The trip mirrored last year's trip in many ways, except rather than staying a week, a few days of which were shopping in London, I'd pretty much just make it a stretched out weekend; fly out Wednesday night, arriving Thursday, enjoy Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the Yorkshire countryside, then fly back home on Monday. And that's what I did.
The red-eye out of Logan airport, to me at least, is brutal. I just don't sleep well on a short overnight flight, so like last year I'd planned an overnight in Manchester. Early check in at the hotel allowed me to get in a few good hours of sleep before hot shower, and an evening meal with my friend CK, who lives in Manchester and works at the university there. CK and I, after a quick pre-dinner drink at Brown's headed over to Sam's Chophouse for what was an outstanding feast, in a fabulous atmosphere. With neither CK nor I really being well versed in the art of wine selection, we followed the advice of the seasoned and saucy waitress and ordered a red. I can't speak to the quality of the steak and kidney pie CK enjoyed, but it sure looked as if he was enjoying it every bit as much as the lamb chop and cauliflower I ordered. Absolutely delicious. But it didn't stop there; we couldn't resist their puddings, and it was there that my sticky toffee pudding (with an excite dollop of clotted cream!!) addiction was born. After dinner we strolled to a new pub in the area which CK claims would be right in my wheelhouse, owing to the fact that it is home to some 400+ single malt scotches. He was right. The Britons Protection was a scotch drinkers paradise, and I was happy to help them drain a bottle of Longmorn.
Friday morning I awoke before the sun. Not because I woke up early, but because I forgot that the sunrise is a bit later there than I am accustomed to. My plan for the day was simple; pack, eat breakfast, then jump on a train to Leeds to meet they guys. Now, let me say this; I love a good breakfast, and don't think anyone does breakfast better than the Brits. So I headed over to Cafe North, a spot my wife and I stumbled upon a couple years ago, for a proper (by proper I mean huge) breakfast, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Having a bit of time after breakfast I decided I'd swing by J. Wippell & Co to see what country clothing they had in stock. If you're not familiar with Wippell, be prepared for a bit of confusion. Wippell is a clothing store that caters to the church, and sell everything a priest might need. They also have a small men's wear shop with plenty of tattersall and tweed. But don't go looking for them online, as their internet presence is minimal. Do take a walk by their Princess St location should you find yourself in Manchester.
Wippell & Co. Princess St. Manchester
A big British breakfast
In the afternoon I caught my train to Leeds where PP would intercept me. From Leeds we headed north to Ripon where PP had arranged an evening of duck flighting with a local gamekeeper. In North Stanley we met up with SL, CC, and the gamekeeper, and headed out to a small, brush choked pond to shoot some ducks. The evening provided some fantastic sport with lots of ducks flying over, and coming in to the pond. Shooting roosting ducks in the dark is fast, exciting shooting. Unfortunately, my eyes aren't what they once were, and I've been told (rather asked) why I didn't shoot at a number of the ducks which dropped in, or passed by me. Of course, when my best opportunity presented itself my Browning Citori 20g decided it didn't like the heavy British shells I popped in to it, and didn't fire, so I got to watch a couple fat Mallards fly off while I broke and rechecked the gun. None the less, it was a fantastic evening, despite my only dropping one lone teal. After the evening's shooting we found our way to the Staveley Arms for dinner. Again, another outstanding meal, in an absolutely fabulous atmosphere, and a top shelf sticky toffee pudding.
Saturday morning I again awoke well before the sun. This time it was by design, as PP and I were off to the farm where we would meet up with the shoot captain TH, and a few others with whom we'd line the edge of a field a short distance from a reservoir popular with the geese. The idea being that as the sun rose, so to would the geese who would fly rather low over the field, and hopefully one of the guns. That is exactly what happened. The geese chatter from the reservoir would get louder and more excited before a skein would decide to make their exit. Their flight path took them directly between me and T, and pretty much out of reach of both of us, but twice the geese banked to the left, and into the restricted air space T was guarding. The first flight escaped, however the second was not so lucky, and T had the first kill of the day. He'd also be saddled with carrying the heavy beast back to the cars, but that's the price you pay, and any of us would have been happy to be in his shoes.
After the geese stopped moving we made our way to the barn where we would meet up with the balance of the syndicate, and get the day organized. Earlier in the morning PP was suddenly overcome with worry. In the morning, as we set out, his morning routine was somewhat put off having me in tow, and the question of whether or not we closed the front door of the house could not be answered. Being a guy who is lousy with names, and seldom remembers people out of the context of which I know them, I get it. So, PP was off to make a quick round trip home to make sure his place was secured. At the barn the rest of the syndicate gathered, where I caught up with members I'd not seen since last year, and was introduced to new members. The teams were named, the drives announced, and pegs drawn. Then we were off to the first drive where the team I was assigned to would be beating. Armed with stout sticks, noise makers, and hype dogs we held a line across the cover, and pushed through sending birds out over the line of guns. To my pleasure a dog flushed a big woodcock right in front of me, which flew back across the beating line about 4 feet directly over my head. While this wouldn't make the guns happy, it have me my first opportunity to see one in flight. When we hit the end of the woods/cover the whistle was blown signaling the end of the drive. The guns were cased, birds picked up, and everyone gathered to organize for the second drive. The decision was made to break for elevensies early, then shoot 2 drives before lunch, so out came the cake, cheese, meat pies, port and brandy.
The beverage selection
I've been caught enjoying a cake and port during elevensies.
But, how does she stay so clean?...
After a short belly warming break we were off to the second drive. This time I would be a gun, and found my self standing out in a large field between were the cover woods ended, and a hedgerow behind. The birds started coming out at a pretty good rate, and at a decent height. My neighboring guns got in some good shooting, and I got in a few shots at birds on the edge of my range that my neighbor missed, but not many flew over my airspace. On the drive I did have 2 good birds come over, but I missed. The first flew directly over, but I failed to give it enough lead. Another good bird flew over high to my left. Not wanting to rush, or swing in a manned that would cramp me, I turned and took a step with the intent of taking the bird as a high R-L crosser. Problem was, when I stepped I my foot hung up on a hummock in the tall grass, and rather than swinging the gun I was doing dancing a jig with it trying to stay upright. Two long shots as it exited the back door had no effect on the bird. Oh well.
The day would go on pretty much the same way, alternating between beating, and shooting. The sun broke through the clouds, and the day warmed up enough that Layers were shed, and my sweater deposited in the truck. Unfortunately, I didn't draw the best pegs, and after my first drive I never pulled the trigger again, save for one suicidal woodcock which few the entire line of guns late in the day, untouched by all, though we tried. Nevertheless, a good day on a shoot isn't summed up solely by the number of shots, nor the number of birds killed. It's about much more than that, and I enjoyed every minute of the day. I took pride in knowing that our team put good birds over the line of guns, and found the steady stream of pheasant flushing infant of me quite exciting. I can see why non-shooting people enjoy beating. At the end of the day we had a bag of 50-something pheasant, 5 woodcock, 1 pigeon (which PP killed with a fantastic shot), 1 hare, and there was armor that a partridge, too was killed, but I didn't see it. While I didn't kill any of these, I certainly feel I earned an assist.
After dividing the game amongst the guns PP, SL, and I were off to do a bit of duck flighting again. Neither the ducks, nor my eyes cooperated again. A few teal flew in low, and in the shadows, unseen by me. Down the line a few flew in where the guys got off quick shots, but they were gone just as quickly. The only duck I saw was a teal silhouetted in the sky as it tried to escape high over a hedgerow. I was quick enough to ruin it's plan, and dropped it on the far side or the hedge.
In many parts of England, like here in the states, there is no hunting on Sunday, so PP and I after a relaxing morning headed out for a drive around the countryside, and a bit of sightseeing in York. Then, in the evening we opened a few beers, popped some finger food, and a game pie in the oven, and tuned in to the football game. And by football, I mean the NFL. PP, like myself, is a New England Patriot's fan. Watching the Pat's beat the Ram's was a great way to cap the weekend. Monday morning I was again up before the sun, and on my way home.
I'd very much like to thank the members of the Watton Carrs syndicate for again allowing me to shoot with them. I would also like to offer a special thanks to Melanie, Claire, Tom, and Shaun, who's pics I have pirated, and used in this post.