Gamekeepers Welfare Trust chief executive Helen Benson has finished her journey from the north of Scotland to the south coast and back up to Sandringham.
The trip raised awareness for gamekeepers and allowed her to stop at shooting estates al over the country.
Helen kept her fans up to date with her progress on her Facebook page.
She started in April at the Castle of Mey. A party of them went through an area of peat land to the source of the River Thurso to meet Chris at Achies. “Through huge forests past the lodge at Lochdu and Altnahara Station,” she writes. “Then on to a vast area before meeting Duncan at Accenture where they transferred to an argo. Past lochs and hill to Baddenloch where we met Brian for lunch. Then up to Loch Choire through lochs and past Ben Grain. A beautiful loch and stunning scenery looking back down as we stopped briefly at the bothie. After winding around the peat hags we met with Andrew from Dalnessie who took us around the hill back down along the River Brora and quick change of vehicle to Lairg.”
The journey included cadging lifts with gamekeepers an country people about their daily business. Day two, from Lairg to Kinveachie, saw her and her faithful Border terrier Smartie jump into the Ardgay Game van with Rory and Heiko. They went to see Andrew at Glenbervie Estate where we went up the straight mile to feed the deer including Honey, Andrews pet which reputedly could open doors to get back to the house. “We travelled by tractor, four by four trucks, including a sit in the famous ‘Goblin’ and an amazing Polaris which covered some serious hill ground,” she writes. “From Novar with thanks to Neil and headkeeper Aaron Winton, there and Mike and Declan at Scatwell Estate. Then another ride with Ardgay thankyou to Paul to Cawdor. A fantastic ride over the famous partridge ground run by Head keeper Roddy Forces over the grouse moors down into Kinveachy to meet Ewan.”
Travelling through gamekeepered estates, her days were a constant parade of wildlife, including golden eagle, golden plover, capercaillie, mountain hares, grouse and three species of deer in red, roe and sika.
“I feel so privileged to have met some of the most hospitable, kind and knowledgeable people in the keepers and their families you could wish to meet,” writes Helen. “Smartie has had a great day and managed to hide her from seeing the hares.”
She travelled via Balmoral (royal estates were a theme of the journey, the Pentland Hills and Lauderdale to England. “Travelling into County Durham we were transported by Paul Elvin (Eck) ghillie on the River Tyne on the Styford beat to Stanhope to meet Peter Fawcett Headkeeper of Bollyhope Estate,” she writes. “Rich with bird life we saw curlews, redshank, golden plover (and a nest with four lovely eggs) and lapwing not to mention grouse,” she writes. “A superb drive over the famous County Durham moor, adapting to changes like so many estates to cutting the heather rather than burning in sensitive deep peat areas. Although we did not see them today merlin and hen harriers are successfully nesting in these areas. We then travelled above High Force on the River Tees to see friend Lindsay Waddell, former NGO chair and headkeeper of Raby estate.”
Over the Yorkshire Dales, she came to BASC’s headquarters outside Chester. Head of the gamekeeping Glyn Evans and the ever helpful gamekeeping officer Alex, NGO chairman David Poole and Steve Stringer, headkeeper of Chirk Castle, lined up to meet her at Marford Mill, BASC’s HQ. After a welcome cuppa, she took a ride in a 1951 Land Rover over to the only grouse moor in Wales. “Extending to almost 8,000 acres, we drove through on a public road and bumped into Stuart Hart, headkeeper of this unique place, along the way,” she writes. “As we stopped, we could hear red grouse all around and witnessed more than a dozen black grouse flying nearby as dusk was falling. Quite remarkable especially taken the Welsh government stance on tightening further rules on predator control which will inevitably directly affect these precious habitats.”
There followed a lovely ride back through rocky passes into the valley past the aqueduct to Chirk. Via Shropshire and the Cotswolds, next, and on to Devon, where Helen met Brian Mitchell, headkeeper of the famous Castle Hill shoot, trustee of the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust and vice chairman and founding member of the NGO. “With a tour over Exmoor and the famous Castle Hill Shoot it was evident how important Devon and Devon shoots are to Brian and the whole fabric of the industry,” she writes. “Quality high pheasants are a major feature here, with fishing in the Tamar and River Exe and hunting, other countryside sports synonymous with the area. Last stop to where one of the last cockpits can be seen at the Arundell Arms in Lifton, now used as a fishing tackle room. This cockpit is one if the last examples dating back 200 years.”
From Launceston Castle, she turned east. Her adventures included a boat trip from West Bay. It all ended at Sandringham in Norfolk.
The entire trip was a fundraising event for the GWT and, over 17 days, raised a magnificent £6,000.