Rorrington – Shropshire
As Marcus Janssen was reminded recently, the difference between a good and a great day's shooting is often determined by those you share a gunbus with.
Unlike fishing, shooting is an inherently sociable pursuit. Elevenses, lunch and the between-drive companionship of your fellow Guns, beaters and pickers-up are all important parts of the day. Indeed, the right team can turn a would-be good day's shooting into a great one, as I was reminded at Rorrington in Shropshire last year where I found myself shooting with the Irish.
I should start by saying that I do not function well with a hangover. In fact, I am no use to man nor beast the day after an evening on the sauce, and I generally make a rule of avoiding booze the night before I am required to do anything more taxing than keep the sofa warm. The trouble is, as I discovered last year, when you go fishing or shooting with the boys from Mount Falcon in Ireland, this rule seems to become null and void. Because, not only are they blessed with an ability to handle Guinness, Jameson's and other strong liquor in biblical volumes, but they are also endowed with powers of persuasion that I previously thought only scantily clad blondes possessed.
The night before I was due to shoot at Rorrington last November, I found myself in a hotel bar with two of my fellow Guns, Mount Falcon owner Alan Maloney and one of his great friends and partners in crime, Michael Henry, both pedigree Irishmen in every respect. Through a blur of large, large whiskies – which, I was assured, would have no hindrance on my performance the following day – I vaguely recall the telling of several outrageous stories of high African adventure and unrepeatable shenanigans. I also recall that every time I tried to say goodnight and head upstairs, I was told in no uncertain terms that turning one's back on an open bottle of Jameson's is the height of bad manners. “In fact,” said Michael, “it is considered by certain upstanding members of Irish society to be a heinous crime. But don't worry, this will be the last one.” I don't know how many last ones we had – I lost count at about 12 – but it was well past midnight when I finally made it up the stairs, still laughing at Michael's ‘final thought for the night' on Zimbabwean politics.
At breakfast the following morning, I was amazed to find both Michael and Alan looking as spritely as a pair of fighting cocks in their prime, while I weighed up the potential risk of an orange juice. “You shouldn't have stayed up so late,” said Michael as he tucked into some bacon and eggs. “He bloody wouldn't let us go to bed,” added Alan as the pair of them went on to describe to our host, Andy Pearson, how I had insisted on having another, and then another whiskey, when all they wanted to do was go to bed. Out of politeness, they had reluctantly agreed to keep me company, apparently. “You need to keep this one on a leash,” added Michael.
It was barely 8 o'clock and the tone had been set for what would be one of the most enjoyable day's shooting I can remember. And, following a highly entertaining journey through much of Shropshire which took us past the entrance to Rorrington no less than three times (bloody satnav, apparently), the remnants of what I had assumed would be a three-day hangover had miraculously dissipated. “I told you,” said Michael as we made our way to our respective pegs on the first drive. “That stuff is magic. But don't tell anyone, we don't want to run out of it.”
The first drive, known as Kington, was the perfect start to the day, a nice mix of pheasants and partridges of moderate height interspersed with a few true skyscrapers, one of which was pulled down from a cloudless sky by another Irishman, Noel Harrison, to cheers from his neighbouring Guns. I was happy to leave the tallest of the lot on my end of the line for Nick Wilson, a prodigious game Shot from Northamptonshire who I was glad to have as my neighbour.
Truly high pheasants are the realm of the high bird specialist and I am the first to admit that my shooting falls some way short of such lofty standards (see pages 16 and 56). In all honesty, I would far rather leave such birds for those who have the wherewithal to do them justice while I concentrate on those that, whilst still a challenge, I know I will be able to kill cleanly. After all, most teams are made up of Guns of varying abilities, and although height has become a benchmark for the quality of a shoot in recent years, it is my view that a good shoot is one that offers a range of birds to satisfy Guns of all abilities. This is an area in which Rorrington excels – three of the four drives we shot had a perfect mix of medium to high pheasants and partridges, allowing everyone to shoot within their own comfort zone.
Fortunately, there were a few serious high bird Shots in our midst, none more so than our host, who was sharing a gun with Noel. Andy is also incredibly modest and will often attribute an impressive shot to a neighbouring Gun. However, when he tried to suggest that I might have been responsible for downing one of his sky-scrapers (I wasn't), there was an exaggerated guffaw of laughter from Michael Henry. “What?” I asked, pretending to be deeply offended. “Sorry, did that actually come out loud?” he said, in mock horror, to a further eruption of laughter from Jim Wilson, another wonderful character I got to know at Mount Falcon, last year.
At the end of that first drive, it was refreshing to see all of the Guns, most of whom I had met for the first time the night before, spend as long as it took to ensure that all birds were accounted for – there was no great rush back to the gunbus as we reflected on what had been a perfect start to the day.
When we did finally make our way back to the gunbus, spirits were high. “God that was fun, wasn't it?!” said Alan, his infectious grin bringing on a bout of smiles. Looking back now, something that stands out is the fact that the time between drives was as much of a highlight as the shooting itself. “Marcus,” shouted Michael theatrically over the din of the tractor engine, “I thought you shot well then, relatively speaking. That was the first time you've held a shotgun, right? I think you might have even hit one. Keep it up!” Once again, the gunbus was filled with laughter.
Rorrington headkeeper Mark Kiddle (centre), beatkeeper Mathew Reed (right) & underkeeper Christopher Hayden
As we trundled along a muddy track through a wood of mature beech and oak in its perfect autumn splendour, I noticed a glint in Andy's eye. Despite the trouble he had finding the estate earlier that morning, Andy has shot at Rorrington many times over the years, so he knew what was in store. “This next drive's a bit special,” he said, with a knowing smile. And, as soon as we stepped out of the gunbus, I too could see that The Rock was going to be the stand-out drive of the day.
With a series of natural terraces and specially built wooden platforms perched on the side of a very steep hill providing each Gun with their own little shooting pedestal, it was clear that a lot of creativity and thought has gone into the development of this drive. And, because the hill in front is so steep, by the time the birds appeared in the sky above us, we had just a few seconds to react before they curled round the side of it and disappeared out of sight. If you hesitated they were gone. God, it was fun.
Afterwards, there was a palpable excitement in the air as we all compared notes. The consensus was that a substantial percentage of the birds had, unsurprisingly, made it through the line unscathed, although everyone had had plenty of shooting and a few Guns, most notably Nick Wilson and Noel Harrison, had given the picking-up team a respectable amount of work to do. “I kept a count of how many you hit there,” said Jim, this time his attention directed at Michael who, by his own admission, had struggled. “How did you manage to do that on such a busy drive?” asked Michael. “Well, to be fair, it's not difficult to keep tabs of bugger-all,” responded Jim to an eruption of laughter from the beaters. “I didn't see you do much better,” said Michael with a smile. “Well I would have done, but I was laughing too much at you and Marcus.”
The third and penultimate drive of the day, known as Blacksmith's, was a traditional low ground partridge drive with redlegs driven over the top of a hedge in front, requiring a completely different style of shooting to that employed at The Rock. In hindsight, it would probably have been useful if we had been told what to expect, as several of the Guns didn't feel comfortable shooting such low birds out front. Of course, it was perfectly safe as the beaters were a long way back and well below the horizon, but it was just a stark contrast to the previous two drives.
Lunch, another highlight of the day, was taken in the shoot lodge, a converted stone steading at the heart of the Rorrington estate. Although the roast Welsh lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and homemade mint sauce was delicious, it was, once again, the camaraderie and humour that made the meal so memorable.
The final drive of the day, The Ridge, was another from the top drawer. Similar in style to Kington, a pretty even mix of partridges and pheasants were driven from a bank of woodland and cover crops. With about 100 metres of open ground between the flushing point and the Gun line, the birds could be seen approaching from a long way off, leading you into a false sense of security. And with a brisk quartering wind behind them, I was repeatedly caught off-guard as I miscalculated how much time I had. It certainly made for some really challenging and exciting shooting with some exceptional birds shot, particularly by Andy who was pegged as a back Gun.
I always know when I have had a really good day's fishing or shooting – I get that ‘Sunday night feeling' at the end of the day, the one I still associate with going back to boarding school after an exeat weekend. Well, as we made our way back to the gunbus in the knowledge that a truly wonderful day's shooting was rapidly coming to an end, I was suddenly hit by a wave of the Sunday night blues. “I told you that shooting with the Irish is an experience you won't forget,” said Andy with a smile, as we trundled our way back to the shoot lodge. “It's been emotional,” interjected Michael, not entirely in jest. “But as you discovered with that bottle of Jameson's last night, all good things – including shooting with the Irish – must come to an end.”
Andy Pearson, Alan Maloney, Brian Richardson, Nick Wilson, Noel Harrison, Michael Henry, Ron Randall, Eddie Doherty, Marcus Janssen & Jim Wilson
Situated just a stone's throw from the Shropshire/Powys border between Welshpool and Shrewsbury, Rorrington shoot covers 3,000 acres of typical Shropshire farmland with a mix of coniferous and deciduous woodland on the higher ground. With varying topography, from rolling pasture and hedgerows to steep, wooded hills, the 25 named drives offer Guns a diverse range of sport with an 80/20 mix of pheasants and partridges.
Under headkeeper Mark Kiddle and his team, Rorrington produces an average of 35 days of shooting a year which are divided between private days for the family, a local syndicate and a number of let days through Wayne Tuffin, who also has the shooting at Delbury and Lydham in Shropshire, and Rhug, Glyn, Blaen y Cwm and Garthmeilio in Mid Wales.
Wayne Tuffin Game Services
t. 01938 555725
m. 07870 590509