A question came into my mind as the train pulled out of Lincoln Central Station on a grey Friday afternoon in early March and that was, on my relatively short trip to the North, how many hunting countries would I be flying through as I headed towards my destination. May be this is something that does not enter the mind of a normal thinking person but, with my background in hunting, I suppose you can hardly blame me! The reason for my excursion to the borders of Durham and North Yorkshire was to visit the Zetland, who had kindly invited me to speak at their Annual End of Season Dinner. This is a Hunt I had never been to before and I was much looking forward to my visit for as well as enjoying the company of their people, the next day I would be seeing their first class pack of hounds in action. My journey there though was going to be of considerable interest, as it was an opportunity for me to piece together in my mind a map of the hunting countries of the north. Far better to do this from a train, for I would have the time to soak up the landscape and historical landmarks as we flew past.
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The countryside around Lincoln itself could by some be described as a rather flat and uninspiring part of England. To me though no part of England is without appeal as you will always find something or somebody of interest, very often in the place where you least expect. Although this part of Lincolnshire is undoubtedly flat it certainly does have something to inspire us, and that is the City’s Cathedral which not only can be observed for miles around, but undoubtedly is one of the most beautiful buildings to be found anywhere in the World.
Lincoln is on the borders of two hunting countries, the Blankney and the Burton and the first leg of my journey took me to Newark through the Blankney Country. To be fair to them this would not be the easiest part to hunt with a large amount of shooting and the beginnings of Lincoln not far away. Then at Newark, or Newark on Trent to use its proper name, I changed trains for a direct service northwards to Darlington. This town although just in the South Notts Country, stands on the borders of the Blankney and Grove and Rufford and is where the South Notts traditionally hold their New Years Day Meet. A meet I have been fortunate to witness and always found it very well supported. It is a busy place, being on the junctions of the A1, A46, and the A17 as well as two railway lines, but within two miles of the town centre you will find plenty of places where the rural way of life rules and hunting is able to take place virtually unhindered.
As we cross the great River Trent into the Grove and Rufford Country the land remains flat or at the most rolling, to the west. However it is not without its features. Nottinghamshire’s red brick villages are distinctive in their own right, and their churches have a beauty of their own, not many possessing spires of great height, more of them having towers of a shortish square nature. Newark herself being a contradiction to this, with a spire of great height and beauty. Travelling northwards we are for a large amount of the time accompanied by The Great North Road running alongside us, a natural boundary for all its neighbouring packs. It is always important to remember both the railways and the roads are becoming ever busier, thus making the organisation of a day’s hunting much more difficult to achieve. How times have changed, it was not that long ago when from your train, travelling in either direction, if you were lucky enough, you may have witnessed the Grove and Rufford, Badsworth, Braham Moor, York and Ainsty’s South and North, Hurworth, Bedale or South Durham in full cry, just one field away. What pleasure that would give the true hunting man, as it did me on a beautiful winter’s day, when I witnessed the Cambridgeshire Hounds doing exactly that, some twenty-one years ago.
So if you are ever flying through this part of England, at perhaps a hundred plus miles an hour, sit back and imagine what it was like all those years ago. Try to absorb the history of what has been before and the outstanding buildings which go with each and every hunting country you travel through. The Minster Church of St George at Doncaster, York Minster herself and further up, but not on this occasion for me, the beauty of Durham Cathedral. I alighted from my train at Darlington just short of the historical city itself. Darlington lies on the borders of the Zetland and the South Durham and is ideally placed for a day with both packs. Although the two hunting Countries are very different the support for our activities in this part of the World is outstanding. I had already picked up on this from a previous trip to the South Durham where it soon became very clear that cooperation came from every angle of society imaginable. It was no different at the Zetland as I was to find out that evening at their Hunt Dinner as well as the next day at their last meet where we most generously entertained by former Master Jamie Cameron and his wife Carolyn.
The Zetland country is centred round the Tees Valley and is extremely picturesque with rolling hills and valleys and very little sign of urbanisation. The hounds have been hunted here by professional Huntsman David Jukes since 1996. He knows the country well and his hounds are a credit to him. They were blessed at the Meet, and whether it was this that did the trick or not, we will never know, but they were very switched on and had been observing everything around them whilst all the pleasantries had been exchanged. Within two minutes they were away in full cry down the valley below the Meet with the mounted field struggling to keep up with them. The first hunt came to as swift conclusion but for the rest of the day they were busy keeping the large field well occupied. It was a real pleasure to meet old friends again, some of whom I have not seen for many years. Although it was not that long since I last saw him, it was particularly nice to see David Wallace, son of the late Ronnie and Rosie Wallace. David and his wife Emma live in the Pendle Forest and Craven Country and hunt with the many different packs of hounds in that part of the north. Meeting up with both of them reminded me of the many happy occasions when our two families got together.
Well it was soon back on the train again so that I could be at the Burton in time for their end of season party at the Kennels. Passing York Minster, the Minster Church at Doncaster, and the Cooling Towers of industrial South Yorkshire as I had done only twenty-four hours before, I had more time to reflect on how diverse hunting England really is and how pleasant hunting people really are. Arriving in Lincoln the sun was beaming down on the Cathedral, making her look her best and within ten minutes there before my eyes were the Burton Hounds hacking home for the last time of the 2015/2016 Season. Two very different packs of hounds two very different countries but united by people who have a love for what hunting England truly represents.