Andrew Sallis: Let the season commence [H&H VIP]

  • Our kennels, built with a true Victorian industrialist’s bounty, were pioneering in their design with airy lodges and low yard walls so the hounds don’t feel like inmates without a view.

    Sadly the dirt track that would have once passed the kennel gate is now a busy rat-run connecting two towns and therefore quite unsuitable for hound exercise.

    Boxing up for exercise each day is required — an all too frequent feature in the routine of an increasing number of hunts.

    Young hounds aren’t robots — nor are older hounds for that matter — and they don’t learn much on exercise if packed in like sardines behind their master for mile after mile as cars whizz past the nervous hunt staff and their charges. Fortunately we don’t have to travel far in order to reach quiet country lanes where you barely see a car for hours.

    Hounds enjoy bicycle exercise (probably more than the creaking hunt staff), sidling up to say “hello” and nudging our hands. For the most part, hounds are creatures of habit and most huntsmen could close their eyes and point to the position of each hound in the pack as they jog down the road.

    Towards the end of the summer, the front rank of ebullient young hounds is joined by a group of older hounds, reasserting themselves as they know what time of year is just around the corner.

    Away from the hunting field, a sunny morning with hounds cycling through the lanes on the Pevensey Marsh is hard to beat. That is, until a flash monsoon arrives, as happened recently while we were exposed on the last “hill” before Normandy, in just a light-weight kennel coat, miles from the lorry and barely able to see a yard in front.

    As August progressed, bikes were eventually exchanged for faithful horses and summer duties have become focused firmly on the start of autumn hunting.  

    By now most hunts will have started as the end of harvest is likely to be a little earlier than the last few seasons. Hounds don’t understand such details, so exercise and education should be channelled to enter the hunting field, whenever that may be, fit and eager but hopefully not having boiled over. Like much in life, timing is key.

    Then the excitement can begin. Early morning trail hunting makes the most of the crisp autumn dew and gives the young hounds the best opportunity to tune in while re-affirming the education of last season’s young entry.

    Slipping away unnoticed

    I have many fond memories of following hounds by bike. When away at school, a Friday evening 5p payphone call in the boarding house corridor to George Adams at the Fitzwilliam kennels, just outside Peterborough, would reveal the location of second horses on the Saturday.

    After lunch I would slip away with a spare set of clothes and a packed dinner and cycle beyond the city to find hounds. Despite signing out for “Town” and returning, bike and boy, caked in mud, I was convinced my ruse fooled the benevolent Housemaster, until he eventually informed me that unless the centre of Peterborough had reverted to a swampy fen I was obviously hunting and he hoped hounds were hunting well.

    Quite rightly, a little more honesty was demanded. George and his staff were always very friendly and helpful, particularly when we ended up miles from anywhere, with my curfew fast approaching.

    For hunting folk, the beginning of the season is a time of great anticipation of fine sport to come, young hounds to enter, friends to meet again and new subscribersto welcome.

    One thing is for certain, it simply can’t be as wet as last year. Surely.

    Our farmers were wonderfully supportive and deserve a more sympathetic winter, for their prosperity and state of mind if nothing else.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (28 August, 2014)