En­joy­ing a day in an­other coun­try

There’s noth­ing like a change of scene, so why not spend a day or two this sea­son vis­it­ing a dif­fer­ent hunt and mak­ing new friends?

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY eve jones

Eve Jones sug­gests hunts to visit

It has been writ­ten of Cap­tain Ron­nie Wal­lace that, “be­tween 1928 and 1935 he hunted 354 days with 26 dif­fer­ent packs” and that “dur­ing 28 hunt­ing days in 1935, he man­aged to hunt 32 times with seven dif­fer­ent packs”. While few could claim to have matched such num­bers, with more than 250 packs in Eng­land and Wales to­day, there is an abun­dance of his­tory, char­ac­ter and coun­try worth tak­ing the time to visit this sea­son.

Vis­it­ing new coun­try can be a test of horse­man­ship, whether you are ne­go­ti­at­ing Der­byshire stone walls and fly fences, rugged, bracken-cov­ered Welsh hills or the downs and marshes to the South-east’s coast for the first time. Swap­ping gal­lop­ing hedge coun­try of the Shires with moor­land or ditches can be tricky, and a good hireling from the coun­try is worth its weight in gold. A test of stamina is likely needed, too, in the lo­cal pubs, where the char­ac­ter of a hunt, shaped by its staff and stal­warts, is as in­ter­est­ing as its hunt­ing. The Percy is said to have its own stir­rup cup made of equal parts whisky and cherry brandy, “de­signed to make the fences look smaller”. (One vis­i­tor is said to have com­mented: “In the city this would be called an al­co­hol prob­lem, in the coun­try it’s a tip­ple.”)

days in the com­muter belt

Hunts vary in size and run­ning costs but the value of in­come from vis­i­tors to both the hunt and lo­cal busi­nesses can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated, par­tic­u­larly for smaller packs with fewer sub­scribers. Given the last ever fox hunt in cen­tral Lon­don hap­pened in 1795 (the Old Berke­ley record­ing a run from Worm­wood scrubs to Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens), the ur­ban hunt­ing con­tin­gent have long been ac­cus­tomed to trav­el­ling for their sport and pay­ing a pre­mium for it. Some big­ger, ‘fash­ion­able’ hunts in the com­muter belt you could say im­ple­ment ‘Lon­don weight­ing’, with caps near­ing £200 for a Satur­day. These can be ex­hil­a­rat­ing days of big coun­try with good com­pany but can also in­volve ne­go­ti­at­ing large fields of the vis­it­ing “rode it like I stole it” con­tin­gent, with just a dis­tant glimpse of hounds here and there. Packs more off the beaten track or with smaller num­bers in the field of­ten al­low for a truer ap­pre­ci­a­tion of their iden­tity and a bet­ter view of how the hounds match their ter­rain and hunt staff go about their jobs.

If you visit, as at home, there will be good days and bad but at the very least one will

ex­pe­ri­ence some new coun­try­side and share laughs and tales with dif­fer­ent hunt­ing folk, which is without any doubt worth the ef­fort.

An ad­vo­cate of vis­it­ing is Ma­jor Jeremy Sud­low, who grew up in Black­more & Spark­ford Vale (B&SV) coun­try be­hind Rupert Nut­tall and Mike Fel­ton. Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from hunt­ing di­aries and mem­oirs such as True To The Line by Adrian Dan­gar, Gone Hunt­ing by Mary Staib and The Yel­low Earl by Dou­glas Suther­land, Sud­low’s am­bi­tion is to hunt with ev­ery pack in the UK. “My wife, Lal, and I are not tied to an area and there are so many places that we haven’t been to in the UK we thought it would be a won­der­ful way of see­ing the Bri­tish coun­try­side, meet­ing new peo­ple and hope­fully giv­ing us in­spi­ra­tion as to where we might want to live. We joke about ‘house hunt­ing on horseback’.”

Only count­ing packs they have vis­ited to­gether, they’ve cov­ered 15 over the past three sea­sons. “There is so much to en­joy about vis­it­ing but ex­plor­ing the coun­try­side and watch­ing hounds hunt is up­most. We never tire of fol­low­ing hounds across the ever-chang­ing coun­try, whether it be through coverts and pas­ture, over moor­land or skirt­ing around arable land. The per­spec­tive you gain from horseback is unique. Be­ing able to travel the coun­try and watch hunts­men who have ded­i­cated their lives to the art of the chase and have such affin­ity with their hounds is a real priv­i­lege and one that never gets old.”

in the play­ground

Sud­low hunted 48 days with the Quorn, Cottes­more and Belvoir packs dur­ing the ’14/’15 sea­son and highly rec­om­mends vis­it­ing the Cottes­more, “espe­cially on a Tues­day in ‘the play­ground’”. (Where, in­ci­den­tally, he pro­posed to his wife.) Also, “I’m clearly bi­ased but the B&SV is out­stand­ing coun­try and the in­fa­mous hedges will test the strong­est of nerves. We had a won­der­ful day with the Avon Vale, too, in De­cem­ber 2015. We had been shoot­ing in In­ver­ness-shire and were in­tend­ing to hunt with the Tynedale on our way back south but the flood­ing was so bad it was called off. I rang Stu­art Rad­bourne [Avon Vale MFH], who I had stud­ied with at Cirences­ter. He or­gan­ised two horses for us and af­ter a long drive we met them at the meet near Keevil Air­field, which turned out to be the Hunt Sup­port­ers meet. There were roughly 30 of us in the field and we were the only vis­i­tors. The hos­pi­tal­ity at the meet was on a se­ri­ous scale and we set off with a good amount of Whisky Mac in us (which might ex­plain my fall later that day). De­spite some flood­ing of their own, Stu­art hunted the hounds metic­u­lously and they screamed away un­til dusk all though the vale, only turn­ing in when we could see 10 yards in front of us. They’re per­haps some­times over­shad­owed by a few of their big­ger neigh­bours but, in my opin­ion, the Avon Vale is a true hid­den gem. They have some fan­tas­tic patches of coun­try and the hounds do won­ders for Stu­art. The rest of the field were de­lighted to have us and we had a real red-let­ter day.”

Cather­ine Austen, hunt­ing ed­i­tor at Horse & Hound, sug­gests a full pack­age. “Go on hunt ball day with the Heythrop – usu­ally the first Satur­day in Novem­ber. Hire from Jill Carenza (book well in ad­vance), jump the fun (but not ridicu­lously scary) Kirkham hedges in the cream of the Heythrop Satur­day coun­try, then dance the night away to 29 Fin­gers at the hunt ball, still on a high from your hedge hop­ping. Break­fast at Dayles­ford on Sun­day morn­ing to feed your hang­over.”

Lieu­tenant Colonel Neil Cross MFH, Royal Ar­tillery, rec­om­mends a high moor day with the South Devon, a day with the Mid Devon and a day with the Spoon­ers & West Dart­moor, but for a tour of the West­coun­try call Lor­raine Cham­ber­lain at Fox­wor­thy, near Wide­combe (tel 01364 631210), who pro­vides good hirelings for all the Dart­moor packs and can also ad­vise on the best meets with each re­spec­tive pack. “The Ring of Bells in North Bovey is my lo­cal. It has re­cently been re­fur­bished af­ter a fire and is a very good place to base your­self. The food is ex­cel­lent and you’ll get a warm wel­come in hunt­ing kit.”

The Coun­try­side Al­liance’s Polly Portwin also ad­vo­cates vis­it­ing the Dart­moor packs and sug­gests a Northum­ber­land trip. “Hunt with the Col­lege Val­ley or Tynedale, they’ve just amaz­ing coun­try.”

Hunt­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Sarah Farnsworth says, “I love hunt­ing on Ex­moor as it’s so var­ied, be­tween hill coun­try and in coun­try, and be­tween fox­hounds and staghounds. Stock­leigh Lodge B&B – Mike and Myra El­li­cott are the very best hosts, very ac­com­mo­dat­ing even when some guests hap­pen to play pranks on each other (ahem, not guilty, hon­est guv). They are up the road from Devon and Som­er­set Staghound ken­nels in Ex­ford.”

Sport­ing artist Daniel Crane and his wife, Ali, sub­scribe in Lin­colnshire but Crane is also a Mas­ter of the Scar­teen in Tip­per­ary, Ire­land. When they first started vis­it­ing in 1994 they took enough paint­ings with them to hold an ex­hi­bi­tion in renowned hunt­ing ho­tel The Dun­raven Arms, where they stayed. All the prof­its would then be spent on hunt­ing dur­ing their stay. The more paint­ings that sold, the more packs they would visit. The Dun­raven Arms in Adare is par­tic­u­larly well sit­u­ated for County Lim­er­ick, County Clare, Stone Hall Har­ri­ers and Scar­teen packs, which be­tween them cover coun­try of banks, drains, walls and hedges. Owner Louis Mur­phy will or­gan­ise your day with any pack in the coun­try, send­ing you off with a su­perb break­fast, di­rec­tions and good luck. Hunters re­turn­ing to the ho­tel at the end of the day are cer­tain to get a stiff drink and a hero’s wel­come.

Over the pond

Oc­tavia Pol­lock has spent two years hunt­ing in the USA. “In the west, the Te­jon Hunt Week in Cal­i­for­nia in early Feb­ru­ary is a must, and Red Rock Hounds in Ne­vada are thrilling. Te­jon ranch has hirelings as does An­gela Mur­ray MFH for Red Rock.”

At the Ara­pa­hoe in Colorado, showjumper Ed­uardo Co­ria has hirelings. In Ge­or­gia, Mid­land is a bril­liant pack and Julie Mckee can pro­vide horses.

In Vir­ginia, try the Bull Run Hunt, where Amy Savell can hire; Heather Hei­der in north­ern Vir­ginia can do hirelings for sev­eral packs, in­clud­ing the bril­liant Blue Ridge, Loudoun or Snick­ersville. The best packs in Vir­ginia are the Or­ange and Pied­mont, but they are al­most in­vi­ta­tion only. Green Spring Val­ley in Mary­land is prob­a­bly the best jump­ing pack of all, and Sheila Brown MFH can of­fer ad­vice on hirelings.

Visit the Col­lege Val­ley & North Northum­ber­land for a day of to­tal free­dom and a warm wel­come

Above: Cather­ine Austen sug­gests join­ing the Heythrop on the day of its hunt ball. Be­low: Sarah Farnsworth rec­om­mends a day with the Ex­moor

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