Zambuni Girl Kate Fensterstock gets warmed up for the season with a simulated day at The White Horse Chilgrove.
An easy drive out of London, the route was pretty much a straight shoot via the King’s Road and Putney due south. I arrived without drama just in time for cocktails and to meet up with the rest of the shooting party. The youthful yet incredibly knowledgeable lady behind the bar recommended a gin and tonic made with Chilgrove Dry Spirits, who also happen to host master classes with the pub. A big fan of gin, I made a mental note to look into these.
The party I would be shooting with was a fun mix of newbies and seasoned veterans of the sport. At dinner, I feasted on a seasonal tomato salad and pigeon with a blackberry sauce whilst catching up with Charles Holland who runs an impressive clay ground down in Dorset. He was accompanying a lady on this particular day who he knew locally and had volunteered to coach her. It was exciting to see so many ladies joining the day, from both town and country. Private members club Home House on Portman Square runs a shooting society which yielded another couple who were enthusiastic beginners. I was thrilled to see that John and Lyndall Bailye were joining us, along with their friends Alex and Rhodri who I also knew. It was shaping up to be a day full of laughs.
We stayed up finishing one last glass of wine before curling up for a good night’s sleep. If I wasn’t so excited to get out shooting, I would have gladly stayed for a lie in, feeling utterly cosy under the goose down and sheepskins that gave a touch of ski chalet style to the British décor. Spoiled yet again at breakfast with a spread of fruit and eggs with smoked salmon, it was already clear the White Horse would not be overlooking a single detail. The sun was streaming through the windows promising excellent weather for the day, and we headed outside to receive the safety briefing and instructions on how the day would progress.
Nikki Burr, star landlady at the White Horse and Steph Bailye who was coordinating the event gave a warm welcome and introduced us to the host of the day who would be guiding us. We received an informative and firm safety briefing on how to handle the guns, when we were allowed to shoot and when to stop. It is key to remember to be responsible amidst the excitement and thrill of the shooting.
Steph and I stood together for a few drives, catching up about the Epicurean Collection, a unique group of hotels, events, sport, food and drink and much more that is intended to curate a Best of British experience for members. The simulated day was one of these experiences and so is the gin tasting class I had heard about earlier. Such an exciting concept, being able to engage in such quintessential experiences of British culture with the support and guidance of the experts.
After two drives we piled into the cars and rambled along to a clearing at the edge of a beautiful wood where The White Horse Head Chef was preparing a selection of elevenses. “When the season is underway, we will start serving partridge and other seasonal game at elevenses that had been sourced that very morning,” explained Nikki Burr, the landlord at The White Horse. “It is so important to promote game to our guests and what better way to do so than to try it as fresh as can be.” On the menu that day was barbequed chicken on skewers in a honey sauce, venison wellington and a glass of champagne and sloe gin.
After few more drives we rode in convoy back to the White Horse, just in time to scurry to the bar as the rain came. I tried another gin and tonic made from the seasonal distiller, keen on indulging as much local culture as I could before heading back to London. My mind felt clear and calm, my lungs full of country air and feeling pleasantly tired after a full morning of walking and shooting, we settled in for yet another divine meal, this time a roast beef roast with all the trimmings. We all raised a glass to a job very well done, a fantastic experience of a quintessential British tradition with fabulous company. I look forward to getting out for the real thing in a few short weeks.