Grouse in the Grampians
Oliver Tillard gets his first experience of the moors on a wet walked-up day in Angus.
Nothing can quite convey the excitement of being able to accept an invitation to shoot grouse. And this was no ordinary invitation, this was my first. I was ecstatic - to put it mildly. The invitation was for a walked-up day on Auldallan Estate on the Perthshire/Angus border - 2,000 acres of rolling moorland, owned by the Ogilvy-Wedderburn family and diligently prepped for days such as this by long-standing keeper Peter Greening.
After a run-in with an airline that shall remain anonymous but appear to lose items of luggage for fun, I reached the estate family home, situated at the most southerly point of the Grampian mountain range. A sleepless night followed by a hasty breakfast and we were soon bumping to the moor in 4x4s. Thoughts of strolling through thick, shin-deep heather with the August sun on my back and sleeves rolled up were soon dashed as a solid fog came down and sheet rain began falling sideways.
Unperturbed, we set off, a line of Guns creating a quintessentially Scottish spectacle as the wind buffeted and whipped our kilts up around us. (It is tradition on the two walked-up days the family hold each season for Guns to wear kilts - very exciting for the Englishmen in the group.) On Peter's call we slowed, stopped and started like a squad of Scots Guards at Trooping the Colour, anticipation levels at fever pitch waiting for the distinctive gurgle of a grouse.
It wasn't long before a shout came from the right and up in front a grouse burst into view, hugging the contours. The fog only allowed for a narrow window of opportunity, and so getting onto the line as soon as I could, it banked hard left before crashing to the heather on my shot. My first ever grouse was picked and I was duly blooded - a moment to savour.
We covered over three miles during the course of the morning - my coat now as effective as a sponge - with the host and his twin sons, Geordie and Pete, putting on an impressive shooting display.
We took our piece on the hill, with Guns fighting for the sheltered side of the Land Rover for respite from the wind and rain. Replenished by cheese, p?t? and a cold beer, we set off again to build on what had been a cracking morning. More grouse, powered by the brisk wind, created some challenging shooting. This, coupled with the steep terrain, deep heather and now raging burns gave us first-timers a proper taste of walked-up grouse in the wilds of Scotland.
As the line moved around to the head of the valley before turning for home, there was a sudden reversal. The wind died, the clouds scuppered away and we were basked in warm August sunshine. And with it the shooting got even better, with birds testing the line at regular intervals, resulting in success for another two grouse virgins. In such conditions, with untainted views across Angus, the moor is an incredible place to be, and as we pushed out the final stretch of heather, I truly appreciated just what I've been missing out on all these years.
Bag: 18 'brace & 1' snipe
Photographs: India Brown