Glenprosen Estate – Angus Glens
In the face of much uncertainty in Scotland, some rural landowners are continuing to plough significant investment into sporting estates, says Will Pocklington. And the Glenprosen Estate is a glowing example of just what can be achieved.
(Photography: Leopold Amory)
How many of us would find the words ‘driven’ and ‘grouse’ escaping our lips if asked to choose a single bucket-list quarry to shoot on the wing?
For many it’s an aspirational thing: a gamebird without equal in the aerobatic department; landscapes of unparalleled beauty; and the feel-good factor of being part of a bigger picture of prosperity for biodiversity and local communities...
But the price! It puts the prized galliform beyond the reach of most. So you would be forgiven for assuming those estates letting shooting must be turning a mammoth profit; their bank balances bulging.
Not so. Especially for our friends north of the border.
Sporting estates in Scotland have it tough. For a while now they’ve been a target for the Nationalists and their illogical, idealistic – and damaging – stipulations. Land values trashed, taxation threats, sporting rates proposed... Rural Scotland sits in a shadow of uncertainty.
Let us not ignore the unpredictability of Mother Nature, either. Snow and heavy rain at the wrong time can render grouse stocks unviable. And cancellations do not pay wages or cover hefty management costs.
So, if not for commercial gain, why do landowners and sporting tenants continue to invest huge amounts of their own time and money in an effort to create, restore, and manage wild land? The answer, of course, is passion. A passion for the holistic health of an area where the buzz-words are sustainability, balance and provision. Exploitation is as likely as making a quick buck is realistic. These estates are managed as a labour of love.
An example? Look no further than Glenprosen in the Angus Glens, a traditional mixed sporting estate straddling the south-eastern boundary of the Cairngorms National Park that is showcasing just what can be achieved when passion meets purpose. And they’re giving clients good reason to book, and book again, in order to support continued investment in what is an exciting journey still very much in its infancy.
Glenprosen now lets 20 days of grouse shooting a season – 10 driven, 10 walked-up over English setters – and around 25 red stags are taken whenever stocks allow. It also has over two miles of double bank fishing on the Kercock beat of the River Tay. But it’s the progress made in the past five years, since the estate’s acquisition by Robin Batchelor, that is turning heads.
The man at the helm is Bruce Cooper, estate manager and headkeeper since 2004. It’s his cottage that guests pass as they drive between the stone pillars and past the fleet of Land Rovers with their numerically arranged reg plates, before finally setting foot on what I am assured by many is nothing short of a sporting paradise – whether you’re a stalker, fisherman or game Shot.
It is the grouse shooting, however, that has been the primary focus since 2011. And I was intrigued to find out how they are maintaining a 100 per cent client return rate. Yup, you’d best be quick if you want to book for 2017...
Why so popular? Well that’s best answered by the very guests who are putting their money where their mouth is, already having booked their fix of Scottish sport for next season.
John Deakle is one such guest, a visitor from Louisiana in the States who enjoyed his first day’s driven grouse shooting in October. “I had not shot at Glenprosen before,” he told me, “but it far exceeded my expectations. Two things stood out: first, the professionalism of the staff; and second, the excellent shooting. The attention to detail was evident in all aspects of the experience.” In fact, the staff – the people in the engine room of the estate’s day-to-day running – feature heavily in a number of overwhelmingly positive reviews.
“It’s a seriously slick operation,” comments Nathan Little, another Gun whose friends made up the other half of the party which included John’s team. “Everything was so well run, time efficient, and we were treated like royalty. It’s very relaxed, but you know that behind the scenes everyone is pedalling hard to make the experience impeccable.”
Headkeeper Bruce is quick to point out that it’s very much a collective effort, though. “That things work so well is down to the strength of the team here,” he says. “We have three beatkeepers and two junior team members on the keepering front. Then we have Donald the shepherd, Ruth our trusty administrator, our ghillie/handyman Kev, Eric the seasonal pony man, Gary and Rona who run our fishing beat on the Tay, and of course my parents, my wife, and Robin the owner. And we mustn’t forget the beaters, flankers and pickers-up. Without the support of all these people, and the enthusiasm and drive of Robin in particular, none of this would be possible.”
So what of this detail that is so often mentioned? We’re talking elevenses tipples being poured and served by Bruce himself, hidden whisky boxes in the shoot room (“if you can find it, you can fill your boots”), personalised interior design in the delightful lodges, even spontaneous appearances in the beating line or loading team from Robin... And then there’s the food.
A typical day starts with bacon rolls, coffee and Bruce’s welcome briefing. Nibbles prepared by local caterers Sinclair’s are served after the first drive – think scotch quail eggs, beef consommé and pulled pork and black pudding pasties. And lunch – venison, wild boar, beef, pork and lamb, served with glazes, pickles and chutneys – is prepared on a Texan ‘Gator Pit’ barbecue, transportable around the estate as required. Dining in the heather is always an option.
“One of the favourite spots to lunch on the estate is our Kilbo Bothy,” explained Bruce. “Raised from a pile of rubble in 2011, it enjoys stunning surroundings, hot water and toilet facilities.”
Days conclude back at the briefing room with tea, coffee, cake and a wee dram for those not driving home, as guns are cleaned and the day’s bag is counted. It’s impossible, I’m assured, not to notice the scale of the team that is pulled together to produce the day’s sport.
Amidst such hospitality and toothsome fare, there is a slight risk – certainly when writing about it – of forgetting about the shooting. But it turns out that was rather memorable, too.
“I have experienced something few get the opportunity to,” Vicky Lipscombe – another Gun on the same two days in October – told me. “Emily, who kindly invited me along, and I both bagged our first grouse. In fact, I shot eight and a half brace overall.”
Meantime, Nathan took no time in matter-of-factly offering his reflection on the shooting. “This was the first time I’d shot grouse in Scotland,” he commented. “And they are without doubt the best grouse I have ever shot at.
“The weather was warm, some of the Guns were even applying suncream, but the birds were going at full tilt, using the contours in a way that only a wild bird can. A steady flow of small coveys and isolated birds were interrupted occasionally by the bigger packs.”
From the butts – a mixture of refurbished traditional stone and newly built wooden structures – typical Angus Glens scenery stretches away to the horizon. It’s a pretty spot; the estate sitting far up the glen with views to Strathtay, and the sea on a clear day.
From up high, the ongoing management programme is evident, too. Areas previously dominated by spruce are being cleared, tracks are being created and restored to maintain access to hard-to-reach places, and a patchwork of heather decorates the massive landscape.
But as the grouse begin to move, and the beating line – interspersed by the yellow shirts of the keepers – becomes visible on the hillside opposite, you never quite know what you might see. “On one of the drives a group of red deer ran by before the grouse began to arrive in earnest,” said Vicky. “They must’ve been just a stone’s throw away”.
And there’s a real possibility of seeing black game, too. The estate supports a strong population of black grouse, with several well populated leks. Although not shot as a rule on the estate, as numbers rise this will be reassessed – the 2016 season having produced several good broods which have tested the species identification skills of clients.
“This season we broke our grouse day bag record for the third time in five years,” Bruce explained to me, modestly. “But it hasn’t been without its challenges. Snow in June 2015 saw three-quarters of our driven days cancelled – a decision that helped carry the estate through to 2016. It’s fair to say that Glenprosen has always had quality sport to offer, but I would like to think we have now returned to the top flight.”
Indeed, from the honest reviews of those who are rapidly filling up the estates books for next season, perhaps the word ‘Glenprosen’ will soon be uttered along with ‘driven’ and ‘grouse’, when asked the bucket-list question.
Where to stay
There are two lodges available for guests to rent whilst enjoying sport on the estate. Homebeat Cottage is a sporting lodge which can sleep up to 10 guests between four rooms with views over Prosen Water. Old Craig is a traditional three-bedroom farmhouse that sleeps six.
Many larger parties choose to stay at House of Turin in nearby Kirriemuir. Owner Yvonne Corbett is most accommodating – nothing is too much trouble. One of the couples in John Deakle’s party even decided to renew their vows whilst they were there. A Scottish wedding was arranged – kilts, pipers, haggis, the works.
Booking is available directly through the estate office, or via sporting agents Cotswolds Country Pursuits and George Goldsmith.