John Holliday: Hunts to the rescue [H&H VIP]

  • “The wetter the better” is a phrase frequently uttered by many a hunting sage. This season may have found the limits of that particular maxim.

    I very much doubt anyone in the Taunton Vale, for example, have been trotting out that adage while gazing over the Somerset Levels.

    The politicians have finally waded in, so to speak, with Eric Pickles in charge. He should be worth more than a few sand bags.

    Two Belvoir farmers, Andrew Ward and Simon Hazard, are leading the way in much needed aid, having already sent donations of straw and fodder to the beleaguered south-west.

    A national scheme is now up and running for anyone to supply much needed supplies or cash. Hunts are at the forefront in providing assistance to our farmers in their hour of need.

    For south and west England and Wales, things have moved far beyond it just being “a wet season”, with constant storm conditions.

    For those of us not currently submerged, wild winds have exacerbated the grim hunting conditions. It is difficult for both hound and man to hear what is going on and the whippers-in are constantly detained keeping hounds up together.

    “Take not out your hounds on a windy day” was Peter Beckford’s [a hunting man, landowner and author, born 1740] advice — this season I am inclined to agree.

    The deep, wet ground will take its toll on the horses and stud grooms have their work cut out keeping the show on the road.

    Most seasons include a break for frost or snow, which can give a welcome mid-season respite for horse and hound alike. So far this year, the Belvoir have not had a single frost and have only missed one day, which was due to fog.

    The swollen brooks and dykes have been the most testing of obstacles since Christmas. So far the Helpringham Eau, the Whipling and the Scalford Brooks have each claimed a Belvoir master. Horse and rider on each occasion being totally submerged.

    Perhaps in the interests of the all pervading health and safety, the saddle-mounted wire cutters should be replaced with armbands and a snorkel?

    Good-quality, well-fitted kit is essential in bad weather. Nylon breeches and rubber boots offer scant protection when the Almighty sends “Hail, snow and vapour, wind and rain; fulfilling His word (Psalm 148)”.

    Providing bespoke boots, breeches and coats is a costly exercise, but should be a duty for employers, just as much as it is to provide a decent hat. In turn, it is the duty of hunt staff to look after it, so it lasts the course. It will then be money well spent.

    While taking a post-hunting sip from the cup that cheers and discussing the stormy day, I wandered off into a story about a good hunt I experienced at the Ledbury.

    It was not long before my memory faultered and I had to refer to my diary. As my feeble brain gets older, I find it getting clogged up like an old computer still running on Windows 95. It takes longer to access the information required.

    Keeping a journal of the day is a must for all young huntsmen and they will appreciate the small effort required in later years.

    Written sensibly, it will also provide good evidence in your defence, should you be erroneously accused of breaking the law. More importantly, it may be the only record your hunt has — after all, today’s diary is tomorrow’s social history.

    As I write, the River Thames is also in flood and has overrun the home counties. Expect this to be followed by a deluge of politicians competing to stand in the deepest puddle, which may be even worse.

    London is apparently under threat — perhaps soon we will be sending supplies of sushi and pinot grigio for MPs stranded in their second homes?

    Our thoughts go to those who are suffering.  Homes and farms may be underwater for many weeks and the financial cost to businesses — including hunts — will be great.

    I hope hunting diaries will soon relate a marked upturn in the weather and a few good days to cheer the soul as the last month of the season hoves into view.