A surprise hunting holiday

Surprise Hunting Holiday

15 August was a really exciting day for us. Partly because we were mid-way through running a holiday and spending a sunny horseback day in the Dorset hills, principally because we knew that miles away in New York, someone was about to get a really nice surprise.

The story of this surprise starts some months earlier this summer when a gentleman got in touch with some thoughts on a hunting holiday for his daughter to celebrate her graduation. Now the current climate makes leading people through JFK international airport in blindfolds a bit tricky, so we were presented with the challenge of how the trip might be unveiled with some degree of fanfare.

The solution was to send a parcel of clues that opened in order would reveal the surprise, a parcel be opened on 15 August – the lucky girl’s birthday!

We worked with her Dad to find a selection of really special gifts that would all relate in some way to a trip to England, horses or the world of foxhunting. We were so delighted with the result we thought we’d put some photos up to show you:

Foxhunting Gifts

As you can see each present is wrapped individually and numbered. We thought quite hard about the order the gifts should be discovered so that the surprise wouldn’t be given away too quickly! The tags took ages!!!

Blackthorn & Brook Mug

One of the gifts we were most chuffed with was this beautiful Blackthorn & Brook mug. Among the other pressies was a smart cotton stock and pin from our friends at The Hunting Stock Market, a fine folio edition of Sassoon’s ‘Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man’, Fortnum’s English Hunting Biscuits and union jack bunting. The framed print is Lucy Glitters showing the chaps over a tricky place!

Blackthorn & Brook gifts

Stand by for some photos of our lucky guest opening the parcel!!

All in all we thought this was a fantastic way of getting excited about an upcoming holiday and a wonderful way to treat someone to a trip of a lifetime. I think it has potential for all sorts of high-days and holidays – from wedding presents to anniversaries, birthdays to valentines! Let us know if you’d like to give someone a hunting holiday surprise!

Blackthorn and Brook foxhunting gifts


Un oeuf is enough!

An integral part of any Blackthorn & Brook holiday is the food that fuels the equine activities.

We are extremely proud of the gastronomy in the area, and love taking our guests to the best eateries in the Westcountry (often the best kept secrets). Restaurants, fish & chip shops, tea rooms: you name it, we’ve tested them out (it’s a hard life!)

However, there is one particular gastronomic delight that has attracted more attention than the finest dining on offer: my dear mum’s scotch eggs.  Served as part of our lavish picnics on day-long rides in the countryside, there is nothing better than a perfectly soft-boiled bantam egg in a coat of local pork sausage meat with a crispy  breadcrumb shell – the perfect riding fuel!


Mum’s scotch eggs as the centre piece of a recent Blackthorn & Brook picnic alongside savoury scones and smoked salmon sandwiches, washed down with plenty of Pimms!

These little beauties often attract more attention than the scones, local cream and homemade strawberry jam, piles of homemade cakes or jugs of chilled, fruity Pimms or frothing champagne.   Why? I think they have to be tasted to be believed!

 

Thanks to mum’s bantams, too!

To make your own, you will need:

10oz Minced pork

10oz Good quality sausage meat

1 tsp Mixed herbs

4 soft-boiled eggs

flour for dusting

1 egg, beaten

5oz fresh white breadcrumbs

 

Method:

Mix pork, sausage meat and herbs

Divide the mixture into four parts and press firmly around the peeled eggs to form a even layer about half an inch thick

Roll the balls in flour, dip in beaten egg and coat with breadcrumbs

Deep fry at 180˚c for ten minutes until golden brown


Wells at the Weekend

Luxury Riding Holidays

Wells on a sunnier day than Sunday!

With so much fun to be had on a horse in the West Country, one often overlooks some of the area’s other attractions. This weekend, however, showers were forecast and I decided to leave the nags at home and revisit one of Somerset’s cities.

Vicar's Close, Wells

The Vicar’s Close in Wells

Wells is England’s smallest city, and if truth be told, it feels more like a village as you emerge from wooded country lanes into its quiet back streets. Meandering in on the back lanes from Shepton Mallet, the sight of the cathedral rising from valley as you round a wooded hill is truly astonishing.

Although a busy school town with bustling markets twice a week, on a wet Sunday afternoon the city was nearly deserted. Clear above quiet streets the bells rung for Evensong. We hurried in, crossing the cathedral green with a platoon of cassocked choir boys hot on our tail!

The astronomical clock on the North face of the Cathedral. Read about it here

A review of Wells’ history and traditions is probably best left to Megan, who spent her school days here. Going on instinct alone though, it does have a wonderful feel of permanence and history – the Vicar’s Close is the longest continually inhabited street in the country.

With its collegiate squares and ornate Early-English stonework it has echoes of Oxford or Cambridge without the tourists. What does surprise me (and leave me feeling a little guilty) is that this wonderful city is only minutes from my daily rat runs! This is a definitive reminder to put Wells firmly in future itineraries – I can think of nothing nicer than a pootle round these historic streets, a cup of tea at a good cafe and a large slice of cake!


Condé Nast: The Experts (an addition!)

Conde Nast published a small supplement last month called The Experts, a little black book of luxury travel agents. There are of course a few notable absences.

Being off the beaten track is, of course, one of the great joys of travel and discovery. I’m sure for some the thought that their favourite guides and hoteliers aren’t common knowledge maintains an air of exclusivity and that delightful sensation of enjoying a well kept secret.

Condé Nast: The Experts

But whilst I like a good secret as much as the next chap, I couldn’t help feeling that there was someone unmissable missing from the Condé Nast bible.

So, here I am, putting matters right and adding my own personal addendum to ‘The Experts‘.

Hugh MacDermott, Argentina

Haughty and hostile Argentina’s gauchos are infamously unapproachable. We might love to dream of hitting the pampa like a hard-bitten horseman, but these 21st century cowboys don’t provide much of a welcome for tourists. That is, unless you’re Hugh MacDermott.

Hugh earned the reluctant respect of the gauchos by way of an old-school, backwoods rite of passage. Some 10 years ago, armed  with little more than basic Spanish and a poncho, he bought two horses and mule in Buenos Aires and made the epic trip across the Andes to Chile and then up to the wild provinces of Salta and Tucuman near Bolivia.

This 2000 mile adventure won him a fabulous understanding of the country, endless gripping fireside stories and, all importantly, that gilt-edged ticket to the fraternity of the gaucho.

An adventure with Hugh

So, in condensed Conde Nast style, MacDermott’s Argentina is the key to the true wild west. His trips range across the Southern Cone and provide the ideal mix of horse-back adventure, luxury ranch hospitality and an authentic slice of this land and its people.

On the trip Hugh organised for me and my family we rode in the foothills of Aconcagua with Daniel, a gaucho who runs his cattle on the slopes there. We drank traditional mate tea, dined with his family on barbequed calf and listened rapt to tales of a life in the saddle. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable day. The incredible thing is that Hugh deals in this sort of experience trip after trip.

To find out more check out his website here: He also has a cracking blog that chronicles his adventures.

 

 

 

 

 


Why hunt in the UK?

For most people outside of the small world of foxhunting on the British Isles, the question of how the sport functions in 2013 remains somewhat of a mystery.

Significant global coverage of the debate about the sport means most people are aware of the controversy around foxhunting and of the 2004 Hunting Act.

What perhaps is not so evident is how British hunts have adapted to life under the ban; why people can continue to enjoy hunting in England and (significantly in our business as a tour operator) why it still makes sense to come here to ride to hounds. In this piece, I am going to look at why we love foxhunting in England and why we think the sport has a brilliant future.

Why hunt?

A busy Boxing Day meet – a prime chance for people to rally behind hunting.

Perhaps the greatest surprise is that yes, most of Britain’s hunts continue to operate under the ban, and in terms of the day out on horseback we all enjoy, it is pretty much business as usual.

Hunts have worked hard to adapt to hunting under the ban: developing strategies to work within the law, investing in their countryside management and developing innovative approaches to providing a rewarding day out for riders, foot-followers and hunt supporters in general.

This widely has been a change for good and is reflected in growing support for hunts as a vital element of the rural and agricultural milieu. A recent study by the Countryside Alliance has shown that since the ban the UK’s foxhunts are enjoying a renaissance ‘with more riders than ever […] coming into the sport, more hounds being bred [and] more people being employed in the industry’.

It has also pulled once archaic institutions firmly into the 21st century. The post-ban hunt is a more welcoming place. Widening support is at the top of the agenda and so hunts embrace visitors, new-comers and children with wholehearted enthusiasm. These, after all, are the people that represent the future of the sport.

Greater efforts to expand the positive reach of hunting means improved relationships with the environment, farmers and landowners, pony clubs, ramblers and the racing world. This bridge-building places you – as a foxhunter – within a broad family of people who respect our countryside, conserve its customs and recognise the importance of balancing conservation with a robust rural economy.

Finally post-ban hunting is a much less confrontational pursuit than it once was. Yes, many hunts continue to be observed by professional or serious amateur hunt monitors, but the antagonism and animosity characteristic of the pre-ban era is largely forgotten as the debate moves from the political arena to the legal sphere.

There is a good article about how hunts have ‘beaten the ban and thrived’ on the Guardian website. A newspaper – it is worth noting – that wouldn’t typically favour the hunting community.

Act Facts

  • The 2004 Hunting Act outlaws the hunting of live mammals with dogs.
  • So far five cases have been brought to court via private prosecution.
  • Two of these cases have been acquitted at appeal.
  • The successful prosecutions have been against hunt officials from the Fernie Hunt (2011), Crawley & Horsham Hunt (2012) and the Heythrop Hunt (2012)

So despite the complexities of the law and the challenges of running hunts in the 21st century we believe that foxhunting plays a vital part in the cultural, social and economic life of Britain’s countryside.

That’s why we want to work in the world of foxhunting and that’s why we want to share it.

Foxhunting in the UK may have changed, but it is a living breathing world. It is a world of fun and friendship, challenge and excitement, beauty and tradition and a world very much worth exploring.


A Foray into the New Forest

The New Forest Hunt was meeting towards the north of their country, not far from Fordingbridge, about an hour and a half’s drive away.  I always love a day’s visiting, seeing ‘how the other half lives’, and so we accepted the kind invitiation made over Christmas dinner from my aunt Judy Sharrock, a New Forset subscriber, and set off . Judy introduced us to the Masters and 30-strong field before we hacked from our forest car park to the very generous meet hosted by the team at Arniss Equestrian where three choices of port, vol-au-vents and mugs of soup set us up for the day.

It was a busy day for hounds, and we enjoyed crossing the country with only the odd gorse bush blocking our path, I think we came across two gates and one road all day.  As joint MFH Alan Brown reminded us, this is hunting as it would have been in the old days: William the Conqueror, after winning the battle of Hastings in 1066 created the New Forest as his personal hunting ground, and crossing the country, without a road or fence in sight, you really are transported back  to those times.

A good view of hounds – a tight pack that tried hard all day

We both particularly enjoyed how field master Paul Ames, very well mounted on an excellent forest pony, kept us well in touch with hounds, who worked hard all day to find the trails.  The pack was small in number, but very fast, and we had some lovely runs across the heathland, with the odd ‘hold hard’ from Paul preventing us from ending up hock-deep in a bog.

We saw some lovely New Forest ponies – perfectly suited to crossing the country

Much of the field was mounted on forest ponies, clearly very adept at crossing the open moorland, dodging gorge bushes and bogs, and scooting under the low branches of the beautiful silver birches and beech trees in the forest.  Our two hunters, all of 6 inches bigger than the local horses, and more used to hedges than heathland and forest, adapted very well to the new going, and they seemed to enjoy the wide open spaces as much as we did.

Driving home, we both agreed that the cheerful crowd, scenic country and great sport made our day with the New Forest Hunt one to remember.  Thank you very much to Judy, Masters Alan Brown and Paul Ames for the invitation, Huntsman Michael Woodhouse for showing such good sport, and Secretary Graham and everyone in the field for making us so welcome – we are already looking forward to our next trip!

 


Boxing Day meet at Castle Cary

A great turn out in the market square at Castle Cary.

Boxing Day meet is an important time to bring together both the hunting and non-hunting community and it is lovely to see such broad support.

A young hunt supporter enjoys the festive amostphere.

 

Megan and Ben enjoying being centre of attention!

I do like how the old pub sign is in the background! The pub is the ‘George’ so you can just see George and the Dragon depicted.


What better start to the year?

‘The finest view in Europe’ – Surtees was right!

 

A beautiful sunny morning greeted the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt’s meet on New Years Day.  You could see for miles across the Dorset vale country, and we had a lovely day hedge hopping despite it being a bit wet underfoot!

Standing water in the gateways meant that extra vigilance was needed to minimise poaching of the farmers’ land. At the meet, the Master emphasised how lucky we are to be allowed to hunt on such lovely country given the current conditions. Without the farmers, there wouldn’t be any hunting!

Much as Blackthorn & Brook’s hunting is a team effort, Ben and I both enjoy a day ‘flying solo’ once in a while.  I think you can really enjoy your horse’s company, as well as that of the rest of the mounted field.

 

A lovely day to be out: looking north from Bowden in Dorset.

 

 

With the first snowdrops being spotted in the fields – ‘the death knell of hunting’ – I have resolved to get as many days in as I can before the end of the season.  Days like this remind you of how lucky we are to be able to get out and enjoy the countryside as we do, and it will be the end of the season before we know it.

A very muddy hedge-hopper at the end of the day- what a good boy.

 

I hope you have a very Happy New Year, and manage to cram in plenty of hunting, too before the end of the season!


Christmas hunting – a family affair

Hunting around Christmas time has always been a family affair.  At each meet of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, there are always a couple of subscribers who are assigned to follow the mounted field and close gates, put up wire, and generally ‘tidy up’ behind the thrusters.  Gate shutters generally dress in wax jackets and rubber boots – for all the getting-off they do – and a hipflask is a wise addition!

The gate-shutters

Our turn always falls on Christmas Eve.  This year, we were accompanied by Sarah and Judith – Ben’s mother and aunt – and we had a lovely, muddy day.  Judith hadn’t ridden since the summer, but kicked on and, more importantly, was sound on Christmas morning.  Sarah rides regularly, but hadn’t hunted for some twenty years, so it really was a special occasion.

We had a good, busy day, and managed to keep up with the hounds until the end (quite a feat considering we had to close all the gates as well!) Not to be forgotten is Guilia,  Judith’s 10 year old daughter, a welcome addition to the Christmas hunting scene as an enthusiastic groom!

Our Italian girl groom

I hope you all enjoyed some Christmas hunting as much as we did, and you had a very Merry Christmas!


  1. Let us know if you have any questions or leave your details and either Ben or Megan will be in touch.
Please note, throughout our website we use the term fox hunting to mean all of the activities carried out by our participating hunts operating within the constraints of the Hunting Act 2004.