Le­gends of the chase

In his 46th sea­son as master of the Border, Michael is a diehard Northum­brian with many a tale to tell of hunt­ing in the north

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - H&H

Michael Hed­ley MFH

MICHAEL HED­LEY started whip­pin­gin to the Border fox­hounds in 1966 when his fa­ther, Ian Hed­ley, was hunt­ing the hounds.

“I hunted the hounds on an ad hoc ba­sis from 1971,” Michael re­mem­bers, “and joined my fa­ther in the mas­ter­ship in 1973. Dad had been master and hunts­man since the hounds were moved to Over­acres in 1952.”

Over­acres is where the

Hed­ley fam­ily farms at Ot­ter­burn on the south­ern edge of the Che­viot Hills.

“When I first started hunt­ing them, Fa­ther would al­ways carry a hunt­ing horn with him, and he would sud­denly pro­duce it and start blow­ing it and hunt­ing them him­self.”

Ever since their in­cep­tion in the days of Jake Rob­son se­nior, the Border hounds have been ken­nelled on the farm of the in­cum­bent master and hunts­man. “I fed them, looked af­ter them and hunted them,” says Michael.

He is still a joint-master, but the hounds are no longer ken­nelled at Over­acres.

“I do miss the hounds singing in the early hours of the morn­ing. In my time, they caught more than 7,000 foxes and one No­vem­ber they caught ev­ery sin­gle fox they found: 43 foxes.”

They were bred for this very pur­pose — to catch foxes for the sheep farm­ers on the Che­viots. When one of the Border hounds spoke on the line of a fox, the for­mer master, hunts­man and writer Willie Poole once de­scribed them as “like seag­ulls rush­ing to the back of the plough”, as they poured off the sur­round­ing hills to the cry.

In Michael’s early days, the hounds would be loaded into a con­verted sheep trailer and taken to lo­cal meets, pulled by a “Grey Fer­gie” trac­tor.

“When we hunted in Scot­land, we hired a wagon to take us. It left us at Hind­hope, where we hunted Satur­day, Mon­day and Tues­day, then came to fetch us af­ter­wards,” says Michael.

Of course, in those days they would use only horses, but when bikes be­came favoured on the hills for shep­herd­ing, they were the ve­hi­cle of choice with which many farm­ers fol­lowed the hounds.

“On horse­back, we had no way of mea­sur­ing the huge hunts we would get on these strong hill foxes, but we had many points of between 10 and 14 miles. If you tell peo­ple, they think you are mak­ing it up,” he says.

The Hed­ley fam­ily were awarded their coat of arms by the Per­cys for help­ing in the bat­tle of Ot­ter­burn in 1388, so Michael is a diehard Northum­brian. But he has also trav­elled widely as a hound judge and he even took his hounds down to the Zet­land coun­try.

“Colin MacAn­drew in­vited us down and the hounds did re­ally well. I think they were pretty shocked when they saw us cross­ing the Tyne Bridge on the way south,” he says.

In his 46th sea­son as a master of the Border, Michael is one of hunt­ing’s greats, de­voted to the hounds and a de­light­ful, gre­gar­i­ous char­ac­ter to boot.

His fa­ther, Ian, died in of­fice aged 99, “just a cou­ple of months be­fore The Queen’s tele­gram” as Michael puts it. Michael is an­other leg­end, just like his fa­ther be­fore him.

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