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
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.