The Glorious Twelfth, as Aug. 12 has long been known and anticipated feverishly by British sportsmen, is the first day of red grouse shooting on the mauve and gentle moors of Scotland and Northern England. Brits set great store by tradition, and this one dates to the mid-18th Century when their soldiers, posted north to cool any fiery Scottish ideas of rebellion, discovered soul-satisfying elation in shooting, roasting and devouring a brace of succulent grouse.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, formal grouse shoots were the almost exclusive purview of dukes, lords and such. Later, England's old-boy network of Oxbridge and other public school chaps wangled an invitation to the party. So obviously there were regal and social overtones here, a bit midway between a christening and a coronation. Indeed, trendy London restaurants have been known to celebrate serving their first entree of August grouse with all the pomp and circumstance that other establishments bestow on a just-off-the-plane bottle of Beaujolais nouveau .
My invitation to the party was connived through a friend back East with contacts on the moors. After setting up the shoot, he called back to sort things out and make sure I had all the necessary gear: gun, hunting clothes, tweeds, tattersalls and all the rest of it. Almost as an afterthought, he tossed in, "And don't forget black tie."
Black tie? Hell, I grew up shooting dove over the corn and pigeon peas of south Georgia before my first shave, duck in the rice fields of South Carolina and later powdered a few dozen pheasant every October for 12 or so years in the corn rows of South Dakota. All this with my trusty Winchester pump and a ripped and bloody Sears, Roebuck canvas hunting jacket. What was this grouse thing, a bird shoot or a debutante party?
What greeted me when I arrived at Farleyer House was a joyful mixture of both, an exhilarating rondeau of outdoor activity and cheerful socializing from the 6:30 a.m. wake-up knock until dinner at 8, with post-prandial coffee, liqueurs and tall tales of former shoots spun in the drawing room. Farleyer, dating from the late 1500s and once the home of the Menzies family after they were evicted from nearby Menzies Castle during the 1745 rebellion, is in the Central Highlands near the delightful little village of Aberfeldy. During the Menzies residency the house, gardens and overall estate were upgraded to the baronial level suitable for a major clan chief's family.
The guest list couldn't have been put together better to produce more good shooting and good cheer: a father-son team of excellent wing shots from Houston, both with their exuberant wives spreading laughter to the rafters with their high good humor; two thoroughly civil and good-natured British businessmen anxious to pass on grouse-shooting tips as well as help a colonial understand how best to "abide by the spirit of the sport"; a deadeye count from Rome with his ravishingly elegant, Caracas-born contessa . I was soon to find, alas, that each of these gentlemen must have spent half his waking hours with either a field gun or skeet gun in his hands. "Get your birds" to them meant missing one shot in a dozen.
Maj. Neil Ramsey, our host whose father had owned Farleyer for six decades, is Scottish to the marrow, a former Eton-Sandhurst officer in the historic Scots Guards who has served in Malaysia, Suez, Germany and on the general staff in London. A hale and hearty chap, the major still finds outdoor life to his liking, spending most of his time setting up grouse, partridge and pheasant shoots in Scotland, Hungary and Spain; arranging roe and red deer stalking; and planning custom-tailored golf holidays around Scotland's historic courses and others of equal beauty but less renown.
Planning and staff supervision of a Scottish breakfast, field lunch, decidedly gourmet dinner and wine-cellar selection is the domain of Ramsey's gracious and most capable wife, Caroline. While the formidable nature of a huge Scottish breakfast (start with eggs, bangers, kippers and keep going) needs no explanation, the delicious and more-than-welcome field lunches do. We started with hot venison bouillon with sherry, moved on to warm pies and casseroles of salmon, venison, pheasant, wild duck and other game, then finished with cold sandwiches of the same mix. And although gunpowder and hard alcohol are a dicey combination, there was always one round of cold beer, a dram of sherry or a bottle of Perrier to get you through to the tarts and tea.