Meeting the team at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School
PUBLISHED: 12:03 08 October 2014 | UPDATED: 12:03 08 October 2014
There's always something happening at the 100-acre clay shooting ground of the Royal Berkshire Shooting School, as Selena Barr reveals
Voted the nation’s favourite clay ground for 2013, Royal Berkshire Shooting School (RBSS) has made a name for itself as one of the UK’s most welcoming and innovative shooting schools.
Established over 20 years ago, RBSS now employs 24 full-time staff and is located at Ashampstead, just 20 minutes from Newbury and half an hour from Hungerford in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Tucked away in a chalk valley filled with mature yew and ash trees, the ground has a 4,000 square foot lodge and shop and is home to Tomb Farm, a Lutyens house built in 1610.
The history of RBSS in its current incarnation goes back to 1990 when Dylan Williams, its Managing Director, went to look at the school which was then on the market. “After discussions with the owner he asked me to join him and we went from there,” he explained, adding: “In those days the county of Berkshire was known as Royal Berkshire so we named the shooting school after the address, got all the approvals and that has become our brand today.”
As Dylan points out, RBSS is probably one of the most picturesque clay shooting grounds in the UK. “We are very lucky with our location,” he said. “But I’ve always said we’re only holding this land in trust and I believe we have a custodial responsibility for it. I am very particular about making sure the ground and facilities are always clean, tidy and well presented. We’ve planted around 2,500 trees since we’ve been here as well as recreating chalk downland and hedgerows. Our clients take great enjoyment from the natural environment surrounding us and very much enjoy the flora and fauna it supports.”
As well as its nationwide reputation as one of the UK’s premier shooting schools, RBSS offers much to the people of Berkshire itself, as Dylan points out: “We offer something for everyone, whether it be shooting lessons, educational events for children, simulated game days, game shooting on local Berkshire estates and links with a number of local pubs and restaurants. We have a very well stocked country store that many local residents use on a regular basis to buy clothing, wellies and gifts.”
The country store is also the flagship shop for the Really Wild Clothing Company set up in 2002 to provide elegant and practical clothing for lady shooters. Run by Natalie Lake, its founder, and her team, Really Wild Clothing is based nearby, working from premises on Lord Iliffe’s Yattendon estate, with much of the inspiration for the designs of its clothes being drawn from the Berkshire countryside.
For those wanting to buy a shotgun, the RBSS site includes a gunroom showcasing some of the finest continental and London guns—including those by Purdey and Holland & Holland—and offer gunfitting, alterations, servicing and a secure and efficient gun storage facility.
Dylan is extremely proud of the tremendous amount of charity work RBSS does for both local and national charities. This includes raising funds for the Red Cross in the Thames Valley area and for the Child-Beale Trust and Beale Park, a mini wildlife park based at Lower Basildon and committed to the conservation of rare and endangered species.
“We raise significant funds for national charities that have an emphasis and impact in Berkshire,” adds Dylan. “These include the NSPCC event we ran for Sophie, Countess of Wessex, at Windsor Castle and our renowned annual charity clay pigeon shoot to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. This has taken place for the past 17 years and the Red Arrows always put on a display that is very popular with the local community. In fact we get many calls from Berkshire residents asking us when this will be held so they can plan their lunch parties to watch!”
This year’s Great Ormond Street shoot will take place on 5 September and will see 25 teams of four guns take part in a morning’s competition followed by lunch, a charity auction and the spectacular air display by the Red Arrows.
RBSS’s commitment to charity work is impressive: since 1991 it has helped raise £20 million in total and in July this year held a charity day for Julia’s House in Dorset which raised £1 million in a single day. “That was a tremendous accolade for our staff and I am so proud of them and our clients for supporting all of the charity work we do both nationally and locally,” says Dylan.
From a Berkshire perspective, RBSS is also seen as a premier leisure facility with Dylan pointing out that estate agents selling properties locally see the shooting ground equivalent to having the Oval or Wimbledon on the doorstep. “That is another great accolade and we are extremely grateful for the support of the local community with which we work very closely. Coming from a rural agricultural background in Wales, I understand the importance of getting on with your neighbours. In addition, the majority of RBSS staff live in Berkshire and I also lived here for 10 years but due to married life now live in Surrey. We have been very fortunate to have the backing of Richard Benyon, our local MP, who has been extremely helpful and very supportive of what we do.”
On the shooting side, RBSS offers one of the most comprehensive clay shooting layouts in the country over a wide range of English Sporting simulated game targets and has seven full-time instructors, who together have amassed over 100,000 hours of teaching experience. “We have a very welcoming approach and because our seven instructors are all full time we can build a programme of development and really get to know you. After booking your lesson all you have to do is turn up as everything is provided and because everyone is overseen by an instructor our safety record is exemplary.”
For those that want to try their hand at a simulated game day, RBSS’s sister company, The Really Wild Clay Company provides a number of days on Berkshire estates including Highclere Castle—location of Downton Abbey—and the Kirby, Yattendon and West Woodhay Estates.
RBSS is seen as a forerunner in encouraging ladies to take up clay shooting with Dylan estimating that between 15-20% of his client base are women who enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and empathetic yet communicative style of tuition. “The large numbers of ladies coming to shoot inspired the formation of the Really Wild Clothing Company and our instructors like nothing more than teaching ladies who, because they listen and do as the instructor suggests, very often turn into excellent shots. We get a lot of ladies who come to shoot for an hour or so in the morning and then have a bite to eat here afterwards and a browse in the shop.”
The shooting school also offers a number of courses for youngsters including its Young Shots Go Really Wild Academy Days—stand-alone introductions to game shooting, focusing on a particular species of game. These afternoon sessions for children aged 16 and under cost £65 which includes gun hire, safety wear, clays, cartridges and refreshments. The following dates for the afternoon sessions are Thursday 7 August, Tuesday 12 August, Tuesday 19 August and Tuesday 26 August. In addition RBSS also provides shooting lessons for Bradfield College and Pangbourne College pupils as well as sponsoring the Reading University clay pigeon team who come to the school for training.
For businesses in the Thames Valley region, RBSS offers the opportunity to hold unique bespoke corporate events. “A day here learning a new sport is an excellent way to entertain clients and build relationships,” says Dylan. “We also have an association with Mike Robinson, the UK’s foremost game chef who runs the Pot Kiln, a renowned country pub and restaurant just 10 minutes away, and provides the catering for our event days and guests. Mike is a terrific ambassador for game at the table and many of our days of sporting shooting are carried out on Berkshire estates including Yattendon, Well Barn and Kirby.”
In addition to the Pot Kiln, RBSS has strong links with other pubs and restaurants including the Royal Oak in Yattendon, the Swan on the banks of the River Thames at Streatley and The Vineyard Hotel and Spa in Newbury all of which are popular venues for RBSS customers.
“What I want to emphasise is that RBSS is very much a lifestyle,” said Dylan, adding: “Yes we are here to teach people how to shoot but we offer much more than that. We believe we provide a service to Berkshire, to its residents and to those further afield who come to us for fun, relaxation and enjoyment in what is undoubtedly a very beautiful place.”