Oh to be on Exmoor now that April’s here. Usually, the moor, creaking to life, is covered with a pallid, sepia wash. This time, the mild, wet weather that so devastated Somerset’s flatter ground has given it an astonishingly verdant tint. The native ponies, all bleary eyes and Thelwell- cartoon furriness, can’t believe their luck; February’s annual count of the red-deer herd was healthy; and sheep farmers have only had to battle sleep deprivation instead of the horizontal hail that Exmoor often delivers in this month.
Hunting men from up country, whose sport finished in March, have long known that Exmoor in April is heavenly, as depicted in the paintings of Munnings, Aldin and Edwards, who made annual pilgrimages with their wives, horses, dogs and easels. Devotees of the legendary Heythrop master Capt Ronnie Wallace, who liked to bring his hounds to the West Country to try to catch a May fox, would colonise moorland villages during Easter, filling stables, hotels and tea rooms.
The Hunting Act 2004, with its tedious two-hound rule for flushing out quarry, makes life arguably more difficult for the Devon & Somerset Staghounds than any other pack, but the midweek meet at Landacre Bridge was supported by plenty of visitors, drawn to its otherworldly landscape. Exmoor still has its magic.
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