A favourite film scene of mine has always been the fox hunt which Mary Poppins, Bert the chimney-sweep and Michael and Jane Banks get caught up in while in one of Bert’s chalk pavement pictures. I’m not sure if it is the charming mix of animation and real-life actors, the music or the comical animals that make it so enjoyable for me, even now as an adult.
Recently, we had the opportunity to lurk on the edges of the local Hunt’s Meet, prior to the commencement of the actual hunt itself. Due to the ban on fox-hunting which is in place in England, there were scent trails laid, rather than the hunt searching out an actual fox.
The weather itself was glorious: sunshine beamed down, the breeze was no more than a zephyr and we found ourselves scenting spring on the air, rather than frost and snow.
We walked up to the Lodge and stood on the ha-ha (a walled embankment above a field) to watch the hunt meet. The horses were enormous and high-spirited – great fun to watch – and their riders were decked out in glorious costume. (Not really costume, but the outfits dictated by custom.) We even spotted a lovely lady riding side-saddle in a fabulous skirted riding-habit – quite as if she had stepped from the pages of an Austen novel. Riding hats are merely hats here – not helmets (it’s not even compulsory to wear a bicycle helmet when riding on the road here!) – so there were various modes of headgear: top hats, bonnets; caps etc.
|Taking some final instructions…|
The hounds were brought up after about half an hour or so, by the Master of the Hounds/Kennels, and they were gorgeous. Liver and white and thigh high when standing on all fours they were inquisitive, boisterous and utterly consumed by the need to explore. The home-made sausage rolls and glasses of port being handed around were safe only on horseback or in the hands of the very confident. E was captivated and desperate to get closer to the ‘dogs!’ until he was licked in the face, which made him more timid. (N.B. Never let anyone hear you say ‘Dogs’. They must always be referred to as ‘Hounds’.)
When it was time for the hunt to set off we got to see the Master of the Kennels in action. He had such amazing control of the whole pack of 20 or so hounds that he could look at one who was baying softly and say ‘Shhh’ with his finger to his lips, and the hound would stop. Only once did we see one hound continue, at which point it was flicked on the nose (by the Master, who was on horseback) with a piece of cord, and then it did hush!
The hounds led off the hunt – searching for a scent to follow – and were then followed by the riders. We saw them hither and yon across the estate for most of the day after that and it was a bit of a thrill to hear the horn being winded and to be part of our own Mary Poppins moment.
|E rediscovering sunshine|