Taking a walk in Scotland to discover how an animal goes from grazing freely to the supermarket shelf
PUBLISHED: 16:01 03 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:01 03 March 2014
Here in Sussex we are blessed with the most beautiful countryside, and just as fortunately, the stunning vista that is the Scottish Highlands is just a few hours away
Our county boasts some of the most fantastic wildlife. For those of us who enjoy both the sight and the taste of our native breeds, the opportunity to find out where exactly the meat on our plate comes from is both undeniably important and sadly all too much of a rarity. Supermarkets have become so much better at promoting local fare and labelling meat and its origin more thoroughly, but who amongst us would not relish the opportunity to see where the animals that we so appreciate on our plates actually come from? It is of vital importance that we do not think of our food as simply meat, but rather a living, breathing thing that it is our responsibility to nurture and protect, to ensure that it lives the fullest, happiest life possible.
This winter I was given the opportunity to do exactly this. Having taken a two hour flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh, it was mere hours later that I found myself on the edge of the Highlands. Over the course of a weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to observe the wild red deer in their native environment, and understand first-hand the process that a single animal goes through, from grazing freely to appearing on a supermarket shelf (a matter of less than a day in most cases).
To say that the herds I encountered live a fantastic life is almost to understate the point – the expanse of incredible views as far as the eye can see is something that most of us would give our eye teeth to experience for a day, let alone a lifetime.
What made my trip so special was being accompanied by local people, who could not have been more accommodating – shotgun instructors whose role is to familiarise guests with a weapon, should they so desire, members of BASC Scotland who are on-hand to introduce the theory and practice behind shooting a rifle, and the ghillies themselves who take you out on the hill to see the deer in their natural environment.
Whether you have never held a gun before, or in fact have absolutely no desire to do so, this is without doubt an experience that I would recommend to anyone. To have the opportunity to see and understand this scenery and habitat, even if it is just on the most spectacular of walks, is simply unrivalled.
Scotland has a rich tradition of country sports, but what makes these people so personable is their appreciation for the plants and animals that they see every day. Their respect for the land and the animals that roam it is humbling, and it is this that ensures that their traditions and landscapes alike are internationally renowned as some of the finest in the world – and they’re right on our doorstep.
When considering some time away next year, give some serious thought to the breathtaking scenery that lies just north of the border, less than two hours away by plane, because I defy you to find somewhere so beautiful that will have such a calming effect on your state of mind.
There are more opportunities to stalk and shoot, should you wish, than ever before, accompanied throughout by the most experienced of instructors and guides, even if it is to take aim at clays or targets, and it is surprisingly affordable. So whether you want to learn more about where your food comes from, learn to shoot yourself, or simply want to experience some of the most awe inspiring views that the UK has to offer, this is the place for you.
A suggested itinerary for a long weekend
Three nights and two days to include: clay pigeon shooting tutorage, overview of deer stalking with industry experts and the chance to stalk and shoot a red deer under supervision of a professional stalker.
A tour of Highland Game, a large venison processing business and a chance to eat some venison direct ‘from the hill’.
Places to stay (and book your sport)
Hilton Dunkeld, Perthshire (01350 727771; www.placeshilton.com/dunkeld)
House of Mark, Dalhousie Estate, Brechin, Angus (01356 670311; houseofmark.wordpress.com/about)
Are from Gatwick to Edinburgh with various airlines, including British Airways, Ryanair and Easyjet