Richard Caring's The Lakes - Somerset
From high street fashion to high flying pheasants, Richard Caring is in a league of his own, as Heather Waktare discovered on her visits to The Lakes, his shoot in Somerset.
Having taken up the sport five years ago because most of his friends were shooting, Richard Caring saw it as an opportunity to not only shoot but to spend time with his dogs. But Richard being Richard he wanted his own shoot.
So when the opportunity arose for him to visit the Lakes, nestled away in some of Somerset's most stunning countryside, it bowled him over: "It was simply magnificent - I could not resist!"
He wanted to create something unique so went to work on transforming an old stable and coaching inn into a magnificent shooting lodge, which is now called Pixton.
This is the man who made a fortune in the fashion industry, at one time supplying 70 per cent of the clothing sold by High Street retailers, and now also has extensive property and restaurant interests ranging from ownership of Wentworth Golf Club to restaurants such as The Ivy, Le Caprice and J. Sheekey, Mayfair's most exclusive night clubs, not forgetting the Cecconi's and Carluccio's chains. On top of which he is a true philanthropist, particularly for the NSPCC, to whom he has shown astonishing generosity.
So given this background Richard's shoot was never going to be ordinary. It really is like no other and in the words of one of his friends, Robbie Tchenquiz: "This shoot really is unique, there is nothing like it!"
Each guest room in the lodge is exquisite right down to mink rugs on the beds. The bar area resembles something from the Ritz, very suave. Adjacent to that is a sitting area with an open medieval type fireplace with logs ablaze. In the dining area you feel as though you have been transported back to another era with its regal table set for a French style banquet complete with four huge candelabras. There is a limestone underground tunnel with alcoves housing busts of various composers accompanied by classical music... absolutely stunning. This tunnel leads to a state of the art bowling alley!
Richard's shoot is not commercial as he only shoots with his friends - it can be an exotic guest list. I have been taking photos there for the last four years, solely for my chosen charity, Help For Heroes. Richard has always been very accommodating and even though I am not one of his wealthy friends, he includes me in the day and has often invited me to his very entertaining soirees. He is the perfect host.
The day always starts with the meeting at Pixton. After a lavish breakfast the Guns emerge from the house in attire fit for a Vogue photo shoot. Their loaders and drivers greet them and then it is about a 20 minute drive to The Lakes. On arrival, there is the most wonderful water feature around which the Range Rovers circle and park like a wagon train. Beverages are offered, pegs pulled and then ready for the off.
The host is in full charge of his shoot, supported by an excellent team led by headkeeper Ernie Taylor - but it is Richard who makes sure his guests get a great day's shooting. The drives are almost Jurassic with deep valleys and wonderful rivers snaking through the spectacular countryside.
The first drive is limited to 50 cartridges only, per Gun! I am always amazed to see the Guns shooting so well but Richard knows it is a relatively easy drive, a loosener, and considers it unsporting to shoot too many birds. Of course there will be one or two who fire all the rounds off in no time only to stand and watch the others. On one of these occasions Robbie was seen going back to his car before the drive started and claimed it was to get his hat! But the main man keeps an eye on absolutely everything, even though he may be shooting.
Thereafter the pheasants are so high they even dwarf North Devon birds, which is something I thought impossible. It is certainly not a shoot for newcomers and you need to be a very experienced and good Shot to hold your own there.As a shooter myself I am always keen to watch and learn. But the sheer height of the birds would defeat me. I have witnessed some Guns on their toes just trying to get that extra reach or they stretch so far back in a way which I don't even think I could manage with my yoga class!
Richard shoots double guns (a pair of Purdeys) and enjoys approximately 50 days per season. Although he only took up the sport five years ago he has quickly developed into a good Shot - he clearly has very good hand-eye cordination, something which showed itself when in his early teens his playing off scratch at golf won him a sports scholarship to Millfield. And he is a great sportsman. He is not a man who just turns up to shoot; it is very evident how passionate he is when you see him with his dogs.
He runs his shoot in his entrepreneurial manner, everyone is part of the operation and he has the utmost respect for all of the team. Richard has that rare gift of being able to make everyone feel they belong.
The drives are demanding and a break for refreshments is always welcome. Of course it can only be the best for the man who owns some of London's finest restaurants! Elevenses are held in an African Tiki hut, which is situated next to the river. On the bank are two huge bronze life-size crocodiles! The Tiki hut houses a marble table and in the middle is a huge statue of a pheasant. He entertains his guests and has a brilliant sense of humour. His two beautiful black labradors, Porgy and Bess, are always given sausages followed by heaps of affection by everyone.
No one is left out and Richard will also invariably pick up a huge silver platter of sausages and wander over to give them to the loaders.
The Lakes must be one of the most challenging shoots and I have seen some amazing Shots there. Arnold Crook is one of them. Arnold, or Arny as he is known to his close friends, is chairman of London's Haymarket Theatre, a true gentleman and his field etiquette is faultless. He knows where all his birds fall and is always happy to pick up. Not only is he a great Shot but also a vastly experienced fly fisherman and has some wonderful tales of his fly-fishing adventures. He always has time for everyone, stopping for a chat with beaters and pickers-up.
Another Gun whose presence cannot be ignored is Sir David Tang, a truly larger than life character who has been heard excusing himself for sitting whilst shooting by claiming he needs the challenge!
Meanwhile, lunch at The Lakes is a culinary splendour. This event takes place in a little wooden building on the lakes. Where on earth would you expect to be served fresh grilled seafood at a shoot? The starter is sushi washed down with sake. Then the main course ranges from lobster and king prawns to fillet steak and baby goat. The food is cooked to order by the chef over a hot grill. Fabulous.
One Gun whispered in my ear one day: "This is not your usual shepherd's pie shoot meal, is it? But I'm not complaining." Who would?
At one of the lunches Richard presented me with the sweepstake money - a total of £400 for the charity. It was also at that same lunch that Richard lost a bet with Sir David Tang of £2,000 - David instructed Richard to settle the debt by making the cheque to Help for Heroes. He didn't hesitate. The generosity from all of the Guns on the shoot has been remarkable.
After lunch comes the drive that is truly a one-off. It's the Lakes, after which the shoot is named. You literally shoot on the lake from pontoons! There are five pontoons and enough space on each one for a Gun and loader. The birds on this drive come over extremely fast from the tops of the trees and it takes some skill to keep your balance and move with your gun. It is an exhilarating drive and gets the adrenaline flowing.
Just to add a twist, Richard has speakers installed at the end of each pontoon and to keep his Guns from falling asleep after the awesome lunch and too much sake, he has been known to blast out some Queen or the Dambusters March!
Shoot over and it's back to the house for refreshments and rest, before the evening dinner. Drinks before dinner are in the bar and as always Richard makes his entrance dressed immaculately. This man does not do things by halves and it is easy to see why he is where he is today.
Dinner at Pixton is always highly entertaining, as the Guns all seem to share the same sense of humour as their host. After dinner it is off to the bowling alley, which also happens to have a bar and offers every size of bowling shoe, male and female!
The Lakes is a very special shoot and Richard sums up his passion for it in his own words: "I have always loved water and The Lakes combined with the setting of the trees is nature as pure as it gets." To have great sport in such a place is the icing on a very delicious cake.