Covid precautions are to the fore on a day with this popular, well-organised pack of bloodhounds, but so are big hedges and a great deal of fun, reports William Cursham
Forty years ago, a north Nottinghamshire farmer named Peter Boddy set up a pack of bloodhounds. At the time, the concept of “hunting the clean boot” was relatively new. Only a few packs existed, including the North Warwickshire and the Isle of Man, from which Peter obtained draft hounds.
The new pack was kennelled at his farm, located near the village of Caunton about 10 miles to the north-west of Newark. The hunt took its name from the farm, Readyfield Farm, and over the next few years established a reputation as a real “kick-on” pack, tackling the biggest of country across Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire
During one of his first seasons, Peter Boddy paid a visit to John Bealby, who farmed at Broomhill Grange, near Edwinstowe, a few miles from Caunton.
“I remember Peter came to see us and asked to cross one of our farms. We said ‘yes’ and as usual as he was leaving, he said, ‘Oh, you will come with us won’t you?’ recounted Robert Bealby, John’s son. “Father had just bought a new horse and he rode that and I had his old one. It was the best day’s hunting of my life and I kept going after that.”
From that moment, Robert was hooked and Broomhill Grange became a staple of the Readyfield’s meet card. The kennels have since moved and are now at joint-master and huntsman Graham Smith’s Fox Covert Farm, but Broomhill Grange remains a favourite fixture. This isn’t just due to the generous hospitality of Robert, his wife Jane and their daughter Helen, but also the wonderful sandy ground.
“It’s a fantastic place, we come here two or three times a year; when everywhere else is hock-deep in mud, we can still come here,” explained Graham.
It was therefore appropriate that the Readyfield’s last meet before the second national Covid lockdown was at Broomhill Grange. Covid protocols were very much in evidence at the meet, with Stuart Young and his daughter Claire on the gates handing out track-and-trace forms. Both Stuart and Claire are stalwarts of the Readyfield, their farm being a second kennels, housing up to 15 couple of puppies.
It’s always a bit of a lottery hunting a horse that you have never ridden before, but with Graham Smith you are guaranteed a quality horse that can jump for England – maybe because it comes from a stable where some horses literally do jump for England (or more precisely, for Great Britain, with his wife Holly).
Graham has a real eye for a horse, having bought Dougie Douglas (Holly’s former top ride), Quarrycrest Echo (Piggy March’s mount at the World Equestrian Games in 2018) and the late Hearts Destiny as youngsters.
Seven high-quality horses piled out of Graham’s box, including Holly’s ride for the day, Daphne Douglas, a full sister to Dougie Douglas. Among them was my ride, a very smart six-year-old chestnut gelding, imaginatively named Barry.
“I used to ride that horse, but when Graham saw me jump a six-foot hedge and ditch, he decided he would ride it,” commented Nicole Lockhead Anderson (pictured), who rides for Holly.
Fifty-five mounted followers had assembled, but social distancing was easily maintained as we were spread out across a large field. Joint-master and field master Andy Brown gave a stern speech, advising us of the Covid measures in place.
Andy was to lead the jumping field, while his partner Emma was leading the “optional jumping” field on the very smart Reginald, the former ride of the late and much-missed Gems McCormick.
Emma was deputising for Jo Bird as “optional jumping” field master: “I’m riding a new horse today so I thought it better not to try to field master!” explained Jo, whose husband Pete also helps out with the hunt.
One of the hallmarks of the Readyfield is its hospitality, so it must have been a wrench for them not to allow the customary stirrup cups, sausage rolls and cakes. Graham and first whipper-in Oscar Wood didn’t hang about and quickly laid hounds on, and off the pack went with their distinctive, spine-tingling “boom”.
Off we galloped into the sweeping arable country of north Nottinghamshire. The picturesque landscape of wide-open spaces dipping into small river valleys, flanked to the north by the mass of Sherwood Forest, belies an industrial past, as the area used to be home to a thriving coal-mining industry.
Indeed, Edwinstowe lies between two former collieries – Thoresby to the north, Clipstone to the south. Both are now disused, but the two Clipstone pit-heads still stand sentinel over their surroundings and provided a constant backdrop to our day.
The area is also known as “the Dukeries”, due to the fact four ducal families owned land here. It is perhaps this aristocratic connection that meant hounds have been hunting this area since the late 17th century. Today, it is hunted by the Grove and Rufford.
It is not a “classic” hunting country but it is very open and the Bealby family have put in countless fences. As hounds hunted in a big loop southwards, we flew across the light ground, popping fence after fence.
After a few minutes, we forded the River Maun, then swung up through the woods towards Edwinstowe. This involved ducking through the trees, but several members of the field, including Mark Shaw and Helen Bealby, emerged with bruises and cuts across their faces.
It is a bit of a myth that bloodhounds go hell for leather. Since they hunt the natural scent of a man (or woman), they are prone to the vagaries of scent in the same way as with traditional hunting. After a quick start, hounds had to work very hard as the scent took them towards the A607 and then left-handed past New Lodge Plantation.
“This sandy ground is great for the horses, but it doesn’t hold scent at all well,” explained Graham as he nudged them on.
We eventually caught up with the quarry, Stephen Byram, just behind Broomhill Grange, where we took our first “check”. Stephen has just taken over quarry duties from the Readyfield’s long-standing quarry, Darren Ridout. He is clearly enjoying the new experience.
“I’m training to be a Royal Marine Reserve, so running across the muddy countryside mirrors what we do in training. Being hunted by a pack of hounds adds extra adrenaline – there’s pressure not to be caught!” he explained.
Sense of excitement
Stephen wasn’t given much time to rest and after a few minutes, we were off again.
“Good hedge coming up!” shouted Graham as hounds struck off the line once again. I was a bit surprised by this because this part of the world is not hedge country – although Graham would probably find a hedge to jump on the moon.
Joking aside, the Readyfield put a tremendous amount of time into improving their country.
“Every Thursday a group of us including Graham, Marcus Hunt, Mark Shaw, the Bealbys and me go out, walking the country, fencing and making it safe,” said Andy Brown.
The Readyfield make an event of this, posting pictures of the team trimming hedges and building fences on Facebook and calling it “Readyfield Thursday”, creating a real sense of excitement about the upcoming day.
Having flown over the beautifully trimmed hedge, we hunted quickly up to the Kings Clipstone road, which we crossed with the assistance of Pete Bird – the Readyfield are very conscious of other road users and always have a steward at crossing points.
There was plenty more to jump as we headed past Lamb Pens Farm and down across the River Maun again. Up front with me was Nicole Lockhead Anderson and Graham’s nine-year-old daughter, Rosie. This was exalted company indeed, as Nicole won a team gold medal at the pony European Championships in 2018 and was part of the junior Nations Cup team last year. But the star of the show was Rosie, who was showing us all how it should be done aboard her lovely grey, Flynn.
We now found ourselves in the thick woodlands above the River Maun. Centuries ago, this was part of the vast Sherwood Forest, but no Robin Hood jumped out of the undergrowth today and on we went, weaving our way at top speed through the trees and careering up and down vertiginous slopes.
After fording the River Maun, hounds broke out into the open once more, hunting northwards in the lea of the forest.
The Readyfield like to end their day with a bang and our last excitement was jumping a hairy-looking hedge. Graham likes the big obstacles to be at the end of a line, so he can stop and watch the thrills and spills that ensue, and so we watched as Andy Brown led the field over this one.
Mark Shaw, Angie James, Sally Aldershaw and Martin Wells tackled it in style, but there was no doubt that Rosie and Flynn received the top mark.
It had been a truly fun day, made even sweeter by the fact that it felt as if we had stolen it from the jaws of the impending second lockdown. The Readyfield’s motto is “kick on” and we had certainly done that today – and no doubt they will be ready to do so again now the restrictions are lifted. Peter Boddy would doubtless have approved.
Joint-masters: Graham Smith, Andy Brown, Mike Atkinson
Huntsman: Graham Smith
Whippers-in: Oscar Wood, Jess Walker, Rosie Smith, Nicole Lockhead Anderson
Kennelman: Stuart Young (and family)
Quarry: Stephen Byrham and Jack Fetherston
Secretary: Marcus and
Visitors: contact joint-master Graham Smith on 07831 531765
Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 December 2020
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