Goodnight – Tessa Waugh’s hunting diary: ‘Autumn dawn magic’ *H&H Plus*

  • Tessa Waugh succeeds in numbing her unease over the creeping lockdown restrictions in the best way possible – an idyllic early morning’s autumn hunting and a happy woodland hack

    We are at it again. Reaching out from beneath the duvet in the small hours to punch the alarm clock before pulling on breeches, slugging from cups of tea and making a dash in the pre-dawn darkness. Autumn hunting mornings never lose their magic; precious hours snatched from the day which are romantic and exciting. Once you have managed to get vertical the worst is over: you roll up in your vehicle, greet your friends quietly from a distance, ride out together in the soft autumn morning. Nothing beats it.

    One morning last week, it was hot and sunny, the air heavy and still. Any old sage would tell you that attempting to hunt a trail in these conditions was doomed to fail.

    “Isn’t this wonderful. We could be in Florida,” remarked James, our glass-half-full master and field master, as we completed a large and steady circuit of two hills before carrying on into the fields below. The hounds were working hard to pick out the trail in fields full of cattle and sheep. It was a joy to see.

    Later on, with the whole day ahead of us, Adam and I sat elbow-to-elbow inhaling boiled eggs and soldiers and going through it blow-by-blow. These early starts have a kind of anaesthetising effect on the psyche, obliterating cares and worries so the rest of the day passes in a jet-lagged blur.

    It’s downtime for the ponies at the moment with the start of the new school term, but yesterday afternoon Jack and I bundled Josh into the lorry and took him down to “the flatlands”, for a ride around the woods with some friends, Frances and her children. Frances’ two have come on apace over the summer and are now off the lead-rein. Hugh, the youngest, happily matched up with Pumpkin, an adorable dish-faced mare with a physique to match her name.

    “Don’t be fooled” warned Frances. “I went in for a cuddle when she arrived and she kicked me on the shin. She hates humans and is as randy as hell but very safe.”

    In this season, the woodland tracks are adorned with mushrooms and toadstools – ominous looking things in pale greens and reds. I wrapped the rope around Josh’s neck, trusting him not to do anything crazy as we wandered along, past a long-abandoned house which stands in the overgrown remains of a garden.

    “I’m sure we won’t be locked down again,” I said blithely as the conversation turned to the inevitable.

    The next day news came through that Northumberland is back in lockdown, with other areas to follow. Life has closed in again and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 1 October 2020