On the Sunday of the May Day Bank Holiday weekend in 2010 we drove 450 miles from Maida Vale in west London (where we had been visiting friends) to Stanley in Perthshire to collect a dog. We stayed the Sunday night in a fisherman’s lodge at the Ballathie House Hotel, before setting out on the 350 miles back home to Stamford in south Lincolnshire with our new recruit, Perth Piper, or Ella as we named her. In total we travelled 800 miles to collect a £400 labrador pup which cost at least £100 in diesel and of course the cost of the mileage on the car.

Don't ask about the carbon footprint

Then five years later during the Easter weekend of 2015 we set off from Stamford for a 700-mile round trip to Stanley to collect one of Ella’s nieces, Cosmic Tillyrie, or Bracken. One difference on the second occasion was that we had two friends travelling from the same town to collect Dave, another pup from the litter. So on that occasion four people travelled a grand total of 1,400 miles to collect two puppies. I know what you are thinking – why didn’t you all travel together? Well, I can’t remember now but I’m sure there was a good reason at the time.

Also if you are thinking that these two 10-week-old puppies were starting life with a heavy carbon footprint then yes perhaps you are right – but there was method in the madness. You see in the first instance we knew the sire only too well and he was a handsome bugger, was Sooty. And we knew his owner, of course, equally handsome and reliable to boot.

He told us that Ernie, the ghillie on the River Tay, had a lovely bitch (Taybabe Bracken) who just loved to work and he was sure the pups from these two would be handsome, strong, smart and keen for work. As it turned out he wasn’t wrong and there were only the three in that first litter.

Over the years the memory of that 800-mile journey faded into nothing apart from one aspect of it – the distraught look on Ernie’s face when we pulled away from his house. I won’t forget that in a hurry because it left me in no doubt that this pup had come from a loving background and was certainly no product of a puppy farm. In fact Ernie only has a litter every four or five years so he’s just the sort of person I want to get my pups from.


In the second instance there were eight surviving puppies in the litter from Ella’s sister Purdey, but the look on Ernie’s face when we drove away with Bracken was just the same. She wasn’t quite so easy on the journey home. She was angelic until we reached the M74 and then Dumfries & Galloway passed in a storm of howling and barking. Anyone who’s ever had a similar experience will empathise.

Having just extracted a 10-week-old puppy from its mother and home, to have to listen to it crying for 100 miles is a real test. Because ultimately there’s nothing you can do. At least we thought she hadn’t resorted to a dirty protest until we pulled into one of those farm shops on the A66 near Scotch Corner and then the stench hit us too. Still, we cleaned it out and travelled the remaining 140 miles with our fingers crossed and it rather seemed the message had got through. She knew she was with us for the duration and that we did care about her too. But who can blame the wee pup for being so upset at being taken from her mother?


And I’m not ruling out asking Ernie for a third visit if he has another litter anytime soon. Yes, it’s a long way to go to collect a pup but in some senses it helps to immediately set some ground rules. You can’t stop every time the dog makes a noise because you just have to keep moving. The relationship is therefore established from the start. And the length of time of the journey and the sheer distance involved helps to send the message to the new pup that this is the real thing and there’s no tur ning back.


But at least we had a nice rapport with Ernie and a decent reception from him, unlike a friend of mine who said: “We’d driven the best part of 500 miles to collect our pup from a keeper’s cottage. She was a bonny little thing, the pup, but driving nearly nine hours is thirsty work, so the other half and I were a little lost for words when we found ourselves settling the new recruit into the car, ready to start the return journey after a short chat by the kennels, with not a cup of tea or coffee in sight. All that way and we hadn’t even made it into the house.

“Thankfully the pup, who has turned out to be a cracking dog, was quite relaxed and slept for most of the return journey. We stopped to let her potter about on the grass at the House of Bruar. It was a glorious summer’s evening.

“Not fancying a full 18 hours of driving in a single day, we decided to stay with some family near Haltwhistle that night to break up the journey. A brew at last! Needless to say, to thank our hosts the young pup woke up just as we were nodding off to sleep and continued to howl her little heart out until 3am in the morning. By the next morning, it certainly felt as though we’d overstayed our welcome.”

What are your experiences of collecting your new gundog pup? Has anyone driven more than an 800-mile round-trip? We’d love to hear your stories about collecting a new gundog. Please email: editorial@gundog-journal.com