Charlie Jacoby takes a look at one of the most prestigious sporting estates in the Highlands, where highflying pheasant challenge many a guest – the Airlie estate
You can’t bust in to Royal Deeside. In 1989 the 77,500-acre Mar Lodge Estate next to Balmoral was bought by American millionaire John Kluge, whose wife Patricia, later unveiled by the British press to be a former belly dancer, had ambitions to associate with the royal family. Her husband’s fortune paid for sponsorship of the Windsor Carriage Driving competition for several years – a sport in which Prince Philip was then an energetic participant. There was painful television footage at the time, of Pat Kluge hovering hopefully in the vicinity of the royal party for recognition – at their event that she was paying for – and still not winning their attention. The Kluges divorced two years later and sold up.
The royals prefer the company of another neighbour, the Ogilvy family. The head of the Ogilvy clan is former Lord Chamberlain – David Earl of Airlie. The Airlie estate are situated in the Angus Glens and cover a wide variety of landscape from moorland to arable farmland. The estate has been in the Ogilvy family for at least 700 years, though its boundaries have altered over time. At present it consists of more than 30,000 acres, largely in Glens Clova, Prosen and Moy. The family home and seat of the present Earl is Cortachy Castle, which dates from the 16th century and lies at the heart of the estate. Keepered by Mike Nesbit, the Cortachy shoot is renowned for its quality driven pheasant.
“The castle drives centred around Airlie castle are famous for their screeching high birds in a beautiful river setting.”
And whether or not there is a prince of the realm in the line-up, you can enjoy the same shooting that the royals enjoy just by renting it. The second shoot within the Earl’s holdings is Airlie Castle shoot, covering some 4,500 acres of beautiful country, undulating ground, river valleys with wild duck consistently producing spectacular pheasant and partridge drives, and all varieties of low ground game. The castle drives centred around Airlie castle (the Earl’s spare castle) are famous for their screeching high birds in a beautiful river setting. The Little Kenny drive at the former home of the Ogilvies’ neighbour and sporting agent Paddy Fetherstone-Godley, is second to none for showing driven partridges at their best. Paddy has since passed away, but his generosity and prestigious sporting opportunities will always be fondly remembered by friends and clients alike.
Nor did it cost you a king’s ransom to shoot at Airlie. Paddy offered rough shooting – rabbits and pigeons – all year round with the let of his holiday cottages. He also arranged for cottage clients to enjoy rough shooting in season on the ‘outsides’ of his formal shoots. From October to January he charged £80 a week per gun, plus £20 per head of game shot including VAT. Paddy said: “We have expanded our rough shooting area to include the circle and square woods and also opened up an area along the Isla River bank for those younger and fitter who are open to a challenge, to shoot woodcock, pheasants and the stalking of roe deer. These banks are steep and difficult – walking is at your own risk.”