I volunteered as a Steward at a recent Fun Ride that was raising funds for a local hunt. Though I am a paid-up ‘Supporter’ (a fall-back position in case I need a hound fix), I don’t actually hunt with them, so I don’t know the country. Hunting has a particularly intimate and very deep knowledge of the land. Standing in a farmyard on a sunny morning, waiting to be sent off to my allocated fence, I was therefore becoming increasingly worried as the other volunteers were given their directions. “You know Pete’s old house, go past, then at the copper beech turn through the gate - it’s open for you - drive down the headland, round Bull Banks, through the arse-awful gate and you’ve got three fences in the valley”. “Umm” - I say nervously, as my turn comes - “I don’t know the country”. “No problem. Richard will show you!”. The rotund organiser gestured at a young man with a quad bike, all-terrain vehicle. “Twisty fence” he states. Richard waves in acknowledgement and immediately swings onto to his mechanical steed and zaps off before I could even get to my car. I did have sufficient local knowledge to guess which way to turn out of the farm gate and so managed a glimpse of my guide as he vanished down the lane. Foot down on the accelerator, I caught him up as we passed between ornate iron gates onto the estate where most of the ride was to take place. A glorious avenue of mature beech trees in full spring glory, trimmed grass, paved drive, disappearing into the distance. Equally distant, Richard, my guide, riding his quad bike half standing, half kneeling, effectively side saddle at 50 mph. At least, I was doing 45 mph chasing him. Fortunately, I had recently been walking there. I wasn’t surprised by a sudden right turn and a steep winding path down into a valley, through woodland filled with bluebells. But no time for the view: this was rally driving. Over the river, wind uphill round three tight bends and then Richard cuts off over the turf. I follow. We stop. Richard points out to me the two fences I was to have under my eye for the day, the Twisty Fence and one down in the river, and then suggests my car wasn’t positioned in the right place. Great. There had been a lot of rain recently and my car isn’t 4 wheel drive. I think my driving skill in extracting myself from this semi-bog, while he sat watching, won Richard’s respect because we subsequently had several minutes conversation about the possible archeology in that particular pasture (lots of interesting bumps on the ground, just below the village), the remains of a castle hidden down in the valley that we had recently flashed past, and the buried hoard of Roman coins his mum had found on their farm a couple of years ago. Then with a wave, Richard zaps off, side saddle, straight down the hillside, ignoring the road. At the end of the day, I drove the very short distance to the gate out of the park and into the village, sedately. I knew my way home from there.
I enjoyed that read. Thank you.
Thank you Willesdon for the little adventure. So nice that you allowed us to share what you so obviously savor. Countryside and country people are precious.
For my Saturday Morning read.
Felt like I was there with you, riding shotgun, in pursuit of Richard!
Thank you very much for this lovely read. Our hunt used to do their hunter pace by giving the written description of the track, not by marking it. That was fairly easy for members at that time because they lived in and around the country that was hunted. The membership these days still has quite a few that live “in country”, but there are many that live outside of the immediate area. Some travel 30-60 minutes to get to the fixtures. After hunting for several years, you may recognize where you are, but not necessarily know the name of the farm or “you know that coop that so and so crawled over”.
I just started whipping in this last year. I have been riding out with the whips that have been doing it longer to know what the name of a parcel is, the name of a trail, etc. It becomes more challenging when each successive huntsman / professional whip add new names to the same locations.