The CLA Game Fair, one of the most anticipated events of the calendar was once again upon us. Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire was the setting, not having hosted the event since 2008. Could this year meet the expectations of the second highest crowd on record and deliver a fantastic weekend for the near 150,000 people (plus dogs) that attended?
Blenheim Palace, the birth place of Winston Churchill, is set within 2,100 acres of parkland crafted by Capability Brown. Being a World Heritage Site it attracts many visitors from all around the world and makes for the perfect host to this year’s game fair. With undulating hills and the River Glyme scything through, it catered for those that were there to fly fish, those that were there to shoot and those that just fancied a fun-filled family day out in the countryside!
First impressions always set the tone and with a lot of time spent organising the traffic the ShootClay team were relieved not to be stuck in jams, when all we want to be doing is spending the sun-drenched day walking up and down Gunmakers Row, threatening to empty our bank accounts at the earliest opportunity!
Parking was easy and with a short walk to the entrance, it was a quick case of finding our orientation and setting off. Planning was very impressive, especially for an event of this scale. Everything was where you expected it to be and information such as maps and members of staff were readily available if you had any difficulty or questions. This year there were three main themes, Food, Farming and Landscape. The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) do a great job in promoting and highlighting all of the different country pursuits we love to take part in and for all the businesses that are linked with the countryside, including shooting, fishing and hunting.
The show ground was split into villages so that you could easily gravitate to your main interest… no prizes for guessing where we headed first.
Shifting from stand-to-stand on Gunmakers row we were spoilt for choice and finding the right style of gun that suits an individuals taste would not have taken very long. GMK had the usual suspects in the form of Beretta and Benelli and it was nice to see the succesful additions to the range on display, the Silver Pigeon 1 and the SV10 Perennia 1 Field. Guerini are one of my personal favourites for style and the quality of engraving, so it was a pleasure to see and get my hands on some of their finer examples without feeling like I had to buy one, like in a lot of gun shops I have frequented over the years. That is the beauty of these game fairs, it allows you to see such a vast array of different guns, their size, feel, style, weight, fit etc and all in one place whether it’s a second-hand scatter gun or the most expensive work of art. Speaking of which, it wouldn’t quite be an adequate display of guns without the likes of the fine English celebrities such as Holland & Holland and Purdey so in good form, there they were, providing for the most of us, a good opportunity to dream! Honestly, we would’ve spent the whole day at Gunmakers row, retiring frequently to the beer tent to quench our thirst but with so much to see it was time to crack on.
Making our way through the vast number of trade stands it was a challenge not to part with all of our cash. We met up with a couple of ShootClay’s friends, Toomer Bros and Arrow Lasershot to see how being at the show provides a positive experience for everyone involved. You see, The Game Fair allows you to speak and meet the like-minded people who produce the products you use, providing your feedback that then goes on and aids further development and progression.
Next stop was the Clay Line, situated over the bridge spanning the River Glyme. This is where the shooting events took place alongside the “have-a-go” and coaching stands. We stopped off to watch the Pro Gun Challenge unfold and where Chris Childerhouse pipped Bennett and Digweed in the final to claim the High Gun prize of £1,000. Although it was a serious prize to claim, it all looked like a lot of fun and there was plenty of banter between the guys taking part.
The Have-a-Go events this year were;
- The CLA Game Fair 40 Bird Competition – 8 Stands, 5 Targets per stand
- The Rod Finch Perpetual Trophy – 40 Bird (Juniors – under 16)
- 8 Pay and Clay Stands: High Tower, Decoy Duck, Super Sporting, Springing Teal, Super Trap, Auto Sporter, Rabbit Flurry and Decoy Pigeon
There was also a stand to try a selection of the best and most popular shotguns available on the market.
Another highlight during the weekend’s packed schedule of displays and events was the shooting display by the six-time world champion John Bidwell. Showing off his skill at dusting clays from the hip and blasting coloured balloons on demand with an envious amount of ease. This provided a very fun and engaging show of skill that kids and adults alike could enjoy.
The John Bidwell arena, where most of this took place was 1 of 10 arenas not including the main arena. This will give you an idea of the scale of this year’s Game Fair. If unlike us shooting isn’t your cup of tea or you find that you can’t get away with putting the dog in the dog crèche or the kids in with the kids crèch,e then definitely one of the other arenas will have something to suit. These arenas included;
- Angling Demonstration Platform
- Cookery Demonstration Theatre
- Game Fair Theatre
- Hooked on Horses Arena
- House of Fishing
- International Gundog Arena
- Kennel Club Dog Zone Ring
- Renewable Energies Theatre
- Working Dog Ring
There was even a 4×4 off-road course not to mention the Horserail Polo Challenge Cup!
With the feel of Sunburn setting in, it was soon time to head home. We grabbed an ice cream for the walk to our car and spent the whole journey home reflecting on the days events. We will be talking about this one for a while and with no doubt booking our tickets to the 2012 CLA Game Fair at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire as soon as we can.