These characterful bloodhounds put on a fast-paced day for the enthusiastic field, with plenty of jumping and fun to be had by everyone reports Will Cursham following the meet at Temple House in Lincolnshire
It may seem unlikely, but the Cranwell Bloodhounds were founded by the late Phil Broughton and his wife Wendy as a result of a children’s television programme.
“One day Phil was at a friend’s house and a Channel 4 kids’ programme called It’s a Dog’s Life was on the TV,” recounted Wendy. “Each week they featured different dogs and that week they featured the Coakham Bloodhounds.
When Phil saw the bloodhounds baying and the horses jumping, he just loved it.”
Phil and Wendy immediately went about setting up their own pack of bloodhounds: “It was 1992 and we went to visit every pack of bloodhounds we could, to get an idea of what would be involved,” recalled Wendy.
Eventually, they got drafts from the Windsor Forest Bloodhounds and the Farmers Bloodhounds, and kennelled them at their home in Cranwell in Lincolnshire. The new pack quickly established itself and Phil came to be a prominent member of the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association, acting as its vice-chairman before serving as chairman for six years. As well as being joint-master, Phil hunted hounds, with the assistance of Wendy and kennel-huntsman Frank Goddard.
The Cranwell Bloodhounds were regular entrants in the bloodhound classes at Peterborough, their crowning glories being reserve champion with Midnight in 2017 and champion with Marmite in 2018. It was only a few months after their last Peterborough success that tragedy struck.
“We lost Phil two years ago in September 2018, out hunting.
You go out with them, but come back without them. It was horrible,” said Wendy.
“It was a difficult decision to carry on without him. For a while we limped on, because people just wanted us to carry on and then I had a moment of inspiration. I asked neighbour Ben Wills if he could join me as a master. Luckily, he said he’d be delighted to. He and his wife Claire have been fantastic; there is no way I could have carried on without them.”
Ten years ago, Phil and Wendy moved to their magnificent house at Temple House, near Temple Bruer in Lincolnshire. Hounds moved with them and are kept in kennels next to the horses. Every year, they hold their opening meet here and 2020 was to be no exception – until Covid hit.
My visit was supposed to be at the usual time in November, but of course the second lockdown put paid to that, so it wasn’t until late December that I eventually found myself at Temple House to attend the rescheduled opening meet.
One of the benefits of being early to a meet is the opportunity to see behind the scenes first, and Wendy introduced me to huntsman Frank Goddard and the hounds. Frank has been with Cranwell since the beginning.
“I started in 1992. I did a youth training scheme from college, then the Cranwell took me on as kennel-huntsman,” he explained. “Apart from a one-year break when I went to a foxhound pack in Worcestershire, I have been with the Cranwell ever since. I was kennel-huntsman until Phil died, then I was appointed huntsman.”
Despite his longevity of service, Frank has the enthusiasm of a new recruit. Not only does he perform his duties as huntsman, he also organises the day’s hunting. The Cranwell invest a huge amount of effort setting up for a day, meticulously planning the “lines” and constructing fences. For today,
Frank had built 40 fences, photos of which he posted on the Cranwell’s Facebook page, to whip up excitement among its 2,500 Facebook followers.
Frank may be busy, but he was immaculately turned out, with buttons and boots shining and red coat with yellow collar spotless.
His whippers-in, who include his wife Lisa, Chris Lightfoot and Wendy, were similarly turned-out to the highest order.
“We have 16 couple here, a lot of old ones – we haven’t bred for a while, since Phil died. I normally try to take 10 couple out, but today I will struggle for seven, because ironically we now have several bitches coming into season,” Frank told me. “Bloodhounds are a lot harder to handle than foxhounds. Foxhounds are pack animals. Bloodhounds are all their own individual characters, and the odd one will just wander off. You have to have eyes at the back of your head or they will just disappear!”
A booming crescendo
Hounds could tell when they were about to be let out, because a great booming crescendo arose that put my hunter, Harold, on his toes as we hacked around the corner to the “meet”, where around 50 mounted followers had gathered despite being battered by sheets of heavy rain and gusty winds. Temple House is the ideal venue for a Covid-compliant opening meet, because followers can spread themselves out over the huge open field in which Temple House sits.
With no stirrup cup, it was left to joint-master Ben Wills to give a brief speech thanking the farmers and reminding us of Covid restrictions. We also observed a minute’s silence, in memory of the Cranwell’s amateur whipper-in, Terry Fletcher, who died recently.
“He was out hunting with us at Digby on the Sunday, on his grey Hugo, with his usual beaming smiley face, then on Wednesday he was gone. It is so sad,” said Wendy as we moved off.
The Cranwell are a little more measured than some bloodhound and draghound packs. Instead of tearing off straight from the meet, they “warm-up” with a hack to the first line. This gave me the opportunity to catch up with Ben, now in his second season as joint-master. He farms locally and knows the area inside out.
“This area is known as ‘the Heath’ and it is limestone, which means that the land is very light. It drains well and when it is too wet everywhere else, it is perfect here. The farmers around here are brilliant, too,” he said.
It is also an area where the Cranwell have been able to put in countless fences.
“There is lots of jumping today, but not all days are like this. When we go out on the Fens, it is mostly ditches; on other days, we don’t jump at all. There is something for everyone,” he added.
Soon it was time for the action to begin and Frank laid hounds on to the scent of the “quarry”, Jordan Williams. After casting about for a little while, they struck up beautifully. The field split into two parts, the jumping field following field master Danielle Longotano-Rain and the non-jumpers following Lena Carter.
The hounds had kicked into gear now and Danielle led us at a strong pace, with fences coming thick and fast. The obstacles alternated between logs and artificial fences, which were situated in the middle of the fields, and neatly trimmed – and sometimes quite tall – hedges in the fence-lines. All had been prepared by Frank and his team.
The first hedge caused the type of mayhem that you would expect to see on a particularly hectic Shires opening meet, with horses refusing and running out left, right and centre. Luckily, Tessa Ridings and Rianna Dunn managed to steer through the chaos and jump it in style, giving the rest of us a lead.
Such was the fast pace, the first line became a blur of galloping, jumping and the occasional snatched conversation. It was hard to keep track of where we were, but I was aided by the presence of the ancient Knights’ Templar tower, which was once part of a great Knights’ Templar preceptory (monastery) and
which now dominates the surrounding countryside.
Hounds racing on
There were four lines in total, which took us in a broad arc to the north of Temple Bruer, then swinging southwards to Brauncewell and back again. We could always see hounds hunting just in front of us, sometimes racing on, and sometimes faltering and casting.
“Our quarry Jordan is a bit unpredictable. He doesn’t always go exactly where he is supposed to, and he also puts in a few right-angle turns, which the lead hounds tend to overshoot, until they are corrected by the steadier ones. But this makes it more fun,” observed joint-master Ben.
There was little time to chat to fellow members of the field while hounds were hunting, but fortunately the Cranwell have short hacks between each line, which gave me the opportunity to catch up with a few followers. Among them were Helena Robertson, who has been hunting with the Cranwell since she was nine, Libby Faulkner, who was riding her marvellous Highland pony Rory, and Pony Clubbers Zara Lovelock, Grace Thompson, Phoebe Lyle and Freya Warren.
By the end of the day, we had jumped more than 40 fences and it was something of a miracle that there were only two fallers – Emma Message and Gracie de la Haye, whose horse Jackson took what Gracie described as a “self-guided tour of Lincolnshire”. Mercifully, no harm was done.
With the rain still lashing down over the Heath, Frank blew for home and we hacked back to Temple House.
“Light-hearted fun in the countryside on Sunday afternoon, that’s how I’d describe hunting with the Cranwell,” said Wendy as we washed our horses off.
That certainly summarised my day, although Harold will probably have to go and lie down in a darkened stable for a while, so exciting did he find it.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 31 December 2020
You may also be interested in:
Although jumping big hedges and crossing country that you wouldn't usually have access to can be some of the things
We asked our H&H hunting writers and columnists for their best memories of hunting over Christmas. Here are our favourites...