Hunting Diary: Bicester with Whaddon Chase Joint Meet

Two meets and what a contrast! On Tuesday I had a day off in lieu, so headed up to the edge of the Preselis for a midweek outing with the Tivyside. By the time I got there I had a message from the MFH to say that it would be a foot day. I had intentions of saying hello, handing over some gin for an upcoming raffle, and then taking Bluey for a hack around the roads, but I found the secretary after sending some desperate “where on earth are hounds?” messages, and she sent me up a bridlepath and to the huntsman.

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It was a day like no other, as the only mounted follower I headed off with the foot followers and terrier men, and crossed some gorse and bog behind the huntsman. He didn’t know before hand that that part of the country could be accessed mounted, so we did have some use. Its rare that the mounted field spend much time with the terrier men, who are generally a breed apart. Bluey was very well behaved, prompting one of the car followers to describe him as “a pleasure to hunt” and a “gentleman”, which is not a phrase that I often use to describe him. While hounds crossed some trickier ground we waited on the road with the quads, and I let slip to the footies that “the bit of posh posh” can understand them speaking Welsh, which has potentially ruined my fun. However later they offered me coffee and chocolate (there was a full on quad picnic taking place) which was very kind of them, and a first for me. They were less keen to sample my sloe gin. I went home mid- afternoon after the huntsman went up hill and over wire, and there were no gates for me to get through. Bluey isn’t quite at the stage where I can tie him to a post and leave him, so I bid them good night.

And so to yesterday! Rather than one mounted follower, there were over 50, the Bicester with Whaddon Chase bringing hounds and riders, and taking hirelings. The Llandeilo Farmers were also extended an invitation to join the field, and so it was a packed breakfast meet, wonderfully hosted by the MFH.

Bluey and I headed up the night before, and like a true Ciren lad he settled immediately into his new stable. Several bottles of wine later it was 2am, but remarkably I woke sans hangover, without any memory blanks from the night before, and got stuck in to plaiting Bluey.

My side saddle was re-flocked last week by the excellent Helen Reader, and so I was back aside. H decided to take Summer astride, and T from the Llandeilo was up as a guest too, but also came astride as her mare has had some saddle issues.

With horses tied in stables for breakfast we headed to the house. A veritable army of helpers were plating up food and cleaning dishes, and I spotted a chap from my south Carms territory looking for milk to go with his whiskey. I know that a lot of hunt staff and followers go for this concoction, but I really can’t bear the thought of it! The man in question is now following the Banwen Miners, and so is quite used to the boggy treachery of the mountains.

The pale green rat catcher of the Bicester, the light teal collars of the Llandeilo, and a trio of red coats on grey horses made quite a sight as everyone filled an outdoor school for the meet. Stirrup cup, sandwiches, and cake were passed around, and there were several comments about how the Bicester hounds were a very good looking pack, without being too leggy and fine. I know nothing about hounds so will take that as gospel and write it down.

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As you can see from the photo above we had some absolutely stunning scenery. The earlier part of the day was on tracks and roads and I did get a bit of a hammering sitting Bluey’s trot for such a long time. Bluey himself was less than impressed to be somewhere near the back of the field, and as we came across a pack of photographers on the road (it was like being back with the C&WW) he pulled a series of hideous faces. While in the stable he had also picked up some haylage, and refused to leave it go, meaning that for most of the day he was chewing food. This is of course another reason why I will never, ever, be one of those really glamorous side saddle riders, but will always be a bit scruffy.

The Bicester crew were having a great time navigating gorse bushes and exclaiming over the views. About half of them were on hirelings, and one lady had been provided with a pair of safety stirrups. The rubber band came off as we were hacking along, and one of the foot visitors came to the rescue…. With a bit of baler twine. Nothing says “I visited Wales” quite like having your tack held together with baler twine. And this comes from me, who rode side saddle all last season using a stirrup leather held on with baler twine as a balance strap.

The Tivyside close their season in mid- February due to lambing and other constraints of the uplands. As a result I am now panicking slightly at how few days there are left for hunting (even including some invitational meets, and Croome days, I have coming up). Bluey has held up pretty well this season, but looking around at all packs you can now see the horses that have had a hard season and are probably looking forward to a bye day, or the spring grass.

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Regular readers will know that H’s beautiful mare Summer used to have a bit of a dislike for hounds (and dogs in general). On one narrow path hunt staff swept through with the Bicester pack, and she was surrounded. She behaved impeccably! On the same track Bluey decided to rub his head against her moulting bottom, and so his bridle was covered in white hair.

While we waited hip flasks were passed around, Whiskey Mac from the Bicester and the most exquisite raspberry vodka from a Tivyside regular. Mine is currently a mixture of sloe gin and raspberry gin, and remarkably came back safe and sound and was not lost in a bog.

It was with some relief that we got on to the mountain proper and caught up with hounds. The field went for a bit of a gallop and found an inviting gorse bush…. Well inviting unless you were a certain man on a coloured, who found himself sitting in the mud. Once everyone had provided some space a group of us went for a lark over it. Bluey was a bit silly and jumped it from a stand still, but it was fairly wide and high, so we were quite happy. The next obstacle was a stream which came up very quickly. There was a further unintentional dismount here, and then we all pulled up for a while to watch the Bicester hounds working in unfamiliar territory.

Two young followers had made themselves useful with gates, and at this point had wandered off a little to explore. One pony was tied up near a bridge over the stream, and his young master was, it appeared, in or near the stream. One of the whips chose this moment to need to cross the bridge, and it was with some giggling that we saw the pony block the bridge, and the whip smack it on the bottom to get past.

The views on the mountain were spectacular as always on a clear day, and the Bicester visitors were impressed with how well they could see and follow hounds, in their country hunt staff and the pack very often being hidden behind a covert.

We were now on the mountain proper, and the time had come for those of us from the sheltered lowlands to cross bog and stream like the Tivyside natives. Hock deep in black water and peat is not exactly the image that comes to mind when one describes hunting side saddle, but through it we got, Bluey going right down on his hind legs a few times, but generally being sensible and keeping all four shoes on.

The field weaved up and down some very steep slopes, and an earlier comment about the danger of being trapped in a side saddle did stick in my mind. The crew from the Llandeilo made light work of the mountain, being used to the dangers of the Brecon Beacons.

A few of the horses were blowing a little having come up a very steep slope (oh my joy when I realised that I recognised this part of the mountain from a previous Tivyside outing) and so some were relieved to have a check at the top, and pass around hip flasks and sweets (and a few cigarettes).

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am always cold, and so I started to feel the wind at the top of the hill. H was in her thermals but also commenting, so it definitely wasn’t just me! The Tivyside men (and no, I haven’t personally inspected them all before any of you pass comment) tend to wear running or cycling thermal leggings under their breeches, and the women have thermal shirts and trousers. I am now in possession of a thermal stock shirt, but for next season I am seriously considering some long johns, if I can fit them under my breeches after a long summer at grass. These are not things that one needs to worry about when hunting in the Midlands!

Summer had lost a shoe, but was sticking it out very bravely on the soft ground. The Llandeilo pack had had a very long journey (an hour further than me) and so just before 3 we decided to call it a day, knowing that there was a long hack back to the lorries, and the cold was setting in. We were joined by the two young chaps on ponies, one of which rolled twice on the journey home, keeping everyone on their toes!

Bluey had a little jump over an inviting gorse bush on the way back, and we made it down the mountain and past the foot followers to the road. A return spread of food had been put on, but with a little further to hack we headed for home.

It was another hugely enjoyable day with the Tivyside and the very lovely Bicester with Whaddon Chase. My habit is going to need another dry clean after the mountain bogs and streams!

Huge thanks as always to everyone who made it so much fun! There was a social last night which I briefly attended before having to leave, and that too was well attended and looked to be a very pleasant evening.

Next time Bluey and I are back with the Croome & West Warwickshire, and coming up we have a visit to the Cotswold. When you’ve done five packs in a season you might as well make it six… Also a side saddle meet with our friends from the Llandeilo, and I hope I will fulfil my promise to visit the Banwen Miners and the Ross Harriers before their seasons too finish.

Until then, good night x