ness in 1858, to­day em­ploys two full-time tai­lors and six seam­stresses

Camp­bell’s of Beauly sup­plies a good range of caps (cost­ing from £50 plus tweed), as well as deer­stalk­ers, fe­do­ras, baker boy caps and more

Above left: Camp­bell’s stocks a wide range of tweed and has more than 100 es­tates on its books Above: the writer’s bat­tery of tweeds, made by Hag­gart’s of Aber­feldy

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