This last summer was one of the busiest for a while with a fair share of weekends spent judging various Puppy Shows, which is always a pleasurable thing to do, but sadly does absolutely nothing for the waistline! It is always nice to look at hounds during their period of rest. We can start to gage what there is coming on from behind the scenes and to assess the breed’s general standard. On that note, it is particularly encouraging to see a lot of fine hounds about, as there was a time after that dreaded day in 2005, when many packs cut right back to a minimum. To see that confidence generally returning is most reassuring to all of us who take the breeding of the Foxhound extremely seriously.
Well the time came to dust off the camera and get out there and take some early morning pictures of hounds on exercise. This is a wonderful time of year as, given the blessing of some good weather, harvest starts to move and those dewy late summer mornings with a hint of mist in the air, brings our countryside to life, as any true hunting man knows. So visits to Badminton, Belvoir and the Bicester were a particular pleasure this year.
The combines began to roll in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire somewhat earlier than normal this time, whilst the West Country was blighted by wet weather coming in over the Welsh Hills. This delayed their start dates considerably but gave us up here a clear advantage, being able to kick on during the last week in August. As a result of this I had a fascinating Autumn and so thought our readers may like to hear about where my travels took me and something about the packs that I was fortunate enough to have visited. In just two months this totalled twenty-one! There are no doubts that it was a real privilege to be have been given the opportunity to achieve this, and hopefully you will enjoy reading about my travels.
The season started for me with the South Wold Hounds meeting on the neighbouring farm here in Lincolnshire. Although virtually all draft hounds, they have gelled together well under the watchful eye of their Joint Master and Huntsman Adam Esom. Many an expert could be deceived into thinking that they had been bred by the same person for a considerable number of years. Luckily for the South Wold, their huntsman is one who is privileged to have the golden thread between himself and his hounds, he has already managed to bring out all that is best in his pack. Hounds are in many ways are not too dissimilar to children, they must be given the opportunity to gain confidence and develop, whilst learning right from wrong. However, to achieve this, it is important for their boss to have patience and it is here that word has been put into action and worked. This has resulted in just what was required from them being achieved in spite of some very bad scenting mornings. A very good start to the season for Adam and his hounds and full credit goes to them.
The large number of people hunting during the early part of this season is most encouraging to see, none more so than when I visited the Blankney two days later. They have new Masters here who are most enthusiastic to do the job properly and keep the standards high. Philip Stubbings has hunted these hounds for a considerable number of seasons and it is fascinating to watch the way he hunts them. More on that later in this article, however, the considerable support and help he has given Adam in reviving the breeding fortunes of the neighbouring South Wold Hounds should be well recognised. The Blankney Country is perhaps like many today, not the easiest, but is one where hard work and dedication is needed to gain maximum results. This has been put in from all concerned and will surely pay off in the long run. It is therefore timely to wish their new team well with their endeavours.
A day or two later it was off to the Belvoir for their Aswarby meet. The Plein family and their Keeper Robin Nunn are always most welcoming. There could hardly be a better place in the British Isles for young hounds to be able to learn their trade and with their experienced Huntsman John Holliday at the helm, it was a pleasure to observe them being handled in a way which achieved maximum results. It was on a second day in the early part of September when I was to see their pure English hounds really getting their act together. The Belvoir are extremely fortunate to have such places to go and make a start which helps no end to ensure the whole operation is slick and effective. However it does not mean that those who do not have the advantage of such a country have a lesser pack of hounds, it just means they have to work much harder to fine tune their operation.
There have always been long discussions about the Pure English versus the Welsh and two days later I was to have a day with a pack of hounds which have a goodly amount of this in their genes and comparing the two was intriguing. The Welsh influence was brought down from the hills to the Bicester by Captain Ian Farquhar, with lines going back to the Vale of Clettwyr. Many amusing stories abound about the hunting abilities of these rough coated hounds, however the long and the short of it is, they have nicked in, hunt very well and are pretty smart in their looks. A day with the Bicester and Whaddon Chase is always of interest but with Patrick Martin hunting them even more so. Patrick has been Kennel Huntsman / Huntsman here for twenty one seasons and hunting as a whole could not have had anyone more dedicated to the job. The style of his hounds hunting compared to that of the Pure English is different, but there is no doubt they are both as effective as each other. To finish a morning off back at the Kennels is always interesting but to hear Patrick talk about his time in Hunt Service, whilst feeding his hounds and treating any lame ones, was well worth listening to. Just before I returned to Lincolnshire for the 4pm meet of the South Wold, I witnessed a rather unusual task being undertaken by the Huntsman. This was fulfilling his duty as Gamekeeper to the local Shoot, pheasants had to be fed, watered and checked over. It is perhaps atypical to see this dual role being undertaken, but what a first class example of how the two sports can work together. There will be more of this mutual cooperation on the For the Love of Hunting England Website later in the season.
Whilst being a Joint Master of the Grove and Rufford, I always found it interesting to note the Huntsman, Paul Larby’s intuition, in not only hunting hounds but also breeding them. Paul had been 1st Whipper In at the Heythrop whilst I was there back in the very early 80’s. It was quite obvious then he was going to go somewhere and it was when he departed to hunt the Eggesford that it all became clear. He was given a nucleus of good Heythrop draft hounds when he left and it is worthy to note that he has hung on to the breeding of them for the last thirty-five years, wherever he has been. So now seeing the results, winning at all the major Hound Shows, is certainly a feather in the man’s cap. However watching them hunting recently in their somewhat difficult Nottinghamshire Country is another. Nose, drive, and cry are the all important ingredients in the makeup of the foxhound and they seem to have pretty well all of them. This is partly down to keeping the old Grove and Rufford lines going, maintaining their ability in a low scenting country. There will be pure English and Welsh going way back, but nothing immediate, so to observe their style closely again was a very worthwhile experience. There is one thing that stands out a mile, whether it be the Grove and Rufford, Belvoir, the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, or any of the other packs I have been to, when the flag is down and the season proper commences, girths will have to be tightened and hard riding will have to take place to keep with them.
Hunting with the Fitzwilliam is always a treat for any of us in our family as we spent twelve very happy seasons there. Although Peterborough is on the doorstep, the Park is beautifully laid out for hunting and many good days are enjoyed there. The Kennels are situated on the eastern side of the Park and have a history going well back into the1700’s. The combination of these hounds hunting with an eagle in close proximity to the action is something we are seeing in all but a few places now and is very much a sign of the times. George Adams has hunted these hounds for over thirty years and is certainly one of the most popular men in his profession. This particular morning made me realise just how lucky we are. On our side of the Park wall was a great gathering of like minded people enjoying something that has taken place here for generations. On the other side is four miles plus of new houses, factories, roads and the roar of urban noise. Is it therefore not up to us as those who love our countryside and its activities, to encourage and involve those who may never have come across us before. Our worlds may be far apart in one sense, but they are not in another. There may be just a wall between us in this case, but it should never be looked upon us as a barrier.
The Burton, whose Kennels are again only a very short distance from the City of Lincoln, are one of the oldest packs in the country and for a large number of years now have been in the hands of the Lockwood family. To start a new season with them has been a must for me for a considerable number of years now. It was on the Saturday of Burghley Hose Trials, at the beginning of September that they met at the Kennels in Riseholme. The hounds looked exceptionally well produced by Neil Burton and were undoubtedly fit and ready for some action. Conventionally bred to a very large degree, there has been some French blood introduced into them over the years and this has been recently added to by the addition of Gordon, a pure French Doghound, who believe it or not, had originally been acquired by the Belvoir. He is not only notable by the way he stands out but you can hear Gordon’s voice from a considerable distance away. The large field out that day obvously enjoyed their first morning and hounds certainly did their level best in conditions, which were I have to say, far from easy.
The following week took me down to the Cottesmore and the beautiful area of Grimsthorpe Park, near Bourne. There are five shoots there, all of which are extremely cooperative. This particular morning we were on the beat run by Mr Paul Neil, who as well as running a most successful operation is a keen supporter and puppy walker of both the Fitzwilliam and Cottesmore. Robert Medcalf had turned out the hounds to perfection and they were definitely ready to show their true form for Andrew Osborn, who is now in his third season as Master and Huntsman. I have known these hounds for a considerable time, and whilst still showing their Welsh and American genes, they have probably levelled up somewhat since the early part of the century. Having been taught to breed a pack of hounds in a more conventional way, I would be crass and stupid to say that they have not benefited from the experimentation of Simon Clarke and latterly Brian Fanshawe. It was therefore up to us to continue where they left off, the very thought of introducing a Pure English line was positively frowned upon!
At the end of the week it was off to the Brocklesby Meet at Ulceby, about as far north as you can go in Lincolnshire before meeting the Humber Estuary. We were lucky to hunt, as the mist had rolled in from the North Sea. It cleared off somewhat and hounds adapted themselves well under the guidance of Huntsman Gareth Bow. Gareth was well trained under William Deakin in Warwickshire and this is his third season. They are a pack of hounds which take some handling as their Pure English breeding indeed makes them tough, but he has them handy and biddable as well as being able to do their job in fine style and that is no mean feat. Again it was a real pleasure in the same week to see two totally differently bred packs of hounds, both doing their job to a standard which one can only say was highly satisfactory.
A trip across to the South Notts came next, to see their new team in action. Margaret Morris, former long serving Master of the Blankney, has taken on the role of Joint Master here with existing Joint Master, Kate Cressey. Raymond O’Halloran is the new Huntsman having taken over from Dick Chapman who has gone on to hunt the newly formed Moorland. Being a pack of virtually all draft hounds makes it difficult to give an opinion, especially on a grey scentless morning, however as the photographs demonstrate, Raymond has a rapport with hounds that stands out and that is a very good start. If they don’t like you, you might as well go and do something completely different, such as working in an office. From what I have heard since my day with them, the hounds seem to be coming together well and in a way which bodes well for the future. That afternoon we were up in Yorkshire to see another new Huntsman in action, this time, an amateur, Tom Roberts, whose father Simon was a former successful Master of the Derwent. Tom has taken on as Joint Master and Huntsman of the Sinnington. These hounds which were successfully bred by Adrian Dangar for a number of years, performed well for Tom, with scent improving as the evening progressed, which as we know is very often the case. Be they professional or amateur it is so important to give those putting their head above the parapet a fair chance, and the best of luck them for having a go, especially at this time.
The following week took me to the Cambridgeshire with Enfield Chace and their meet at Tetworth. Cambridgeshire may not necessarily be the most beautiful part of the country but this is one of the nicest estates you will find anywhere and is where hunting goes back very many years. It is deeply rooted into the traditions of the area with beautifully managed woodland and the whole estate being looked after to perfection by Joint Master Julia Shaw and her family, quite some place to go hunting. Paul Roberts has been Huntsman here for over twenty years and has been responsible for breeding a most effective pack of hounds which are well suited to the Cambridgeshire ploughs and he produced a most interesting and successful morning, despite a lack of smell.
Another morning with the Blankney ensued. This was when I was indeed fortunate to witness some of the best hound control I have ever seen performed by Philip Stubbings and his Whippers In. There were some roe deer on the move and one decided to leap up right in front of them. There was no whip cracking, no shouting, just quiet words spoken, the result being they just got on with the job in hand with no issue whatsoever. That afternoon, the South Wold Kennels were the venue for a meet of the East Lincs Basset Hounds. Roger Finney their new Master ensured everybody was well entertained. Mark Guy his Joint hunts the hounds and how well they went, on what was now extremely hard dry ground. Again from the photos you will see, they have great drive and determination to do their job properly. The Basset is an interesting character in its own right and to see them hunting in such fine style was riveting.
A different form of hunting was to come the following week, hunting pheasants with Goshawks at East Torrington and hares with Golden Eagles at Revesby. This came about as a result of the British Falconry Club holding their Annual Meeting at the Petwood Hotel, at Woodhall Spa. It was a most fascinating experience all round and a very good place to bring this first part to an end. Next we will cover the rest of October and right up to where we are now in December. In the meantime, I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and wherever you are in the world, Good Hunting!