Standing in the Country Life stand at the CLA Game Fair this weekend, I reflected that no stand could have a better view.
We looked straight up at Belvoir Castle, imposing on the edge of the escarpment, a fairy-tale confection of battlements with a flagpole atop. It was looming over a sea of tents, display rings, shooting and fishing areas, cars, flags and thousands of people. Every year since 1948 (bar the disastrously wet summer of 2007 when the planned fair at Harewood House had to be cancelled just days before), people from all over the country and from all aspects of country life gather for three days of sporting demonstrations, debates, displays and, of course, shopping.
Octavia and Martin at the Game Fair with the castle in the backround
Incredibly, for a vast site holding so many people, I saw friends from the East Kent hunt as soon as I walked in. Then I found the group I was meeting – including the author of the review of Lucile Ltd in the July 22 issue of Country Life – almost immediately. We wandered round the stalls and feasted on venison burgers and fudge, then sprinted for the Country Life stand as the sky darkened ominously above the castle. A glass of elderflower and a comfy sofa was the perfect way to escape the rain, and the sun was shining again as we made our way to the Game Fair Theatre for the Country Life debate ‘Is it still Great to be British?’ Speaking were Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, Kate Hoey, chairman of the Countryside Alliance, the Duchess of Rutland, chatelaine of Belvoir Castle, and Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff and fresh from a meeting from a somewhat grovelling Gordon Brown. It was a fascinating hour – with the general consensus being that yes, it IS still great to be British – especially at such a celebration of all that is best about our country as the Game Fair.
After an extremely comfortable night in my car, parked 200 yards from the showground with a view of the castle, I embarked on my mission for the weekend: to find a new hunt coat. My old black one was a hand-me-down from a friend, and it’s served me extremely well – one day with the Tiverton, it rained from 11am til 6pm, and the wet only came through on my forearms. Sadly, however, it’s a bit too small, with short sleeves and skirts, and my notebook is in constant danger of falling out. Also, I can’t get a hip flask into my pockets comfortably, which is, naturally, rather a problem. Unfortunately, the emphasis at the Game Fair is on shooting, fishing and general countrywear when it comes to shopping, and I was beginning to give up, when I saw a rack of hunt waistcoats at Lyford’s stand, of Liphook in Hampshire (01428 741329).
The view from the car – Belvoir Castle in the distance
To my delight, I found a smart navy coat with check lining, and nearly bought a waistcoat too, but decided to save that for next month’s pay cheque. It means I will have to buy a new hat to match, but, considering I’ve dropped my current hat once or twice and the cover is shockingly scratched from bashing through trees (17hh is not a good idea on a woodland day), that’s no bad thing. Traditionally, women should wear navy rather than black, and this coat should last me for decades, so I wanted to get the right thing. Although rules on hunt dress have relaxed in some packs since the ban, I do like to dress correctly as a mark of respect to the landowners, farmers and hunt, and not ‘hide away and let our enemies make devils from shadows’, to quote Nick Onslow of the East Kent.
The very best of hunt outfitters have been going for years – Patey of London for hats, Alexander James of Pendlebury for coats, Calcutt and Sons of Hampshire for everything – but it has to be said that the correct gear is still very expensive, so looking our for fair discounts is always worth doing.
With the right gear and my spirits fired by the sight of the hound parades in the main ring (enlivened by an escaped beagle joining in), I can’t wait for the start of autumn hunting in a few weeks’ time.