Tak­ing tea with the Tynedale

A ladies-only day at the Bel­say es­tate, with re­fresh­ments served by tail­coated men and then high tea in the hall, at­tracted a fine field from many hunts

The Field - - Contents - writ­ten BY Sarah kate BYRNE ♦ pho­tog­ra­phy BY Ver­ity JOHN­SON

Sarah Kate Byrne joins a ladies’ day

When there is only a hand­ful of dates left in the hunt­ing cal­en­dar for a city dweller des­per­ate to fol­low hounds, any op­por­tu­nity to hunt is a golden one. But this par­tic­u­lar in­vi­ta­tion, ex­tended by the Tynedale Hunt, of­fered just that lit­tle bit more, some­thing cer­tainly worth the 700mile round trip. Phrases ev­ery vis­i­tor longs to hear were bandied about in abun­dance: “We shall have a din­ner party with the hunts­man”; “You must have the chair­man’s horse”; there will be “cham­pagne & canapés at the meet”. Ref­er­ences to but­lers in liv­ery, a meet on the lawn in front of a Greek Re­vival man­sion and a sump­tu­ous high tea fol­lowed swiftly. How could I re­sist? Thus, af­ter a huge amount of help from the won­der­ful Diana Beau­mont, hon­orary sec­re­tary of the Tynedale, I fi­nalised my plans and left a grey day in Lon­don be­hind, set­ting off for the North­ern Fron­tier and its fa­mous ed­i­fice, Hadrian’s Wall.

Ar­riv­ing in the dusk at chair­man David John­son and his wife Ver­ity’s home I was wel­comed as a long-lost friend. A much­needed cup of tea was prof­fered be­fore Ver­ity took me to meet my mighty steed for the meet, Jonjo. Both he and Ver­ity seemed rather be­mused as I popped my sidesad­dle on and took him for a spin. Jonjo didn’t bat an eye­lid, tes­ta­ment to his own­ers and to the lady who broke him, Les­ley Dou­glas, whom I was to hunt along­side the next day. David John­son, who typ­i­cally rides Jonjo, turned

I thought turn­ing out ‘on the wonk’ would lend it­self to the oc­ca­sion

up just as Ver­ity and I de­cided the horse was bro­ken to sidesad­dle, lead­ing us to a per­ti­nent point: why was the hunt chair­man re­lin­quish­ing his su­perb hunter to a ver­i­ta­ble stranger? Well, this par­tic­u­lar meet was strictly ladies only, with 70 women ex­pected from a va­ri­ety of packs both near and far. Fol­lowed by af­ter­noon tea. And given I pre­fer rid­ing sidesad­dle, I thought turn­ing out ‘on the wonk’ would lend it­self mar­vel­lously to the oc­ca­sion.

I can al­most hear the in­cred­u­lous gasps. Sev­enty women? No men? Surely this must be a first? I have at­tended many a ‘ladies day’ at which the ladies ride sidesad­dle and the chaps act as our pilots, re­triev­ing whips, gloves, open­ing gates and of­fer­ing liq­uid sus­te­nance (and some­times Dutch Courage) from their flasks. But this meet was to be dif­fer­ent. All those mounted, save the hunt staff, were to be women and men in tail­coats would serve us at the meet. The idea orig­i­nated with hunt mem­ber Carol Brown fol­low­ing a visit to the Brock­lesby ladies meet, along­side Tynedale Master Sheila Eg­gle­ston. It proved a huge suc­cess and raised much needed funds for the hunt’s cof­fers in the process. Thus, Brown, John, her hus­band, and Ver­ity John­son set about host­ing their own Tea with the Tynedale day, which was set to be fol­lowed a fort­night later by a Gen­tle­man’s Day, with a white tie din­ner and poker night in place of af­ter­noon tea.

A mist had set­tled across the coun­try on the morn­ing of the meet but it was cold and the weather looked set to lend it­self to a good day’s sport. Ver­ity and I set off for the Bel­say es­tate, David act­ing as groom and bring­ing Jonjo to the meet. Hav­ing the chair­man as groom was rather spoil­ing, and it got even bet­ter when sub­scriber Belinda Speir ap­peared just as I was tack­ing up Jonjo.

She had been taught by the fa­mous Betty Skel­ton and, as any sidesad­dle girl knows, all help is wel­come so long as one knows what one is do­ing.

The Bel­say es­tate is mag­nif­i­cent, com­pris­ing three ar­chi­tec­tural feats: a me­dieval cas­tle, a Greek Re­vival man­sion and a stun­ning gar­den that con­nects the two. In the pos­ses­sion of the Mid­dle­ton fam­ily from 1270, Bel­say boasts a su­perb for­ti­fied tower, tes­ta­ment to the con­flict in the Bor­ders and prox­im­ity to Hadrian’s Wall. The Mid­dle­ton’s lived in the cas­tle un­til 1817 when the then owner, Sir Charles Monck, formerly Mid­dle­ton, moved into the vast pile of his own de­sign that is Bel­say Hall. Sir Charles gar­nered ar­chi­tec­tural in­spi­ra­tion on his hon­ey­moon to Greece and the re­sult­ing build­ing is close on ar­chi­tec­ture per­fec­tion, al­beit slightly at odds with the sur­round­ing hills. The Tynedale Hunt, pro­nounced ‘Tin­dle’, has hunted the area of Bel­say and its en­vi­rons stretch­ing from the Tyne to the Wans­beck and from Hex­ham to Port­land since it was formed in 1893, its ken­nels lo­cated at Stagshaw Bank 25 min­utes from Bel­say.

Our host was the ut­terly charm­ing Laura de Wes­selow (née Mid­dle­ton), whose fam­ily

have lived at Bel­say since 1270. De Wes­selow was im­pec­ca­bly turned out and is an ac­com­plished horse­woman, who has been cham­pi­oning her Bel­say Horse Tri­als event since 2012 with huge suc­cess. She over­saw the meet, at which the very game, tail­coa­tor vel­vet smok­ing jacket-clad men prof­fered trays of bub­bles, com­plete with a rasp­berry for ex­tra piz­zazz, and de­li­cious bli­nis and sweet treats to the mounted field. Prizes were awarded to Cindy Onslow – most el­e­gant lady rid­ing astride – while I re­ceived the sidesad­dle prize. How­ever, as the only mem­ber of the field mounted side­ways it felt a bit of a cheat.

We might not have jumped Hadrian’s Wall it­self – nor taken on the Bri­tish Event­ing fences, de­signed by Adrian Ditcham, that pep­per the es­tate – but Nicky Keate, Field Master for the day, en­sured there were some ter­rific ob­sta­cles to ne­go­ti­ate over the per­fect turf of Bel­say. Aided by two more lady Masters, Ch­eryl Law­son­c­roome and Caro­line Dick­in­son, Keate was fear­less. With these three lead­ing the charge, the field tack­led ev­ery­thing at a blis­ter­ing pace, from stone walls to hedges, neat post and rails and even a gate that took one vis­i­tor’s horse some­what by sur­prise, leav­ing her with an im­pres­sive set of scratches. But ladies in need of smelling salts we were not, and she car­ried on re­gard­less, show­ing me that not only were the Tynedale bunch hard-rid­ing ladies but so too were the vis­i­tors. One should note that in the ab­sence of any men the field was ex­traor­di­nar­ily po­lite, queu­ing was the or­der of the day and there were no at­tempts at bravado or show-boat­ing. There were only two fall­ers, nei­ther the re­sult of rider er­ror. I shall stop there…

pick­ing up the trail

The trail for the day had been laid from the whins in front of our host’s house. Hounds were soon speak­ing as they picked up the scent and per­formed a slow cir­cuit of Swanstead and the Vil­lage Wood, in­creas­ing the pace as they crossed the front drive and made for North Crag. With scent hold­ing up well, these de­ter­mined hounds were un­de­terred by a hard check at the Stam­ford­ham road and hav­ing run the road for a short dis­tance their per­se­ver­ance paid off and they soon owned the line again, swing­ing south past By­gate Farm and Black Hed­don Farm, where they were again checked by sheep foil. Hunts­man Char­lie Shirley-bea­van lifted his hounds with con­sum­mate skill and cast them again in Bitch­field Whin, where a new trail had been laid. This time they really sang to the line and ran back to North Crag and around the park where, stream­ing across the front of the hall, they looked per­fect in their land­scape. They stuck like glue to the line around Crag Lake and out to the Ban­tam.

As scent im­proved in the fall­ing tem­per­a­ture, hounds screamed on this fresh line, across the Stam­ford­ham road without a check and up Bel­say Dene then north for Brad­ford Whin and into Capheaton Hill­head, via the Hall Wood where the trail ended. This was an 11-mile hunt, as hounds ran, across the best of the es­tate’s old turf and it showed the tenac­ity and drive of this north coun­try pack to per­fec­tion.

a plethora of hunts

For the field it made for a thrilling and non-stop day’s sport, ev­i­denced by the in­ad­ver­tent 57-minute au­dio clip I recorded, which re­vealed the most marvel­lous snip­pet of thun­der­ing hooves, thor­oughly sum­ming up the day. In be­tween fences and gal­lops, there was the chance to speak to dozens of women from a plethora of hunts, in­clud­ing the Braes of Der­went, the Duke of Buc­cleuch’s, the Mid Devon, Jed For­est and the West of Yore, to name a few. Turn­ing out sidesad­dle does give one an un­fair ad­van­tage as a hunt­ing cor­re­spon­dent, as ev­ery­one wants to talk to you. And there is al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing com­pany to be had rid­ing to hounds. Tynedale sub­scriber Anne Telfer spoke of her stint as groom for the Prince of Wales at Wind­sor back in the 1970s when he had his string of polo ponies. There were many hairy tales of hunt­ing in Ire­land, ac­counts of great days with the Tynedale and nu­mer­ous sub­scribers who dis­played much pride in the ter­rific job Shirley-bea­van was do­ing along­side An­drew Hig­gins, his ken­nel hunts­man.

Homage must be paid to the splen­did high tea that was wait­ing for us in the English Her­itage-run tea­room housed in the old kitchens. It was bound to be ex­cep­tional with such a team at the helm and it didn’t dis­ap­point. Straight out of Enid Bly­ton’s Fa­mous Five in its epic and plen­ti­ful pro­por­tions, the field fell upon it greed­ily af­ter a solid four hours of ex­er­tion (though I have ne­glected to men­tion the pit-stop two hours in when we en­joyed more good­ies washed down with am­ple port). As­para­gus tarts, a hearty soup, dainty sand­wiches that would have looked the part in Clar­idge’s af­ter­noon tea tiers and end­less cakes and pas­tries. It was ut­ter heaven and left me think­ing a sausage roll at the next meet might not cut the mus­tard.

Com­pletely sated by this lav­ish feast, I was al­ready wor­ry­ing about my next host Or­lando Bridge­man’s rep­u­ta­tion for con­jur­ing up mul­ti­ple­course din­ners. But it set me in good stead for my three-hour drive south to­wards Mid­dle­ton Hunt coun­try dur­ing which I mused about a whirl­wind 24 hours and my first ex­pe­ri­ence of hunt­ing that far north. From start to fin­ish, I had ex­pe­ri­enced per­fect hos­pi­tal­ity from con­sum­mate hosts, tes­ta­ment to the kind­ness, gen­eros­ity and com­mu­nity spirit that is at the heart of hunt­ing. The Tynedale fol­low­ers are a lucky breed, en­joy­ing great sport, su­perb hound work, stun­ning coun­try and won­der­ful com­pany. These are the key in­gre­di­ents that make hunt­ing mag­i­cal. And this magic was not lost on this vis­i­tor from the Elysian Fields of the Emer­ald Isle.

The Tynedale meet at Bel­say Hall, Northum­ber­land, hosted by Laura de Wes­selow

Clock­wise from left: Suzanne Doggett takes a breather; Se­nior Master Caro­line Dick­in­son (cen­tre) talk­ing to the field; Mi­randa Denne and Emma Mccal­lum (Duke of Buc­cleugh’s); Field­mas­ter Nicky Keate;Clara Ni­choll (Haydon), Pip Nixon (Tynedale), Laura Ritchie-bland, Jay Ry­der and Emma Hob­day (Mor­peth) Be­low: but­lers Richard Sud­des and Jack Thomas Wat­son hand out drinks to the ladies

Hunts­man Char­lie Shirley-bea­van MFH, who lifted his hounds with con­sum­mate skill

The Tynedale’s ken­nel hunts­man, An­drew Hig­gins, along­side Jen Kane

Clock­wise from above: Ch­eryl Law­son-croome MFH finds the per­fect stride over one of the many jumps; Rachel Dan­gar (wife of Adrian Dan­gar) from the Sin­ning­ton; Laura de Wes­selow; best dressed lady Cindy Onslow

The writer and Michelle Hen­der­son en­joy high tea in the English Her­itage-run tea­room, which was once the old kitchens at the hall

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.