Friday, 26 December 2014

A hunting we did go ...

Max at the hunt gathering in Stilton
Today we went to Stilton to see the Boxing Day hunt meet up.
It’s a toss up which end of the social/political spectrum I feel least comfortable about - the class-driven, toff-hating anti-hunt brigade or the hunting, shooting, fishing set. 
Oscar Wilde described foxhunters as the “unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” but I think the hunters he was referring to were the upper classes.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect today’s hunts are made up of bankers, lawyers and rich farmers.
I admire anyone skillful and brave enough to ride a horse, I like dogs (especially working dogs) and the hunt does generate some much-needed cash in the rural economy, but the real reason why we went to see the hunt set off today was to show Lucy a little slice of England.
It might be chocolate-box England, but it’s authentic enough and it is quite a spectacle. The local hunt is the Fitzwilliam and it meets at the Bell Inn at Stilton on Boxing Day. The Bell is an old coaching inn and the main road through Stilton would once have been the A1 Great North Road.
Today, it’s a stranded backwater, but the old road is good and wide and the police close it for traffic for an hour to allow the hunt to assemble. A few hundred people come to watch and the pubs in the village have a busy hour or two serving drinks and lunches. There was a good turn-out of hunters (perhaps 30 horses) and they were a splendid sight en-masse.
Some of the dogs are very friendly
However, the real stars with the public who come to watch are the hounds. Foxhounds are quite large dogs, but pretty gentle (provided you're not a fox). They’ve clearly seen all this before and know full well that lots of people come with doggy treats in their pockets, so the pack immediately starts working the crowd. Once the dogs have completed a sweep  of people, pausing for the odd stroke and ear scratch, they undertake a full search of the surrounding area for any discarded edible item (which includes hose poo).
They were very interested to sniff my trousers and gloves, covered as they are by the smell of Holly, and Holly was very interested in a return sniff when we got back.
The master of the hunt gave a little speech before they set off. He thanked everyone for coming, he thanked the hunt staff, he thanked the Bell Inn for its hospitality and he reminded the crowd that there was a general election next year and that we should all support the party that supported hunting. I’m guessing he wasn’t talking about the Lib-Dems.
That done, the master of hounds gave a few toots on his horn and the pack of hounds, which was becoming increasingly impatient to leave, formed up and set off with the lead horse, followed by the rest of the hunt, which seemed to comprise mainly women.
The hounds will follow a scent laid down across a course designed to give dogs and horses a decent run. If any foxes are disturbed along the way, then that’s bad luck for the fox. It’s illegal to hunt any mammal with dogs, but if the dogs disturb a fox and happen to kill it before they can be called off then it’s not a crime.
Tom took this picture of the hunt setting off (above). Lucy below at her first hunt.