Category Archive 'Scotland'
12 Aug 2018

The Glorious Twelfth

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“A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.”

The twelfth of August, known as the Glorious Twelfth, the first day of grouse hunting season was established by the Scotch Game Act of 1773.

In honor of which, and in order to keep it in print, NYM is republishing, Gerald Warner’s 11 August 2008 Telegraph essay, “Better to kill a fellow gun than wing a beater.”

This week sees a significant date in the British sporting calendar — and it has nothing to do with the Olympics. The Twelfth will inaugurate the grouse-shooting season, though it also becomes legal to take a pot at snipe and ptarmigan if that is your bag. For dedicated sportsmen, the driven grouse, flying high, is the quarry of choice.

Grouse shooting is still conducted on some scale, despite the problems that have afflicted it in recent years. There are 746 upland properties in Britain, covering nine million acres, that shoot grouse and 459 of them are grouse moors. The sport supports the employment of 700 grouse keepers and represents 12 per cent of total United Kingdom shooting provision, which contributes £1.6 billion to the economy.

So we are talking about a significant economic activity. That, however, is not the atmosphere on the moors, among the participants in a sport that, second only to hunting, is the essence of Britain (one feels compelled to eschew Gordon Brown’s horrid, synthetic neologism “Britishness”). The heather is in bloom and there is a feeling of keen anticipation. Of course, the shooting will actually be better in a month’s time, when the birds have been fully nourished and matured, but the Twelfth has a ritual significance that cannot be gainsaid.

This is still rather a smart sport: even the grouse has a double-barrelled name: Lagopus lagopus scoticus. There is a correspondingly acute awareness of social nuances among the guns themselves. A novice kitted out in brand-new knickerbockers and deerstalker might as well wear one of those conference badges saying “Hedge fund manager”. A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.

If he has been obliged to replace his Barbour since last season, he may take the precaution of driving his tractor over it several times. Nor should the olfactory sense be neglected: if you cannot out-stink the wet gun-dogs, your bona fides may be suspect. It should be noted, too, that protocol dictates that shooting another gun dead is an unfortunate accident; winging a beater or, worse, a keeper is unforgivable.

It is not necessarily ill-bred to shoot a human quarry: some of our best-born sportsmen had form. The Duke of Wellington was more lethal on the moor than on the battlefield. While visiting Lord Granville in 1823, he accidentally shot him in the face. When shooting at Lady Shelley’s, he hit one of her tenants who was hanging out her washing. “My lady, I’ve been hit!” moaned the victim. To which Lady Shelley replied: “You have endured a great honour today, Mary — you have the distinction of being shot by the Duke of Wellington.” More recently, Willie Whitelaw notoriously winged a keeper and simultaneously shot an old friend in the buttocks, after which he courteously gave up shooting.

Shooting, like hunting, has its distinctive humour and literature, including the cartoons of Mark Huskinson and books such as Douglas Sutherland’s The English Gentleman’s Good Shooting Guide. The classic works of fiction are surely JK Stanford’s chronicles of that veteran sporting gun Colonel the Hon George Hysteron-Proteron, known to fellow members of his club as “The Old Grouse-Cock”, whose game book ran to 20 volumes after he had shot “about 200,000 head”.

Such prolific slaughter would be condemned today. A common complaint is that roaring boys from the City are ruining shooting with their vulgar drive for extravagantly big bags. Over-shooting may be frowned on, but historically there are precedents that are far from plebeian. By the time the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury died in 1841, he had killed 10,744 partridges, 8,862 pheasants, 4,694 snipe and 1,080 woodcock — but no grouse: in Georgian times, it was wall-to-wall partridge. In accomplishing this record, he had fired more than four tons of cartridges.

In the succeeding generations the 6th Lord Walsingham shot 1,070 grouse in one day on Blubberhouse Moor in Yorkshire in 1888. He fired 1,510 cartridges during 20 drives and twice killed three birds with a single shot. In the following January, he shot the most varied bag ever recorded: 191 kills of 19 different species, ranging from 65 coots to a rat and a pike shot in shallow water. The seal of royal approval was given to large bags when George V downed more than 1,000 pheasants in one day in 1913.

The scale of events on Tuesday will be much more modest. Ticks, parasitic worms, floods and raptors have taken a heavy toll of the grouse. In Scotland, long regarded as the doyen of upland game terrain but plagued with problems, this season is predicted to be slightly better than last, but it is very patchy. Grouse stocks are reported to be up by somewhere between 20 per cent and 50 per cent in the Lammermuirs, but further north the ticks have done a lot of damage.

Yet the devotees will have their sport, rewarded for all their efforts by that heart-quickening moment when the sky first fills with the quarry. It is the timeless experience that, years ago, caused the Duke of Sutherland’s loader to exclaim excitedly: “Grace, Your Grouse!”

A more modern complement to the outdoor sport is the competition among restaurants to be the first to serve grouse on August 12. In 1997, this reached a new pitch of extravagance when the first birds shot on a Scottish moor were rushed to Heathrow and transported on Concorde to New York where, thanks to supersonic flight and the five-hour time difference, they were served to diners at the Restaurant Daniel the same day. A similar extravagance featured a courier parachuting into the grounds of a gourmet hotel to deliver grouse.

The Twelfth is a day for extravagance, nostalgia and enjoyment. Here’s to good sport for now, and the perpetuation of a great British rural tradition.

24 Jun 2018

Playing ’til the Cows Come Home

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17 Jan 2018

Enculer Les Mouches*

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In a remote part of Northern Scotland, the development of a shore-side world-class golf course that might provide a great deal of local employment is being blocked by “conservationists” fighting to preserve the supposed habitat of Fonseca’s Seed Fly, Botanophila fonsecai, a species, one of 110,000 in the world and one of more than 7000 in the UK, discovered in the 1960s, and differentiable only by a close examination of the insect’s genitalia under a microscope.

The developers have spent the last two years modifying their plans so as to minimize the golf course’s environmental impact in hope that the local Council in authority will be placated.

Today’s world is mad, and the insane environmentalist religion is one leading source of the madness.

The Verge.com

Golf.com

* French: “Bugger the flies.” — Reversal of the French saying “N’enculer pas les mouches,” a crude way of saying “Let us not split hairs.”

31 Dec 2017

Scottish Parliament Sings “Auld Lang Syne”

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(Sean Connery is present.)

09 Jan 2017

“Hunted Down”

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John Pettie, Hunted Down, 1877, Hospitalfield Arts, Arbroath.

31 Dec 2016

Scottish Parliament Sings “Auld Lang Syne”

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(Sean Connery is present.)

12 Sep 2016

Apparent Gold-Handed Bronze Sword Found Under Scottish Soccer Field

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bronzeswordgoldhandle

Daily Mail:

A suspected Bronze Age sword with a gold hilt that may be up to 4,000-years-old has been uncovered on the site of a new community football pitch.

Diggers moved into the site in Carnoustie, Angus, in Scotland after a collection of relics were unearthed while workmen began laying foundations for the new sports field.

Work to the playing fields has now been halted while archaeologists scour the site.

The find appears to be a sword with a gold hilt, or handle, dating back to the Bronze Age.

It looks as though it could be two items – possibly a spear point or a broken sword.

Early excavations have revealed a trove of ancient artefacts, which the archaeologists believe could date back thousands of years. …

Due to the fragile nature of the find it has to be specially lifted out in order to conserve it for experts to examine in a laboratory.

25 Jun 2016

Trump’s Visit to Scotland Inspired Some Very Creative Profanity

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Quartz story

————–

A few samples:

TrumpScottishInsults

27 May 2016

Recipe For Disaster

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Voice Recognition Elevator… in Scotland!

20 Sep 2015

Scottish Response to Hate Preaching

23 Aug 2015

Live the Dream

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OpenBook

Entertaining “Local Hero-ish” (1983) fantasies of escaping from the rat race to live the simple life in a quaint Scottish village? Ever dreamt of running your own bookshop? The Guardian reports that you can try out your fantasies during vacation this year for a mere £150 a week.

[A]ll those who … who yearn to spend their days amongst the pristine spines and glossy covers of a small bookshop, what might be the perfect holiday retreat has just been listed on AirBnB: the opportunity to become a bookseller for a week or two.

For the sum of £150 a week, guests at The Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland’s national book town, will be expected to sell books for 40 hours a week while living in the flat above the shop. Given training in bookselling from Wigtown’s community of booksellers, they will also have the opportunity to put their “own stamp” on the store while they’re there. “The bookshop residency’s aim is to celebrate bookshops, encourage education in running independent bookshops and welcome people around the world to Scotland’s national book town,” says the AirBnB listing.

The Open Book is leased by the Wigtown book festival from a local family. Organisers have been letting paying volunteers run the shop for a week or two at a time since the start of the year, but opened the experience up to the world at large this week when they launched what they are calling “the first ever bookshop holiday experience” on AirBnB.

“I wouldn’t call it a working holiday,” said Adrian Turpin, director of the Wigtown book festival. “It’s a particular kind of holiday [for people] who don’t feel that running a bookshop is work. It’s not about cheap labour – it’s about offering people an experience … It’s one of those great fantasies.”

The money is “just essentially to cover our costs”, said Turpin, admitting that “it can be a hard life, selling books in a small town, so it’s not a holiday for everybody”.

13 May 2015

Anthony Bourdain Goes Deer Stalking

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Bourdain

His blog:

[S]talking deer in the Scottish Highland is the hardest, most physically demanding single activity I’ve ever done on camera. It doesn’t look like much. A nice walk up some hills, across the moors, in traditional Scottish kit, carrying nothing more cumbersome than a walking stick. You don’t even have to carry your rifle. The gamekeeper does that for you. The hills and peaks, the mountains of the Highlands are incredibly beautiful—the footing alternately firm and hard against flinty rock and hard packed soil—then soft and spongy among the heather and scrub of the moors, then steep, near vertical inclines. The idea is to walk up, at a reasonable pace, higher and higher, the incline gradual, legs fine, then not so fine, then burning with exertion. After a few miles, by which time, you’re congratulating yourself on having made it so far, the gamekeeper might spot a suitable animal through his binoculars—about a mile away. “If we sneak around the back that way—behind that mountain—and make our way quietly across that ridge—pop out over there-” he suggests, pointing at a harrowingly steep range of what sure as hell look like mountains to me, “we might just surprise him.” This is yet another climb requiring some skill and no small amount of exertion—and at least another hour—all in the cause of sneaking up on an animal who, more than likely will be gone by the time we arrive at our position. We spend a lot of time crawling through wet heather and brush. It’s raining in that kind of omnipresent, thin drizzle kind of way—almost a mist that the French used to call “Le Crachin”. Which is to say, by the time I finally manage to successfully shoot an old stag in the brain, I am pretty happy at the prospect of walking downhill for a change. But, no. Downhill, it turns out, is worse. MUCH worse. A couple of miles of relentless incline and my knees, deprived of the kind of shock-absorbent cushioning of my younger years, are in full rebellion. I’m hobbling like Long John Silver, making little grunting sounds with the impact of each step, trying, somehow to take it sideways all the way home.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

23 Feb 2015

Climbers Heard Screaming on Ben Nevis

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Comb Gully where Christopher Sleight was climbing

BBC:

In recent weeks, we’ve seen some of the best ice climbing conditions in years in the west of Scotland, especially on Ben Nevis.

Day after day of gentle freeze-thaw cycles have created vast swathes of thick, sticky ice of the best quality – choking gullies and dripping improbably over steep buttresses.

The corries of the Ben have been busy with climbers seeking out these incredible conditions, and a few days ago I joined them, setting out with a good friend to climb an ice route called Comb Gully – a gully high in the corrie that’s bounded by the Trident Buttress on one side and the steep walls of Tower Ridge on the other.

The ice was perfect and we were climbing well. I was on the the crux pitch – about 10m or so of very steep ground – and I had my back wedged against a rock wall as I placed an ice screw when I heard the first scream.

It started indistinctly, slightly muffled, but quickly came sharp into focus. It pierced through the mist – the most visceral, awful sound.

People talk about bloodcurdling screaming and for the first time I understood. That noise sent a stream of cold blood around my veins and chilled the back of my neck.

My first thought was simple but terrible: I was listening to someone who had just watched a loved one – not simply a climbing partner, but a loved one – fall to their death. There was so much pain and loss in that dreadful noise.

I froze for a moment, barely breathing, still perched on that vertical wall. I wasn’t in a secure position, hanging off a few millimetres of metal hooked into the ice. At that moment I just wanted to be gone – off the climb, off the mountain.

This screaming had brought home to me the possible consequences of getting something wrong, of making a mistake. That was honestly what I’d thought I’d heard – the consequences of someone getting it very wrong and losing their life.

But there was no way to make a quick retreat – the fastest way out of this gully was up. I finished the crux and secured myself to three solid ice screws and brought my partner up.

We discussed the screams, trying to work out where they had come from, speculating on what might have happened, and agreed we needed to finish our climb as quickly as we could.

We completed the final, easier pitch, and ended up on the Ben Nevis plateau in the mist, in complete silence. …

A brief search close to where we finished our climb revealed nothing. We headed down to Fort William.

I later spoke to another climber I knew who had been on a route in the same corrie. He had abseiled off his route and gone to investigate, but found nothing.

Other climbers did the same. Nobody could find evidence of an accident and the police said no-one had been reported missing.

So we don’t know who was screaming. We don’t know what happened to them. We probably never will.

Complete story.

26 Aug 2014

Dunkirk, 1940

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Daniel Hannan, Conservative MP, in the Telegraph.

My favourite World War II story is of the Highlander who, observing the rout on the beaches of Dunkirk, tells his sergeant: ‘If the English give in, too, this could be a long war.’

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