Ladies at Ripley
Patrick Tillard joins The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club for a Ladies' Day in Yorkshire.
"This is going to be a shoot with a difference." My feet had barely touched the cobbles of The Boar's Head car park in Ripley before host Frank Boddy's inviting words hit me. His humour and charm instantly put you at ease and rooted the shoot's tone; laid back and relaxed proving to be the tagline of the day.
Organised by founder of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, Victoria Knowles-Lacks – a full-of-life character who has single-handedly achieved a phenomenal amount with the club since its launch in September 2011 – the day was one of five she orchestrates at Ripley over the course of the season. The October day featured 12 lady Guns (some sharing pegs), with an entourage including other halves, friends and instructors. All in all, there were a lot of us! But it was a ‘more the merrier' sort of day.
The Guns had come from all sides of the compass – one couple from New York – and although most had never met one another, within minutes you'd never have known. After a fully-frilled breakfast, the cavalcade headed for the first drive – The Beeches.
Frank manages 14,000 acres – two grouse moors and two mixed shoots – and on this occasion the ladies were shooting Ripley Castle Estate (leased from Sir Thomas Ingilby), a 7,000-acre mosaic of cover crops, spinneys, plantations, parkland and rolling arable. “God's country,” as Frank refers to it. And with more than 80 drives to choose between, difficulty and variety can be co-ordinated to suit the Guns on any given day. Frank may exude a refreshingly casual persona, but he clearly has a fastidious eye for running a successful shoot.
Being early in the season, there was plenty to keep barrels warm, and with the conclusion of each drive, every peg was peppered with spent Imperial Game Range cartridges kindly donated by Hull. Constant communication between Frank and headkeeper of eight years, David Cockshott, allowed the line to be altered to suit the changing wind, with great effect.
It was fantastic to see the ladies turning to watch fallen birds, ensuring they were fully picked before moving on and taking an interest in the general proceedings of the day. And there were memorable moments throughout. From Caroline Lacks' squeal, at a volume that could crack granite, after she crumpled a towering bird at David Hills, to the agape grin on Stephanie Rainey's face as she retrieved her first melanistic pheasant at Blue Bank.
Such is the enjoyment Victoria and the team descend on Ripley, the monthly Ladies' Day is highly anticipated by all, from Frank through to the catering team, led by Vicky and Duncan Finch – which brings me neatly onto lunch.
The dextrous marquee provided a beautiful setting for a banquet of sea-food skewers, a smorgasbord of tender meat and fresh salad, as well as pink champagne to toast the day and accompany the Happy Birthday harmonic for Lesley Fleming. A sweepstake was also taken, with half the winnings going towards The Eve Appeal (Gynaecology Cancer Research Fund).
The final drive, Ripley Railway, produced wave after wave of classic Yorkshire birds, and with the Castle in the foreground it was a fitting end to a day that boasted great camaraderie, spirited and respectful Guns, and top drawer hospitality.
This is what shooting is all about!
Total bag: 195 (98 redlegs & 97 pheasants)
Guns: Fiona Barwick, Danielle Brown, Cathleen Cohen, Lesley Fleming, Deborah Gallagher, Victoria Knowles-Lacks, Caroline Lacks, Josephine Nott, Rachel Povall, Stephanie Rainey, Nina Wilkinson and Lynn Scholes
The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club
Founded by the avid Worcestershire-based Shot, Victoria Knowles-Lacks, The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club is a rapidly-growing inclusive ladies shooting club, welcoming women of all ages and abilities and offering the perfect support network for newcomers. ‘It's all about reputable instructors, low recoil guns, like-minded ladies, fine china and having our cake and eating it', reads the website. Victoria is determined to get more women involved in the sport and she carries this energy to the numerous shooting events she organises throughout the year.
“It has been really humbling and downright exciting seeing the club grow so fast,” says Victoria. “I have been so fortunate to have met and gained the support of so many wonderful people, who have helped get the club to where it is today.”
This year, Victoria has organised over 80 events across the country, open to all interested ladies, not just members. But for members, there are several benefits, such as discounts on lessons, clays and clothes.
In addition to this, she coordinates five days game shooting at Ripley Castle Shoot, providing testing shooting, hospitality that is second to none and the opportunity for beginners to learn all there is to know about the running of a shoot day. And they know how to have a laugh. One of the first things that struck me about the day was that the balance was just right. It isn't girls only, but rather a ladies' day with ‘peg buddies', be they qualified instructors, friends, husbands or boyfriends, and there was a lovely ambience.
“Future plans are to get thousands more women involved and build on our friendly yet educational introduction to all aspects of the sport,” Victoria continues. “We're in the process of planning more specific events for 2014, a clothing range, Young Shots and more socials – it's going to be bigger and better than ever!”