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England: Sightseeing and Hunting Grouse on the Moors

Coming home from 12 days in England. Wow, did we have fun.

We got into London after a 10-hour overnight flight and were met at the airport by our good friend Chris Potter and went to a hotel in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, then to his shop. The next day, we rode the train to London to a hotel downtown. We thought we would see the sites and the first way to do that is to get on The Big Red Bus and sit on the upper deck in the open air and see the city. We got a good visual of the city for three hours. The weather was great, coming from 98 degrees to 60 degrees.

We usually don’t eat at hotels (or sleep at restaurants) but we were glad to eat a great dinner at a four-star restaurant in the hotel.

Days Two and Three: More Sightseeing and Purdy & Sons

On the second day, a new friend came to pick us up at the hotel and go and see the sites from the ground. Thank goodness we brought our walking shoes! On to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. They have an amazing amount of precision and pageantry, with a band and horses. Wow!

Off to Purdy & Sons shop to visit and learn the history of Purdy and the Long Room. The shop has been there since the 1800s and survived the shelling of London in World War II – and it still has the dents on the outside of the building to prove it. The Long Room was the place where the customers would come and see their new gun for the first time and where Mr. Purdy would watch the workers from a hole in the bottom of the floor that was covered by a long table with carpet under it covering the window. No one knew he was watching – surprise. But his workers always did their work.

After a great lunch, we then were off to the Tower of London. Of course, we saw The Crown Jewels and the torture chambers of The Tower of London – wouldn’t be a good place to end up.

Days Three and Four: Queen Victoria and Gardens

On our next day, we took a ride with the “Blue Badge” guide. These are retired folks who like to talk and show their town to tourists. It was a great day and we saw completely different things, one of which was Kensington Palace where Queen Victoria lived almost her whole life. She was the youngest queen and ruled the longest in their history: 63 years. We also learned about her husband King Albert and all the wonderful things he did for England and saw the beautiful monument she built for him after he passed away. She went into mourning and wore a small crown each day with her black mourning clothes. She and Albert had nine children, but not even them could relieve her of her sorrow. She died at the age of 82.

We also went through all the gardens in the city. A third of the city of London is gardens. We learned that the city used to be hunting estates for the kings and wealthy and as the heirs lived and died, the lands changed hands and became gardens for the castles of the new owners. We also found the spot where hangings and other executions were done. Ick.

After a nice lunch, we went on to see the other parts of the city— Chelsea, Notting Hill, Sunbury, and Cheshunt, to name a few. Back to the hotel and had a nice dinner at Hard Rock London.

We took the train back to Tunbridge Wells on Monday morning. Shopping at Chris Potter Country Sports to get the proper clothes for the driven grouse hunt in northern England. No polo shirts and sweatpants here: breeks and knickers and sweaters and hats and plain starched shirts. All subtle colors, of course.

Hunting Grouse on the Moors

The next morning we began our journey to northern England to the moors and the grouse butts. It took us five hours by car to go from southern England to a quaint little village and The Black Swan Hotel up north. There we met the rest of the hunters and had a great dinner, then early to bed to rise early and go to the moors.

First came the safety meeting at the lodge where they explained how the day would go. We drew our butt number from a leather case of silver nails and found out that would be the first drive butt. Then we would switch as hunts progressed.

As we were going out to hunt we saw many grouse taunting us on the side of the road. The beaters went to their position about 300 yards away with the dogs and we went to our butt to wait for the birds to be driven to us. Our spot was okay, but we didn’t get a lot of action that hunt. That’s the reason why after each drive you change butt positions so everyone gets a chance to have a good hunt.

We watched as the beaters and the dogs came over the ridges and listened as they took their flags and whipped them around to make a sound to get the birds moving. And they did move – fast little buggers! You need at least two people in the butt so that one can help spot the birds while one shoots because the birds come in low and fast and are very hard to see. You shoot to the front and birds on the side are to be taken by the closest butt… very gentlemanly.

As the beaters get closer, they all stop and blow a horn to tell you they are close and to stop shooting to the front. Everyone holds up their gun to let the beaters know they heard the horn and then they turn around to hit the birds that come over their heads from behind. Then another horn sounds and the hunt is over. As the beaters and dogs get close, we told them where our birds were and how many so the dogs could pick them up.

What a great experience to watch all this happening. Here again, the tradition is so exciting. The moors are the only place this particular grouse is, so it’s not like you can see this done anywhere else. It takes a great amount of coordination and people to put on: all the dogs, beaters, staff… It was a big production.

We stopped after each drive to have a bit of tea and sausage and sloe gin – all part of the hunt. We made sure all the birds got picked up and dogs watered, then off to a new butt for the second hunt. After the second hunt, we had a nice lunch at the lodge then off to hunt again. We went back to the hotel and had a great dinner then to bed. There was another hunt the next day.

Teaching in Leicester and Wrapping Up

At around 4 pm we began our journey back down to Leicester where we were going to teach for three days. We had a day of teaching, then a seminar day, then a day of teaching. Great folks and great targets at Grange Farms.

It was fun to watch our new friends learn the OSP way. They are mostly swing-through shooters, so this was so much easier for them to do. After these three days, we’re off to London tomorrow and home the next day.

My first trip to England was a ball. We enjoyed the food, the great people, and most of all, the history that is there. As Americans, we’ve only been around for a little over 200 years and we don’t have that history.

Even though I’m deathly afraid of heights, I was able to go on The Eye in London, where you go up in a Ferris wheel type thing and you are enclosed in a glass cubicle. But as you go around, you can see everything from a long way up. I only had to back away from the window once. Pretty good for me, since I don’t do ski lifts or mountains.

We’re home for a few days then off again. More adventures ahead!

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