Holcot - Northamptionshire
The advertisement definitely stood out in the Shooting Times sits vac column. “Wanted - a good all-rounder who can run the family cricket ground and small shoot.”
The year was 1994 and Lynn Wilson had also placed the ad in The Cricketer magazine, having created a cricket pitch on what was then his 600-acre farm in the Northamptonshire village of Holcot where he was looking to start a shoot. Enter gamekeeper Chris Platt from Lincolnshire who opened his account with the first day's bag of 28, and looking ahead for a programme of six days of 100-150 head and ten games of cricket a year. In fact they ended up with 12 days of 350-400 and 40 days of cricket, Lynn having very close ties with Northmptonshire CCC where he was president, chairman and patron. So the quality of the cricket being played was pretty useful. The club skipper at the time was none other than Allan Lamb, who became a close family friend and sporting companion.
Tragically, Lynn died in a car accident in Scotland in 2008 having created a considerable fortune as a house builder - the business had been sold earlier that year. But the shoot and family trust are in very good hands with his sons Giles (43) and Nick (45).
For the last two seasons the head keeper has been Mark Fitzer, Chris having retired back to Lincolnshire. Mark, his wife Faye and underkeeper Lee Banner have brought another dimension to the shoot by rearing grey partridges under bantams. It is something with which Mark enjoyed some success in his previous position at Carlton Towers near Selby, Yorkshire.
“It will take time,” Giles told me “but we are prepared for that. We are just happy to see some Englishmen on shoot days but it's surprising how few are shot. Apart from flying differently, particularly out of the sides of drives, generally the Guns go for the high birds, which are invariably Frenchmen. So that leaves us with a good growing stock. And it is lovely to hear them call as you move around the farm.
“Ultimately we woud like to have a day specifically of driven Englishmen. And Mark believes this is possible.”
The farm was bought by the family in 1982 and the acquisition of further land brought the total up to 1,000 acres. Situated near Pitsford Reservoir, it enjoys an attractive setting, and the topography is good for bird presentation, with especially notable drives being Knights' (pictured),Whitelands and New Barns.
It is run as a private family shoot with just two small let days a year at the end of the season. Though they release some pheasants, it is primarily a partridge manor. And the enthusiasm for shooting stretches right across the family. Giles's wife Polly is a good Shot and their sons Jack (6) and Max (4) are showing encouraging signs and have already been fishing. Nick's son Tom (16) is a handy Shot as is Giles's sister-in-law Fiona.
Bags are around 250, but if the day is bright and sunny with no wind and the birds are reluctant to fly, then they will be selective and not simply carry on shooting for the sake of it, instead opting for a smaller bag.
“My father was a shooting man through and through,” added Giles “and all of our passion for shooting is a direct result of his love for the sport. It led not only to the creation of this shoot (there had never been a proper shoot at Holcot) but in 1983 he also bought a lovely pheasant shoot in the Borders called Ellemford, which we run today and happily it has gone from strength to strength.”
It should be added that fishing is another family passion, so having a place in the Borders is a definite plus!
Add the game and deer processing and sale arrangements and there is little doubt that father would have been impressed. Holcot has come a very long way.