Season 1865

I kept a careful watch over the advertisements in the Field  and other papers, and in the spring I noted the following advertisement on a certain Saturday:

"To be let, the Shootings of Glenmarkie, in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire, extending over 11,000 acres of moor and low ground; references to last tenant. Application to be made to Mr. Snowie, of Inverness, or the Law Agents in Edinburgh."

I did not sleep upon it, but wrote that night to my law agents in Edinburgh, asking them to call first thing on Monday morning upon the advertisers, and telegraph me the rent and the name of last tenant. The reply was prompt; the late tenant was Mr. Thos. Powell, of Newport, Mon.; proprietors, the Fife Trustees; the rent, £265. I telegraphed immediately to a mutual friend at Newport, and received my reply on the Tuesday morning by letter.

Mr. Powell reported that it was a capital moor, with splendid birds, and lots of them, but needed to be shot quickly, as they packed early; that, in addition to grouse, there were a great number of large brown hares on the lower beats, but that he could say nothing about the partridges and snipe on the low ground as he had never troubled with them.

Mr. Powell had given up the place to take some very large deer forest, but that did not satisfy him, and some of my readers will probably remember that not very long afterwards, whilst on a shooting expedition after big game in Abyssinia, accompanied by his wife and family, the whole party were massacred.

Fred knew the moor perfectly well at second hand through a friend who had shot upon it a few years previously, and two years before at Gartly I had gathered information about this identical moor, so, without delay, by 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I had telegraphed my Edinburgh agents to close a seven years lease at £265, which, as my agents could satisfy the proprietors' agents as to my eligibility as a tenant, was at once agreed to, and so Fred and I were joined in what proved a very pleasant partnership.

To illustrate the keenness for really good places in those days at the moderate rents at which things went, a Staffordshire gentleman had written on the Saturday for particulars of the moor, and was replied to in due course on the Monday.

He accepted by letter on the Tuesday, but by telegraph I had instructed my agents to conclude the matter, and was thus before him.

Having taken the shooting, the next best thing was to go and look at it.

The bulk of the grouse ground was in Banff, and extended over about 7000 acres, including 1000 acres adjoining, that we rented at £15 a year from a neighbouring proprietor.

In addition to the grouse ground there was about 3000 acres of rough hills, partly in gorse, bracken, broom, patches of heather, and rough pastures.

This rough ground carried a goodly number of grouse, beside snipe, golden plover, brown hares, and some few rabbits.

The low ground consisted of about 2000 acres of small arable farms prettily mixed up with the rough ground and the lower beats of the moorland.

There were enormous brown hares everywhere excepting on the higher grouse beats.

The moorland was full of grouse, and the heather splendid, but had not been sufficiently and judiciously burnt.

One hill side of about 1500 acres, nearly a fourth of the grouse ground, was deep old heather all in one patch, without a break in it.

It was frightfully dangerous in case of fire, as the whole would have swept away in one terrific blaze.

It was late in the season, but at once we put in two belts of burning, dividing it into four, and the next season burnt it properly in strips, improving the feeding and nesting ground.

On the one side we were bounded by the river Deveron, and there was salmon fishing, but they were late, and as red as mahogany, and also very stiff to rise; in fact, the few that we had were taken with the worm in the rocky pools, so the salmon fishings were very little worth. The trout fishing was not much account, though in the month of May fair baskets could be made during the rise of the March brown.

The lodge was small but well enough situated, just seven miles from Huntley. As a matter of course the windows looked on to the wrong point of view, but that is almost always the case in the older shooting lodges. There was a small but very productive garden between the lodge and the river; at end of August and beginning of September the bush fruit and the strawberries were splendid.

The situation of the lodge by the river side was very pleasant, and made gay by flowering annuals, which were much brighter in colour than those grown in the south.

We were very fortunate in the minister, who was a gentleman and a scholar, and we liked the schoolmaster.

Little more than a stone's throw from the manse was a salmon pool, and regularly after breakfast and after tea, no matter the state of water or weather, our old minister fished the pool once up and once down, it might take him five to ten minutes.

He was very reticent as to his success, but our impression was that he had about a fish a week the season through—of course he would fish blank during drought, but he fished away all the same.

Our next door neighbour was Beldornie, with its little old fashioned castle, a habitable castle, and let as the lodge for the Beldornie shooting, and the banks of the river between our lodge and the castle were pretty steep and beautifully wooded with natural hazel, birch and ash.

The kennels were pretty good, and as Fred and I shot together, three or four brace of dogs did us well.

Ready for the Start.
Ready for the Start.

We were well dogged for the 12th, with my three dogs and three of Fred's; one of his was a queer beast, a rough-looking rugged Russian setter. He was honest, staunch, and industrious, and quartered his ground well, but nothing would stop him, you might whistle and whistle till you were hoarse until he got into the neighbourhood of birds, and then down he sat on his rump and would wait, aye an hour if need be. Very rarely did he spring birds, as he did not draw upon them until you were with him. On one occasion so far did he go that we uncoupled another dog and worked up to him, getting birds on the way until we attended to his.

Fred and his wife and I went down a few days before the 12th, and he and I had a skirmishing afternoon on part of the rough ground, getting brown hare, snipe, plover, and a rabbit or two.

The grouse ground was in six beats, but on the 12th we went through some of the rough ground, getting thirty-one brace of magnificent birds and some brown hares and sundries, and the next day on a grouse beat about sixty brace, and continued to make good bags for several days, when the weather broke and quickly pulled the joint bags down to thirty and twenty brace a day.

We made about 370 brace, besides a lot of brown hares and sundries, returning south early in September to commence partridge shooting about the 10th of September, which is early enough in most English counties.

To get off a large bag would have needed two more guns shooting in another party, and so take off all that was possible in the first week before the birds began to pack, but we were happy enough, and did not care to cram the little lodge too full.

To show how very ticklish the birds were, shooting four days a week, it would take ten days to get over the beats once, and during our lease we never remember getting over the six beats before a break of weather and the birds packing.

We carried our game, lunches, spare ammunition, &c., on a pannier pony. Our pony man, Geordie Gordon, was a character—he was Jack of all trades, minister's man, clerk to the kirk, and pony man in the shooting season, and also did what gardening was needed, his dialect the purest Aberdeen, so pure that I always needed an interpreter. He was expected to keep his eyes upon and mark wide birds. On one occasion a bird towered—"Where did he go, did you mark him, Geordie?" "Yes, yes, up, up, up—up there," said Geordie, pointing to the sky.