Andrew Sallis: Drawing ‘Mrs White’s Bottom’ *H&H VIP

  • Opinion

    One of the charms of learning a new hunt country is the chance to become familiar with farms, their intricacies and how they reflect local and even national history. Tent Hill, a few miles outside Battle in Sussex, might sound like a must-go-to camping destination but the lack of facilities would disappoint most families, other than those content to lie in a surprisingly boggy field on a hillside that still echoes to the songs of Norman invaders, eager to fight King Harold the following morning. I found it impossible to hunt across without imagining the nervous pre-battle clamour a thousand years ago.

    Some names herald from ancient times, others are more recent. Frequently they reflect an oral tradition, such as Erriwig Farm on Arrewig Lane, over which we hunted last week. Both clearly derive from the same Saxon word, but curiously parted in pronunciation and spelling a long time ago.

    Often farmers naturally refer to their coverts and fields by the local or family names with scant regard for your novice understanding. Over time, although it may not be openly acknowledged by the farmer, reference to their land with local terms can vicariously show a respectful empathy and willingness to learn the topography, which is appreciated.

    Such nomenclature doesn’t always make it on to even the most detailed of Ordnance Survey maps. Recently I was advised to draw Mrs White’s Bottom into the wind. Not very Home Counties, I thought. Once I regained sufficient composure, I recalled the treacherous horse-swallowing holes in Mrs White’s Marsh that had to be avoided in my previous hunt country. The eponymous and evidently popular lady also had her own “gorse” in my first country, several hundred miles away.

    On the edge of the Romney Marsh lies an unremarkable, yet exposed bramble bank with no formal name alongside a track, once the sea wall. However, for the past decade any hunting person in the locality has known exactly where “The Porcupine Place” is to be found, having unexpectedly earned its name for obvious reasons. Not far away, on the side of a valley sit Hooker’s Wood and Slut’s Wood. No locals ever provided me with a credible reason for their names.

    Keep the tambourine a’rolling

    Hunting farmers often talk privately of their enjoyment of having a “good nosey” at other farms while out hunting. It is a master’s privilege not only to gain access to such country, but to develop a profound understanding of the landscape over which we hunt. After all, our sport uniquely binds farms together as we hunt from hill to vale, moor to plain.

    Masters and huntsmen throughout the country will be hoping for longer hunts now the handbrake is firmly off and the opening meets have passed. November is, however, often the most frustrating of hunting months.

    Expectations are high, particularly from the uninitiated, but until the frosts have deadened the leaves, the temperature drops and barometer settles to provide consistent scent, most huntsmen will have to keep the “tambourine a’rolling” to entertain the ladies and gentlemen, preferably without kidding the hounds. I don’t want to tempt a deluge but scent won’t be breast-high until the vale ditches are running; then push your hat down and kick on.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 November 2017