Sunday, 23 May 2021

We're Going on a Deer Hunt

Some friends kindly invited me on a free mini-holiday: a few days in some holiday accommodation going spare in the wilds of the Highlands. In exchange, I offered to do the catering for the first evening. What could be more appropriate for the area than a venison casserole?

Anyhow, I approached the venison farm local to Balintore Castle on the principle that one should encourage local businesses. The owners are lovely and I have patronised them on previous occasions. "We have no diced venison" came the disappointing reply. However, they did usefully suggest an alternative venison farm just outside Forfar. This farm has a Web presence that allows you to make the purchase online, and this I duly did emailing to suggest a pick up time. From the response indicating venison would be coming in the following week for my order, it became obvious that they had nothing in stock at that moment and that I would have to cancel as my departure was in a couple of days.

Greg photographed these deer in Glen Quharity by the castle a couple of weeks ago.

When I expressed my despair to Greg, he suggested I ask the gamekeeper who lives next-door. Duh! Why hadn't I thought of this before? The gamekeeper came back to me very quickly, and he had indeed shot a number of deer a couple of days previously, but everything had now gone to the game dealers.

As the holiday was now looming, I would have to make an emergency trip to the butchers of Forfar. In fact, Forfar is very well provisioned  for butchers and has some excellent establishments. I would have  to be thorough and systematic. I found 5 butchers on Google Maps, and Gregor had already recommended to me the butcher (let's call it butcher "A") most likely to have venison.

I called in at butcher "A". They did not have any venison, but the man behind the counter was extremely polite in such an old-fashioned way, that I was taken back to my childhood in Scotland. Good butchers are a characteristic feature of Scottish towns and have a high standing in the community. This is markedly different from my experience in England. I am always ashamed taking French friends to Scottish cake shops. I love a fluorescent-red strawberry tart but it lacks the sophistication of their patisserie. However, I would stand proudly by any Gaul in a Scottish butcher.

Anyhow, I asked butcher "A": "Who would be most likely to have venison in Forfar?". I was given the name of butcher "B" and made my way there. Butcher "B" not only stuck the knife in: "We do not have any venison." but then gave it a little twist "And what's more deer is out of season!". Without thinking I blurted out "Well, I live next-door to a gamekeeper, and he killed some deer a couple of days ago". This seemed to make the butcher a little angry, and I tried to say something appeasing "Are you saying I shouldn't try any other butchers in Forfar?". "You can try if you want." came the sharpish reply.

I progressed to butcher "C" rather dejected expecting further failure. However, the man disappeared into the back shop, and came out with a huge bag of diced venison.  Success! I suspected I would need most of the bag. He weighed out 1.5 Kg, but then decided to throw in the remainder for free, which amounted to a very generous 2 Kg for the same price. This would never happen in Tesco! A quick conversation with butcher "C" about butcher "B", established the incorrectness of his remark. Deer, apparently, is in season for most of the year. 

I am sufficiently mischievous/didactic (you decide) that I was going to disavow butcher "B" of his misapprehension on the way back to my car. However, the staff member behind the counter had changed by the time I walked past again.

Talking of Tesco, next I popped into Forfar Tesco for celery for the venison casserole. Lidl has been out of celery when I had done my main shop. As an aside, I checked the red meat aisle - Tesco had had diced venison all along!!!

In fact, Greg has told me that this was likely to be the case, but I was rather dubious and it would have been my last resort rather than my first port of call.

Anyhow, the venison casserole I made in the end was so large that it supplied a number of meals, and I am still using it up.

This blog story brought to mind Coleridge's "water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.".

I recall visiting Brodick Castle on Arran as a teenager and being overwhelmed by the number of taxidermy stags on the stairs. It took me a long time to find an image on the Internet that confirmed this memory. Perhaps this is the biggest assemblage in the world? 

Brodick Castle

And on a similar theme, is the collection of stag skulls and antlers at Mar Lodge in Aberdeenshire the largest in the world?

Mar Lodge

And as a final exercise for the reader, are the deer that Greg photographed young Red Deer or Roe Deer? The deer are rather far away, but don't look spindly enough for Roe and are herding like Red, but I cannot make out any large hinds or stags that would make them clearly Red.


  1. "Water, water, every where,
    And all the boards did shrink;
    Water, water, every where,
    Nor any drop to drink."

    Homer nods! Aside from my picayune tweak, great story.

  2. I have seen both Roe and Fallow deer down beside the Quaharity burn on my frequent cycle trips along the road past the castle. Its hard to tell from the photo but I think they are Fallow deer but I may be wrong.

    1. If they are Fallow then that might explain why I couldn't decide between Red and Roe.

      I didn't know Fallow were in the area, but this distribution map suggests they are: