Matt Ramsden: The cough – and Covid – signal the end of my best laid plans…


  • The fates conspire to keep Matt Ramsden (joint-master and huntsman of the Duke of Beaufort’s since 2016, having spent five years before that at the Bedale) – and his hounds – in kennels...

    NEVER mind Beckford’s lengthy paragraph detailing the necessary attributes of a huntsman; what he fails to mention is that any huntsman, or indeed master of hounds, must be prepared for the absolute worst at all times.

    In the last contribution I made to this column, you were given a detailed account of a hunt which cropped up in my dreams. Following the resumption of our glorious game at the beginning of December, we enjoyed four weeks of sport with a positive consistency rarely granted by Diana, these days anyway. Since the start of lockdown three though, life in sunny Beaufortshire has been the stuff of nightmares.

    The three-month void left by a lack of hunting was filled enthusiastically I suppose, laying hedges and planting up bare spots with gay abandon. These improvements will no doubt make an impact on seasons to come. Yet in the short term, scratching around in the bottom of a hedge with petrol fumes filling the nostrils isn’t quite the same as sailing over the top of it while in pursuit of a pack of hounds.

    Following the sad news that the Wales and Border Counties Hound Show at Builth Wells wouldn’t go ahead, there was a keenness in this part of the world to run something locally instead. The point was that it would give the hounds a chance to see a crowd before Peterborough, particularly this and last years’ unworldly entries.

    I was only too happy to run such a day here in the park at Badminton. How difficult could it be? A ring in a field, a couple of judges, throw in six packs of hounds and a few bottles of pink plonk and we’re away, surely.

    Strangely enough, the whole thing took rather more pulling together than I ever imagined. In fact, if it wasn’t for Badminton’s good-natured farm manager, Roger, we wouldn’t have had any grass short enough for the judges to see the hounds, let alone their feet.

    Nevertheless, two days before, it was ready to go; a pretty ring in a natural amphitheatre beneath the shade of centuries-old beech trees, judges, stewards, programmes, and hounds all ready to go. Then one of ours coughed.

    Thank goodness the dreaded virus made itself known when it did, rather than two days later. The virulence of this particular strain has been harsh and I am ever grateful for such a conscientious kennel-huntsman. Naturally any hope of playing what we thought was a half-decent hand in the shows was dashed. On a personal level though, at least I had judging the doghounds at Peterborough to look forward to.

    This, as is judging anywhere, is a tremendous honour and one to be taken seriously. My co-judge Dominic Jones and I took the time to look at plenty of hounds together in order to get our eyes in as a team.

    Accuracy and efficiency are key on the day and so thorough homework is far from wasteful. It was therefore a further wrench to tell Dom with little notice that I couldn’t judge with him after all, this time on account of Covid.

    And so, it was with a high temperature that I watched the results drift in on my phone, only partially consoled in the knowledge that the rest of hunting England were sweltering away some hundred or so miles away. Sometimes it’s hard to look on the bright side, but fingers crossed our bad luck will exhaust itself before September.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 19 August

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