Hello, sorry this is late; I hope that the wait was worth it. As you may have gathered, over the weekend the Croome and West Warwickshire made their way to West Wales to hunt the Preselis in a joint meet with the Tivyside. I’ve been counting down the days since Tivyside asked me to issue the invitation, and to have the successful weekend over with no problems and lots of happy people is some relief.
Photo cred Rachael Thomas
Of course this was not the first time that the two fields had met, you’ll find the first write up here. Alas, Grey Blue’s hunting career may be over, but few who were there will forget his refusal to clear the rails of Peopleton, and the sight of Bluey’s ginger bottom hopping away from the running field to rescue him.
Back to this weekend. As there were two social evenings ahead I stabled Bluey with E#1 to be closer to the action, and she kindly agreed to drive up to the pub for the first event. We were lagging behind the visitors, having both come from work and sorted the horses, and so I walked in to the sight of both hunts mingling around the bar, glasses in hand. I managed not to shriek with excitement and settled for cheek kissing and a constant repeat of “IcantbelieveyourehereIcantbelieveititsamazingohmygodyoumadeit”.
And some had only just made it- D and T had had radiator issues and had booked the AA to take them home, L had had a blown tyre near Newport (the one with knife crime, not our nice one), and the CWW Huntsman had spent some time driving the hounds around and around Carmarthen, his sat nav unsure how to venture further west. Sadly neither Auntie S not Grandma J had been able to make it, and both Bogey and #DevilDick had put in their apologies. We had two of our lady masters down, one mounted and one following on foot, the Whip B, T, DL, M, J, L, and an assortment of foot followers as well as the huntsman.
Over supper a few of the C lot got stuck in to shots, and D convinced the CWWH and myself to partake. Later a few of them could be found dancing around the pool table… It was a good opportunity to catch up with a few individuals, in ways that you only can when they spent a seminal year in your life with you. These people knew me when I was making that transition from student to adult (still not complete), and so it was unsurprising that I found myself interrogated by L on my relationship status. Incidentally she taught me a very useful thing which I will summarise below.
L: “Are you still seeing X?”
Me: “No, it turns out he was a rather unpleasant man, and society as a whole would benefit if his willy was cut off with a pair of nail scissors”
L: “But did you HAVE FUN?”
And since hearing that I have endeavoured to make it my philosophy, and share it here as a pearl of wisdom for you all to take with you into the murky depths of 2018. The evening progressesd with clarifying the sexuality of some people, chasing up the whereabouts of hunt servants passed, and determining which pet dogs had come down with the sixteen and a half couple of hounds.
Those of you familiar with the ley of West Wales will be aware that the Tivyside share the hill with the mighty Pembrokeshire, and there are occasions when our huntsman has hunted the adjacent valley to his neighbour. While describing this to CWWH I pointed out that if the fog descended his hounds might meet some hairy Welsh mates, but then turned to TH to check on the meet card of our friends.
“They’re in Camrose,” he said, a sly grin appearing “You won’t meet them, but my hounds might.”
“The WB might if she’s on Teddy,” said I, referring to the Croome’s craziest hunt horse- a bright skewbald with a touch of a wall eye, who never seems to have more than two legs on the ground.
The CWWH suggested that we tell the WB that there were moneyed gentlemen out with the Pembrokeshire, and that that information would get her there. For moneyed gentlemen, I replied, she would be better setting her compass for the South Pembrokeshire, and leaving a little earlier.
We left our guests in the safe hands of some more local members, and went back to E#1’s for some sleep before a very busy Saturday!
In the morning I put my grooming skills (yes, all taught to me during my full year away) to use and plaited both Bluey and AJ’s tails. Both horses were keen to get out, and Bluey was in an absolutely foul mood, kicking and biting when I brushed him, and refusing to keep his skin still while I plaited. Eventually I got his side saddle on, both horses were loaded, and we were on our way to our lady master’s house for a breakfast meet.
We had a delicious breakfast, livened up by someone telling me that I shouldn’t shout about G’s triplet “mounting the master” for an upcoming visit, because it would start rumours, and T huntsman calling me a “wet lettuce” for riding side saddle. Both he and D were wearing their new breeches from Side Saddle T, and I was wearing some prototype side saddle breeches she has started making.
Mounted up we enjoyed some mulled wine before the call of “hounds please” went up and the beautiful hounds of the CWW made their way towards the hill and the biggest shock of their lives. There were several horses out from the CWW, and our Riding Master and D were on hirelings from G’s yard, two horses that (we soon discovered) knew the bogs and the rocks very well.
There was a long (and yes, uncomfortable) trot to the first piece of off road riding, and as we went along our lady master pointed out the hills clearly defined beneath the grey sky. After a night of heavy rain it was dry, and we might be able to have a nice view. Success.
From the first field we looped up onto rougher ground, and the horses had to navigate rocks and patches of wet soil between the gorse bushes. We then made our way to the mountain proper, via the cultivated land that has historically acted as summer grazing for sheep (hafod).
Here the visitors had their first taste of bogs- the minor types that go hock deep and splash a bit when you go through them at speed. We found a few gorse bushes to jump, and Death Master confirmed that this week he had both remembered his hip flask and filled it with that awful waste of cherries- the Percy special. To make up for this R had brought along violet gin, and young AP had mint Bailey’s in hers! #winning
The hounds were flying and with some excitement we made our way up the mountain, the fog beginning to make its descent as we negotiated our ascent.
I hadn’t really noticed how steep the hill was until T rode across a little further ahead of me, his saddle sliding across his dun cob. As shouts went up for him to straighten it we could see that it was too late- the saddle had made a 180 degree turn, and he was sitting in the closely cropped winter grass as the dun scrambled up the hill. Horse caught, the Owen brothers helped him back on while the rest of us tried to keep sight of hounds, hunt staff, and our field master in the gloom.
Bluey powered on, side saddle perfectly central, and our lady master commented that it was like a scene from Game of Thrones. I tried to look for our Wildling Chief (see last week’s post) but he was somewhere in the fog.
By this point T and the Owen brothers were nowhere to be seen, and E#1 was also missing, presumably with D and the Dragon Tamer. More worrying, there was no sign of hounds, and for the meantime, worse still, visiting J was on the floor, acquainting himself with bog water, while his chestnut floundered in the depths of a Preseli bog. He came out of it, but was reluctant to remount. Obviously there was no chance of leaving anyone alone on the hill, or expecting anyone to make their way home through the fog, so R and A helped him back on, and we considered our next move.
Death Master told us that evening, that at the Bicester’s joint meet last year, two grown men had cried at this point of the mountain.
Later we found out that hounds were barely 50m away, but the fog was so thick we could see nothing. Our lady master spoke to the visiting huntsman, worked out where hounds were heading, and decided to take us back down the hill rather than pushing on through bogs that would only get deeper, wetter, and more treacherous.
Riding down the slope I remembered once again the story of the South Pembrokeshire side saddle legend who rolled down a hill attached to her saddle on one of the most awfully steep descents of Carmarthenshire’s NYD meet (incidentally, I told her grandson that story as he prepared to hunt with her on Boxing Day, and he had never heard it, so it clearly made more of an impression on me than on him) and unhooked my leg for the descent. Being squashed in a bog by an orange thoroughbred and a bespoke side saddle is not high on my list of ways to bow out of this world. Thankfully Bluey is as sure footed descending the Preselis as he is swift crossing the Peopleton vales, and we made it down, out of the fog, with L loudly telling us that she hates moorland hunting and would much rather a line of massive hedges- good luck getting a hedge to survive the winter on the hill!
On the way down we had collected the Owen brothers and T, who had had another fall after remounting. The Dragon Tamer and his lot (I found out later) had been close enough to hounds to follow them- and they had an interesting time. Jones, carrying the C huntsman, had descended to his head in a bog, meaning that the huntsman had had to get off and wait for him. He was safely out, but a return to the Preselis is being used as a threat of punishment for any future bad behaviour. Teddy too had gone into the bog, but sheer pluck, spirit, and luck had carried him through it at speed.
We made our way across harder ground, watching hounds make their descent beneath the fog cover, and came across a memorably shaped gorse bush. Death Master was just ahead of us at this point and I waved my whip at it as we galloped past.
“Isn’t that YOUR gorse bush?”
“Yes… How do you remember?”
“Because I remember jumping it, side saddle, and of course you sitting on the floor!”
He shouted something back which may have been a warning about a ditch, or possibly the word for a female hound. Not sure.
Catching up with the rest of the field the Croome lot looked like they’d seen active service in the trenches, and all bar the Riding Master and D bid goodnight and were escorted home. Checking that all shoes were attached Bluey and I pushed onwards, my hip flask now empty and my left thigh bruised from the twist of a loose leaping head.
Bluey watching his English hounds crossing his Welsh country
After some recovery time and a steep ascent (I enjoyed telling our visitors that in August I ran five miles up and down these hills for Ras Beca) E#1 and I realised that we needed to hack back in order to have time to wash the horses down and have supper (with her new chap ooooo-er) before the mouse racing. So we bid goodnight and started to hack home with one of the other girls.
I was just showing off by jumping a gorse bush when Riding Master and two of our T joint masters came cantering down a track near us, and we realised that the whole field were heading home. It was a long hack back, and when we went in for a quick drink there were a lot of shellshocked visitors sitting down to cake.
“That was dangerous,” said one of them “And you do it EVERY WEEK.”
That evening saw some entertainment in the form of mouse racing (yes, live mice) and the visitors enjoyed it so much that the mouse man has been invited to the CWW for a social!
I had a chance to speak some more to my English friends, who were keen to host a reciprocal meet, and were determined to get some of our bolder characters up to the Croome- the Italian Stallion made a particular good impression.
“We still miss you Anna,” said one of the foot followers.
“Yes,” I replied “I miss you all too.”
Although my English huntsman had been hinting for years that I should find a joint meet for him in Wales, I never imagined that it would actually happen. I’m not big or important enough to be able to claim credit for it taking place, so here I’d like to offer my own thank yous- to the Tivyside joint masters for initiating the invitation, organising logistics, and laying on entertainment, to the CWW joint masters for accepting the invitation, to the CWW huntsman for bringing his hounds so very far, and for hunting them so well in challenging conditions, to our own huntsman for sacrificing a day with his own hounds, and to both fields for showing exactly why I feel the need to subscribe to both packs. Here is not the place to get too gushy, but I felt very very lucky this weekend to know so many wonderful people, and to have had the privilege of hunting with them all.
Next week we at the Tivyside are taking a trip to the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, which will be the ninth pack of Bluey’s career.
And later on this season I will be going to the Croome and West Warwickshire; because you can stick the girl in a bog, but she’ll never forget where she learnt to jump, to keep up with the field master in a side saddle, and the true meaning of good hunting.
Before then, see you at the Tivyside and the VWH balls.
Good night x