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24 July 2014

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Call of the Wild

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Crisp autumn days were made for putting on a pair of boots and going outside for some good old fashioned country pursuits. Here’s our pick of the UK’s ten tweediest venues for groups

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Hever Castle

Castles within easy reach of London are a rarity, which makes this dramatic 13th-century specimen even more appealing. The surrounding 600 acres offer plenty of scope for outdoor pursuits, with the likes of laser shooting, archery, falconry and duck herding from a specialist off-site team which can cater for large groups. Thanks to the castle’s exclusive-use policy, parties will also have the run of the dramatic Tudor banqueting halls and pretty gardens.

Build in bed and breakfast – the 21 bedrooms were re-opened in March after a top-to-toe refurbishment.

Take a group of 40 for a post-activity banquet.

Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 7NG tel: 01732 861800


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Lucknam Park

This five-star country house hotel six miles outside Bath is famous for many things – the beautiful Palladian architecture, for example, or the Michelin-starred restaurant – but when it comes to outdoor pursuits, Lucknam is all about equestrian. The on-site centre has 35 horses of all sizes and caters for all levels of ability, so while beginners take to the training ring, advanced riders can enjoy escorted hacks through the Wiltshire countryside, and cross-country enthusiasts can take on the jumps course which winds around the estate. For those who haven’t got the bit between their teeth, clay pigeon shooting provides a solid tweed-based alternative.

For something different arrange a ‘Michelin-star cooking at home’ course for up to 12 guests.

Take a small incentive group for a two-nighter.

Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN14 8AZ tel: 01225 742777


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Lainston House

This well-kept hotel just outside Winchester manages to feel country house as well as contemporary. Hospitality has heart here, with home-grown produce in the kitchen and some event spaces, but just as much attention has been paid to outdoor pursuits. Since the arrival of its resident falconer in 2011, falconry has become a speciality. And with two famous fly-fishing rivers on site, the Test and the Itchen, fishing enthusiasts can cast for trout and grayling, aided by a ghillie. Archery, air rifles, clay and laser pigeon shooting are other options.

Build in a barbecue on the riverbank to grill up your freshly caught trout.

Take small fishing parties for incentives.

Sparsholt, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 2LT tel: 01962 776088


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Gleneagles

It’s no wonder guests cross oceans to don tweeds at Gleneagles. The outdoor pursuits facilities here are as five-star as the accommodation. If shooting is your thing, there’s a world-class school where groups can hone their skills on simulated teal, high pheasant and running hare or the clay pigeon target range before heading out to the hills for deer-stalking or game bird shooting. Archery? A purpose-built range. Falconry? The HQ of the British School of Falconry on site. And for every stretch of Perthshire loch teeming with trout, there’s a patient ghillie on hand and a chef to cook your catch. Or try some shooting of a different kind – the resort has just launched wildlife photography days, led by one of the gamekeepers.

For something different learn to handle a hunter’s best friend at the dedicated Gundog School.

Build in a horse (riding), hawk (display) and hog (roast) experience to round off a day on the range.

Take parties of up to 100.

Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF tel: 0800 587 8806


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Castle Leslie

Halfway between Belfast and Dublin, Castle Leslie is one of the last great Irish estates still in the hands of its founding family, so expect bags of character along with all the mod cons of a luxury hotel. As well as a top-flight equestrian centre and fishing on one of Ireland’s best-preserved lakes, the outdoor pursuits include clay pigeon shooting under the expert guidance of one of Ireland’s most decorated guns. Only small groups are taken, so each shooter receives individual attention.

For something different try your luck hooking a monster pike – a 38lb specimen was pulled out of the lake in 1991.

Take incentive groups of four to eight to make the most of the facilities.

Glaslough, Co. Monaghan, Ireland tel: 00 353 47 88100


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Bovey Castle

Arriving at Bovey feels like an escape to your own Dartmoor country estate. Swap your city garb for a pair of wellies and a wax jacket at the door – the resort team will fashion a programme to ensure that each group gets the most out of its country sojourn. A day might start with a falconry display on the terrace and move on to the range for archery or rifle shooting, before an afternoon’s fly fishing, game bird shooting or deer stalking. However, it’ll usually conclude with drinks in front of a roaring fire. Most activities can be enjoyed on the vast estate, though shoots take place in the nearby countryside and have a real local feel. It’s all just two hours away from London by train – station pick-up in Jeeps will get you in the country mood.

For something different try sloe gin or cider making in a barn on the edge of the estate.

Take incentive groups or valuable clients – a Bovey getaway is always a real treat.

North Bovey, Dartmoor National Park, Devon, TQ13 7RE tel: 01647 445000


This was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, autumn 2012


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