Emma’s eccentric Britain: clay pigeon shooting in Northumberland

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Lance Strother is from interesting stock. His ancestors were mentioned by Chaucer and one of them, having sucked up to William the Conqueror, was gifted half of Northumberland. "Blimey," I say, "that's quite a present."

Lance nods. "And as is so often the way," he adds, rather ruefully, "the land and the estates and the farms have all been gambled away down the years. Farms used to be lost and won on the turn of a card. Madness."

I'm on Fowberry Moor Farm, near the market town of Wooler. Back in 1923, the farm was lost by a chap called Tankerville. He invited the then Prince of Wales to come and shoot but, in a fit of excessive accommodation, he built a road purely for the prince's use, and bankrupted himself in doing so. Bad luck for him, good luck for Lance. And now here I am, with three pals, having a go at shooting for myself.

Unlike the Prince of Wales, I do not require my own road, nor shall I be killing anything. Instead I'll be shooting clay pigeons. The location is perfect: we're standing in a little wood among golden bracken; the sky is that crystal-cut winter blue and the smell of a bonfire is drifting on the wind.

"That's an Antonia pine," Lance tells me, pointing to the tree I have to use as an aiming point. "It's got incredibly soft bark. You can punch that as hard as you like and you'll never hurt yourself."

I don't believe him. So I give that a go. He wasn't lying.

I have only shot fake prop guns before. That was when I was taking part in a TV series called Suburban Shootout, and I had the great honour of using the very same pistol carried by Halle Berry in Die Another Day. But today I'm going to be shooting a 20-bore single-trigger Beretta shotgun. It's massive, and I will be firing proper bullets.

Given my propensity for disaster, I couldn't be more delighted when Lance tells me he's not going to take an eye off me for a second. We're going to be shooting 40 clays each: 20 going-away clays and 20 driven clays. I have no idea what this means, but I soon work out that one set is flying away while the other is coming straight at me.

Lance stands close by, shows me how to press the comb of the gun hard into my shoulder, how to place my weight on my left foot and how to take the safety catch off with my thumb.

"Finger OFF the trigger," he warns, preventing me from accidentally blowing my foot off. "The gun is now live. Now get ready: this is the most fun you'll have standing up."

I raise an eyebrow and worry about Lance's standing up fun compass. All the same, I am all set and so, when I think I'm ready, I say, "Pull."

The clay shoots out from the trap and arches up and away between two fir trees. "Hit it on the up," Lance says, encouragingly. "Go through the target."

Sadly, I don't go anywhere near through the target. I miss it completely. Not only that but there's clearly work to be done on my gun-holding technique. It's kicked back something rotten into my upper arm and, I won't lie, it hurts like hell.

"What did I do wrong?" I ask Lance, as he reloads my barrels.

"Well," he says, placing an encouraging hand on my shoulder, "I would suggest you try and keep your eyes open."

This is good advice. I'm not about to give up. I am determined to get the hang of this. And at the end of my first pass, I've hit four of the things. As the driven clays shoot in my direction, something a bit Clint Eastwood comes over me and I manage to hit nine out of 10. I have a nightmare and only strike one on my second go, but then I redeem myself with my final set and end with a final tally of 20 clays hit out of 40.

"You've done very well," says Lance, smiling as we head back towards his van. And then he gives us all a cup of his homemade blackcurrant vodka. It's delicious.

• Clay pigeon shoots with Lance start at ?40pp. Emma stayed in the Boathouse in Norham, a self-catering cottage let by Crabtree & Crabtree (01573 226711, crabtreeandcrabtree.com). It sleeps 10 and costs from ?1,300 a week

Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaK67

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