Hunt­ing

The United Pack’s meet at The An­chor is one with great res­o­nance in both the hunt’s and Horse & Hound’s his­tory

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By RORY KNIGHT BRUCE

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.”

TRUSTED HOUNDS

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

13 Jan­uary

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

13 Jan­uary

Hounds re­turn to the lorry as night draws in af­ter a long, suc­cess­ful day

Mounted fol­low­ers Janet Richards and So­phie Crox­ford catch up

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