South of England hunt supporters will be able to enjoy one Boxing Day meet this year in more comfort.
The Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent hunt’s annual meet at Penshurst, Kent, has become so popular the hunt has decided to move to nearby stately home Chiddingstone Castle on health and safety grounds.
Last year, crowds of 2,000 spectators gathered in Penshurst, the hunt’s venue for the past decade, a situation senior master Jeff Pegrum described as “an accident waiting to happen”. With as many as 100 mounted followers and the pack of hounds, a bottleneck of people, cars and animals is unavoidable at the main junction in the village, he said.
“Crowds have grown and grown over the past 10 years — and with houses and walls all around, there is nowhere to go,” said Mr Pegrum. “
When the opportunity came up to move to Chiddingstone Castle, three or four miles away, we grabbed it.”
Although sceptics have pointed out that Chiddingstone village itself has even narrower streets than Penshurst, the 16th-century castle has four acres of lawn to accommodate the horses and spectators without the constraints of brick walls.
Local Larkins ale, mulled wine and mince pies will be served to all-comers in front of the castle.
A committee of local people has been set up to ensure the event runs smoothly, with a parking plan formulated in consultation with the police and parish council, including designated parking areas and signposted walks to the venue.
Master of Foxhounds Association director Alastair Jackson said the move highlighted the rising popularity of hunting.
“This is the inevitable result of increased support for hunting, especially from the public over the Christmas period,” he said. “It is hoped that the Boxing Day meets, in particular, will continue to be held in high-profile venues.”