Tessa Waugh casts aside her English roots to enjoy a Burns jamboree with the hunt, to find stroked haggis, ferocious auctions and competition for a hike up Northumberland’s summit
Hunt fundraisers: at best a jolly gathering of the like-minded, at worst a grin-and-bear-it endurance test. It’s a constant challenge for every hunt, sexing up the offering to keep the money rolling in, and putting on events that people want to attend.
We’ve had a couple of good ones recently. The hunt dance at Christmas managed to pull in — wait for it — young people. And by young, I mean people in their 20s. Quite a coup. One of Adam’s joint-masters was punching the air.
“They’ve sold enough tickets for the party on Saturday,” he announced joyously, “so they won’t need a pensioners’ table at the disco,” meaning he and his friends were off the hook.
Berwick Rugby Club was our venue that evening. A place, you imagine, that has seen its fair share of festive drinking sessions. An elderly DJ was knocking out old favourites from the ’70s and ’80s sandwiched between some sessions of hardcore reeling — the youngsters can’t get enough of it up here.
The Burns supper last week was another good one, despite some anxious conversations beforehand about the lack of tickets sold. In the end, 50-plus gathered for the traditional grub — haggis, neeps and tatties — with some “Burns-lite” recitations and musical interludes from members of the hunt. It has to be “Burns-lite” because we’re English in the main.
One of the highlights of last year’s supper was hunt supporters’ club chairman George’s impassioned “address to the haggis”, accompanied by some wild flourishing with his knife, raunchy stroking of the haggis (like two buttocks someone offered) before cutting into it. The poor haggis looked like something out of Silent Witness by the time he’d finished.
Meanwhile there was some ferocious bidding in the silent auction for chocolate brownies, jars of home-made marmalade, walking sticks and bigger-ticket items like a night in a shepherd’s hut.
Retired farmer Walter Brown’s Cheviot walk was as hotly contested as ever — as a popular hunt stalwart and all-round good egg, people happily compete to hang out with him.
The Browns have been hefted to this section of the Cheviots for decades and Walter lays on the same winning formula every year: a couple of hours scaling the highest point in Northumberland, the 2,674ft Cheviot massif, then down to the farmhouse to enjoy one of his wife Valerie’s historic teas along with several glasses of Walter’s home-brewed raspberry vodka. A day to remember.
I’m afraid I was slightly “Burnsed out” by the time the speaker Dougie came on in full Scottish rig to tell us about Rabbie’s (Robbie Burns) love of the ladies and fathering of children left right and centre. Quite a relief that Rabbie only lived into his 30s or we might have been there all night.
Ref Horse & Hound; 6 February 2020