The Game Fair comes to Alcester
PUBLISHED: 10:47 17 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:43 20 February 2013
Over 140,000 visitors flocked to Ragley Hall near Alcester for the CLA Game Fair, the first in Warwickshire for 40 years. Rachel Crow and Stuart Purfield went to find out what all the excitement was about.
Its not every Friday morning at work that I find myself squinting down the barrel of a shotgun; Im sure my work colleagues would be a little perturbed if I did. But on a sunny morning at the end of July I was required me to do just that.
The venue for my challenge was the biggest celebration of countryside activities in the world, The CLA Game Fair, which filled 500 acres of Ragley Hall. Over the course of the three days, more than 140,000 visitors descended on the estate near Alcester to try their hand at the huge range of rural sports or activities on offer, enjoy the fishing, gun dog and falconry events, wander around the hundreds of stalls catering for all aspects of country life, sample the goodies from the British food village, or simply to soak up the atmosphere.
The 9th Marquess of Hertford Henry Jocelyn Seymour, welcomed the Game Fair to his ancestral home for what will now be a tri-annual event on the estates calendar.
With the sound of gun shots echoing around the undulating grounds, I trotted off to my first appointment of the day to test my aim in a clay shooting lesson. Organised by the UK's largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), I was placed in the capable hands of accredited shotgun coach Stewart Lees, who has been running his own shooting event business in Cornwall for 20 years.
A BASC member for many years, Stewart explained: Shooting has definitely increased in popularity and there are more women in the country now taking up the sport. I train people to shoot targets as a means to learn to shoot live quarry. Through safe and controlled situations, we make sure that you learn how to shoot accurately, which is important so that when youre shooting game, whether it is pheasant, rabbit or pigeon, you kill them outright and not just injure them.
After donning the shooting jacket, protective glasses and ear guards and going through the basic safety issues, feeling slightly nervous, I headed over to one of the shooting stiles with my ladies, over and under rifle slung over my arm.
Feeling every inch the amateur, shooting at a target that (roughly) mimicked the take off and fall of the springing teal others include the driven pheasant and dropping crow my first few attempts were way off the mark. I was so preoccupied remembering to keep the gun nestled into my shoulder, my face resting against the butt, elbows out and front leg bent oh, and to remain upright after pulling the trigger that hitting the clay was a side issue. But I was pleasantly surprised at how little kick-back you got from shooting the 20-bore cartridges and it wasnt long before I relaxed and, with guidance (and patience) from Stewart, began to concentrate on
My half hour lesson up, Id managed to hit a respectable (I felt), six clays and would happily have carried on for longer. Its easy to see how you could get hooked. But aside from presenting an enjoyable sport, clay shooting also serves as good training for those wishing to source their own field-to-table dinners Its an amazing thing to be able to do and so far removed from buying your meat from a supermarket, Stewart said. All of my family can shoot, even my daughter who is vegetarian. Her vegetarianism is a rejection of modern farming methods, whereas she is supportive of game shot humanely and in accordance with good principles.
Throughout the show there were plenty of other opportunities for young and old to have a go at some traditional country pursuits: from ferret racing to archery or fishing, or the not quite so traditional mountain boarding or zorbing the latter two principally appealing to those with a lower sense of gravity.
The falconry flying displays were also stunning, pulling in the crowds. Bob Edwards runs Falconry Days from Leamington Spa, offering the chance to see the natural survival skills of these graceful killers up close. Holding a particularly vocal peregrine falcon called Artemis, Jason, one of Bobs understudies, hopes to eventually keep his own Harris Hawk. Ive always been interested in birds of prey, who wouldnt be, Jason said. To have your own bird you should have completed at least a two-year apprenticeship. It is a lifestyle change; youre not their owner, you are their hunting partner, so you cant exactly go off and leave them for two weeks and go on holiday! But we have had lots of interest in the birds here at the fair.
Giving people an insight into the countryside is one of the appeals of the fair, said Robert Sears, one of The Game Fair organisers. One of the important aspects of The Game Fair is that it opens the door for people of all ages to try something new and it shows people, particularly those visiting The Game Fair for the first time, just what they can find going on in the countryside.
Brothers Henry and John Jordan, farmers from North Littleton and Honeybourne in Worcestershire, took advantage of the Game Fair being virtually on their doorstep to visit the show for the first time in many years.
We had got the haymaking finished early so thought wed come down. We are hunting people really and shooting too, so enjoy all there is here, explained Henry. But there was also the added appeal of coming to Ragley Hall, specifically. Our sister, Marion Jordan, was a nanny to the Marquess when he was a young boy, so its nice to come here because of that connection too, John added with a smile.
From Gunmakers Row with its impressive array of gunsmiths, everything for anglers at the fishing village in front of the lake, to rural fashion stalls, garden accessories and much more, the fair presented a country life shopping haven. There were also plenty of treats for the canine attendees, with the newly brushed four-legged friends out in force.
Vincent Hedley Lewis, Chairman of The CLA Game Fair Board, concluded: It was a brilliant event; there was a really happy atmosphere and a great buzz around the place for all three days.