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Ben Howkin's ‘My Red Letter Day’
 
10 October 2014
 
 
CHRISTENING presents come in many different shapes and forms – rather like red-letter days. The best one my son, Jamie, received consisted of a few words from Jim Corbett: “There is a stag on the hill for you.”

Royal Tokaji Essencia

I have been fortunate enough to be going to Lochbuie on the Isle of Mull for more than 40 years. Corbett’s family has farmed there for nearly a hundred years. Corbett, a past president of both the Coaching Club of Great Britain and the British Driving Society, is one of my oldest friends and so it was with great excitement that Jamie and I went north in October 2012.

John Glaisher, a family friend who also hails from Mull, took us high up Benbuie where, through the bitter mist, we espied several stags during the morning but all were too young or good breeding stags. After our piece, suddenly we saw him on a shale outcrop. My frozen trigger finger was spot on.

The following day was Jamie’s turn. I had explained to him that part of the excitement and thrill of stalking is dragging the stag off the hill after the stalk. I remember many exhausting but satisfying days doing exactly that before the advent of the Argocat.

Led by a cousin of Jim’s, the redoubtable Anthony Dod (Doddy), we climbed Laggan deer forest and, heading south, we soon were stalking a baggable stag. Nestling into some cover, Jamie took aim at about 120yd and down went the 13st 8lb beast. This was the moment that we both had hoped for. I had home-made Staverton sloe gin and a serious cigar at the ready.

Imagine my inward annoyance when Doddy announced that we were too far down the back of the hill to drag the stag. Still, mine was a 10 pointer and Jamie’s a six-pointer and we had much more time to enjoy the sloe gin and the cigars. A truly bonding moment born out of the best sporting instincts. Full of pride yet competitive; energetic yet relaxing in the best of company; banter but with a seriousness of purpose – this is what my red-letter day meant to me.

This moment was consolidated when we all shared a spoonful of our legendary Royal Tokaji Essencia back in the big house. One sip and one can begin to understand how this rare nectar really did reinvigorate ailing czars and emperors in centuries gone by. Maybe our cricketers or footballers should indulge accordingly.

Ben Howkins is a founding director of Royal Tokaji.