My alarm went off at 3:45am and I reluctantly got up and sorted the other dogs out before loading the car up and setting off at 4:30am to begin the near 4 hour drive to Cranshaws Estate, near Duns in the Scottish borders. The M6 was quiet at that time of the morning so I made good time (including a stop at Greggs for a bacon sarnie!) and arrived at the meeting place at 8:30.
After a chat with some familiar and new faces, Frances Brooks called us over to go through the introductions etc. Judges were Alec Coutts and Ian English. Once the introductions were done we were straight into the trial in a sieve field, exactly the same ground as last yer. I was running at number 12, last year I was 13 and the field hadn’t yielded a large head of game the previous year, so I was expecting to run in the same sort of area as last time.
However the early dogs were soon into game and with the strong wind, the dogs on the right hand side were having a lot of retrieves over a fence into woodland with standing bracken, proving to be testing conditions. A couple of dogs went out early for running in, and one for taking a little too long to pick up a hare, needing the handler to give it more encouragement than permissible. I was a bit worried about the hares as Fern was still yet to have seen/retrieved one.
I was soon backing up Darren Skidmore who was running in a dense patch of tall bracken. His little dog flushed a single bird which was shot in the wood over the fence to his right. After lifting the dog over, it soon had the bird back to hand. Darren carried on hunting and a flush of about 10 birds emerged from the bracken, the gun swiftly taking down a cock bird, again in the wood. Alec Coutts shouted over to Ian English as to whether he wanted the retrieve, which he did, and Ray Whittam was called over. He again disappeared into the wood with his dog and emerged with the bird.
That was Darrens run over and I was in. Alec said he was happy to let me work the ground between my two guns and take my time. We started in the tall bracken Darren had just finished in and worked up to a fencline where we were to pivot to our lefts as the line was doubling back on itself to work down the other side of the sieve field.
Fern was going really nicely. She was taking in a lot of ground, maybe 15 yards both sides to each of my guns and was holding a nice flat pattern. She upped another gear when we entered some bracken and out popped a rabbit. She took a couple of paces to watch the rabbit around the side of the bracken and I instinctively shouted “Ey!” (training mode!) but she’d already sat up. I thought that was me out, and went to grab my lead out of my pocket, but either Alec hadn’t heard me or the luck of the gods was shining on me! The rabbit was missed and we were told to hunt on.
Fern was pulling on the line of the rabbit and it took me a couple of recall whistles to get her back and hunting again. She soon put up a hare and sat as it was shot 20 yards out in a bit of a hollow. “Great” I thought, just what I wanted. She’d never seen a hare so I didn’t know what she’d do when I sent her for it. I cast her back and she went straight to the hare, at least she’d marked it. I winced as she got closer, I needn’t have worried, it was scooped up one the fly and she was on her way back. I was stood at the top of the hollow in sieves and bracken, and guess what? All the way back and she stopped two yards short and put it down.
“pip pip” nothing “pip pip” nothing. “Sorry Scott, I’m going to have to put you out” said Alec. I said no problem, could I just try and get her to bring it into me so she doesn’t get away with it? Alec said that was fine. “Pip pip” and straight into hand with it!! I won’t type what I said!!!!
Alec really liked how she was going and commented on how well she took in her ground and that it was good to see a dog hunting a wide flat pattern, she won’t find anything at your feet he said. I trudged back to the gallery where Davey Easman offered me a fiver for her. I very nearly took him up on the offer!!!
I’d been lucky in my eyes not to go out when she took a couple of steps on the rabbit, and again when she pulled on the line of the rabbit that’d been missed. I just can’t believe she put the retrieve down again. Whether it’s fitness or not I’m not sure. However I got a hare dummy out when I got home and gave her 4 long retrieves with it and each one was to hand. Cockers!!!
I didn’t hang around as I was in a sulk and had a 4 hour journey home to no doubt contemplate what to do next. I received the news that Ray Whittam had won, and then it was either Linda Hudson 2nd and Will Clulee 3rd (or the other way around) and Wayne Parrington 4th. Darren received a COM as did some others.
I was back home around 3pm and started work in my new kennel, breaking dollops of concrete off the floor with a hammer before I start tiling. Perfect therapy for the way I was feeling! I have a trial on Monday at the Maer Shoot down in Staffordshire with her, and win, lose or draw that’s going to be my last trial.