Season 1863

The grouse fever was upon me at full fever heat, and I was determined that I would solve the problem of Scotch grouse shooting, and, finding in the spring of this season that an Aberdeen innkeeper advertised shooting, I wrote to him to know if he could put me in the way of a small place for one gun. Of course he replied glowingly, and said that a small moor by Gartly station, in Aberdeenshire, then on his hands, was quite enough for one gun, that capital lodgings were to be had at the merchant's house, and the price of the shooting for three weeks would be but £50.

I felt quite certain that I should be done, but I also knew that knowledge and experience could only be had by paying for it, so I plunged to what was not a very costly plunge, and accordingly I sent down my English keeper from Warwickshire.

In those days trains to Scotland did not afford the luxuries of to-day. Sleepers were unknown, and in the first-class carriage the elbow did not double up. The extreme of luxury was a second-class compartment retained for two men, and bed up the best way you could.

I was again at Scarborough. It was a slow, weary business to travel to York by a stopping train, and then the whole night and half next day getting to Aberdeen. So I bethought myself of asking the London and Aberdeen S.S. Co. to take me off at Scarborough. This they agreed to do if I would lie off in the offing and wait for the boat.

I went off in the afternoon of the day. It was a fine day, fortunately, and I watched ship after ship, and at last, about 4 p.m., the big paddle wheels of the steamer loomed up.

It was the crack boat of the Aberdeen S.S. Co.; she had been chartered as a transport during the Crimean war, and was the only ship that rode out, or steamed out, the heavy gale off Balaclava that wrecked so many of our ships.

She tried to take me on board without a full stop, but I would not see it, and drifted a long way astern, causing considerable delay; but at last I was got up the side.

The captain swore great guns at the idea of stopping his ship for one passenger. I agreed with him and recommended him to swear at his directors in London; and verily believe he would have sworn at them if he had had them there to swear at.

A smooth and lovely passage, arriving at Aberdeen about 11 a.m. next morning.

On arriving off the coast of Fife we ran through a school of whales, spouting and tumbling about in the most idiotic manner.

Arrived at Aberdeen I lunched at my friend the innkeeper's, who impressed me with the exceeding merits of my take, and the grouse I should get.

In the afternoon I was away by train to Gartly, and there found my keeper and dogs.

The lodgings were very plain, but good enough, and there, fortunately for me as turned out, also, lodging and shooting a moor rented from my innkeeper at Aberdeen, was that grand old sportsman the late Mr. Ginger Stubbs.

I am pretty certain that, my £50 being in view, that my bit of ground was cut off from Stubbs moor as an afterthought.

Mr. Stubbs was excellent company, and very good-naturedly he taught me a great many useful things that I desired to know about grouse shooting.

My moor was truly small: about an hour in the morning hunted it, and then I let it rest till the afternoon, giving birds time to work back home. The whole bag was about thirty brace of grouse, some grand brown hares, and a few sundries.

One of my dogs, never having been on grouse, until she saw them killed, took no more notice of them than she would of chickens.

A fortnight finished it, and I returned to England wiser in grouse lore than when I went. The £50 was well spent.

The novelty, the pure air, the heather hills, in fact, the whole thing, was delightful; it gave me a very considerable insight into grousing matters, and a knowledge of grouse moors in that locality, that was eventually of considerable use to me, and Stubbs put me right in many ways.

According to the fashion of the times I was shooting with a gun of 7-1/4lb. weight, and I was still further handicapping myself by holding my left hand too near the trigger guard.

"You shoot with too much gun," says Stubbs; "push out your left hand along the barrels."

On my way south the Aberdeen innkeeper asked me to join a party that he was making up to attend the Highland sports that were to be held at Mar Lodge. I was nothing loth, and joined the party.

He took us down very comfortably along Dee side in a four horse omnibus, driven by himself, and gave me the box seat by his side. I think that he felt some compunction about the little do in respect to the moor "that was enough for one gun."

I forgave freely enough.

Everything was well arranged, rooms having been taken beforehand at the Hotel at Braemar.

The Prince and Princess of Wales were there (it was just after their marriage), and, of course, a great number of notables to meet them.

The whole affair was a large garden party; the railway being only open to Aberdeen, and the hotels in the locality not being so numerous or extensive as they are now, there was no crowding on the ground.

I did not care much for the sports, in fact, I never could see much in Highland sports, but other people do, so let them enjoy them, but my trip pleased me very much.

And so ended my first experience of Highland shooting.