The United Pack’s meet at The Anchor is one with great resonance in both the hunt’s and Horse & Hound’s history
United Pack, plus the Golden Button Challenge
United Pack, The Anchor, Shropshire
THE poet AE Housman called it “The Land Of Lost Content” and Look Back In Anger playwright John Osborne lived out his last days here at The Hurst, a magnificent Victorian house outside Clun. Welcome to Shropshire, the Welsh Marches and the United Pack.
The country begins at Craven Arms, where the long-standing stencil in the pub car park says “Park Prettily”, and stretches over the moorland of the Long Mynd and Stiperstones, where Mary Webb wrote Gone To Earth, into the heart of Wales, Offa’s Dyke and the Welsh Borderland.
In between are fine estates — Sibdon, Walcot, Plowden, Lydham and Linley — each of which welcome this two-day-aweek pack, with kennels in the pretty market town of Bishop’s Castle. But nowhere perhaps is more iconic than the meet at The Anchor, a remote Border pub from where that great hunting character CN “Bay” de Courcy Parry hunted the United and, for more than 50 years, wrote for Horse & Hound as “Dalesman”.
Parry bought the pub in 1930 for £700, hacking back from hunting one day, after he was refused a drink from the landlord as it was closed. There and then he put a cheque under the door.
“My whipper-in and I were faced with a 16-mile hack home on a blistering hot day. Two pints at £300 apiece were well worth it,” he wrote.
Today, under landlord Mike Steadman, The Anchor retains all of its magic, with flagstone floors,
low ceilings and a roaring fire, although the dance hall, which Parry described as having “the soft lighting of a London nightclub” no longer has a roof. But the United is not a hunt to stand still with its long history. With the exceptional mastership of Jonathan Lee (our field master for the day), Robin Morris, Sophie Goodall and newly-joined Ellie Beaman from the Wheatland country, the hunt is in as good a heart as at any time since its foundation in 1837.
“We have adapted and modified,” says Jonathan Lee. “We have a lot of country to go at, have put in plenty of hunt jumps and occasionally you have to take a hedge with wire as it stands. We don’t have huge numbers out and the farmers are very good with us.”
He also says that the aim of any day is to keep the field together, be they jumpers or non-jumpers.
“There is plenty of room for both mounted
and foot followers to come and see hounds work.”
THE United hound breeding has a strong relationship with the College Valley, begun in the 1950s under the United’s master John Yeoward, who went to Sir Alfred Goodson in Northumberland. It continued successfully between Martin Letts (College Valley) and Rodney Ellis (United) in the 1980s and 1990s.
Parry wrote of John Yeoward: “He had a wonderful pack of hounds, bred by himself with skill and patience, showing great sport and catching a great many foxes.”
Huntsman Josh Bentley has, a trusting way with his hounds, who often have to hunt away from him unaided, and their ability to feather and come back together as a pack was a marvel to behold. Now in his third season as huntsman — having previously been at the Middleton and Suffolk as whipper-in — he is assisted by professional whipper-in Jack Cundy, whose father hunted the Essex Foxhounds, and amateur Di Vaughan, who never stops.
“We still have plenty of College Valley blood in the kennels,” says Josh, who had 241∕2 couple out on this day.
Twenty-five mounted followers assembled in The Anchor’s car park and a good number on foot. These included Janet Richards from Mainstone, Robert, Richard (mounted) and Peter Adams, three brothers born and bred here on the Black Mountain who remember hunting with Parry as children, long-standing hunt secretary Tim Ward, cap man of similar vintage Peter Hughes — sporting a badge of the Montgomeryshire Harriers which Parry also hunted — and Graham Mantle. Then there was David Nash, who is writing the history of the United from local newspaper reports.
“I have only got as far as 1910 after several years of research,” he told me.
Former masters at the meet included Liz Young, whose husband Roland was a long-standing whipper-in here to Rodney Ellis during his mastership in the 1990s, and Dick Ballard. To this band I can add my own name, as I was a joint-master in the 1990s, living in a woodland cottage without electricity and a simple open fire, soon falling under the spell of this remarkable landscape and community.
“You won’t find much has changed,” Dick Ballard said, as we looked at the old dance hall.
“That place could tell some stories,” Sheila Dwerryhouse, who looks after the hunt horses, added with a twinkle, as we both remembered dances and race nights there.
Her husband Kit once found a spur I had lost deep in some forestry and I wear it to this day, and their daughter Sophie now hunts here with the best of them.
FIVE-BAR GATES A SPECIALITY
FORESTRY, open sheep grassland and bracken banks typify the country here with distant views of biblical wonder in all directions. The United is one of the largest hunt countries in Britain and in these hills, the names resonate of settled farming with such elegiac names as Badger Moor, Black Mountain, Mount Flirt, Kent’s Barn and Hall of the Forest.
Later in the day, we would pass the vicarage at Bettws-y-Crwyn where Anne Beesley — host of 33 lawn meets — still holds Sunday services in her front room when the little church is shut.
But it was the sheer pace of the next five hours, led with great élan by the joint-masters who happily jump any five-bar gate that comes their way, that will, I venture, be a bit of a change since Parry’s day. The masters also have second horses. This detail and pace attracts visitors from far and wide including eventer Annie Dalton who was always in the first fight. Of the younger ones, Josh Bentley mentions Isobel Ellis and Nancy Parish as proper foxhunters.
Personally, I was grateful to Tim Vaughan and the evercheerful former chairman’s son William Bedell, for “doing gates” all day. I was also grateful to
joint-master Sophie Goodall, who lent me her superb eight-year-old mare Solitaire, for only telling me at the end of the day: “She was only broken in last year.”
Of her mastership, Sophie says: “The more I get to know our farmers, the more I am trusted and this is a great reward for me.”
First mounted at the meet was Jan Lawrence from Berriew on a small grey pony who had travelled an hour.
“We like to think it’s God’s Own Country,” Tim Ward said, and few would doubt him.
Tim Main, a former master and huntsman of the Marlborough College beagles, was riding one of joint-master Robin Morris’s superb hunters.
“I am not a horseman,” he admitted, “but I love to see the hounds work.”
He did not take his eyes off them all day.
From the first draw at Bettws Wood, hounds soon settled on a trail that had hound music echoing through the trees. Wide “rides” gave the mounted field a brisk fast gallop, then a surging 20 minutes on open ground settling horses and riders into the spirit of the day. Not long afterwards at Mount Flirt, we came across hounds of the neighbouring Teme Valley, who had met two miles away. While this slightly altered the United draw, the masters were quick to react and there still exists a happy sporting relationship between the two hunts.
Hounds then hunted their trails in open bracken, giving us a ringside view of their tireless work and distant views down to Felindre. Horses here need to be thinkers as well as to have pace, to creep through woodland and jump streams and trappy places. Coming back off the Welsh side, we drew Black Mountain, a bountiful woodland escarpment which had us drop down towards Duffryn in a wide and rewarding 40-minute hunt. We finished the day in darkness.
“Meeting the Teme Valley and the wet conditions may have given us slightly more roadwork than I wanted, but I was happy with the day,” Jonathan Lee said later as we went over things in another remarkably unchanged pub, The Sun at Clun. It was at The Sun that I would occasionally have lunch with John Osborne.
“What is it we really want as writers?” I asked him one day.
“We want to be loved and given money,” he replied.
The hunting scenes in the film Tom Jones, for which John won an Oscar, show that he was a countryman at heart and loved going to the United point-to-point or to Ludlow Races.
Housman, writing about the Clun Valley (which he never visited) as “the Land of Lost Content” wrote of the “Happy highways where I went, and cannot come again”.
But I had come again, after a gap of 24 years, as Parry did when he rebought The Anchor in the 1960s. In his wonderful book, Here Lies My Story (1964) he wrote: “It was splendid to be home again, and I just stood and looked at everything that I had known and loved so well and had never expected to see again.”
In no small measure, on this day, I knew how he felt. And I felt the same.
The heart of matter the
Huntsman Josh Bentley, who is in his third season with the United
Top: Katie Boyd and Rory Knight Bruce Middle: huntsman Josh Bentley with hounds Bottom: Tim Main, a former master and huntsman of the Marlborough College Beagles
Tim Vaughan at the meet at The Anchor pub, which
H&H hunting correspondent ‘Dalesman’ bought for £700 in 1930 because he wanted a drink after a day’s hunting
L to R: Richard Beaman, Jonathan Lee MFH and Sophie Dwerryhouse lead the field
Hounds return to the lorry as night draws in after a long, successful day
Mounted followers Janet Richards and Sophie Croxford catch up