I love snow and cold weather – indeed, I vastly prefer winter to summer – but this particular cold snap is interfering rather too much with hunting for too long for my liking. But we hunting folk are hardy types, and (reasonably) fit, so when the ground is too hard for horses, we simply take to our feet. On Boxing Day itself, one of the biggest showcase days in the hunting calendar, our hounds had only just recovered from a bad bout of kennel cough, so we simply met in our traditional spot in the market town of Bromyard in Herefordshire for a gossip and a drink of mulled wine. The town crier wished us well, and our master gave a rousing speech looking forward to a proper Boxing Day hunt next year under the Conservatives. Hear hear!
The following Tuesday, we met at the chairman’s farm on foot for a spot of scent trailing, although the meet was somewhat prolonged as sleet fell outside and we tucked into sausage rolls and delicious punch. Perhaps hunting without horses is no bad thing over Christmas – we certainly all needed the exercise! Eventually, we turned our collars up and pulled
our caps down and scrambled over the frozen ruts to the top of a valley.
Unfortunately, I wear hearing aids, and they chose that moment to run out of battery. Stupidly, I didn’t have any spares with me, so I sprinted as fast as I could into nearby Bromyard and bought some more, then tore back in hope that the hunt hadn’t gone too far. The land around there is very steep, so I slithered down one valley and puffed up the side of another, to find hounds working well over the next ridge and speaking clearly. This being hunting, the trail they found led straight back the way I had come, and, ironically considering we had no horses, the laid scent was holding well. We managed to snatch a breather on the top before setting off in pursuit, and, although the master roared past on the terrierman’s quad, the rest of us took things at a slower pace. Crossing the middle of a crop field felt very wrong – five people in boots don’t have to creep round the edge! I had to leave about 1pm, but hounds had proved they had lost none of their skill, and a good time was had by all.
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Very different weather greeted us on New Year’s Day – a deep blue sky was spread over an unyielding, sparkling ground as we blew away our hangovers with hot mulled wine. The master was splendidly attired in breeches and walking boots, and the hounds were raring to go again. A lucky few of us hitched a lift in a splendid Argocat-type all-terrain vehicle – definitely the way to get up the hills. Our New Year’s Day meet takes place in some of our best country, very steep but with plenty of jumps and the most fantastic views across the Severn plain to the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills. The air was crystal clear, and we all agreed that being on our feet did give more opportunity for admiring the scene. It keeps you warmer, too – although that didn’t stop the hip flasks from appearing…you can take the hunter off the horse, but you can’t take the hip flask away from the hunter.
Again, the scent trails held well, and we enjoyed some splendid music. The land there is such that foot followers can stand on the top of the ridge and watch all the activity below, perfect! Hunting without horses also offers a rare opportunity for mounted and foot followers to mingle – my father valiantly runs along behind us in the normal way, but seldom gets to join in the chat during the checks. On that day, long pauses were welcomed as we all caught up on news from the festive season.
As I write, the snow is falling thickly outside – although, this being the middle of London, it’s not settling as well as it is elsewhere. No sledging for me, sadly. The forecast is for a continued freeze, but my fingers are crossed that it lets up enough for the ground to recover. Such a prolonged spell without hunting is very bad for the hunts financially as they lose out on cap money, and all our horses are steadily losing fitness and sense, so it’s important things warm up soon for everyone’s sakes. Not to mention the fact that I’ve got a grand horse booked at the Bicester on Saturday – and I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again!