Cottes­more joint-mas­ter Ju­lia Hal­lam-Sea­grave

The Fitzwilliam is one of the old­est packs in the coun­try and its open­ing meet, although a lit­tle lack­ing in scent, turns out to be a very jolly af­fair

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By POLLY PORTWIN

EN­TER­ING “Peter­bor­ough” into the sat nav is usu­ally re­served for the an­nual visit to the Royal Fox­hound Show at the East of Eng­land Show­ground. How­ever, the Fitzwilliam’s open­ing meet on the out­skirts of the town was as equally highly an­tic­i­pated. Held ev­ery year in front of the mag­nif­i­cent Mil­ton Hall on the first Wed­nes­day in Novem­ber, it was very well-sup­ported by both those mounted and those on foot, with a pal­pa­ble buzz at the meet.

Se­nior mas­ter Sir Philip Nay­lor-Ley­land wel­comed us all be­fore hold­ing a minute’s si­lence in mem­ory of Fred Roughton, a for­mer ter­ri­er­man and great stal­wart of the pack who had re­cently passed away. Rather

fit­tingly, as is cus­tom­ary at this time of the year, ev­ery­one with­out ex­cep­tion was wear­ing a poppy in their lapel in mem­ory of those who gave their lives for their coun­try dur­ing the Great War.

Hunts­man Si­mon Hunter, in his third sea­son car­ry­ing the horn — hav­ing been whip­per-in un­der for­mer hunts­man Ge­orge Adams for two sea­sons — moved off to the first draw at Tem­ple

Hill with a mixed pack of 17½ cou­ple, as­sisted by whip­per-in Shaun Parish. This gave our field mas­ter Lizzie Thomas MFH an op­por­tu­nity to get the ma­jor­ity of the 80-plus mem­bers of the mounted field off the ground over some of the many hunt jumps

strate­gi­cally placed in vir­tu­ally ev­ery fence line across the in­cred­i­ble park­land.

As hounds started to speak in Walker’s Covert, I heard some amuse­ment be­hind which mo­men­tar­ily dis­tracted me: “He’s only a four-year-old and I re­ally didn’t mean to jump it!” These were re­as­sur­ing words com­ing from the provider of my own hireling, whose mount had ear­lier veered off and jumped a wooden gate in­stead of the hunt jump along­side it. Thank­fully, Mel­ton — the de­light­ful coloured mare that I had been en­trusted with — had no such steer­ing is­sues and didn’t miss a beat all day.

Quite un­usu­ally, there was a large ar­ray of coloured horses among the field, many of which ei­ther be­longed to Michael

Grange or had been ones he’d ac­quired for clients, all equally well-man­nered and giv­ing their jock­eys an en­joy­able ride. This in­cluded the won­der­ful Asha, rid­den by Will Nay­lor-Ley­land, who was seen rid­ing wide through­out the day with his fa­ther Sir Philip.


“SORRY we didn’t get to chat ear­lier, it was all rather hec­tic at the meet,” ex­claimed hunt sec­re­tary Penny Fortes­cue as we paused by Park Farm while hounds drew Thistle­moor. Ear­lier, Penny and her fel­low sec­re­tary Karen Sil­cock could be seen en­sur­ing they had caught up with reg­u­lar sup­port­ers and vis­i­tors alike be­fore hounds moved off. Ef­fi­cient and charm­ing, both Penny and Karen glided about the field ef­fort­lessly, ex­tract­ing cash in a heart­beat in the way that only a hunt sec­re­tary is able to.

It was great to catch up with stylish event rider and phys­io­ther­a­pist Etti Dale, whose sis­ter-in-law Lucinda Lloyd is joint-mas­ter of the Bices­ter with Whad­don Chase. Etti was well­mounted and never took her eye off hounds, look­ing ev­ery inch a po­ten­tial can­di­date to field mas­ter in the fu­ture. Also out and look­ing no dif­fer­ent to how she did when we were in the Vale of Ayles­bury branch of the Pony Club many years ago was re­cently mar­ried even­ter So­phie Lane (née Miller).

Nick Carlisle, who I usu­ally only see in his ca­pac­ity as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Bri­tish Horseracing Au­thor­ity — equipped with his mea­sur­ing wheel when dis­cussing the course at my lo­cal point-to-point — could be seen rid­ing wide through­out the day, although we did man­age to catch up when hack­ing home.

Cottes­more joint-mas­ter Ju­lia Hal­lam-Sea­grave was en­joy­ing a day “off duty”, while an­other fa­mil­iar face was my for­mer H&H col­league Gemma Re­drup, the hunts­man’s part­ner, who made many of us wel­come in their kitchen be­fore the meet.

Other recog­nis­able faces vis­it­ing from out­side the Fitzwilliam coun­try in­cluded a con­tin­gent from the West Nor­folk, the Dun­ston Har­ri­ers and the Wood­land Pytch­ley.


THISTLE­MOOR brought mu­sic to our ears with hounds speak­ing well, tak­ing a line out across some beet fields, head­ing to the edge of Muck­land’s Wood where the hounds reached the end of that trail.

Hounds soon picked up the scent of an­other trail in Muck­land’s, en­cour­aged by Tom Nay­lor-Ley­land who had joined us on a stun­ning grey, hav­ing ear­lier been run­ning along­side his en­thu­si­as­tic six-year-old son Billy on the lead-rein. With a three-year-old daugh­ter, “an­other one on the way” and his other com­mit­ments on the fam­ily’s es­tates, Tom doesn’t man­age to hunt quite as much as he would like, but it was clear to see how pas­sion­ate he was about hunt­ing.

The hunt horses and those be­long­ing to the Nay­lor-Ley­land fam­ily were all su­perbly turned­out, look­ing in­cred­i­bly fit and well in their coats. This is down to the

hard work of the team in kennels which is headed by An­drew Simp­son, the stud groom, who has been in the role for 12 sea­sons.

The Fitzwilliam were us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties to com­ply with the 2004 Hunt­ing Act dur­ing my visit. As well as trail-hunt­ing, Er­lan — their golden ea­gle — could be seen through­out the day on the quad with han­dler John Mease, who was im­mac­u­lately dressed in Mil­ton tweed. The hounds flush foxes to this mag­nif­i­cent bird of prey, who has ac­counted for well over 50 brace.

A ditch at the back of the house near Bel­size Wood soon af­ter sec­ond horses pro­duced the next op­por­tu­nity for the re­main­der of the field to watch and lis­ten to the hounds work­ing out their line. It was here that when I re­marked to heavy-plant op­er­a­tor Jonathon Cob­den that his girth was “hang­ing”, I learnt that the only trick to rid­ing his for­mer race­horse called Gorm­less was “to bal­ance and not move much”.

Pre­dom­i­nantly modern English-bred, the hound breed­ing is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of afi­cionado Mar­tin Scott, as­sisted by Si­mon Hunter who iden­ti­fies the best work­ing bitches through­out the sea­son.

“Mr Scott se­lects ap­pro­pri­ate stal­lion hounds for the bitches and we’ve used a num­ber from the VWH, as well as the United and the Heythrop,” ex­plained Si­mon.

The line these hounds had taken quite strongly from Bel­size ended abruptly near a stick pile along­side the drive, so we moved on to­wards Fos­ter’s Cop­pice and from there onto Ramshill, the covert man­aged by for­mer hunts­man Ge­orge Adams. This pro­duced some en­cour­ag­ing signs be­fore hounds were picked up and taken on to the next draw at Bushy Wood. Ge­orge, hunts­man of the pack from 1984 un­til his re­tire­ment three sea­sons ago, was in good spir­its at the meet and con­tin­ues, quite de­servedly, to be wel­comed by all.


A CO­HE­SIVE and sup­port­ive mas­ter­ship is vi­tal for the sur­vival of any pack and it is clear to see why the Fitzwilliam has thrived, par­tic­u­larly un­der the cur­rent lead­er­ship. Sir Philip and Lady Is­abella Nay­lor-Ley­land take a huge in­ter­est in all as­pects of not only the hunt­ing day, but also what hap­pens in both kennels and hunt sta­bles. Philip Baker MFH, who some­how man­aged to find a thorn bush on which to tear his cheek, and Lizzie Thomas are re­spon­si­ble for clear­ing coun­try and field mas­ter­ing in their ar­eas.

Lizzie’s friendly man­ner, her ef­fort­less ease on a horse and knowl­edge of the coun­try make her the per­fect field mas­ter, but she ad­mit­ted that “oc­ca­sion­ally I do like to en­joy a day off, so I can qui­etly take my own line”.

Open­ing meets bring with them a cer­tain amount of pres­sure, an ex­pec­ta­tion, but hunts­man Si­mon Hunter showed no sign of con­cern, de­spite scent­ing con­di­tions not be­ing ideal. Af­ter draw­ing Brake’s Wood and White’s Spin­ney, his pa­tience was re­warded when hounds took a strong line away from Old­fields Pond. With hounds in full cry, it was the sort of mo­ment the few re­main­ing mem­bers of the field had been long­ing for.

They ran sharply across the arable to the edge of Cas­tor Hang­lands, back through Brake’s and White’s, where they checked for a few min­utes. Si­mon picked out a hound called Mav­er­ick, who res­o­lutely con­tin­ued to work out the line from where they had

checked, putting the rest of the pack right and get­ting them go­ing again.

Both our horses’ and our own ears pricked as they picked up the line and we were off with great an­tic­i­pa­tion. I was tail­ing Lady Is­abella and our field mas­ter — both on lovely greys — as they gal­loped stride for stride in per­fect uni­son down the ride at Old­field Pond, nei­ther tak­ing their eyes off hounds, and both rid­ing hard to keep up.

As much as we all wanted to end the day by fol­low­ing hounds on a scream­ing scent all the way back to kennels, this wasn’t the day for it. It was, how­ever, a day to re­flect on how lucky we are to be en­joy­ing ac­cess to such mag­nif­i­cent coun­try, while fol­low­ing one of the old­est packs of hounds in the UK.

Fitzwilliam hunts­manSi­mon Hunter and hounds in front of Mil­ton Hall, which is syn­ony­mous with the pack

Hounds in full cry along­side a covert

H&H’sGemma Re­drup pops some rails on Kerry Var­ley’s smart grey

Most of the mounted mem­bers turn out for the open­ing meet, a fair few rid­ing coloured horses

Fitzwilliam se­nior mas­ter Sir Philip Nay­lor-Ley­land with son Wil­liam

Joint-mas­ter Lizzie Thomas, field mas­ter for the day

Fam­ily af­fair: Sarah and mother Penny Fortes­cue, joint hon sec­re­tary

Ready for the off: joint hon sec­re­tary Karen Sil­cock

Whip­per-in Shaun Parish sports a leather across his shoul­der

Esme Lloyd and her im­mac­u­late grey nip over a hunt jump

Philip Baker, who joined the mas­ter­ship in 2014

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