I grew up on a farm near Tweedsmuir at the source of the Tweed, where my dad was a shepherd. I always hated sheep though, and from an early age wanted to work in the shooting industry.
When I was 16 I wrote to several estates and was delighted to receive a reply from Sir David, whose family have owned the estate since the end of the Second World War. I started here on the YTS programme, but did my exams and by the time I was 21 became the head keeper. I’ve been here for 29 years now, and love it. I’m the head keeper but we have two part-time under-keepers.
The Holylee estate is flanked by the Tweed and is between Walkerburn and Selkirk. It has just under 5,000 acres and its topography is absolutely perfect for shooting: as well as some nice rolling hills on the low ground there are deep gorges which are perfect for the birds to fly from. Holylee is host to thousands of partridge and pheasants, whose numbers grow each year, as well as plenty of grouse.
We have 12 beaters, five picker-uppers and one man on the game cart. We have 30-35 named drives including our best drive, the Y Wood, and the E Wood, which was planted in the year of the Coronation. We’ve got something for everyone here, from the low ground and the gorges to the high moorland around Winnelstrae at 2,100ft – from there you can see the North Sea in one direction and across to Biggar in the other. I think it’s this stunning scenery which keeps our parties coming back year after year, we never have the need to advertise.
We have some drives which can prove fantastically difficult but I try to match the guns to the standard of shooting they need so that no-one feels out of their depth and everyone leaves having had a great day.
It’s also a beautiful part of the country which is far more rugged and supports much more wildlife than many people expect. On my day with ArdMoor we saw a huge otter coming down the hill towards the burn, plus herons in the burn and the sound of corncrakes on the moor. Best of all is the fact that mobiles don’t work here – you really are getting right away from it all.
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