For the past ten years, from mid-late July through to the beginning of September, we have set off from our Swaledale home for Scotland to work our kennel of dogs.
We begin in the Borders and then move on to the Mondadhliath region of the Highlands. We work our dogs grouse counting and then for parties of guns to shoot over. In a good year this could be four or five days a week, in a poor year just one or two.
How do you accurately count grouse? The dog hunts the moor, coming on point once it has scented the hidden grouse, remaining steady until the handler reaches it.
Then on command, the dog flushes the birds after which it sits or stands to the flush. The handler counts the number of birds as they fly off. The dog is then asked to check out the ground once again to ensure the birds have all gone.
As to accuracy, well we do our best to watch where the previously flushed birds land so not to count them again. Generally, the birds scatter, so if you come across just one or two, then it is a fair bet that they have come from a covey already counted.
If, on the other hand, they are all fairly tight together, then they have not been counted, as they don’t re-group that quickly.
It’s not an exact science but it is amazing how accurate it can be.
One of the Scottish estates we visit is down a narrow, steep, twisting single-track road. On this particular morning we arrived with all the dogs loaded and ready. I was dressed in my finest sporting apparel with moustache finely groomed.
I parked my van and was almost immediately face-to-face with an anxious head keeper. I sensed straight away this was not a normal morning. “Thank goodness you’re here,” he said. “Come with me.”
He grabbed my arm and half-dragged me towards the under-keeper’s cottage where, he said, a baby’s arrival was imminent. The contractions of the under-keeper’s wife were every two minutes, the local GP was 30 miles away and could not get here for at least half an hour.
In the rear bedroom, I found the under keeper’s wife on the bed and the baby’s head was ‘crowning’, that is to say visible. And here I stood in front of her, all ready for a day on the hill. What a sight for any self-respecting lady to have to deal with.
I pulled off the country gear, scrubbed up and explained that, irrespective of the way I had turned up in her bedroom, my day job was working as a paramedic.
What’s more, I reassured her, over the course of the past 30 years, I had delivered five babies. I actually think she was past caring at this stage.
The baby seemed to be preparing to make its entry into this world just as I heard the under-keeper greet the GP at the door, explaining who I was and my record in previous baby deliveries.
I prepared to step smartly aside when the doctor revealed she had only ever delivered one other baby herself - and that was her own. “You’re staying,” she said firmly. Some 15 minutes later the local midwife turned up. Surely now I could leave for the hill? The answer was no again. The midwife had never delivered a baby in these circumstances and would also prefer me to stay in charge. I just could not get out of this one.
Another 15 minutes on, a beautiful healthy girl arrived in the world. We put her on the bathwoom scales and she weighed in at almost seven pounds.
I offered my congratulations, cleaned up, re-dressed, gathered up the dogs and loaded them in the pick-up. It made a novel entry for my daily game book.