Hunting Heythrop opening meet and Pack of the Week with the South Durham
The Heythrop opening meet offers the chance to watch a famous pack of hounds being beautifully handled
A CRASH of music in some dense, laid thorns and the mixed pack of 17½ couple were away from us as quick as a flash. I tucked in behind Charles Frampton as he scurried through a twisty ride to get with them, and when we broke into the open they were a field in front and running hard.
Bertie Alexander, new in kennels this season after three years hunting the Stowe Beagles, swooped in behind his huntsman and I followed the pair of them over a few small rails and an inviting hedge. Hounds looked like getting away on us as we pushed on to stay in touch past David Hunt’s farmyard, but this trail swung left-handed and we had a crucial check on a foiled grass track.
The field were coming up the track from our left and looked like ruining any chance of recovering the line, but when his hounds had finished their cast, Charles nudged them past the field with the minimum of fuss and they were away, concluding their hunt at the base of a gnarled ash tree. As I stood looking down at the
hounds with Charles, I overheard Becky Hughes and her children Isla and Molly, pointing out the five hounds they had walked the year before last. This had been no classic hunt but a taste of what these sharp and active hounds can do and a brief sample of some of the best of the Heythrop country.
A MIDAS TOUCH
IT was the day of the Heythrop opening meet at Harcomb, home of former master and huntsman Stephen Lambert and his wife Jane. This glorious setting overlooks the famous Evenlode Vale, and I met up with the hounds, and my superb hireling from Jill Carenza’s yard, at Charles and Issy Frampton’s house, just a mile or so from the meet.
Charles is in his sixth year as joint-master and amateur huntsman of the Heythrop and he came with a reputation for having a Midas touch, producing brilliant sport wherever he has been. From his days hunting the beagles at Stowe and Cirencester to the Bedale foxhounds in Yorkshire and the Portman in Dorset, he has left a huge fan club in his wake who marvelled at his hard-headed tenacity in leaving no stone unturned when it comes to running a hunt.
Mike Wills, a subscriber with the bubbling enthusiasm of one newly converted to the cause, was in Issy’s kitchen waiting for his weekly hunting fix and field master and event rider
Mike Jackson turned up like an Olympic athlete warming up for his gold medal run.
A brief hack to the meet and we joined a field of some 120 on horses, quaffing the Lamberts’ Percy Specials, with a huge gathering of foot followers and well wishers. Hunt secretary Guy Avis was among them, looking remarkably spry despite having just recovered from an awful riding accident. Victoria Irvine was filling in for Guy on secretarial duty and all the joint-masters were in attendance. Nessie Lambert organises the hunting in the Evenlode Vale and in between draws would slip off to feed her 10-week-old daughter, Poppy.
I WAS lucky enough to go on with Charles and avoid the melee as we hacked away from
the meet through Chastleton village and turned into some wonderful grassland belonging to the Townsend family that time has forgotten: rails and wire-free hedges in every direction. The trail-layers had already gone ahead; smart and efficient-looking kennel-huntsman Michael Little had disappeared towards the Chipping Norton road and the first line was quickly hunted and over. No messing around and we were on to the Bamfords’ lush pastures and hounds were soon racing around below Kitebrook School, where Charles’ young twin daughters, Alice and Daisy, are pupils. They leapt to the window as their father’s charges made morning lessons that much more exciting and the pack hunted back past the field and over the road.
We drew on up some thick hedgerows and Michael Little pointed out some of the hounds by Zetland Woodcock. He was lent to the Heythrop by Zetland huntsman David Dukes and such was his prowess on the hunting field that he was used extensively.
“He was a really good, tough dog and we have bred from some of his progeny as well,” explained Michael. “We had another Zetland dog last year called Jamieson, whom we have also used.”
The Heythrop hounds have a great reputation in the show ring but Charles is single-minded about breeding for working abilities.
“If you want to widen the gene pool and your kennel is already full of blood from the Gloucestershire packs, it’s difficult to know where to go to use a quality and good-hunting stallion hound,” says Charles.
Dilemma it may be, but he seems to be well on the way to solving it. The Heythrop now hunt seven days a fortnight but have been autumn hunting five or six days a week.
“Some of these hounds have done more than 30 days already this season,” Charles said. “Now that we no longer hunt four days a week, we only hunt a bitch pack if we have a glut of bitches in season. We have roughly one third doghounds out most days and this way they get properly tested.”
AN EAGLE-EYED VIEW
WE worked our way back to the Lamberts’ perfectly situated covert of Harcomb, just below the meet, and are quickly away through Chastleton to Mr Townsend’s farm. Back we go to a ridge above Harcomb and the view across the vale is breathtaking, with the patchwork quilt of grass and hedges on Sir John Aird’s farm below. An eagleeyed view of the trail-layers from the huntsman had us running again, straight down the hill across Sir John’s to the edge of Evenlode itself.
We rode to second horses and the field thinned significantly.
Jill Carenza’s charming driver Martin produced another perfect hunter for me. Mike Wills looked somewhat battered after a crunching fall from his hireling and I noticed Jerry Dennis in his tweed overcoat, introduced to me as the Heythrop’s oldest subscriber, mounting up on to his second fiery young horse like a man 30 years his junior.
We had a short hunt from a
covert called Stubbles, recently bequeathed to the hunt, and then across the railway to Frogmore and Broadwell Hill. Now the clocks are back the evenings draw in quickly and John LLoyd, master of the Four Shires Bassets for so many years, was following on his quad bike to watch hounds draw his covert.
Hounds were soon running in his thick rush bed and we finished the day hunting locally into the dusk. My one outstanding thought as we hacked home was the quietness with which this famous pack had been handled all day: no fuss, no noise and everything was immaculately organised.
There has been a changing of the guard in Heythropia and a young and vibrant team have taken over the reins. Hunting requires a new vision and new people to take it forward, while adhering to the old standards, and that is exactly what has happened here. For a young man in his prime, Charles has a wealth of knowledge and experience and there is great synergy in the hunt. Former chairman Mikey Elliott had the foresight to put it all in place and has now handed over the reins of chairmanship to Tara Douglas-Home.
THE WALLACE CONNECTION
WE boxed up at the meet and I went with Charles as he called upon Keith Townsend to thank him for having us on his farm. As old-fashioned as his lovely grass farm, Mr Townsend offered us homemade scrumpy cider and a glass of whisky, explaining how he came to buy his tenanted farm.
“Our farm was put on the market and [legendary former Heythrop master] Capt Wallace asked if we would buy it. I told him that it was too much money for us to afford and he said he would sort it out. Very shortly the price was dropped and we bought the farm, all thanks to Capt Wallace’s intervention,” he said.
He recounted a memorable hunt when the hounds arrived unexpectedly in his yard after a six-mile point. The hunted fox took refuge in his coal shed and it was some time before Percy Durno appeared and they killed the fox.
The Heythrop hunt is steeped in history and it is the Mr Townsends’ of a hunting country who keep it grounded in reality as well as that history. Charles Frampton spent his gap year as second horseman to Capt Wallace when he was master of the Exmoor, and Charles is certainly a very worthy successor at the Heythrop. I feel this may be the early days of another golden era for this famous pack.
Verena Chalk looks tidy over a set of rails
Joint-master and huntsman Charles Frampton with hounds
Three smart greys: from left to right, VWH master Nick Phillips, Jess Douglas and Mike Wills
Joint-master Christopher Cox takes a breather
A mounted field of around 120 enjoy the opening meet
Christopher Brooks lands over an immaculate hedge
Joint-masters Nessie Chanter and Simon Lawrance lay the trail
Field master Mike Jackson leads in style