When James asked me to write an article about how I got into hunting I was very humbled & felt very honoured, I mean it’s not very often that someone who has been a distinguished & much respected MFH of many packs asks, in fact, it’s never happened to me before!
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At first I started thinking about how I would do it, but, in the end I thought just let it flow from the heart, which should be easy, so here goes.
It was either 1978 or 1979 when I was either 7 or 8 years old & my mother, who was obsessed with horses, asked me if I fancied coming out with her to a meet of the Cheshire Forest Foxhounds. We lived near Chester which was in their country & they were only 10 minutes’ drive away. My mother used to work as a groom & had hunted with the Heythrop, Cotswold, Hursley Hambledon & the Chiddingfold Leconfield & Cowdray in the 60’s, although I think the Hursley may have not amalgamated with the Hambledon & equally the same probably applied with the Chid. Lec. & Cowdray, anyway she still rode to hounds but not all the time anymore, so we went in the car. It was Autumn Hunting & I thought what a fantastic spectacle all the horses, riders & hounds were, this seemed very exciting to me, in particular, I was naturally drawn to the huntsman, the man in charge, the man with that strange copper/nickel thing that blew such a beautiful note. I knew from that moment on I wanted to be a Huntsman! The other thing that got me hooked was the sound of hounds in full cry echoing through the covert & the sound of the horn, huntsman cheering hounds on, this was the icing on the cake, this was the most exciting thing I had ever seen. The hairs were definitely standing up on the back of my neck! I needed no persuasion to go hunting again & would sometimes have ‘a bad cold’ & wouldn’t be able to go to Primary school when the Cheshire Forest was nearby! It was then on to go out with the Cheshire Foxhounds with the legendary Johnnie O’Shea at the helm with Paul Bellamy whipping in & soon after we would go with the Wynnstay with Neil Ewart M.F.H hunting hounds & Bert Loud as K-H. The Cheshires & the Wynnstay didn’t have as many roads to worry about & would have some long points but when you are car following that isn’t always so good. I would often prefer going with the Cheshire Forest with Ron Stouph as huntsman, as I would be closer to the action. Being a child with an active imagination I soon got my mother to adapt a Red felt dressing gown into a hunt coat, sew some brass buttons from my Dad’s Merchant Navy uniform on the front & voila! I could pretend to be a huntsman in the comfort of my own garden! I would wear my mother’s velvet riding cap, carry her whip, put some black wellies on, use a white handkerchief as a stock & carry an ornamental brass/copper hunting horn that I picked up for a fiver at an antique shop! I would ‘hack’ to the meet which was the patio at the back of our house (this would be a pub car park), then I would ‘move off’ to ‘draw’ my Dad’s Peas & Runner Beans in our garden with my imaginary hounds! Our neighbours must have thought I was a nutcase! It was even more realistic when we walked a couple of Cheshire Forest pups, as then I would have some real hounds to hunt! I’ve always loved dogs & I especially loved walking those pups, at night I would climb into their basket under the breakfast bar & curl up with them!
I learnt to ride when I was about 12 & had lessons for a year, but, even though I enjoyed riding, due to financial issues, I didn’t carry on & never rode to hounds. This is something, even to this day, I long to do. As I wasn’t really a rider, a friend of the family mentioned that the Royal Rock Beagles were meeting nearby, I was intrigued, what were Beagles? What kind of hunting is this I thought? So off we went & I watched these eager little hounds spill out of the back of a Red Sherpa transit van in the pub car park. Charlie Dowson was K-H with Rodney Symonds M.H. hunting hounds. Now this was truly amazing, it was like Fox-hunting but on foot & you could run behind hounds & see all the action, this was perfect I thought! The sound of hound music, the horn, all the action & you were a part of it, all the time! I went out with the Royal Rock quite a few times but soon heard of the Cheshire Beagles so gave them a try. The K-H was Alan Summersgill with Dr Parkes as Joint Master & Roy Morris hunting them on Saturday’s. I had a lot of fun with them & it wasn’t long before Dr Parkes asked me to carry a whip, I thought all my Xmas’s had come at once! I learnt a lot about Hunting & I was probably about 16 years old, these hounds hunted very well & I was soon going to Kennels on Sundays & helping Alan who was a great inspiration to me & was a lovely bloke too. Alan was a consummate professional & very good at handling hounds. We would take hounds to all the shows & we did quite well. I felt really special to have a free lunch in the Hunt Servant’s canteen! I wanted to be a Hunt Servant deep down but I felt obliged to go to college & later university at Derby. I managed to get out with the Meynell & the Derby, Notts & Staffs beagles occasionally but the temptations of socializing & drinking beer took priority!
It was after I graduated & took some fairly boring computer admin. jobs whilst living in Nottingham that I decided to go out with the Oakley Foot Beagles. The extremely friendly David Manning hunted hounds & kennelled them at his home so he had that special bond with hounds, despite being an amateur, & had them on ‘remote control.’ I had some great seasons there & I would long for the day when David would be unable to hunt hounds so I could have a go! That day never came as David was so keen that he would even hunt hounds with Flu or a sprained leg! Nothing would stop him; he probably would have hunted them on a quad bike if he had broken his leg! He was also a very good exponent of the hunting horn. I myself had been given a real hunting horn as a birthday present from my Mother a few years before which I would practice on, much to the annoyance of anyone within earshot!
After the prospect of being made redundant I found a job in Birmingham & still commuted ( 1 hour plus) to the Oakley Foot to whip in for a couple of seasons but then the Ban on Hunting came & I didn’t know what the future held in store. I really didn’t know if I had a future in the “new world” so didn’t go hunting much. Then I decided to have a day with the North Warwickshire Beagles who were my local pack & whom I had seen in action during Leicestershire Hare week & were impressed by. Well, it wasn’t long before I was whipping in for a few seasons then was asked to hunt hounds on a Wednesday, god I jumped at the chance! At last, part of my life’s ambition had been fulfilled! The North Warwickshire was a friendly bunch & their hounds hunted very well with a tremendous drive & cry. The next season I was hunting hounds on Saturdays too & the third season was asked to join the mastership. I don’t need to remind anyone involved in hunting hounds that it is a great honour & privilege to hunt a pack of hounds, in fact, it is the best feeling in the world!
We are very lucky to have 2 new whips in the shape of a 12 year old boy & a 14 year old girl, both seem very keen & come to kennels. I remember what inspired me when I was that age & hope I can inspire them too, because they are the future & one day might be masters/huntsmen as well.
I spend about 4 to 5 days a week at kennels, why? Because I love it! I love hounds in general & I love my hounds & want to spend as much time with them as possible. I have often considered hunt service but various reasons have stopped me. I would love to do what I do & get paid for it, however, I still feel very lucky to be able to do what I do & wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. I must admit though, I’ve always wanted to hunt a pack of foxhounds, maybe one day! This article was written purely for the Love of Hunting! Long may it continue!
Joint-master & Huntsman,
North Warwickshire Beagles.