A peaceful stroll with friends across the undulating grassy fields surrounding the tiny Wiltshire village of Berwick Saint John was abruptly interrupted when we became aware of a dull rhythmic rumbling – a thundering sound that was relentlessly drawing closer and closer towards us. Then we heard the sound of joyous barking.
Suddenly over the crest of a hill a large gang of dogs followed by a massive throng of horses and riders appeared – heading straight for us. It was the local hunt!
Remarkably, this was the first time that our hosts Meryon and Suzy and mutual friends Tim and Pim had ever seen this uniquely British sight despite their innumerable walks through the English countryside over many years.
Now I would be the first person to be totally revolted by a gang of riders and a pack of hounds intent on chasing a terrified fox and ending its life in a most inhumane way. However, this was a drag hunt with no animal being chased and I have to admit the sight of the dashing horses and baying hounds was truly breathtaking. (Note: I acknowledge drag hunts can inadvertently end up with attacks on wild animals occurring and do not condone this.)
It seemed to me that the people on this hunt were perfectly happy to trail the hounds who were following a scent that had been dragged over the fields by a human. Horses, hounds and people were thoroughly enjoying just being outside on this splendid day (see video)
As a horse lover it was magnificent to see mounts of all shapes and sizes (and colours) enjoying being part of a herd, cantering up hill and down dale in the fresh crisp air of early spring.
The humans were also having a ball and were of very different shapes and sizes – from the tall and regal looking red coated master of the hunt to the black hacking jacketed, red cheeked and beplaited little girls on their Thelwell ponies and the hefty, strong and tweedy farm labourers on their sturdy steeds – and everything between.
The dogs too looked overjoyed to be running with their pack through the countryside at top speed.
For a little while, dogs, horses and people stopped for a break on a flat piece of land where we happened to be standing – close to where the farmer who owned the land was sitting on his tractor.
The hunt master chatted with the farmer, asking if the sheep in the field below would be worried by the hunt and having a general chat about the weather, the turnout etc
While they were resting the horses, the riders conversed amongst themselves catching up on the usual topics – family, friends, work etc.
Then the dogs were off again encouraged by the harsh tooting of the Master of the Hound’s long brass horn. The hunt participants followed the urgent blasts – some cantering, some at a trot and others, tired from the morning’s exertions, taking up the rear at a dignified walking pace.
When the air was still again and peace restored we resumed our walk and agreed that whatever the rights or wrongs of drag hunting, meeting the hunt completely by chance had been an incredible and unique experience.
We had arrived at the Dorset port of Poole from Cherbourg just that morning after a restful but windy crossing.
The trip to Cherbourg from St Georges de Didonne had been easy and we had a very pleasant stop in Mariel-Sur-ley-Dissais where we bought delicious bread and even more delicious pastries.
Our early arrival in Cherbourg had allowed time for a quick stroll, a hasty shop for various cheeses and lunch at a North African cafe near the port before heading to the ferry.
Originally we had been scheduled to depart France in the late afternoon but only found out after we arrived and were sitting at the head of a non-existent queue that the crossing had been rescheduled and would be leaving around midnight.
We were fortunate to be offered a double room with en-suite at a vastly reduced cost in compensation for the time change so we arrived in Poole feeling very fresh early the next morning having slept most of the way over on the almost empty ferry.
It was wonderful to catch up with our four friends who we had originally met on the Sail Indonesia Rally in 2015. We had a great time together eating wonderful home cooked food, drinking wine and talking, talking, talking.
That night we were very glad to be parked in the front drive of Meryon and Suzy’s beautiful home sheltered from the ferocious overnight storm that brought down trees, caused floods throughout the country and had wreaked havoc on the roads.
Please note: We are/were not travelling at the time of Corona Virus – this blog is from some weeks previous when we were all free to travel at will!
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