I have always been jealous of reading about those hunting feasts that they enjoyed in the early days of the chase: bacchanalian orgies of meats, trifles, puddings and plenty of ale were well described by Surtees as Mr Sponge’s sporting tour progressed. Mr Sponge would have adored the hunt breakfast we enjoyed on Saturday at The Three Horseshoes in Elsted, tucked into the lee of the South Downs. Landlady Sue brought new meaning to the full English as platefuls of bacon, egg and sausage were garnished by large helpings of kidneys and venison liver. Bottles of claret were already on the table thanks to my friend Simon, particularly generous as he was also hosting the meet an hour later in the next door village. After leaving the meet we took a path straight up the side of the South Downs. Clover, a delightful, wise bay hunter was raring to go after a short lay off and the gradient took some of the steam off. For my part, the rapid climb to 800 feet went some way to mitigating the fried bread.
At the summit we could see the Isle of Wight, and later in day caught a glimpse of Chichester’s green spire. Easier to miss but a reminder of the great battles that raged over this area only 70 years ago is the wartime memorial to a German pilot. Now the area is as peaceful as it was when early Britons built their burial barrows, the devils’ jumps, nearly 4,000 years ago which we passed. By the time I got back to the trailer in the early evening I still felt well fed, pleasantly weary and much better informed.