Andrew Sallis: A Christmas disaster averted [H&H VIP]

Hounds are working animals, but they do like people and I like people to like them, too.

I am not a great believer in holding hounds up at a meet — aloof, like a battalion of soldiers — as long as they aren’t raiding the sausage rolls or, worse still, setting off to the first draw unaccompanied.

Most stay nearby and, having said hello to everyone, I know they will all return soon and stare me out in their eagerness to go.

However, 10 years ago when I hunted hounds on the Isle of Wight [before the Hunting Act was enforced], one Christmas morning this relaxed manner almost landed me in trouble.

All hands on deck, we decided to take hounds and horses on mounted exercise. After a couple of miles we took liquid fortification at the local beagles kennels, then it was off to see some friends. They were, I admit, rather surprised to see a pack of hounds on their drive early on Christmas morning.

While we enjoyed a festive dram, hounds were getting bored. With a thundering boom, Barmston announced he had found a fox in some bracken behind the garden. All the hounds flew to his beckon and were soon in full cry.

Shortly afterwards, my kennel-huntsman was cheering on 35 couple of hounds out of the gorse over open country.

It seemed a good idea for a few fields. In the distance, the rising sun sparkled on the sea on a beautiful, crisp morning. Then the “festive haze” cleared and reality hit, as we approached the boundary of a major shoot whose syndicate was anticipating fine sport on Boxing Day.

Hounds were stopped sharpish. We returned to kennels with hounds looking a little confused and a very relieved master. Now that would have taken some explaining to the shoot captain and keeper.

Remember the hunt staff

The hunting calendar reflects the Christmas celebration. The hunt carol service is always popular and plenty of hunting homes will host parties, some more planned than others.

It is a busy time for hunt staff, too. They maintain the establishment, probably hunt a few extra bye days and hopefully save time for a family Christmas.

Don’t forget the hunt staff Christmas box. If you are of a more traditional persuasion and prefer to give it in person rather than to the hunt secretary, please do remember any staff working back in the kennels and stables.

At the end of another year, recent events have reminded me that hunting possesses a deep sense of humanity and care that would be rarely found nor comprehended in any other walk of life.

The unspoken bond between hunting people, many of whom would otherwise have so little in common is profound. It is so misunderstood by our opponents who thought we would wane away.

At the Countryside Rally in 1997, Baroness Ann Mallalieu spoke movingly of hunting as “our music, it is our poetry. It is where many of our best friendships are made, it is our community.”

The treasurer’s necessary concerns aside, it isn’t a club, it isn’t a business and it’s more than a sport. Hunting is a passion, which is why tempers occasionally fray.

But it beats in us all, brings us together and to look after one another, young and old, in increasing numbers.

On the seasonal theme of new life, our first bitch has gone away to a selected stallion hound and several bitches are now booked to visit our doghounds. And so the cycle continues.

Wishing you all the best for 2014 and may you continue to enjoy fine sport.

Andrew