James Delingpole, author
I’m writing this on a Monday morning and I remember the sensation all too well: it’s exactly the same sense of despondency and nostalgic yearning I used to feel after a weekend’s clubbing in the late 80s. Only this time, it’s not an Acid House all-nighter I’m coming down from, but a day out with the “Chid and Lec”, better known as the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray Hunt.
Gosh, what a fun meet. All I can think about is the instant friends I made that day.
When I arrived — as a guest of joint-master Robin Muir — I didn’t know any of them from Adam. But five hours of hard riding and gentle quaffing later, they felt like my dearest mates.
From the 90 or so who were at the meet to enjoy the lavishly generous whisky mac stirrup cups in front of FitzHall, home of Rupert and Louie Uloth, to the 20 knackered stalwarts who stuck it out to the end.
“No sex,” complained our field master, Paul just before our huntsman Adrian “Sage” Thompson blew for home. I thought this was hunt-speak for “not much action.” But it turned out I’d misheard him.
He’d said “No scent. They just can’t pick up the trails.” Which was a bit sad, really, because according to various informed sources who’d heard it from the great Nigel Peel MFH (who began his career with this hunt) we were hunting over some of the best scenting country anywhere in England.
Quite a bit of it was marsh. At times, it almost felt like being cavalry at Passchendaele. Everyone ended up so mud-spattered we looked like a herd of leopards. But despite the conditions and the lack of sport, we did seem to do an awful lot of insane galloping. This often involved some very slippery right angle turns on the edge of stubble fields that you’d never do if you weren’t hunting.
That’s why we all so love hunting, isn’t it? It’s a license to do naughty things.
When it wasn’t marsh it was South Downs slopes and woodland. I find trees more terrifying than almost anything because you never quite know when it’s safe to look up. Also ditches. These were a first for me and I quickly developed a useful technique: pretend it’s not happening and leave your horse to get on with it. Worked every time.
Only one thing contrived to blemish an otherwise perfect day. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this hunting malarkey I saw a photo of myself at the www.jsbeephotography.com website jumping one of the log obstacles that Rupert Uloth had thoughtfully laid out at the beginning to make up for the lack of jumping on the hunt proper. I can’t even begin to put in writing what I thought I looked like.
About my day
Who: The Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt (“Chid and Lec”)
Where: FitzHall, near Midhurst, West Sussex
On: Sinbad — bomb-proof, committed, happy wherever (although clearly prefers being up near the front), hugely experienced and trustworthy. But he didn’t care whether or not I bashed my leg against posts — and he bolshily rejected my proffered polo mint at the beginning. I love him but I think he might not be all there.
Country: South Downs (-ish): a mix of clay and sand; marsh and sloping woodland. No jumps apart from the ones where our trail took us at the beginning; trappy ditches.
Field: nearer London, so a less rustic, more cosmopolitan crowd than usual. Paul, the field master, is in the entertainment business, which is why the Chid and Lec masters got to feature in Downton Abbey; his partner Robin Muir works at Vogue; Rupert Uloth is deputy editor of Country Life; plus, corporate PRs, a captain of industry, a Mayfair estate agent, a hairdresser to the stars, a trauma nurse (every hunt has to have a nurse!) and a fine collection of enthusiastic children, including lots of Uloths, just starting the Christmas holidays.
Best bits: the speed; the cameraderie; the banter
Worst bits: looking like the fat kid whose mum has made him turn up to school in granny’s hand-knitted novelty Christmas sweater
Lessons learned: when I live my life over again, I must make sure to establish a career where I can afford to hunt three times a week rather than just once a month.