Mulgrave castle – North Yorkshire
Dave Carrie visits Mulgrave Castle in North Yorkshire for a shoot day with a difference.
PHOTOGRAPHY: BOB ATKINS
I had been invited to shoot at Mulgrave Castle, ‘the seaside shoot' – also famous for its fish and chips, and smoked kippers. I'd heard a lot about Mulgrave, and the thought of being stood at the peg on the famous Footman's Leap, or the The Point – which, I'd been told by several shooting friends, was one of the most testing drives they had ever shot – stirred an excitement in me akin to that felt by an eight-year-old on Christmas morning.
The estate is owned by the Marquis of Normanby, and the shooting is let to our host Julie Dedman, who, in my opinion, with the help of headkeeper Shaun Mintoff, has upgraded the shoot to be in the top five of North Yorkshire and, without doubt, the top 20 in the UK.
For a shoot to be worthy of a place on my personal top 20 list, it must tick the following boxes (listed in order of importance):
- Very testing birds for the top Shots, but with a mixture of birds for a range of abilities
- Ample stock on the ground to ensure the whole line get shooting on every drive
- An overall beauty that gives one pleasure just to be there
- Good food – elevenses, lunch etc.
- Good local hotels
Of course, these criteria will likely vary for other Guns, but one thing I can assure you of is that Mulgrave has all of the above, and in abundance.
After all the introductions, we clambered into the vehicles to go to the first drive, Footman's Leap. This is a very pretty drive, and a good walk – our team descending into the depths of a beautiful valley, with steeply-wooded banks and a stream that meanders its way along the valley bottom. I was placed over the stream at peg No. 4. At the morning briefing we had been told to ensure that we had some non-toxic cartridges with us for the first drive, and sure enough my first shots of the day came only a few minutes after arriving at the peg, in the form of mallard, whistling over at great height and offering some tremendous shooting whilst the pheasant drive was developing. This was a nice twist to kick-start the drive, allowing one to gauge what was to come.
The pheasants were soon to follow as the beaters did a wonderful job trickling them over the line. I accounted for some stratospheric birds, although I missed quite a few also. Indeed, some of the birds were not for the faint-hearted and required good technique to bring them down.
By the end of the drive, everyone was swapping tall tales of the pheasants shot. The bag was 70 or so, including a few ducks which, given the number of shots fired, confirmed for me the sheer quality of the birds presented. A small drink and wonderful hors d'oeuvres followed, then onto the next – the famous The Point drive.
We approached The Point along a narrow track that skirted the cliff tops, with amazing views out to sea, along the coast towards Sandsend, and further on to where Bram Stoker's Dracula landed – the old ruin atop the cliffs at Whitby. The scene was set – and believe me, they don't come much more atmospheric than this.
My loader Paul begged me to take only the one gun and just enough cartridges (he knew full well the possible consequences of the return journey fully laden). I greedily compromised with him, and agreed to carry a cartridge bag if he took the other and two guns. “You've got to have a spare haven't you,” I told him. And you don't want the stigma of running out of shells either. He reluctantly agreed with a look in his eye that cursed me without the need to speak.
The whole party zig-zagged their way down the cliff, clinging to roped stairways and near vertical steps – perhaps by ‘testing', my friends had been describing more than just the shooting!
Alas, before long we reached the coal-black surface of the beach (this is where the Whitby Jet is found), and carefully made our way along the volcanic rock surface, picking our way through giant pebbles and large black rocks, en route to our pegs. Suffice to say, everyone made it. The ladies had opted to stay on the cliff tops, awaiting our return.
As we got settled on our pegs and caught our breath, I noticed partridge flitting out a few yards from the cliff's edge, before turning back onto its top – part of the blanking-in, I suppose. The drive was soon underway, with the sea crashing noisily just 200m behind us. The early partridges made it over the line roughly 50 – 80m above us, with some also flying round the back of us as if to go out to sea and then arcing back towards land.
The shooting was thrilling, presenting every shot in the book, but this was just the start, a warm-up so to speak. The real stuff was about to erupt from a peak on top of the cliff. It was a sight to behold as the flurry of pheasant and partridges launched themselves off the tor above the cliff, heading strongly out to sea as if to invade another shore, and then swinging back along the line of the Guns, offering some spectacularly exciting and diverse sport.
There was a stunned silence when the horn sounded, followed soon after by gasps of delight and excited chatter about what we had just experienced.
My good friend and top game Shot Neil Ramsey was shaking his head in disbelief and remarked how most of the team had been severely whipped. I think there was also a touch of envy in his voice, as his son Lewis – just 16 years old – had pulled some fantastic birds down, and didn't appear phased by them at all. Oh to be young again!
The climb back to the cliff top seemed surprisingly tolerable, and after a short rest I reached out to Shaun, the headkeeper, and shook his hand vigorously. I noticed he was beaming as much as the rest of the team. That's the thing about keepers, they love to see everyone having a good time, but they love it even more if they can produce top-notch birds that sometimes beat the Guns. Shaun remarked: “It's all about balance; I try to produce birds that will suit all the teams, of varied abilities.” I didn't know how he could surpass what we had seen so far.
Elevenses was next – and a nice surprise it was, too. We all gathered in the old ruin atop one of the wooded valleys, and the food on offer was superb – testament to Julie Dedman's skill at getting things right. Some would say it was over the top for elevenses, I would say it made the day extra special.
We had two American friends shooting with us on this day, John Oliver and Bob Arthur, both first-timers at Mulgrave who appeared quite taken aback by the scenery, quality of sport, and the proceedings as a whole.
Whilst we were having elevenses I mentioned to Julie how noticeably good the roads and tracks were to the drives, and especially the massive improvements to the stairway which leads down to the beach. Most of the infrastructure has been recently built or laid, and much of the road and track network that criss-crosses the estate is, interestingly, a result of the hard work of Adrian Catlow, who stood in the line as a fellow Gun on this particular day.
After elevenses, the rain appeared and gradually got heavier. On the third drive, Rock Head, we stood facing a hanging wood affixed to a cliff face. Here, two members of the team – myself and Julie – were back-gunning, placed down at the very bottom of the cliff bank alongside a stream that, by now, had turned into a brackish torrent.
Most of the birds crossed in front, very high and fast, with a smaller number coming across for the classic high driven shot. A little gentler than the previous two drives, Rock Head gave most of the team at the front a chance to regain some credibility.
Lunch was enjoyed in a marquee-type arrangement in the wood. I knew that if elevenses was anything to go by then lunch would be extra special. And I was right – the menu could have been from a top-class London restaurant. It was all cooked on-site in front of the guests and eaten with relish and appreciation. Fresh Whitby fish and chips were also on offer from the local chippy van – delicious!
The plan was to have a fourth and final drive after lunch, but the weather had caught up with us, good and proper – i.e. it was monsoon-like! – and the decision was made not to shoot the last drive. I completely agreed with this and it proved to be unanimously popular as we all felt that we had had the best day possible, with enough shooting in three drives to satisfy everyone.
Perhaps most encouraging is Julie Dedman's adamance that Mulgrave will only get better with time, and I have no reason to doubt this. The team she has in place is as good as it gets.
I always explain to Guns who don't think they have had their money's worth, that most keepers try their best to give you a good day, and won't last long in the business doing it any other way. Weather conditions are the most influential factors that govern whether a day is good or not – never the shoot or a gamekeeper that is worth his salt.
In this instance, and I believe I can speak for the whole team, a magnificent day was had by all – The Point and Footman's Leap, in particular, were quite special.
As a shoot, Mulgrave has drives that can cater for both the specialists and the average Shot. Weather permitting, I think they would be able to arrange a day to suit any team's specific needs – although I'd book early for next season, as I predict it will become a case of dead man's shoes in the not too distant future. The shooting can be arranged through Roxtons.
Tel: +44 (0) 1488 689 788