First trip to France this year.
It has been such a busy season and I just don’t know where the time has gone. We have had over 30 days here since the start of the season as well as field trials. It has been very exciting but also very tiring. This together with the weather and usual estate politics has made it a season that in some ways I may remember for all the wrong reasons. That said there have been many high points, one of which was Stalking in England’s first trip of the year to France that was again fantastic in many respects but difficult in others.
We had a team booked in to one of our reserves for October . They had booked in a whole team but on this occasion, instead of a 3 day trip with one day shooting, and diving in they had asked to fly in and arrive late and then shoot and return home the next day. This we were happy to do, as we will sort anything, but it added an incredible urgency to the whole trip and from the moment we left home on the Wednesday morning until we arrived home in the early hours of Friday morning it was extremely intense. David and I had 2 other guns joining the team, Chris Tanner, our local gunsmith and Andrew Podolski, a good friend and client from one of our trips last year, who travelled in with us. We left Norfolk at 11am on the Wednesday and after a very smooth journey down to Charles De Galle airport we checked in at the Airport Hotel. We had the room passes all sorted for the rest of the team and met Chris and Andrew for Dinner in the restaurant. No sooner had we had something to eat and we were on the shuttle coach to the main airport terminal to meet the rest of the team. Flights on time and back to the hotel for 10pm we were able to sort out rooms, meals and a drink or 2 before retiring for the night. 5.00am seemed to come round far too quickly, we met the team for breakfast. At 7.30am the coach was late, caught in traffic around the airport. After a few frantic phone calls the coach arrived and we were loaded and gone. Up to this point it had just been tiring and busy , the next 2 hours was nothing more than terrifying.
David and I had agreed that we should split up in order to save time for the return journey, David would go in the coach and I would take our vehicle and follow the coach so that we could leave directly from the reserve. However, the coach being late had not helped because our French driver who transpired to have no regard for any other drivers on the road, wanted to make up time and I was supposed to be following him. Trying to get out of the car park was the first obstacle, the gate would not open! Once it did I managed to catch up with the coach. However the French version of the Stig was not holding on and in his wisdom took us out on to the Paris Northern Periphery. Now this is, I was told later, the worst road in France to drive on. To add to my initiation this Parisian Stig now decided that he was not only going to cut up other drivers, swap lanes and generally try to loose me but he also took a completely different route to the one that the Sat Nav was trying to take me on. I clung on for dear life and kept up with him for three quarters of an hour and just as I was beginning to settle into this particular style of driving, a lorry cut me up and as I got over that I discovered an entire coach had vanished off the face of the earth. I then had no alternative but to put my life in the hands of the sat nav. Now the phone went and they had arrived at the shoot and I was still 20 minutes away. Now, they could start without me except for the fact that I had 5 guns, the ammunition, day glow vests and hunting horns in my motor with me.
At last I was there and I felt like a small plant during a locust invasion, rifles, ammo, seats, day glow vests, coats, boots, you name it, it was going out of the back of the truck at high speed. At this point they all got into the transport and I still had not got my boots on. We were off, no time for coffee and within 20 minutes of my arrival the horn was going to start the first drive. The shooting started very shortly afterwards and I could just relax for a short time. We had done it. After the first drive most guns had seen boar, many had shot at them and some had been lucky enough to connect. As we collected the guns there were some very happy faces. One of the guns had a pack pass him and was so taken by the adrenaline rush that he could not shoot. During the morning we had 3 drives and then we were taken back to the meeting point for lunch, driving through the grounds of the Chateau that you cannot help but imagine the French Aristocracy walking or riding through on their hunts hundreds of years ago.
After a wonderful lunch, that makes my normal shoot day sandwich and stale pork pie look a bit miserable, together with some excellent wine, we loaded up and back we headed to the hunting grounds. The weather had remained stunning and in the Autumn sunshine the colours and the countryside looked wonderful. Boar and deer featured in the bag by the end of the day and all too soon our day was drawing to an end. As the darkness drew in it started to cool down as the game was presented for the tableau. With a horse guard and hunting horns playing it was a great end to the guns day, but for us, we were only half way through.
Having made sure the shooting party were safely loaded onto the coach and had all their belongings we said goodbye. After calls home to tell family how we had got on and let them know when to expect us home we left.
Half way home we were glad to hear that the team were at the airport, through check in and waiting for their flight. We reached the tunnel at midnight and arrived back in Norfolk at 5 am on Friday morning. Not a bad couple of days work all in all. It underlined that you do need the full three days though. On this occasion the guns had wanted to play it like this, but out of choice we would always drive and do the trip over the 3 days. This is because a rush is not how shooting in France should be done. Le chasse is so much more than just shooting.
One thing we did find out was don’t pack the truck before the boar are ready to load up. We had put everything in and then somehow “shoe horned” a wild boar into the back behind the tailboard. It was not until we got to border control and declared the firearms that I opened the back of the truck and there it was, and it rolled out right in front of the customs man! “ Oh! I can see what you have been up to, do they taste good?” He was very helpful. We were on our way. Anyway I left him a card so you never know he might come with us next time.