When an invitation to Gleneagles arrived at my desk, I naturally assumed it was a case of mistaken identity. Gleneagles? I scoffed. I don’t play golf! For golfers in tartan trousers was the only image I was able to conjure when I imagined Gleneagles.
Gleneagles is not just any golfing destination, of course, but one of the most famous golfing destinations in the world. Yet as impressive and engulfing as its 700 acres of perfectly manicured greens may be, few people (including myself) are aware that beyond them lays a much bigger playground, a wild and exhilarating landscape of moorland, forest, glen and mountainside. Thankfully Gleneagles’ newest owners have once again tapped into this beautiful landscape and all it has to offer, and the resort’s sporting legacy is undergoing a revival. Along with a team of fellow sporting journalists, I had been invited to go along and sample its newest offerings.
The shooting school was originally opened in 1985 by famous British racing car driver and keen shooting man Sir Jackie Stewart. The school, immediately impressive with its myriad of 13 sporting stands simulating some of the most exciting game birds—the woodcock, partridge, snipe, the high pheasant, bolting rabbit and of course the grouse butts—is perfectly set against a backdrop of the moors themselves.
We enjoyed a sequence convincing and challenging enough to prepare us for the next day where we would pursue the real thing, followed by a traditional hunters’ lunch of game pies and hare pate, fresh fruits and cheeses flanked by beautiful wild flower arrangements, all enjoyed in the traditional hunting lodge. The shooting school, like the whole of the Gleneagles resort, is special, and so is the treatment you receive there. With our eyes in, it was now time to wind down and enjoy supper in one of the many five-star dining options at the resort. Nothing in this place disappoints and there is nothing which can’t be accommodated, so what better way to draw in the evening and steady the minds of a team of excited guns than a spot of fine whiskey and cigar-flavoured fly fishing on the lake?
Our first day faded into a lullaby of laughter and camaraderie—the same camaraderie that was up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning on the imposing steps of the iconic hotel calling shotgun on the nearest Bentley Bentayga in eagerness to get on the moor and get going. You see, not only were we shooting on the first day of the UK game shooting season, aptly known as the Glorious Twelfth, we were also going to try our hand at a time-honoured tradition synonymous with Gleneagles: the grouse race! What better way to mark the start of a new era of sporting excellence at Gleneagles and the start of fresh game hitting the tables of many a top London restaurant than to be the team to get them there first.
The moor is only a short drive from the doors of the hotel—one of the great assets Gleneagles has is it’s right in the middle of it all, and their tag line couldn’t be more fitting: a glorious playground. Making our way up the winding hillside, the Bentaygas eventually came to a seamless halt in front of a tiny bothy. The immaculately tweed-clad Gleneagles food & beverage team awaiting us seemed out of place at first in what seemed like such a rustic little hut, but it finally made perfect sense on stepping inside to a scene which quite frankly blew me away: that small, humble bothy had been transformed into a grotto of beautiful wild flower arrangements, immaculate table linens, sumptuous tweed blankets, grand candelabras and hot beverages. And there it was again, that feeling I was becoming accustomed to here—that “wow, this place is incredibly special” feeling. Wrapped in a tweed blanket, tea in hand, I eagerly took in our briefing from our host and with it, joined the dream team as we collected our Holland & Hollands kindly entrusted to us for the day as we headed out toward the purple carpeted landscape of the moor to begin our quest. It would hopefully see us harvest not only enough grouse to feed the hungry mouths at Gleneagles but also enough birds to accompany Olympic Gold medallist Peter Wilson MBE by helicopter to the Harwood Arms (the only Michelin-starred pub in London) that evening, where a gaggle of journalists from all manner of non-field sports magazines awaited to sample the perfectly prepared fruits of our labour! The race was on!
I don’t think I have ever been more attuned to my hunter-gatherer instincts as I was when I began to navigate the moor. I’ve hunted all over the globe, I’ve pursued many different species, each with their own challenge, and I’ve hunted dangerous game, and I can tell you being charged by a bear through thick brush certainly heightens all of your senses! However, here I was, quite safe on a beautiful grouse moor, in glorious weather, feeling more alive and more challenged than I ever had—adding the word “race” had certainly brought the game face out in all of us. I yomped the moor with such purpose, carefully scanning the landscape, primed and ready for the grouse to present themselves and hopefully offer a good safe shot.
As with all shoot days your intended quarry is not the only wildlife you become consumed by. I had started a little check list in my mind: newts—check, frogs—check, short-eared owl—check, snipe, vole, mountain hare, the list went on, and I was so enthralled in my mini moorland safari that when a grouse eventually did jet past, catching me completely by surprise, I forgot to relieve my safety catch. When I did eventually get onto the bird’s flight path I missed in front with both barrels gliding off into the distance unscathed—an unforgivable rookie error! We needed him for dinner! I scalded myself, the picker up to my left and his dog both wearing a kind smile which I couldn’t help but join in on: “ye can’t hit em all, lassy!” Well, I was going to bloody well try!
I soon had my chance as we walked down into another dense patch of heather, and the next birds which arose in front of me were mine with a perfectly-timed and executed left & right, down they came and with the help of Grouse the yellow Labrador’s nose, I finally had two birds in the bag. The sweat had just started to trickle down my back which was strangely satisfying as I had just bagged dinner, but boy had I worked for it! In such exhilarating surroundings, you can’t help but feel completely satisfied, and not even the midges could dampen my mood. I felt I could finally relax as I wasn’t going home empty-handed! But before long the gun was back in my shoulder and I had another brace in the bag, this time cleanly killing two straight going away birds with one shot! I had patterned Gamebore’s new Grouse Extreme in the days before and was pretty certain it was down to the cartridge rather than luck or my skill as a shooter, but it felt pretty good all the same and Grouse was all too happy to retrieve the long shots, and had finally stopped pitying me. By the end of the day I had contributed a total of five and a half braces to the bag and with the rest of the team’s contributions we had enough birds to furnish the tables of both the Gleneagles’ and the Harwood Arms’ grouse race dinner! Our mission had been accomplished.
Arriving back at the bothy, we bid the helicopter and Peter farewell in a sea of tweed and rosy cheeks, champagne in hand. The guns were then rewarded with a wonderful (and rather lavish as we had come to expect) shoot lunch in the bothy where we toasted our hosts and their beautifully managed moorland, raising our glasses to our fellow guns not only for our own achievements that day but the achievements of those who had come before us to attempt the great Gleneagles grouse race, and of course to those who would come to attempt it after us.
About the Gleneagles Hotel
The luxury 5-star hotel has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment and now wishes to elevate the profile of its on-site fieldsports offering.
Walked-up grouse over pointers at Gleneagles – from £1,515 per room
- Grouse shooting over pointers with 2–3 brace per Gun in a day
- Two-night stay in a Classic Room (single occupancy)
- Full Scottish breakfast each morning
- Use of The Health Club facilities
For more information, visit https://www.gleneagles.com
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Photos courtesy of Tweed Media International