My late husband Tony Harvey was Master of the Easton Harriers from 1963 to 1990. During the years Tony and I had together we travelled extensively on “hunting holidays” throughout England & Wales, France and Portugal. Tony was always watching hounds working wherever we were and discussing the methods and techniques of those who hunted them, spotting how hounds worked on different quarry in various weathers and terrains. With so much accumulated knowledge, it made him a brilliant teacher. Urging Tony to form his hunting diaries into a book (not a Penny in The Post) was not difficult, as it enabled him to relive and share with friends old and new his thirty years as Master /Huntsman .
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I joined the mastership soon after Tony died. What I did not expect was to find myself hunting the hounds within a few weeks! Our kennel huntsman had a bad fall in early October and broke a vertebrae. He was out of action and we had no funds for a locum. It seemed ridiculous to offer myself as a huntsman but there were no other applicants. I was soon hiding away in my car, practicing blowing an array of horns with tape recordings of the different calls to guide me. I had two brilliant whippers-in, Penny Watts and Sian Thorne, and we began the season with just three couple, adding more week by week as I gained confidence. It was exhausting and often frustrating but we got to the end of the season and we were not bankrupt. By then Robert Moffat, our huntsman, had recovered.
For the 2012-3 season, we were joined by Alun Thomas and his wife Jackie from Somerset, Alun as Amateur Huntsman and Joint Master with myself. Alun and Jackie have settled in quickly. The Kennels have never looked better, the hounds have never been happier, Easton village have been very welcoming, a constant stream of children in and out of the kennels, playing with puppies and cycling on hound exercise. Our ‘Houdini’ hound Hiccup is a frequent visitor to the pub and playschool.
Heavy clay forms two thirds of Easton country with sandy lighter land lying to the east towards the coast . Tony disliked the light land as it holds scent poorly and is riddled with rabbit holes. However it does drain better than the clay lands and now that we have had several years of severe winters these lighter land meets have been a huge blessing. As must befall most packs hunting arable country, the crop sprays make scenting very hard for the hounds to stick to their line. By introducing new blood to the pack we are aiming to increase their scenting ability. A stallion hound brought in from Chris Ryan of the Scarteen has resulted in four couple of superb puppies. The two dog hounds have entered well with good noses, voice and a smattering of independence.
The countryside and our access to it is constantly changing. There is no longer any stubble as the plough follows the combine. Some large areas of farms are covered in acres maize to feed the bio–mass plants. Alun is 6ft 4ins and on a 17.2 but sometimes we can only see the top of his head as he rides through the maize. Solar panels are now planted on many acres of some of our fastest country, alongside increasing areas of outdoor pigs and chickens all fenced with electric wire. However we win some – lose some. We can now hunt places we have been unable to go for years which we can now hunt due to changes in landowner or shooting practices.
Membership grows steadily with the youngsters being encouraged to ride with the whips and get close to hounds so that they learn about hound work at an early age.
Each season brings fresh opportunities as well as fresh challenges in all aspects of hunting in Suffolk, we embrace them all with positive hope for the future of the Easton Harriers.