Season 1872

Of course, the moor was larger than I needed for my own personal use, and according to the fashion of the time I proposed to get others to join me, so I looked out for a couple of guns to share expenses.

It was proposed that the moor should be shot in three parties of one gun each. There was no difficulty in those days in getting guns to join, but it is very difficult now. I take it, that before the passing of the Ground Game Act there was more English shooting of a moderate character, and, so to speak, men were educated to shoot, and naturally were desirous of trying their hands on grouse; besides, the shooting squires are not so well to do throughout the country as they were before the depression in land.

I advertised in the Field  on a Saturday, and before Monday was over a gentleman in Berkshire had been straight to my place in Shropshire and arranged for one gun, and the other was fixed before the end of the week. Very nice, cheery, gentlemenly men they both were. Mr. C. and Mr. D. were my colleagues.

My wife, my sister-in-law, and the children, accompanied us in August; we had a sleeping saloon as far as Helmsdale, the then terminus of Northern Railways.

That night we stopped at Ross's Hotel. Helmsdale was the only entrance by road into Caithness, and Ross's the only hotel, so the capacity of Ross's rooms was the gauge of the traffic. The Countess of Caithness had our rooms the night before, and they were booked for somebody else the night after us.

The next day Ross posted us in a char-a-banc  the thirty-two miles to Dalnawillan, stopping to lunch and bait horses at Dunbeath; the luggage had gone on before in two carts.

The drive to Dunbeath was lovely over the Ord and past Berriedale, the Duke of Portland's place.

At Dunbeath after lunch the party walked down to the sea to look at the rocks and fishing boats, and we all enjoyed it thoroughly; after this break there was a sixteen mile drive across the moorland, passing Braemore and Glutt Lodges on the left.

There being no railway we made arrangements with the Glutt party, and engaged with a carrier to bring letters, supplies, &c., from Dunbeath and take back game bags, empties, &c., the following day. We were quite as well off, in fact, better than if we had been fidgetted with railway, post-office, and telegraph at our elbow.

Things went well with us, the shooting was excellent, the Chullacan and Backlas beats were especially full of birds that season. At Chullacan was a very primitive farmhouse with a small cooking place, and a room for us to serve as sitting-room and bedroom. The farmer's room was at the other end of the house, and in his case the smoke found its way through the hole in the roof. At this place we lodged twice for two nights, each time when we shot the beats on that side. We were pretty cramped, making up three small beds at night; the morning bath we took by standing outside the house in a state of nature while the gillies douched us with pails of cold spring water.

The first time that we went over on the three days shooting, I made forty-two, forty, and forty-five brace to my own shoulder, and on our return we enjoyed the comfort of a day's lazy rest amongst the comforts of Dalnawillan Lodge. We were all very happy, my two chums in raptures, and insisting on engaging their guns for the next season.

Man proposes, God disposes.

Bag.Dalnawillan and Rumsdale.
Grouse 1098 brace.
Sundries 67½     "     

The birds were healthy in a way when we left, but did not look well in plumage. It had been a wet draggly summer, and that partly accounted for it; but before leaving we saw a few very seedy birds on our Dunbeath march.

Dunbar had been very busy all the season for the Duke of Sutherland.

At that time the shootings and fishings of the Helmsdale Strath were divided into three great lumps of ground:

Sir John Karslake the upper end, say about 60,000 acres.
Mr. Hadwen, the middle, say about 60,000    "
Mr. Meredith, the bottom end, say about 60,000    "

I cannot be precise about the extent, but that was about it.

Mr. Akroyd's, in Strath Naver, was almost unlimited, and included nearly all the salmon fishing of the Naver.

The Duke was disturbed in his mind, or somebody else was, and, Dunbar being the only man who really knew anything about the management of shootings and fishings, the Duke sent for him and engaged his services to report on the whole matter of the Sutherland shootings and fishings for the handsome fee of £1000, and well earned too, as he was the only man that could do it.

Acting under his advice the Duke divided the Helmsdale Strath into six shootings, with six salmon rods on the river, one rod to each shooting at £50 for those who chose to take them, and so the thing remains to this day, but with rents increased and half the ground taken away, the then existing tenants were somewhat indignant, but there was nothing much to grumble about.

Mr. Hadwen, who lived upon his place, being very little away, and also farmed the sheep, had built himself a good house on a yearly tenancy, went to see the Duke and the factor, Mr. Peacock, and they had a meeting about it.

"Your grace, I have been your tenant now for nearly twenty years, never dreaming that I should be disturbed in any way! you now take away half the shooting and increase the rent, and that after I have spent 2000 l. in building a good house on your land."

"Is that so, Peacock?" says the Duke.

"Yes, your grace, it is so."

"Then pay him for his house, and then we start fair," says the Duke.