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?
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