I have always been a creature of the outdoors. As a small boy I was always out in the fields or by a stream looking at the wild animals and fish, and it was inevitable that I would become an enthusiastic participant in fishing and field sports. I caught my first fish, a perch, when I was four, and I have been a fanatical angler more or less ever since.
At the age of about ten I was delighted to be given my first shotgun – a folding 4.10 – and very shortly after the first instance of the dreadful Myxomatosis wiped out 99.9% of the UK rabbit population. I didn`t see a wild rabbit for some five years, and when I did spot one I could hardly believe it. Thankfully all these years later they have developed quite an immunity to that shameful disease, although it does still regularly kill numbers of them. It saddens me when Max brings me a suffering rabbit and I have to put it out of its misery. Strange really when I think of the numbers of them (and pigeons) I have shot over the years, and of course they do great damage, but I don`t think any living thing should endure such a lingering and pitiful demise.
Anyway after a couple of decades’ rough shooting I graduated to organised partridge, snipe, pheasant and grouse shooting and enjoyed some great sport and camaraderie. In due course I ran a pheasant shoot myself for some sixteen years and have innumerable happy memories of that time, working closely with Bob Glentworth, my gamekeeper, and doing everything we could to make the birds fly as high as possible.
With the passing of time I wanted to shoot less, but loved the organising, and had much satisfaction witnessing the excitement of guests reporting that they`d had the best day of their lives! (As an aside to all this I thought myself to be a pretty decent shot at the time; that was until a friend took me to a clay pigeon shoot. I was probably the worst one there and marvelled at two or three of the contestants who never seemed to miss! These guys became good friends and, needless to say, I tried hard to become as good as them – enjoying every minute. To cut a long story short, I shot for England in 1979 at Loch Leven, achieving a three-year ambition and I am pleased to say that we were victorious!)
Back to the story however… One of the most challenging and sporting birds to shoot is undoubtedly the driven grouse and this is where Lord Biddulph comes into the story. Lynn Wilson (now sadly no longer with us) had organised two days’ grouse shooting near Edinburgh, which was run very efficiently by the above mentioned ‘Lord of the Realm’. The party of eight guns (plus some of their ladies) assembled excitedly at the Ednam House Hotel at Kelso, feverish at the thought of tackling those jet-propelled birds, and slightly apprehensive of meeting Sir Robert! He duly arrived at the hotel to introduce himself – very imposing in his tweed suit and inevitable cap, and Lynn, as captain of the party, opened the dialogue:
“Now, Lord Biddulph, how do we address you – Sir, Sir Robert or Lord Biddulph?”
We were slightly taken aback when, in a very cultured public school accent, the reply came:
“Oh God, call me Robert – I`m Lord of F—k all!!”
Well, to say that broke the ice would be an understatement and it really set the pattern for the events to come!
The shooting on the moors was fantastic and Robert proved to be a magnificent and highly entertaining host, enthralling us with some hilarious tales. He told us that a party of Italians during a grouse drive had actually shot and killed two curly-horned SHEEP!
“Good Heavens” I said, “Did you throw them off the moor Robert?”
“No” he replied, “I thought to myself – ‘they`re paying enough money and I`ve got plenty of bloody sheep’, so I had my men cut the heads off, charged the Itis £500 each for them, and they proudly took them back to Italy as trophies!”
Another time he told us that he had an American team shooting in atrocious conditions – high winds and heavy rain. He recalled: “I thought to myself, ‘I`m not bloody-well getting out in this’, so I sat in the Range Rover reading the paper while they trudged up the hill braving the deluge. After a while I heard a few bangs and was pleased that at least they were getting a bit of sport. Eventually all went quiet and in due course I saw them all trooping back down to the vehicles. There came a knock at the rain-speckled window and, when I lowered it, one of the Americans leaned in and said, “Gee Robert, your weather over here sure adds spice to the hunt!””
There were many more – too numerous to mention – but my favourite was without doubt the following, which he regaled us with one lunchtime up the hill – he said (and remember the super-posh accent): “Do you know, I was reading the paper the other morning when there was a knock on the door. I went to open it and there stood a scruffy little fellow in a dirty sports-jacket – said he was from the bloody V.A.T or something like that. So I said, “well you`d better come in.” I made him a cup of tea and, can you believe it, he sat there asking all sorts of impertinent questions. So I said, ““Now you look here, I`ve a man at Lockerbie who deals with all this sort of thing – you just F—k off!!!””
Dear old Robert, now long deceased. What fun he was, and to be sure I shall never forget him!