One of the fantastic perks of working with Highbullen Hotel is that on occasion we have the pleasure of taking our work out of Mayfair and down to Exmoor, North Devon. This allows us to immerse ourselves in the beautiful countryside, helping our press contacts see first-hand what makes the area such an outstanding destination.
Shooting Gazette and The Gentleman’s Journal were the latest on our list, so we headed down to experience some of the best hospitality and spectacular game shooting that this magical corner of the West Country has to offer.
Before checking into Highbullen, the Zambuni team called in to see local fieldsports Don, Jeremy Boyd, at Hall House to have a quick nosey around and catch up. Arriving in the middle of a shoot day looking decidedly clean, there was no doubt that we’d come straight from the city, but that was soon to change!
Running three shoots in the area, Affeton, Hall and Temple, Jeremy had made room for us on his gun lines at Affeton and Hall. He is endlessly and engagingly passionate about delivering exceptional game shooting wrapped up with warm hospitality (ably assisted by his lovely wife Jo), so we chatted about the plan for once The Gentleman’s Journal and Shooting Gazette joined us, his plans for the shoots (what Jeremy doesn’t know about developing a shoot in Devon, isn’t worth knowing) and the local community. The team of guns then descended to enjoy their lunch after a successful boundary day, giving us the opportunity to meet many fantastic members of the local community. Next to the fire in the washroom, surrounded by lovely muddy dogs, London was already a distant memory!
After dragging Lola away from her new Flat Coated admirers, and whizzing down to the hotel for a productive meeting, we welcomed Harry from The Gentleman’s Journal and Martin Puddifer of Shooting Gazette for pre-dinner drinks. The Highbullen team and Jeremy were in their element, waxing lyrical about the sporting days ahead, surrounding countryside and plans for the hotel.
Highbullen is well equipped to meet the exacting standards that many in the shooting community expect, and we were certainly treated to an exceptional quality of service. With dog friendly rooms, always a must for us when Lola is in tow, as well as stunning rooms in the Manor itself, it also has 3 self-catering cottages for guns who wish to have more of their own space. It’s a great place to stay before (and after!) a day out in the field.
The food in The Devon View restaurant was fantastic, and the wine was certainly flowing as we had an entertaining evening exchanging anecdotes. Harry revealed his very specific tastes in the field, as the usual wielder of a 16 bore, although he was having a go with a lovely Browning Heritage Hunter 20 bore for this trip!
Friday morning, and feeling just slightly dusty from the night before, we were greeted by a mesmerising sunrise, and Highbullen was bathed in a shimmering glow. Fortunately with the best breakfast table in the house, we could enjoy uninterrupted views of the dramatic vista, looking out over undulating hills, dark forests and gleaming brooks.
Set on the side of a hill just 15 minutes’ drive from Highbullen, Affeton Castle is a sight to behold, and had belonged to the Stucley family since the 15th century. After piling into a cosy farmhouse room for our morning briefing, we all headed out for the day. Dogs were bouncing as we pulled on our boots and prepared to head off for a little off-roading and some good shooting.
We were not disappointed. We did a lot of squelching purposefully through bogs towards our pegs, but the wind was just so that the birds flew very well, meaning the chat between drives was animated, with praise for good shots and ribbing for naughty dogs aplenty.
The drives throughout the day were set in gorgeous fairytale glades and whimsical woods, one half expected hobbits, elves and goblins to come creeping out to watch the spectacle. And a spectacle it unquestionably was, set to the soundtrack of shots, breaking and loading guns and the occasional victory whoop, birds fell and dogs swam through streams, fur slicked, covered in mud to eagerly retrieve.
By the end of the day everyone was wired, but ready for lunch. Martin claimed he had one of the best drives he has ever experienced, which is certainly high acclaim, and Harry had a cracking day, some really exceptional birds and even managed to wangle himself an invitation back in the New Year.
Driven game is a key cornerstone of the economy on and around Exmoor, the landscape and weather facilitates the beautifully high and fast birds, but it’s the expertise of all the people involved, from the keepers, beaters and pickers up to the caterers, hosts and agents which make it such an idolised destination for guns from across Britain, and beyond. Everyone you meet is involved one way or another, and they certainly all have an opinion. It makes for an easy topic of conversation, but be warned that it’ll be a constant education!
We headed to The Bell at Chittlehampton that evening for a relaxing evening, not realising that it was a local mecca for the fieldsports community. Warm and welcoming, it is a proper locals’ pub. Before we knew it, we were chatting with Brian Mitchell, of Castle Hill fame and his son, the keeper at North Molton – overwhelming for any high bird enthusiast!
We retired exhausted from a day of fresh air and exhilaration, with thoughts of what lay ahead echoing in our minds. We’d heard almost worshipful things about Hall from every angle since we’d arrived, so we pondered how good it would actually be. We knew the birds would be amazing, but as the wind picked up we weren’t prepared for how mad they would be…