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Late Christmas Presents
Ian Oates enjoys a trip to the Solway

As I sit penning this article some two miles from home, sat in the Land Rover watching for a doe to show me this years offspring, a skein of pinks heading for the Humber pass over and I rue the fact that Foot and Mouth Disease has effectively ruled out all sea side fowling. But it also inspired me as I remembered the late Christmas present I received last year.

On Christmas eve the phone rang and it was Nigel he said that Tim had The Fever real bad and needed desperately to head North to cure it. So having rung Dick in Annan the plans where laid for Solway side on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year. “Are we picking you up?” asked Nigel. Need he really ask! This just happened to be the first Christmas not already on the Solway in some 15 years as the Millennium caper had scuppered our plans.

Christmas day festivities and Boxing Day shoots over Nigel and Tim duly arrived at about 2am in an already heightened state and by 3 we were on our way. The conversation changed topic regular as Nigel and Tim live in the East Riding of Yorkshire and me in the West but, by Shap, it was full on geese as the weather was closing fast as we were down to one lane because of the snow. “It won’t be like this at sea level,” I proclaimed. How wrong I was for when we hit Iron Bridge we all had high expectations of the morning flight.

Dick and Harry were already sat in the Range Rover as we swung into the street and it was only a cursory flash of lights in acknowledgment and we began to steadily make our way to Priestside through the good couple of inches that had by now accumulated.

Renewing friendship and togging up in the car park were done swiftly and it was almost a run down the merse, anticipation and goose fever running wild, even though it was still dark and no prospect of light for some while yet.

We split to the left and right and each found "The" spot and tucked in hard from the bitter driving snow (thank you Lord for neoprene gloves and wellies and waterproof, windproof clothing). Ever so slowly that morning the light lifted. Then “Whoomp”! I was brought to attention by the sound of Harry’s’ black powder eight some 200yds away to my left. Focused now I was soon watching Geese being buffeted in the snow and wind in that strange yellow light that comes with these conditions. Realising now that any Geese would quarter across me right to left I adjusted position.

Geese were now airborne and the chap to my right killed a bird that was in a skein quartering straight toward me, or so I thought. Anyway good shot! For one thing I have learned in some 20 years going below the tide line is that if a chance presents then take it for if you leave it they don’t come that often in a season and you will always wonder if that was “the one”. The next skein though saw me tucked up to the sparse cover very tightly, tingling with anticipation, sure enough onward they came their voices audible above the wind. The heavy old eight came up sweet and the lead bird crumpled landing some twenty yards out in front. Elation was so high that I completely forgot the second barrel but warmth and satisfaction were mine and I was happy in my world.

Ten minutes passed before I had another offer but they veered on the strong wind to the gun next door who duly peeled one out. Flaring hard they came my way and the gun went up but the feeling wasn’t right and I lowered it again. My feeling was right though because as I focused once more a single honk brought me to the realisation that twenty geese were coming straight down my throat. Quick as a flash the gun swung sweet once more but this time evasive action was required as I rolled out of my hide in the mud and snow the Pink only a matter of feet away.

All went quiet then for a while before the” hounds of hell” were unleashed and Barnacles where crawling all over the marsh even landing amongst the guns. Just being there, protected or not, couldn’t have failed to evoke the emotions of the spirit that runs in all true fowlers blood. All too soon though it was the reality of numb fingertips that signalled it really was time to give it best and head back to the car.

Up from my hole I emerged to see heads, all of a like mind, popping up. Collecting my two Pinks I wheeled along the foreshore to find Dick and Nigel already nattering together. “Any luck” I enquired. What followed is a basic translation from the Scottish to English to the effect of: "You invite Sassenachs and they shoot the geese quite obviously coming straight towards me." “Well at least I didn’t miss them,” was the only reply I could give in defence. For as it transpired Dick hadn’t even dirtied his barrels. Nigel meanwhile was in fits of laughter at the original transcript and by the time Harry and Tim arrived we were all laughing. When Harry did appear though he was carrying his Pink, the one he plucked out of the half-light as the morning’s first shot. Nice one Harry!

Back in the car park Harry prompted Dick about the flight and once more the “friendly” banter started. To end it for good I cried “best of three falls” and in age-old tradition the Scots and the English were tussling in the snow on Scottish soil. Albeit with no ferocity and part of the humour of the moment. Purely banter - everyone was laughing at two Advantage clad figures having a friendly warm up on a bitter cold morning.

Just as a footnote, whilst in the car park, barnies were still active and one “pack” that flew only fifteen yards above contained a pure white one. Another funny sight! Then merriment over it was back to Dick's to relieve him of some home cured bacon in the form of breakfast and a hot cup of tea. Beautiful it was too!

You must agree! To be amongst friends on a red-letter flight (some of us), shoot Geese and a hearty breakfast really was my idea of a late Christmas present.

My wish for this year! I think I’d like an early one this time- the end to foot and mouth disease- then we can all get back to normality in our lives.

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