Following my visit to the David Davies, I left Jim and Pauline Meads late that afternoon and made my way through Newtown up to Knighton where the following morning the Huntsman of the Teme Valley, David Savage had very kindly agreed to show me his hounds. It was early June and the scars of winter were still very plain to see. The wooded valleys were weeks behind and far away from coming into full leaf. The bracken appeared to be taking a complete year off, there was no sign of it smothering the hillsides as usual. It has been an extraordinary year to date and the sting in winter’s tail bit very late into spring. A considerable amount of ewes and lambs were lost in this part of the world making what was already a very tight situation for the Hill Farmer even worse.
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Driving through this truly beautiful country, I began to think that this looked as though it must be a very interesting place to go hunting and how right this was proved to be. Not only was the landscape special but the people were fascinating.
Arriving at Knighton shortly after eight I needed to find a good place for an evening meal and to rest my head and by luck I found the Horse and Jockey Inn, right in the middle of town. A comfortable billet and just what was needed for the night. Whilst sitting at the bar I happened to ask the landlady directions to the Teme Valley Kennels which I knew were just on the edge of town. Instructions were kindly given and on asking if she would happened to know the Savage Family, the floodgates opened and this is something I will quite frankly never forget.
The Teme Valley Hunt like so many, have a solid relationship with their local community and are an example to us all. In 1978 David’s father Roy, was appointed as huntsman. A Worcestershire man by birth, hunting a pack of hounds in the heart of the Welsh Marches was quite something in itself at the time. However the success he made of it became obvious. He, his hounds and their supporters were as much a part of the town and local area as the Vicar the Church and his congregation. Roy died in 2011 and his funeral had taken place in the town, and purely by chance, I just happened to be staying at the pub where the family had arranged his wake. Like so many of the great fell huntsmen they become a household name in their local area and it would appear Roy was no different. He was hugely respected as someone who had hunted these hounds for over thirty years and knew every nook and cranny of his hunting country. However, more importantly he would have known every farmer and shepherd who lived and worked there. This was born out by the landlady, who told me that they had never before had to cater for as many people for a funeral as they did for Roy Savage. It was an enormous compliment to an Englishman, when that day, the Welsh burst in to song, nearly lifting the roof off this well known inn!
To have been given the chance to see the Teme Valley Hounds in kennels having heard so much about their popularity, was indeed, a privilege and Roy would have been so proud of them. They are in safe hands with David and whilst it must be hard taking them on after such a legend as his father, he is doing a cracking job. As you will see from the few photos I have put up, the hounds have taken to him in a way that can only bring continued success. There is Welsh blood here but there is also a large amount of fell, which should help considerably in hunting the open hill. It is a place where much of the time they have to hunt alone and work a line out without any help and guidance from their huntsman. It is here, that I can imagine Roy lighting up a fag and letting them get on with it, if for whatever reason he could not get to them! Such is the trust that evolves from that golden thread.
As this is being written hunting will be well underway and I can see those Teme Valley Hounds giving it their best for their young huntsman. There is no doubt, he has everything about him to make a real success of the job in hand. I am sure his father will be watching him very carefully, however that seal of approval seemed to come to David in a way which he and the family are unlikely ever to forget.
The last chapter of Roy’s life was spent within earshot of his beloved hounds at Knighton Hospital, having been brought back from Shrewsbury to more comfortable surroundings. On Roy’s final morning, David, having been with his father throughout the night, came home at eight o’clock to do the hounds and ensure all was well. David described that as he went into the kennels hounds suddenly “burst into song” in a way that he had never known before, and it was at that exact moment he received the call to say his father had peacefully passed away.
A few days later, when Roy was to be buried, the family gathered at the kennels waiting for him to come home before setting out on his final journey. In his honour David had put all the hunting hounds out on the yard nearest to the drive. As the hearse arrived the hounds fell completely silent and just stood there very still, but with their noses in the air, almost as though they had winded a fox in a patch of gorse bushes.
If ever there was a country where hunting was totally engrained in the local community it was here in the Teme Valley. To hear about and witness this was quite remarkable. However, if this is the case here in a quiet part of Wales, I just wonder how many more examples there are across the United Kingdom. Is this something, if we are not careful, we could just take for granted? I sincerely hope not.
I would like to pay tribute to David Savage for not only showing me his hounds but sharing his most moving experiences with me. It was a joy to spend time with him. His father would be a very proud man.