Season 1864

In the spring I prepared for another campaign, I felt that I knew all about grouse moors and could take care of myself, but I had yet much to learn.

I enquired in all directions, and came across a gentleman who leased a large moor in Perthshire, the Glenshee moor, extending from the Spital of Glenshee to within a few miles of Braemar.

It was called 30,000 acres, probably might be 20,000.

The representations made to me were very good, and I was referred to a gentleman in Birmingham, who had shot there one or more seasons, and who quite truthfully gave me a very good account, so far as his experience went.

The moor was shot by four guns, shooting in two parties, I took one gun at £100, finding my share of dogs, ponies, gillies, &c., and I very naturally congratulated myself that I was well landed, and could not be otherwise than in for a good thing, and safe from all pitfalls left open for the unwary.

There was no lodge in Glenshee in those days, and it had to be shot from the Spital Inn.

The guns had to ride ponies from three to eight miles to get to their beats, men and dogs walking on beforehand, so that nearly half the time and labour was taken up in travelling to and fro', but as it turned out it did not matter much.

The moor was a fine moor, with fine heather, but with too much green ground upon it.

It included some of the high Grampians, and marched with the Mar Forest on the one end, and with Caen Lochan Forest on the east side.

For those who cared to climb 3000 feet and more, and risk sprained limbs on the roughest of broken rocks and boulders, there was a fair sprinkling of ptarmigan.

I was fairly well dogged, I had my brace of dogs, and beforehand on faith I had bought a middle aged pointer bitch from the keeper for £5, and a very good purchase she was; later on I bred some very good puppies from her and my dog Rap, and in addition to her I had my brace of dogs and my English keeper to complete my team.

We all reached the Spital, hiring from Blairgowrie, a day or two before the 12th, in high spirits and hopes for the coming fray.

The morning after our arrival my keeper came to me with a very long face, he had got it from the gillie that we were done, fairly done brown, that there was literally nothing on the ground. The moor was very high, nothing under 1500 feet above the sea, rising to 3000 feet, the limit of heather, and a severe snow storm late on in the spring had killed the young birds and driven down the old ones to lower ground, the lower moors below us were full of birds.

I was very down in the mouth. I had, as I thought, taken every precaution, and was also rather full of mycleverness at getting into what I took to be so good a thing, and had bragged considerably; but at the same time would scarcely credit that such an extent of fine ground could hold nothing. I said nothing, but waited for the outcome.

On the morning of the Twelfth we went through the usual routine of ponies, pannier ponies, gillies, dogs, &c., returning at night with a dozen brace of old birds amongst us, perhaps not so many.

The next day the same farce was enacted on another side of the moor, with worse results.

That night there was a great talk of what could be done with deer. In October, perhaps, something might be done, but in August they were well kept in by the Mar and Caen Lochan Foresters, and the talk ended where it began.

After that my keeper and I scrambled about on the high hills, after ptarmigan, an odd grouse, a hare or two. One day I managed to get six brace of ptarmigan and some dotterel—and very pretty birds they were.

Ptarmigan are curious birds on the Glenshee hills, the ground being so desperately rough it needed all your wits to walk and take care of your gun, marking down the birds as they fluttered up like pigeons.

It was useless to shoot at a bird unless you could make sure to kill him outright, as the wounded birds crept into holes amongst the rocks like rabbits.

When the birds were marked down you got to them the best way you could, and had to look very sharp to distinguish them from the colour of the stones as they crept about. You would then shoot one on the ground, and take another as they rose.

The old cock birds in their summer plumage were very handsome birds.

I soon had enough, and in about a fortnight made tracks for the south.

But before going south I suggested to the boss of the shooting, who had let me the gun, that, as he must have known before he let it what the state of things would be, he should, anyhow, return one half the money, and that more especially as there was one corrie that held birds, and, at the solicitation of the keeper, I had let them alone, being the only breeding stock left to him, but I could make nothing of him. One of the other guns, whom I will call Fred, and who had shot there several seasons, also pressed the matter sharply, but his blandishments were of no effect, and Fred was so annoyed that he said he would shoot there no more, and would be glad to join with me in taking a place, if we could find one pretty accessible, that would carry two guns shooting together.

In those days there were practically no agents, in the modern acceptance of the term, excepting Snowie, of Inverness. There were, also, very few advertisements, and accessible moors were in no great plenty, and such as there were, were let to permanent tenants, who renewed their leases at the old rents; in fact, it was pretty much the rule that so long as the old tenant chose to remain there should be no rise of rent. Times were then easy with landowners, and they were easy with their tenants.