Happy New Year!
And yes, I can say that with full sincerity, because not only is Bluey alive, but he is very well and home after an excellent return to the hunting field.
We missed all the festive and New Year meets, but I’ve kept busy with shooting, modelling wedding dresses (really), and attending the social side of the Christmas season, if not the ridden. Meanwhile Bluey has been stuffing himself with food, racing around hacks, and trying to prove that he has a few more seasons in him!
Today’s forecast was for horrendous rain, and so I wasn’t too surprised to see the sea disappear into the fog as I drove up the hill to the parking space. It was time to shelter in the car with my hip flask, willing someone else to appear, as up there there is no signal and I was a little concerned that the meet would be cancelled belatedly. Secretary S saved the day by rocking up in her lorry, giving me some black coffee (I was literally buzzing off that for the next couple of hours), and eating some porridge before she and her lovely cob Buster had to dash off to the meet to collect cap.
Full English and E turned up a little later, both horses having decided to load happily that morning. We were all on board and tracing SS’s hoof prints down the bridlepath just as another trailer could be seen through the mist; my colleague L, who we had assumed was unable to come, had arrived. Once she was mounted we set off again, Bluey having a little buck as we cantered across some grass. There were cattle in the field, grazing the mountain, and they were completely unperturbed by our presence. A few rockier tracks, some gates, and we were hacking into the yard, where we were first greeted by a pack of camouflage- wearing Irishmen, propped up on sticks, and obviously looking forward to a day following on foot.
It was a busy little meet with all of the visiting Irish looking vaguely sinister in their galoshes and wet weather gear, and our numbers swelled by a couple of visitors from the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, and from neighbouring packs. One such visitor was R, who rode Bluey out when he was racing. Another of her former charges was also hunting, and she was impressed later to see her two old friends overtake on either side to lead the field across the hill.
Our hosts put on some excellent- and very strong- mulled wine (most definitely not just wine), and the sandwiches were clearly excellent if the hounds dashing after spilled ones where anything to judge by! After reminding us that the Croome are visiting NEXT WEEK (!!!!!!) we moved off, our lady master acting as field master and Bluey and his friends pushing for the front.
Once hounds were away they were gone- the fog was down and the rain fat, and there was no way to see where they were or what they were doing. The day therefore turned inevitably into what some people would refer to as a jolly; lots of galloping around the mountain, trying to see hounds, and listening against the wind for the music showing that they had picked up the laid trail.
We set off jumping some gorse bushes, Bluey right at the front and Prince enjoying his jumping just behind. After a hip flask stop (my glittery flask much admired, Death Master’s forgotten flask less so) we were off again, running upsides a stone wall I recognised from autumn hunting, where we had jumped it!
However this time we rode around to the other side, and when I shouted at Tivyside, who was whipping in, he declined to jump it on his borrowed horse either. By now everyone was wet and E and Full English were contemplating returning to their car to pull out waterproof coats. Death Master sidled over and requested our presence at a hunt auction for next weekend’s social. We were rather confused and started to enquire what exactly was being auctioned off; apparently we just had to show the prizes to the room, and he was rather taken aback that we had such thoughts- I reminded him of my long history with the Carmarthenshire and their wild and wicked ways (in a good and very funny way- male followers losing most of their clothes at hunt balls etc) and he understood why my mind was focussed on such filth.
Since my last outing a nice post and rails had been erected next to a gate on the bridleway. Our LM and a Bicester visitor popped over it while the rest of us were still fumbling with hip flasks, and so there was a little lull while we all decided what to do. R was starting to gather Sparkie (twenty seasons of hunting with the Tivyside under the careful watch of the Dragon Tamer and family- the horse deserves his own buttons) up and ask if he could jump, so I made the brave decision to lead the field on Bluey.
“Oh excellent, Anna can give us a lead!”
Of the many lessons I learnt at the Croome (how to clean twelve saddles in an evening, how many shots of port force me to give a monologue of my innermost secrets, the wrong girth on the huntsman’s horse will make him fall off, I can do the splits at a hunt ball if I have enough prosecco before hand) the most practical was to teach Bluey to hop any rail up to about three foot from any pace, including a halt. So it was we jogged up to it, popped over, and led five brave souls through the fog to our waiting field master.
I anticipated carnage behind as it was just me, R, L, and a visitor from the Pembs who had gotten over. Apparently though, the rest of the field were just confused about the task of opening the gate….. Eventually they found us, but by that point we had drank my hip flask almost dry, found a sheep’s skeleton, and Bluey had had some of his past crimes examined (constantly slobbering over every stable lad who came near him, being a little bugger to teach to jump, generally assuming an air of superiority even though he is 15.2hh and orange).
Some more cantering around, some teasing about my breeches (not everyone understands fashion- they’ll not be laughing when the trend for elephant ears truly passes from the smart packs to West Wales), and L lost the lash of her whip in some gorse.
The Irish were still following, an eerie spectacle through the mist, and joined by AG and his sons, mounted and somehow lagging behind despite having been present on foot at the meet. Full English made an amusing remark about the horses and walkers in the mist being “wildlings” which had us all in stitches because the sight really was like something from a fantasy novel with the swirling fog, outlined horses, staff- holding Irishmen, and bleak mountain scenery.
Another round of galloping, with Bluey joyfully overtaking the field master (send me home! Ban me from the committee!) saw us lose Full English and E, who had tried to follow us after returning with raincoats, and had lost us in the fog. Once pulled up the huntsman and whips were contacted and the decision was made to turn for home- the risk of losing a hound was too great.
Once back at the trailers we had more drama, SS’s lorry locked with the key in the ignition and the engine running, blocking in several other vehicles. Help was summoned and meanwhile hounds were rounded up. The three of us watched with amusement from the cab of E’s car, prompting more amusing comments (some people really can’t see three women together without making naughty remarks). Hounds rounded up, SS on her way, and horses loaded, we decided to stop in Newport for a Thai green curry at a very excellent pub.
Next time I will be writing it will be in the aftermath of THE BEST JOINT MEET IN THE HISTORY OF HUNTING IN ENGLAND AND WALES, when my English pack, the Croome and West Warwickshire, will be making their way to the hill to hunt. The word “excited” doesn’t quite cut it, and Bluey will obviously be so happy to see his old friends and show them his new country. After that we have a hiatus for the hunt ball, a visit to the Bicester, and then visits planned to our neighbours, as well as the possibility of a group jaunt to the C&WW (or a solo one if that fails).
Good night x