Ramblings 8

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In my last article, before diverting quickly up to Durham, I was recollecting my days as the humble knackerman at the Warwickshire and how much that experience taught me. So, now to the other important part, the hounds and the hunting! With the Heythrop on one side of the Warwickshire Country in the latter days of Captain Wallace,  and the Bicester and Warden Hill on the other side with the young Captain Farquhar at the helm, we had to look sharp! The North Warwickshire were close by with their young team of lady masters under Captain Arkwright’s guidance and we must not forget the Pytchley, who at the time were firmly in the hands of the Saunders family and were also in the business of producing top class results. There was no doubt we were in the thick of it and had a lot to live up to. However I don’t think we did too badly and pretty well held our own! At this time I was becoming increasingly aware of standards and how important they were. This had been drummed into me since my youth, but I now understood as we were surrounded by the big guns how much it really mattered. Actually in a funny sort of way, it seemed to flow totally naturally. Why? It was because all the packs around us and that includes the Warwickshire itself were run by the top class men and women of that time, either in the mastership or in the kennels and this rubbed off meaning things were properly done.
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Both Clarence Webster and Stephen Lambert had their own distinctive ways of hunting hounds and were equally successful at putting IMG_7233the Warwickshire foxes under some sort of pressure. What I don’t think both men realised was just how influential they were being and what this particular Barclay was soaking up from the whole experience. I felt like an all absorbing sponge not only trying to take in their ways, but also those from the next door establishments. From it, came the ambition to carve one’s own route, not only as a master but also hunting hounds. Clarence’s hounds clearly adored him. His cheerful whistle and smiling face was enough to brighten up the dullest of days, and I am sure it had the desired effect on them as much as it did me and many others! He also had a pedigree, rather longer than mine in the hunting world, so this helped considerably!

The arrangement of two people hunting the same pack of hounds is never easy and unfortunately this came to an end after a while. Clarence retired and Stephen went on to hunt the Heythrop. However it was in my time with them that the fox sense that my father had inadvertently taught me came further and further into play. What an animal! The respect that I learnt to give them came from those early days of watching and observing. It was either when they were being hunted or in the lazy days of summer when it was their turn to teach their young about hunting which was the most fascinating! Anyone who says the true hunting man does not have the greatest respect for his quarry, his talking nonsense!

IMG_7445Warwickshire was made for the job. In those days which were really not that long ago, there was a significant amount of grass still left and although the large part of it was very heavy, the playing field provided for us was one hell of a place to learn the trade! It was well foxed and there weren’t the restrictions there are today. No M40 slicing through the middle and not the heavy traffic making its way north to south and east to west like it does now. I don’t think we realised just how lucky we were! Although the country was open and good sport could be shown in all parts, my particular favourite was the piece between Shipston on Stour down to the Heythrop borders at Moreton in the Marsh. Coverts like Golden Cross, Oldborough, Blakemore, Aston Hale and more fitted completely naturally into the landscape of the county. It is also important to remember the farmers who I mentioned in my previous article and whose guests we were and still are throughout each season. They are the ones who undoubtdly make up the rich pattern of any hunting country. Many good days were spent crossing the Fosse and excursions made up into the Heythrop country and sometimes further into North Cotswold territory were especially rewarding. It was a place where hounds could get on and do what they knew best and that was to hunt. It was no wonder that the great sporting artist Lionel Edwards took to this part of the world when he painted the hunted fox and the Warwickshire hounds coming away from that wonderful covert Dunsdon which stands proudly up on the hill between Moreton in the Marsh and the village of Toddenham.

So with the experience I was so fortunate to have acquired it was off to Ireland and the North Tipperary in a battered out old farm van which if I hadn’t snaffled it up from my father would shortly have ended up on the scrap heap! It nearly did so anyway as not long into our journey to the boat at Fishguard, the gearbox fell through the floor, conveniently in the middle of the Heythrop country! Nevertheless we eventually arrived at Dromineer on the banks of Loch Derg and the River Shannon and set up base in a rather damp flat above the stables at Kiltelagh, home of the Joint Masters of the North Tipps, Colonel and Mrs Dean. The next few months were certainly different and a considerable amount of knowledge was added to my Warwickshire experiences. The country that surrounded us was some of the most beautiful anywhere in the World. It was all grass with wonderful patches of gorse on the hillsides that were full of foxes. The kennels however were another matter. I had been used to five yards, concrete beds and yes, running water! The North Tipps Kennels were not quite what I had been used too, one muddy old yard, a nissen hut for the kennel with a wooden bed. Running water easily available, sadly not from a tap though, but from the River Shannon which flowed a hundred yards away from the kennels! Twenty couple of hounds were resident and seemed remarkably happy, so it was get on with the job and make the most of it, no time for grumbling. Life here was unique and the few months I spent with the North Tipps were ones I shall never forget and taught me just how spoilt I had been. Hunting is not only about large establishments with kennels full of staff undertaking every duty, but also the small two day a week packs who make up the majority both in Britain and Ireland and at times struggle to survive.

One of my main memories of this part of Ireland was that we seldom saw the sun! Rain arrived almost every day and from the moment my dog and I arrived, to the time for us to return to England a few months later, we got absolutely soaked on most days. Keeping fit was not a problem though, hauling water two buckets at a time from the river up the hill to fill the kennel troughs, ensured a degree of strength in my upper arms that I never knew I had! Excursions to the Limerick, Tipperary and Duhallow Kennels were made during that summer and it was the Duhallow that would come back into my life at a later stage but more about that another day. Warwickshire called and I was to return to England to start work for the late Denny Green and what an adventure that was!

Wherever I have been over the last two seasons it has become clear that the very fabric of hunting as we knew it is still in place and despite the current difficulties, the Warwickshire like every pack in the country is making an enormous effort to keep going and maintain the highest of standards. This comes from the deep rooted commitment of foxhunters who have gone before and we should not only be grateful to but extremely proud of them. However if we are going to achieve a repeal we must now vigorously promote our activities even more and make the British public aware that what has happened since 2005, has not benefited the hunted animal in anyway whatsoever. We can march as much as we like, we can make one speech after another, but if we do not engage with those members of the British public that really want to know more, then we might as well not bother at all. It is not only about the politicians. There are those who will never in a million years be swayed from either side, but there are an ever increasing number who genuinely want to find out about what we do for the very best of reasons and it is to those who we should freely provide the information. After all we certainly have nothing to be ashamed of.

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James Barclay
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