The Field

A testing day in Buccleuch country

Shanks’s pony and a splash of red defied the weather and warmed the heart during a day with this bold Scottish pack

- written BY octavia pollock ♦ photograph­y BY sarah farnsworth

Octavia Pollock goes walking in the snow

The joie de vivre of hounds was unquenched by snowflakes

Hear the name of the “bold Buccleuch” and images of accomplish­ed riders tackling “plough, grass and heath” with the Quorn of the North spring to mind. But on a freezing day in January, not a top hat or sidesaddle habit was in sight and horses were consigned to their stables. Undaunted, the boldest followers took to Shanks’s pony and four wheels to follow hounds through knee-deep snow until the setting sun painted the Eildon Hills rose gold and lights sprang up in the town of Melrose below.

The week preceding my much-anticipate­d trip to the Borders was characteri­sed by obsessive examinatio­n of weather forecasts, in the hope that the promised snow was merely a Michael Fish moment. No hunting was possible on the Wednesday before but Tim Allen, Joint Master and huntsman, was buoyant about Saturday’s chances. With a countryman’s resourcefu­lness, he even suggested the neighbouri­ng, greener Berwickshi­re as an option – all credit to huntsman Ryan Mania MFH for immediatel­y extending a welcome – but, in the event, ice put paid to the easterly pack’s chances of getting out at all and the Buccleuch was on.

I had been eager for the chance to “ride with the hills at my side/in the wake of the bold Buccleuch” as poet and member Will Ogilvie wrote in the 1920s, and the news that I was to have been mounted on Ian Stark MFH’S admired Hector made the denial more galling, but no spirits can stay quenched for long at the sight of snow-buried fields. At kennels the night before, the white stuff fell with the darkness when we visited hounds, the joie de vivre of which was unquenched by snowflakes settling on their backs. They were well-built and fit, Fell, hill and Welsh blood blending with English.

In the pack’s Victorian heyday, under the fifth Duke of Buccleuch, Brocklesby and Belvoir lines dominated, with the latter continuing to be a favourite until Sir Hugh Arbuthnot added Cotswold, Portman and Heythrop blood from 1964 to improve pace and activity. It was Rosemary Stobart who introduced the first Fell line with Border Matchless ’75, speed and strength much in need among the steep hills and whins. Next year’s young entry already looked powerful enough to top summits with ease. “You’ll be trouble, you will,” said Allen affectiona­tely, scratching a bitch of obvious Welsh blood. No doubt she’ll grow up to be as tough as Bullrush, whose hunting instinct was undimmed by losing an eye to an inch-long thorn.

Previous guests to these kennels have included Lord Bonomy, who visited as part of his review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act.

flushing to guns

Under Scottish law, at least as of January 2018, hounds must flush to guns; ‘fox-control’, not fox-hunting. The simple result is more healthy foxes being shot, as they meet their fate at the bark of gunpowder. “I’ve seen mangy foxes for the first time this year,” noted Allen. It is a credit to these hounds and their huntsman that, despite such dispiritin­g and no doubt confusing circumstan­ces, they never stop trying.

No such gloomy thoughts marred the bright sunshine when stalwarts gathered at the kennels to tuck into mulled wine and sausages. As advised on the hunt hotline, anyone with children hauled sledges in their wake, assorted pink plastic versions vying with Clare Brownlow’s grandmothe­r’s

wooden sledge with its curved runners. With energy levels boosted by a tray of incredible fudge, we set off behind Allen, whip Shaun Anderson and the biddable 20½ couple. Annie Finch had brought her own pack with her, assorted black cocker spaniels and one black labrador, all sans collars and impeccably behaved. They had been picking up the past two days on different shoots, a refreshing example of the two sports co-existing. Indeed, the relations are close up here, with shoots giving Allen the off-cuts from dressed pheasants.

Hounds spoke briefly but, with his usual evil genius, Charlie had run down towards the village of Newtown St Boswells, where a new housing estate had been built across the foxes’ ancient route. So we turned uphill and set off along the Lady’s Path into the woods. Comparison­s with Narnia were instant and appropriat­e. Having eschewed a quad, I puffed along beside Emma Mccallum, who counts herself a member of the ‘ride to hunt’ club. “Under the Scottish ban, hunting feels like larking about because we’re not following hounds in full cry,” said Mccallum, who has hunted with the Buccleuch since she was seven and now brings husband Adrian and teenage daughters Daisy and Isla. “I’m lucky, living close enough to the Border to have a few days with English packs, too, and we still have a lot of fun.”

Scottish field masters work harder than ever now to give followers a good day, and for those who hunt to ride, the experience is as thrilling as ever: accounts of gates, walls and natural fences abounded. “We cross country properly here,” said Allen. “We give the field a good time.” As Cindy Onslow, who hunts and events with her daughter, Rosa, points out, “Hunting is the best way to prepare for eventing. Ian Stark always said that his horses were 30% fitter than others on the circuit.” Cindy and Richard Onslow own one of Alex Hua Tian’s horses, Diamond Sundance, but the Chinese Olympian has yet to make an appearance in the Borders.

Above the woods, hounds spoke in the whins as we passed Ian, a walking gun, on point with his sister, Katie-jo, and her tiny terrier. No cutesy dog coat for him: they breed them tough up here. Just beyond was the track across the saddle between two of the Eildon Hills, where the quads of guns Seth, Andrew and John waited. Hearing hounds’ voices echo from the far side of the whins, from whence we had just trudged, the quads stirred into action and I hopped on behind Seth. Various jovial warnings indicated that he might not have been the prudent choice but we stayed upright and Seth soon proved he was a valuable member of the gun team with a wellaimed snowball to the back of Allen’s head.

Back on the saddle, the snow was proving distractin­g for the younger members of the field, with their parents heroically keeping them company. Alfie Brownlow took the crown for ‘surfing’, cheered on by his sporting agent father, Charlie, and his mother, Clare (of pheasant-feather art fame), proving fearless in a race with Rory Innes. The former Master and huntsman of the Berwickshi­re was out with his wife, Delly, also a former Master, and their rosy-cheeked daughter, Tara. The sledging party eventually decided the roaring fires of the Buccleuch Arms were needed to warm up frozen toes, but the hardier souls headed higher onto the smooth white bulk of the westernmos­t Eildon peak. I leapt off Seth’s quad as the snow got deeper and the slope steeper, and photograph­er Sarah Farnsworth hared past. Her pilot, Dave, and I jumped on for the final push, at which point squeals may have been heard.

In the hope of viewing hounds, working their way westwards in the woods below, I followed Dave around the contour, the vast patchwork quilt of the snowy fields stretched out below us in a symphony of blues and whites. Far to the south were the hills of the border itself, College Valley country, with Lord Lothian’s Waterloo Monument standing out on Peniel Heugh in between. (In the 200th-anniversar­y celebratio­ns, Ian Stark starred as the Duke of Wellington.) The view made up for the difficulty of walking – the snow was so deep and firm that I could barely lift my legs into the prints left by Dave, who was clearly in much better shape than me. We made it to the top without seeing more of hounds than the kennels far below to our left, but after plunging back into the woods we were rewarded by echoing music and, in a brief, magical moment, a view of Charlie, glossy auburn under laden pine branches. He looked straight at us, haughty in his beauty, then loped away.

Hounds were soon with us, sterns waving and noses down, unfazed by the cold stuff, and Allen blew them on with gusto. He ran and we bustled. With dusk falling, the guns gathered on the edge of the wood, at one of Sir Walter Scott’s favourite viewpoints, to watch hounds working across the whinscatte­red slopes, a lonely red coat following them in an impressive display of stamina. As they disappeare­d around the curve of the hill, I joined Andrew on his quad, hanging onto the handle of his gun case as we roared back up onto the saddle, above the lights of Melrose, from where my knowledgea­ble pilot pointed out Scott’s haunts. Hounds duly appeared, still hunting hard, but there was no sign of the quarry. With the cold finally reaching my toes and talk turning to fires and alcohol-based warming devices, we blew for home in the dark, to the clear annoyance of a pack that topped any for grit and determinat­ion. Snow? What snow?

It may not have been the kind of day immortalis­ed by Ogilvie but it was certainly memorable, and hunt staff and hounds alike impressed in their resolve. Frodo ’11, by Duke of Buccleuch Freeman, earned Allen’s praise for his “fantastic voice and athleticis­m”. Whatever the Scottish Government may throw at them next, they are more than equal to the challenge. The sound of the bold Buccleuch will never die.

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 ??  ?? Opposite page: huntsman Tim Allen MFH and hounds leaving the meet. This page, clockwise from above: Rory Innes; the writer with Andrew Brodie; Emma Mccallum; hunt stalwart Wendy Young; whip Shaun Anderson; following the trailPrevi­ous page: taking hounds up the Eildon Hills
Opposite page: huntsman Tim Allen MFH and hounds leaving the meet. This page, clockwise from above: Rory Innes; the writer with Andrew Brodie; Emma Mccallum; hunt stalwart Wendy Young; whip Shaun Anderson; following the trailPrevi­ous page: taking hounds up the Eildon Hills
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 ??  ?? Above: guns Ian (left) and countryman John (right) beside the gun carrier Below: with hounds at the Duke of Buccleuch’s kennels near Melrose
Above: guns Ian (left) and countryman John (right) beside the gun carrier Below: with hounds at the Duke of Buccleuch’s kennels near Melrose

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