Every year we make an annual pilgrimage to the grouse moors in Northern England. A small team of friends walking in a line across the sea of pink heather. It's a beautiful place, that has to be seen to appreciate. Most of the worlds heather moorland occurs in the UK and in August the heather is in flower, blanketing the landscape.
We meet the night before to enjoy a few beers, a meal and banter between friends. You need a good feed, as the day on the moors requires miles of walking, across some pretty testing ground. The heather itself gets tiring when walking over for it hours, combined with long grass, occasional bracken and streams. So the grouse are hard earned.
We don't shoot many. This year the 8 guns shot 37 grouse, but this is more than enough for us and we all get a brace for the table.
We walked most of the grouse up, but we did do 2 mini drives, from the butts. On this day the wind was up, making the grouse fast and challenging to shoot. The grouse often taking on the wind speed as they fly. During the 2 mini drives, the grouse were driven with the wind and towards us. They literally come over you like little missiles. With a 20 mph wind they are probably flying at speeds of 70-80+ mph as they flash over the top of you, 10-50ft high. Too difficult for most of the guns, who find them too challenging and fast to shoot.
When we walk up the grouse, we try to walk slowly in an evenly spaced line across the moors. Every so often a covey of grouse will lift and rocket away from us in a variety of directions. Sometimes a bird or two will lift, other times a covey of 20 or more. You have no idea when, where or how many will rise from the heather. It's this unknown and the anticipation that makes the experience so exciting.
On this particular moor we saw plenty of black grouse, which was wonderful to see. There is a volentary ban on shooting Black Grouse on most moors, due to their declining numbers and so we are very careful to ensure that we don't shoot them and we haven't made a mistake to date.
By the end of the day, you feel worn out from a long days walking and we all have a few birds to take home for the table. It's a rare and special experience to us all. The beautiful pink heather moorlands and the amazing Red Grouse are a truly wonderful and very unique to Britain. I feel very privilaged that I get to experience doing this once a year. And enjoy the opportunty to be able to cook and eat one of our wonderful wild game birds.
I will try to include a grouse cooking blog. My wife makes a beautiful plum sauce for them.