The decision not to attend the funeral of a wonderful character called Charlotte Tuke came with a heavy heart. For those who did not have the pleasure of meeting her, Charlotte had for many years been a tireless worker for the British Field Sports Society and then the Countryside Alliance, going back it would seem into the mists of time. There would have hardly been a Point-to-Point in the Eastern Counties that Charlotte did not attend and it was always her way to make anybody and everybody welcome on the stand. We will miss her greatly and whether it be Burghley Horse Trials or a Point-to-Point on a cold wet afternoon, her absence will be sadly noticed by a very large number of our most regular supporters.
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I felt that the occasion that I was to attend instead was one where she too would loved to have been, thus making my decision somewhat easier. Equally it was with the blessing of her husband Donald that I duly made my way to the Bicester Country to record the activities of what is delightfully called, the Muck Heap Shoot. They were just the sort of people whose company Charlotte would have enjoyed and the day was conducted to the very highest of standards, by a Keeper who knew exactly how to put a day’s shooting together.
First of all though, it would be wise to find out why the shoot has got this rather unusual name. It certainly isn’t what you would describe as the norm and doesn’t quite slip of the tongue like, Blenheim, Batsford or Belvoir. The truth of the fact is that it is named after the Muck Heap at the Bicester with Whaddon Chase Hunt Kennels. What is perhaps more unusual is that the Keeper for the last nine or ten years is also the Huntsman, Patrick Martin. There may have been many Huntsmen over the years who have had an interest in shooting but to take on the position of part time Keeper is just a little different. I have known many Keepers show a great interest in hunting, but as yet have to hear of one being a Huntsman, other than perhaps north of the Border? If there is somebody out there who is please let me know, I would be delighted to hear from you.
In this particular case, it has been fascinating to observe Patrick at work. He has been Huntsman of the Biscester for the last twenty-two seasons and this was to be his last. Back in early September I had the pleasure of enjoying a successful morning’s hunting with him at Purston. Following him back to the Kennels, we watched him feed his hounds, treat the lame ones and put them to bed after what had been a long hard morning. Coats and boots were quickly seen to then it was away in the Land Rover to feed the pheasants. This was when I was to learn just how seriously he took his duties as a Keeper to the Muck Heap Shoot, which he also I have to add, thoroughly enjoyed.
So on January the ninth we met at the Shoot Captain, John O Neil’s farm at 9.30 am, where we were most hospitably entertained by
this former Master of the Bicester. We then moved off to our first drive, a small covert but one which looked just the right sort of place to hold a goodly number of pheasants and sure enough it did. The Guns were not a team of all hunting people by any means so this was to make the day of more interest. It wasn’t many minutes after the Beaters entered the covert and pheasants started to move that a distinctive holloa rang out, informing us of the presence of one of our vulpine friends. The very fact he was there gave us great pleasure but made absolutely no difference whatsoever to the drive, and after twenty minutes of swift action, fifty-seven shots had been fired and twenty-four pheasants accounted for. Not a bad start, with everybody getting their fair share of the shooting. This was a day when good humour was the central theme and what a pleasure it made the day. The Keeper had worked hard to ensure that everybody was part of it and this was clear to see as there was no shortage of birds throughout with a total bag at the end of sixty-five head with another three foxes appearing, again making no difference to the drives whatsoever.
As the day drew to a close, it had been quite clear that we had been privileged to have been part of a day where a good spirit and good sportsmanship came together to make it such a unique occasion. It also proved that by our two sports co-operating in the way we witnessed so much had been achieved in the interests of both. The credit for this largely goes down to one man, Patrick Martin, Huntsman to the Bicester with Whaddon Chase Hounds who at the end of the season retires from both the hounds and his role as game-keeper. His record for putting the countryside and our respective sports at the very forefront of working life is well renowned.