A look ahead to the 2017 Lancashire Game and Country Festival

One of the Pilling gundogs

One of the Pilling gundogs - Credit: Archant

It’s time for the third Lancashire Game and Country Festival. Olivia Assheton, Julie Frankland and David Stocker preview this increasingly popular event.

Duncan Thomas with a group of young shooters

Duncan Thomas with a group of young shooters - Credit: Archant

The Lancashire Game and Country Festival (September 9th -10th) gets bigger and better every year but it wouldn’t happen without the support of many local clubs, businesses and individuals, all keen to share their particular sporting passion with a wider public. They are key to the spectacular and informative series of demonstrations and events at the show. Their busy day jobs haven’t prevented them giving up a great deal of time and energy to help make it a really special day out for visitors. Olivia Assheton meets a few of them and also reports on the rising number of women taking a shot at country sports.

Women aim to be the best

‘Lancashire is blessed with a rich and diverse flora and fauna that together create an abundance of opportunity for the game shooter,’ says Duncan Thomas, the Northern Director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), the UK’s main organisation that represents the interests of the sporting shooter.

‘Along with pheasant shooting, which is the mainstay, we have marshes and estuaries where wildfowl can be harvested and areas of arable land where wood pigeon can be shot.

‘Further inland, there is heather moorland, managed for grouse shooting. And then we have furred game with four species of deer, along with rabbits and hares. With the exception of red deer, there’s not much that we don’t have in the county.’

I spoke to Duncan at his Ribchester base to discover what BASC actually does in Lancashire. ‘Nationally, we provide public liability insurance for our members, lobby Parliament on relevant issues, and encourage best practice within the sport,’ he says.

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‘But at a local level we are very much focused on people and participation. For example, over the last four years we have introduced 900 youngsters to shooting. Obviously, shooting can be controversial but with an extensive network of volunteers and supporters we can create a safe environment where those who want to try the sport can have a go. Recruitment of the next generation is very important to us.

Chloe and her pony Mannie

Chloe and her pony Mannie - Credit: Archant

‘And there’s an increasing interest in female participation in the activity. Whereas in the past women might have been more involved in, say, working the gundogs on a shoot day, we’re seeing more of them wanting to participate in the actual shooting.’

Game shooting is not one thing. ‘You could be using a double barrelled shotgun, or a rifle,’ he adds. ‘You could be shooting for the pot or helping a farmer with pest control. You could be alone at dawn on the marshes in pursuit of geese and wild duck, or in a highly-social group situation on an organised pheasant or grouse shoot. And shooting is seasonal, too. To sum it up, game shooting is very much what an individual chooses to make of it.’

A run up the A6 to the Forton area, between Garstang and Lancaster, finds me nosing around country lanes looking for an unusually-remote retail outlet called Malmo Guns whose impressive modern gun room sits adjacent to an equally impressive countrywear store.

In the gunroom I meet Rosemary Prest, who with her husband Brian have run the business since 2005. How would I learn to shoot? ‘Typically, by being introduced to it by a friend or family member. But if you are coming into the sport cold it is probably worth saying that because a shotgun is a potentially dangerous thing, then feeling confident and safe with one in your hands is the very first priority.

‘I suggest you start shooting a few clay pigeons under the supervision of a qualified instructor. There are plenty of opportunities in Lancashire and neighbouring counties, and I can give you a list of ten clay shoots, any of whom you might want to approach.’

Rosemary says: ‘If you find yourself comfortable with a shotgun, and able to hit some reasonably testing clays, then an application for a shotgun licence would come next. An entry-level shotgun might cost around £500, but of course there are always secondhand options.’

Showmen and women

Dorothy Jenkinson has been farming with her husband Graham for 27 years, their son Richard joining them five years ago after finishing college. They grow potatoes and cereals and they breed and produce pigs as well as running an expanding game bird rearing enterprise for their own shoots and estates across the country.

Ferret expert Mark Bell

Ferret expert Mark Bell - Credit: Archant

Dorothy also finds time to act as secretary of the Pilling Moss Gundog Club, which will be putting on events throughout the two-day festival and advising any visitors who are interested in training their dogs to retrieve.

‘Pilling Moss is all about gundog training groundwork,’ she says. ‘We meet every Wednesday and go all the way from puppy training to helping members get their dogs towards trialling standard or into the game shooting field. There are also lots of excellent and well supported club competitions, tests and social events and we have on hand a great selection of respected local trainers, judges and handlers to offer sound sound advice for you and your dog.’

Since dogs on leads are welcome at the Scorton Showground, why not bring yours along to make some new friends?

Meanwhile, if someone appears at shows under the name Rabbit Fever, but has an email address of ‘upatree’, you may wonder what is going on. Well, Mark Bell is an expert tree surgeon but his passion lies further down – ferrets. And over the weekend he will be putting on ferreting demonstration sessions.

The 53 year-old explains: ‘It’s not ferret racing that I do – it is a complete teach-in on ferreting for the novice, so I show people how to handle them, give advice on keeping and training and impart to everyone what wonderful creatures they are.

‘The myth that they are dirty creatures that bite is just that – a myth. They can make lovely pets as well as being working animals.’

Chloe Minto, a 27-year-old full-time carer, thought there could have been more for horses at last year’s Game and Country Festival, so when the organisers approached her to see if she would co-ordinate some new horse and pony classes, she was delighted.

Chloe started her own equestrian career riding and showing Mannie, a Highland pony she bred, and now she is a keen rider who shows, enters fun rides and goes out with the Vale of Lune and Holcombe Hunts.

She will be organising working hunter classes for the Saturday of the event and ridden horse and pony classes on the Sunday – but they must be pre-entered via a form on the Festival website which will close on August 25th. There will be Championships and Supreme Championships on both days.

Paul Ainscough and Robert Weeks of Fat Jax Cheeky Chutneys

Paul Ainscough and Robert Weeks of Fat Jax Cheeky Chutneys - Credit: Archant

‘It’s the first time I’ve organised anything like this on my own and I’m really excited,’ she says. ‘There will be a great competitive atmosphere and I’ve chosen some very special rosettes and sashes to be won!’

* Many of the people involved in the show stay for the weekend on site and they, and anyone wanting to camp, are entertained on Saturday night in the beer tent with live music from Anthony Huddleston. It is only £70 per tent or caravan from the Friday night to Sunday evening and includes entry to the show for two.

visit the website at www.lancashiregamefestival.co.uk

Making a meal of Lancashire

The Festival has its own dedicated Food Hall, celebrating the area’s rich food heritage. Olivia Assheton talked to three of the artisan producers who will be offering visitors tastings and the opportunity to buy some of the best goodies the region has to offer.

With more than 50 years between them in professional kitchens and sharing a passion for chutney, Paul Ainscough and Robert Weeks started Fat Jax Cheeky Chutneys on a part-time basis with a range of eight flavours. Now working full time, the company has 35 chutneys and a new range of ketchups and sauces.

Despite the impressive expansion, all the products are still lovingly handmade out of a small unit in Leyland. Says Paul: ‘Apart from knives and peelers, the only pieces of actual equipment we have are a domestic food processor and stick blender. And we still attached all the labels on by hand.’ The customer favourite is Fat Jax’s Bengali Pineapple chutney which won two stars at last year’s Great Taste Awards.

You might expect lamb that is fed on the saltmarshes of Cockerham to have a salty flavour but instead a unique sweetness and tenderness is the result of this unusual grazing. Bank End Farm has been in the same family since 1936 and Stuart Lawson has been selling saltmarsh lamb, a great delicacy in France, to a range of discerning customers since 1999. The salty grass and herbs in the lambs’ diet don’t just make for excellent flavour, the environment means that the sheep need no treatment for worms or liver fluke and are only given antibiotics if they are poorly at birth.

The Cockerham Texel/Mule cross sheep can be bought from their website (www.saltmarsh-lamb.co.uk)or at specialist food fairs. You will also find the lamb at a number of Farmers’ Markets and it will also be available from their stall at the Festival.

The Proctor family have long been suppliers of cheese to many of Lancashire’s top butchers, delis, market stalls and restaurants with cheese being processed from milk produced as locally as three miles away. Proctors are famous throughout the region for their celebration cheese cakes, a delicious and decorative alternative to wedding and other celebration cakes. Proctors launched its ‘Kick Ass’ cheddar brand four years ago with the current incumbents, Tim Proctor and his wife Sue, as the driving force. Tim says: ‘We’ve not looked back since.’ The waxed cheeses come in a range of flavours including Rioja, Fiery Jack, Smoked and Crunchy Pickled Onion and the company has some nice gift packs, chutneys and T Shirts on offer as well. A recent partnership with Queen’s Award for Export winners, Singletons Dairy in Longridge, has seen an explosion in the export of some of Proctors’ finest cheeses with around 60 tonnes of it selling into Australia alone last year and there is a new contract to supply outlets in Holland and Belgium. Another foodie success story for Lancashire!

Looking fabulous in the field

Women shooting for sport has become the UK’s largest growth sport – a trend which is inspiring a fresh look at countrywear.

From the biggest brand names to the smallest boutique labels, designers are working from top to toe to ensure their ranges are now as stylish as they are practical as they seek to woo a new generation of countrywomen.

But it’s not just women who are benefitting from this new creative flair for bright, colourful linings to traditional tweeds, unique prints, an extended colour palette and a host of quirky finishing touches that add elegance while still keeping their wearer warm and dry. Men’s country clothing is undergoing a similar overhaul while, for children, there’s an increasing range of ‘mini me’ gear.

Gina Prest, of Lancaster-based Malmo Guns, which will be showcasing the latest offerings from the likes of Barbour, Dubarry, RM Williams, Seeland, Musto, Laksen and Harkilla among others at the Lancashire Game & Country Festival, said: ‘The traditional tweed jacket and breeks for game shooting is still sought after for certain shoot days but tweed has also become more fashionable.

‘A smart tweed waistcoat or sports jacket can now be more often seen worn with jeans or chinos and RM Willliams boots for a more casual look. Gents and ladies can shoot or shop in a modern tweed jacket and Dubarry boots.’

Countryside colours of green and brown are required in game shooting to blend with the environment. ‘These colours are not necessary in clay shooting. Growth in women’s shooting has had the greatest influence on the new ranges of shooting jackets and vests that we stock, which can be as colourful as their wearer.’

The recommendation of Sky McCann, of Eccleston’s Bamford’s Guns & Country Clothing Store and another exhibitor at the the Festival, is to plump for a stylishly classic investment piece.

Among the brands it stocks are Royal favourites Le Chameau and Schoffel. ‘The key to comfort in the field is naturally down to the technical properties of the garment and for this reason, we personally wear and test many of the products that we sell to ensure that they live up to the promise we make to our customers.

‘Everything in our range has been based on a clear ethos of balancing quality, performance, function, style and value for money.’

And whether experienced or making a first foot into the sport, keeping feet dry has also to be a priority. Fortunately, just as with other pieces, footwear has kept pace with the demand for combining performance and fashion. Evidence of this is clear in the latest offerings from the likes of Ariat and Penelope Chilvers which Dean Swarbrick, of Scorton’s Bowland Outdoors store will be bringing to his stand at the Festival.

‘You often see the Duchess of Cambridge in Penelope Chilvers’ “Long Castle” boot, which is made of water-proof leather and could take you quite easily from the field into a restaurant – it’s so fashion inspired,’ he says.

‘In its Berwick GTX and Braemar GTX boots, Ariat has something similar but these boots also have a Gore-Tex membrane so if you have to cross a stream on your way to dinner, you can do so without the slightest chance of getting your feet wet!’