Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Political Wail

Every now and again it is good to get things of your chest and this can prove very therapeutic or so I am told. I hope so, as I am currently stuck on a Virgin train returning from London that was going to get me me to Carlisle at shortly after 9.00am. However, overhead power cable failure has kept us sat in Hemel Hempstead station for some 3 hours. I then asked the guard whether I could have free internet access so that I could put the time to good use and he answered that it was broken and even first class had not got it! However they did keep us informed at all times and the guard signed my ticket for a full refund.

I then took solace in the newspaper I borrowed, the Telegraph and though I appreciate that its viewpoint is conservative, what a depressing experience it proved. In random order I read about a bogus ethnic police commander, upwards of 200,000 young people who will not get university places this year with far better grades than I got, the MPs trying to evade justice by claiming parliamentary privilege, poor retail sales in January sparking a second recession, why we are nearly in the same parlous state as Greece (with Gordon Brown prescribing them austere measures!), an all party group of MPs slating the treasuries handling of the financial rescue (no controls and the banks are still not lending), the number of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan has passed the losses sustained in the Falklands, cold weather has stalled the housing market again.

Sadly this is just one day, one snapshot of life at the moment. It is very difficult at present to keep the sense of perspective and optimism that one needs to be an entrepreneur. The last 2 months have been the worst trading months I have experienced in 20 years running hotels. We had the floods in November followed by the snow of December and January and this coupled with the recession has been a bitter pill to swallow.

I understand the reluctance of everybody to spend money, we all feel uneasy about the future and want the reassurance of something put by for a rainy day. Many people though have never been better off, low interest rates have shrunk mortgages to a fraction of their former levels but most people have opted to leave payments the same and pay their debt off. We are depressed are from the top down. Has there ever been a more sad, less inspiring, leader than Gordon Brown. Tony Blair's virtuoso performance at the Iraq Inquiry just served to highlight the paucity of Gordon Brown's era. What will it take to restore confidence?

At the present we have no leadership, the country is drifting along with a Prime Minister who has been indecisive from the very start and seems to be motivated mostly by the need to be prime minister. He then becomes paralysed by the prospects of taking decisions that might jeopardise his position as prime minister. I have always felt that it is better to fail having tried to do something in life rather than fail for not taking a decision. We all feel that the country is rudderless and we fear for the future as the government hangs on like ostriches with their heads in the sand neither admitting its errors or acknowledging the gravity of the situation. It is not possible to predict the result of a general election, but what is apparent is how desperately we need one whatever the result !

Grouse Survival in Extreme Weather

During the recent bout of extreme weather which in Cambric totally covered the fells and high ground for nearly a month I was interested in how the grouse reacted. I have always been told that they will come down from the high ground to lower areas. Unfortunately on the North Pennines in the Eden Valley there is very little low ground heather. It has nearly all disappeared due to a mixture of severe grazing by sheep and the drive after the second world war for more food which resulted in the drainage and cultivation of much land.

I well remember driving along the road above the fishing's at Lazonby with Hugh Egglestone who informed me that he had shot grouse there as a young lad, this was difficult to believe as I looked at all the fields and sheep. Indeed numerous areas are still called moors with no heather present in the valley. Appleby Golf course has a few bank sides of heather that have survived but in reality the only sizable bit of lowland heather is below Dufton Fell above Bow Hall on the way to High Cup Nick. This is part of our sporting rights and indeed it had good grouse populations going back some 10 years ago. Sadly now though due to continual grazing by sheep, including overwintering and no burning, as we are not allowed the heather is very tall and stemmy and getting patchy. However on a stunning, very cold day of minus 10 in early January as Rose and I wanted a good walk I decided to go and see if we could see any grouse.

The landscape was totally spectacular as we drove up past Bow Hall and large snow drifts prevented us going any further by landrover shortly after the hall. We continued by foot on the Pennine way and got our much needed exercise. Several skiers were visible ahead coming down the slope as we climbed, with groups of walkers intermingled. The snow had drifted and frozen over level with the stone walls that enclose the drovers track and was strong enough to take our weight even though it was some 5ft thick. Which gave some idea of the severity of the conditions for the grouse. As we approached the lowland moor I kept Tia our labrador in, and we soon saw grouse everywhere. They looked massive, as they had no cover and doubtless had their feathers puffed out with air to keep warm. The grouse moved constantly, foraging over the frozen landscape, and it was only when I walked across the moor to the next rise to see how many grouse I could count that I could see what food they were finding.

Odd tips of heather were just poking through the snow which was not as deep due to the wind blowing it. It was also very difficult walking as the snow would not support our weight and we crunched through down onto and into the heather. Breasting the rise so that I could perhaps see towards 40 % of the lowland moor we counted some 140 grouse. We retreated back to the track as the light was going and slid back downhill to warmth and civilisation with a healthy respect for grouse and nature.

The walk was so enjoyable we returned the following lunchtime. On arriving at the moor we were disappointed that there were only a few grouse visible and I had come armed with Mother's new digital camera to give it a test run for her. We were chatting and wondering whether to go higher up to see if we could see where the grouse were when suddenly a covey of some 200 came over the hill and landed in front of us. I had a few teething problems with the camera, not my forte and I was struggling with instructions and zoom buttons when the whole covey took off and flew straight at us. Miraculously I managed to catch a few in flight by sheer good fortune as they streamed over us. I was fascinated by where they were heading as they turned right and headed downhill towards the farms. Unfortunately we could not see where they went and we never picked them up again.

Resourceful though grouse definitely are, I am still worried about our high worm counts and likely mortality in the harsh weather. Several friends and keepers informed me that in the old days when weather like this was much more common, oats used to be fed to the grouse and I wondered if whether anybody out there had tried this? I have also heard rumours of grouse eating hawthorn berries and dying.

Grouse Shooting at The Tufton Arms