It was the last day of autumn hunting last Saturday, when the young hounds have their final runout before the season proper starts. Following Nonie on her black Shetland pony down the woodland tracks on the high ground above Midhurst, West Sussex, I had to be vigilant about ducking at the right moment.
Where she could sail on happily, with the canopy several feet above, my position on Gandalf, a 17.3hh giant from Ireland placed me in serious jeopardy. In an effort to avoid disaster, I’m sure I did more crunch-style sit-ups than a triathlete in a gym session.
When I wasn’t focused on self-preservation, I couldn’t help looking out for ash trees, knowing the awful prospect of their destruction from Chalara fraxinea is a looming reality. They’re easy to spot at this time of year as they’re one of the first trees to lose their leaves. It may not be as individually magnificent as the oak or as plurally striking as the beech, but the ash is the mood music for English woodland.
Always there, dependable, stoic and numerous. I felt a pang for the wood that once gave us longbows and, nowadays, makes cricket stumps and nesting sites for all sorts of birds. Now, we need a fight as determined as that by archers at Crécy to stop the loss of a familiar friend we’ve taken for granted.