SPORT AT WITTENHAM
There is always some rivalry about shooting different woods on adjacent properties, and the villages near always take a certain interest in the results. Visiting our nearest riverside inn to order luncheon for our own shoot that week, I found about a dozen labourers in the front room, with a high settle before the fire to keep the draught out, sitting in a fine mixed odour of burning wood, beer, and pipes. Sport was the pervading topic, for a popular resident had been shooting his wood, and many of the men had been beating for him, and had their usual half-crown to spend. They were all talking over the day at the top of their voices; it had been a very good one. The wood is quite isolated and not more than forty acres. All round it is the property of one of the Oxford Colleges, which retains the sporting rights over about fifteen hundred acres. This is exercised by one of their senior fellows under some arrangement which works perfectly well so far as I can see. I asked our keeper, who always calls him "The Doctor," whether he was a medicine doctor or a doctor of divinity. He inclined to think he was the latter, as he belonged to college shooting. This way of putting it struck me as odd, but he was right. Any way, he looked a very pleasant figure in his long shooting coat and old-fashioned Bedford cords. There is also a college keeper, who is an institution in the village. The day's sport in "the Captain's wood" had been a success. Forty hares had been shot, or just one per acre, as well as a number of rabbits and wild pheasants. The hares were being sent round the village in very generous fashion, and a dozen lay on a bench in a back room.
Our own day was also a satisfactory one. Rabbits were unusually numerous, and many squares had to be beaten twice. The gross total of the two days was only something over three hundred head; but it was all wild game, and shot in very pretty surroundings. With the beaters were the keeper, who is also head woodman, and two assistant woodmen. These three men cut the whole of the hundred acres down in the course of seven years. Putting their lives at something over three score and ten, they will, as they began before they were twenty-one, have cut the wood down about eight times in the course of their existence. The beaters are entirely recruited from the staff of this very large and well-managed farm. They have beaten the woods so often that they know exactly what to do, when properly generalled. Our landlord was one of the guns, and his son, who does not shoot, but knows the wood thoroughly, kindly took command of the men, and kept things going at best pace through the day. Anything prettier than the entrance to the wood would be hard to find. A long meadow slopes steeply to the Thames, with an old church and the remains of a manor house at one end and the wood at the other. Below the house is a roaring weir, and opposite the abbey of Dorchester across the flats. Our little campaign gave an added interest to the scene. The bulk of the men were going round behind the hills to drive these "kopjes" into the wood. The guns and one or two ladies, and some small boys bearing burdens were walking up the middle ride. Below was the silver Thames in best autumn livery, for the leaf was not yet off the willows, though the reed-beds were bright russet. The sky was blue, the sun bright, and the sound of the weir came gaily up through the trees. All the wood-paths were bright with moss, the air still, and an endless shower of leaves from the oaks was falling over the whole hundred acres. There were just enough wild pheasants in the wood to make a variety in the rabbit-shooting. Hares were unexpectedly numerous, and we lined up on the side of the wood furthest from the river for a hare drive. The whole hillside is without a hedge. Watching the long slope it is a pretty and exciting sport to see the coveys of partridges, of which there are sometimes a number on the hill, rise, fly down and pitch again, and then rise once more and come fifty miles an hour over your head into the wood.