Whilst lying in a hospital bed on the night of the 30th April 2012, it very soon became apparent that my time at the sharp end of hunting was up. I had decided six months before that the sheer distance from Lincolnshire to Nottinghamshire was beginning to take its toil so enough sadly had to be enough. Little did I realise at the time, I would for the next ten days be reflecting back on 36 years involvement with this most wonderful sport and the people I had been privileged to work with. To help me write this article I needed some luck and that luck came believe it or not, from a rather large influx of good hunting farming types who happened, not only to be in the same hospital but on the same ward for similar procedures as myself! It was without any doubt, the company that made my stay there rather more pleasurable than it would have been! What the nurses thought, one has to say God only knows, but I do know they were very good to us and didn’t make us suffer!
In a situation like this, you have to make the best of life and would you believe it, it wasn’t long before the name Wallace happened to come into a conservation. My Father always said he got everywhere! Then Colonel Mitchell of Hambledon fame, then Jim Webster, Michael Farrin etc, etc, and on it went! There we were stuck in the City Hospital, in the middle of Nottingham and all these great names from the past kept popping up. It certainly stopped us from worrying about our own health or potential heart surgery! It then came to the morning of my procedure and on the way down to theatre, would you believe it, there was one of the South Notts and Grove and Rufford’s most loyal farmers and supporters having his breakfast! You quite literally could not get away from them! So, I paid him the compliments of the morning and on returning to a new ward, little did I expect to find but there he was, in the adjoining bed! Well that didn’t help. We were in full cry for the next week!
I mentioned how earlier the well known names in hunting that came up in conversation. What a debt of gratitude we owe them. For the standard of sport they set, the hounds they bred and for keeping hunting going in one form or another throughout two World Wars. They also willingly passed on their knowledge to us younger ones, with a kindness and generosity of spirit that they was not always acknowledged. I well remember sitting beside the fire at Brent Pelham with Lord Knutsford teaching me how to play D’ye Ken John Peel on the hunting horn. In another hunting magazine recently there was an article about the great Masters and Huntsmen the writer had known and rated the best. Many of the names he mentioned you would probably expect and there is absolutely nothing wrong in that. They deserved the full credit they received.
However I believe the time has come to pay tribute to the Huntsmen, both amateur and professional of the 21st century who by far and away face challenges that those hunting in the last century would have never thought possible. Behind every good Huntsman lies a good Mastership and without the two working together the set up is doomed to failure. It is where mutual respect is the key ingredient. The knowledge of the Country, its farmers and the people who live and work there are the priority. Passing back the knowledge Masters learn will make the Huntsman’s job so much easier. From that not only will the Hounds benefit, the sport will improve and hard riding will be needed to keep up! There will be no time for larking! The key to success is centred round one word and that is Communication with a capital C. If there is none, it is the Hunt and those who have been loyal to it, some for many generations who will suffer. Great unrest is something we can well do without nowadays.
So with all this in mind and free of all responsibilities I set out to see what has been going on around mainly in and around the Eastern side of the Country and the Shires. With the wettest summer on record and possibly one of the wettest autumns, it has been far from easy for anybody. However the standards that I have been most fortunate to witness from the fifteen packs visited to date is without any doubt outstanding. It is the commitment, very much in evidence, to slog it out and keep going as well as we can until this piece of ridiculous piece of legislation can be repealed. So, to all of you, who are at the sharp end of hunting today, be proud of the considerable efforts you are making to show good sport, be proud of your hounds and most of all enjoy it.
All this is of paramount importance for hunting’s future. However it is equally important for any of us, who happen, God forbid, to find ourselves requiring another stay in hospital, to at the least have something to talk about!