W3C  The Visiting Hunt DO U KNOW?
 

Introduction

Norma Huxtable lives on Exmoor and has written several books, notably "Exmoor Exposed" and "The Last Word on Exmoor", both cracking reads. She is also in demand as a speaker and has broadcast on the radio. We are very grateful to her for donating the following piece.


To find our farm on Exmoor you drive up a steep hill three miles from the village of Dulverton then turn left down a narrow lane at the last telegraph pole. This is known as our dual carriageway, about ten feet wide with grass growing through the central reservation and, runs for just over half a mile. At the bottom end is the farmhouse, ancient and with six letting bedrooms. Not an easy place to find in daylight and well nigh impossible in the dark, in heavy rain, on a rough autumn night. Which is when the Pennine Foxhounds arrived for a hunting weekend.

Being situated in the heart of hunting country we had catered for various hunting folk over the years but this was the first for a whole houseful of them and would happily show, apart from the fun aspect, a nice bit of profit. Somehow the odd one seemed to eat into any profit, like the elderly retired Colonel, bristling with a military moustache, who was a regular visitor, borrowing our pig van to drive to his daily meets.

“Can’t afford to prang the old Bentley don’cher know”, but neglected to leave us the keys to his limousine should we have needed a car in his absence.

He seemed to derive a kick out of driving the pig van, unhampered by technicalities like a handbrake or petrol gauge or even a hooter, He insisted every day on my making sausage sandwiches for him to take for his lunch, not forgetting his dog “No mustard my dear, Pilgrim doesn’t care for it!.

Another hunting man arrived in a three wheeler Robin Reliant which my Farmer / husband / Boss thought to be rather unsuitable to Exmoor hills and valleys and rough tracks. His actual words were “Tis a bloody death trap” So he kindly offered, purely in the interest of the holidaymaker (ha) to drive him hunting every day in our pig van.

I could go on endlessly about my endearing hunting individuals but had better return to my big bonanza (and big profit) with the Pennines.

We were expecting them to arrive in time for dinner at 7-30 but took that with a pinch of snuff knowing what notorious timekeepers hunting folk can be. Nine o clock, ten o clock, midnight, not a sight nor sound, just after three am there was a bang and a clatter and the hound box pulled into the yard with all the followers strung out behind in their cars. It must have been a night mare journey of around three hundred miles in the pouring rain.

The hounds were let out of their lorry and followed their huntsman across the yard to the shed where the Farmer / Husband /Boss had laid out their feed in troughs. They hungrily attacked it but as soon as the huntsman left and pulled the sliding doors shut they charged after him, knocking the doors outwards off the rails and escaping underneath, then howling in full cry across the yard. Three times the huntsman shut them back in and three times they escaped and howled their way across the yard until finally he gave them best and made himself a straw bed and settled down with them for what was left of the night.

Unbelievably, by 7-30 the next morning our hunters were all booted and spurred and eager to commence hunting down our valley having been given permission for this from our own hunt masters.

The charming Master of the Pennine thought they might be a little late for breakfast but in no way did they wish to inconvenience us. Perhaps half an hour?. It was still belting with rain and they could not expect to stay out too long in such a downpour. They finally settled for 9-30 and knowing hunting timekeepers I mentally settled for 10-30, give or take an hour. They arrived back for breakfast at 2-45pm drenched and starving. Their scarlet coats were so weighted down with rainwater I would have needed a winch and pulley to haul them up to the bacon hooks in the kitchen ceiling to drip dry, but the hefty huntsman hoisted them up and rivers cascaded from the jackets and flowed across the flagstones pooling up by the doors. Their boots were full and their hats were sodden and we lined them up on the rack over the Rayburn where they dripped with brisk spots on the hot plate beneath.

The 10-30 breakfasts had long since joined last nights dinners in the pig bucket so I prepared fresh jumbo sized ones together with gallons of scalding tea which I noticed the Farmer /Husband /Boss was generously topping up with whisky, purely medicinal as he didn’t want them catching cold.

That evening, with the hounds securely nailed in their quarters, we took everybody off to the local pub where the local foxhounds had arranged a social evening in their honour including a skittles match, refreshments and a sing-along. The beer flowed, the skittles fell, horns blew “Gone Away” and in the sing-along the visitors greatly impressed with their baritones, tenors and yodellers. It all ended at midnight and the charming Master of the Pennines said he had no wish to inconvenience me but perhaps some of the ladies and gentleman from our own hunt might like to accompany us home for a night cap which resulted in some 40 odd of us packed into our sitting room and very bottle in the store cupboard put into action. At 3am I made tea and sandwiches and at 4am the non-residents growing hoarse from singing made a move for home.

Sunday morning dawned almost before we hit our beds and through the window I could see hounds being exercised in the yard. I was preparing breakfast but slipped off to the sitting room to stoke the fire and returned to find four or five shaggy great fell hounds rampaging through the visitor’s breakfast. Four pounds of sausage and three pounds of bacon had vanished along with the paper they were wrapped in. The door to the dairy was open and with a sudden fear I rushed through. It was justified.

The pack in the dairy had scored heavily over the kitchen marauders with a piece of ox tongue, half a joint of boiled ham, a rib of roast beef and two loaves of sliced bread. Grabbing a broom I literally swept the hounds out of the house. They smashed the cats dish and one managed to shed his load before he made the door. We managed breakfast on our reserves and when they all finally left I told myself that not every landlady has the honour of entertaining a visiting hunt, and then there’s the profit………

Norma Huxtable

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