At the meet I spoke with the Field Master (who directs the mounted followers in relation to the huntsman and hounds, giving direction as to which gates to enter, what fields are to be avoided, the order jumps are to be taken, and so forth) as to where I might best position myself to catch some "exciting" jumping. Unfortunately either I misunderstood or he gave me poor directions because I never did find the drop hedge on the old railway line that he was talking about though a friend later told me there was plenty of "carnage" there had I found it -- the first time around five people hit the floor (the ground)...ca-ching...chalking up 50 quid for the Huffers Club. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
At 10:45 folks on foot and horseback entered this tidy farmyard and commenced the "meet" [the place where the hounds, mounted followers and foot followers (tho
ugh these days most of the foot followers are in 4wds, cars or on quad bikes) all come together, usually at someone's home or at a farmyard, share mulled wine or port or whiskey, sausage rolls and mince pies, plenty of conversation and a few jokes whilst the hounds and horses get ready to go out in the countryside and have some much-needed exercise].
Anyway, lots of people always show up for this pre-Christmas meet when kids are off school and spirits are high. It's held near a good-sized village near the banks of the River Wye, so it wasn't surprising to drive up over the hills and then down to the river after a cold night to find the whole area shrouded in a fairly dense fog on this biggest jumping (as in horses and their riders soaring over hedges and wooden fences and the like) day of this hunt's season.
While I somehow managed to miss most of the jumping, I was on hand for a couple of exhaustive rounds and it seemed to me that everyone was having a jolly good time; it shows in my photographs.
One young man, a visitor on a coloured horse, reportedly came off an astonishing five (5) times over the course of the day. I missed all five dumps, but I will say that the lad looked like he was having a wonderful time in each of the many photographs I have of him over the day...despite being encrusted in a serious cloak of MUD that he couldn't manage to shake off. He wasn't the only one.
This particuar hunt has what they call a Huffers Club that entitles (demands) whoever falls off his horse for any reason (I think this includes failing to get all the way on as well!) to pay 10 pounds toward a kitty which is used at the end of the year to throw a big all-you-can-drink bash...quite a British idea, I reckon. Anyway I was told by a reliable source that yesterday's activities alone accounted for an additional 180 pounds in the Huffers account!
As the day went on the fog seemed to get denser and at some point it began to drizzle. It was fairly cold, yet running up and down fields with my cameras and climbing over gates and hustling along the muddy railway line had me feeling pretty toasty. Late in the day I came the horses had some good canters on the headlands (verges) of crops of rape and kale and when they paused in a lane the steam rising from them was nothing short of breathtaking. Of course this was when Phil and others pulled out their ever-popular hip flasks and began passing them around. I indulged and had some tasty sloe gin from one and some sort of gin from another...yum.
One thing you can say about this bunch is that they know how to have a good time and they go about riding with a zest that is, well, infectious. They make me want to ride, too (though the Huffers Club would compound in a very grand way should I take to the saddle).
What seemed like a really foggy, impossible sort of day, the kind of day one might stay inside by the fire with a good book turned out to be really fun for a whole lot of people. That's one of the great things about following the hunt...it gets you outside in the fresh air when most other folks are huddled shivering inside. You see the changes of light in a day's time. You visit with other folks, friends and strangers alike. You get to learn the lay of the land and meet the people of a region. You see what the farmers are up to at a given time of year. You see how someone lays a hedge or spy a nest or maybe get
a glimpse of a fox or a hedgehog as they go about their day.
A couple of days ago I called my friend Beryl and we met for a nice lunch at the Blue Boar, a kind of traditional pub in the village. It was delightful. There was a hot coal fire in the open fireplace (see picture) with its lovely oak mantlepiece and a big grandfather's clock just next to it. There were oak pub tables, reading material and a great cup of hot chocolate too. We both enjoyed their potato wedges with ham and stilton sauce and salad. Ah, the good life!