The best of our British Hunting holidays in pictures

The clocks have changed, the temperature is finally rising and the horses have been turned out for their well-deserved holidays.

What better time to reflect on our exciting 2014/15 hunting season with a few of our favourite photos of the brilliant guests we’ve had on our British hunting holidays? Interesting too, to track the changes in the countryside from November ’14 to March ’15.

Roll on a full summer of riding hoildays in England’s green and pleasant land!

November

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Many of these photos are courtesy of dedicated and talented photographers/foot followers Emma Harris (www.emmaharrisphotography.co.uk) and Mark Thistlewood (www.equestrianactionphotography.co.uk).  They spend many hours following us in the field, especially during our hunting holidays, and their websites are well worth a visit.


English Riding Vacations: Top Rides in the South West

One of the joys of arranging our English riding vacations is the opportunity to explore some incredible countryside on horseback. As our business grows so does our repertoire of rides, and the first step in planning a new route is to unfold the Ordnance Survey map of a new region and begin connecting the bridleways and spots of interest. From there we tend to trial the route on horseback – which is often quite a long and sometimes frustrating day, with plenty of wrong-turns and adjustments!!

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One of the things we’ve learnt in preparing these rides is that a beautiful stretch of countryside doesn’t necessarily mean a great ride. Good excursions on a horse require plenty of well-maintained bridle paths, few busy roads and, crucially, the potential for a loop.

With this in mind we’ve collected a few of our favourite spots together in the hope they might inspire you to get the maps out and hit some new territory. These are places a little off the beaten track – we all know the riding meccas of Exmoor, the New Forest and the Quantock Hills.

1: Cerne Abbas, Dorset    

We knew we had got onto something special when we opened the map of Cerne Abbas: a positive spider’s web of bridle ways unfolded across the chalk hills around this historic village. Riding here is characterised by the contrast between the high hilltops with big views and even bigger skies and the picturesque valley villages with names like Sydling St. Nicholas and Piddletrenthide. Good pubs for pit stops abound – the Grey Hound in Sydling and the New Inn in Cerne are both worth a visit – and there are some lovely country houses to ogle too (Upcerne and Nether Cerne for starters). What really caps this region though is the versatility for riding – you can plan anything from a short 5 mile loop to a marathon 25-mile ride.

The last ride we did here culminated with an incredible picnic on the lawns of Nether Cerne manor – with fresh pizza served out of the back of a converted Land Rover!

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2: Stourhead, Wiltshire

Many will be familiar with Stourhead for its famous landscape garden and the lovely woodland walks that around its lakes, neoclassical follies and woodland. It’s fantastic equestrian landscape too and one we often introduce our guests to when they first arrive for a foxhunting vacation. There are plenty of good bridle paths around the estate, with a real winner being the route up onto windswept White Sheet Hill where the big house can be glimpsed down amongst the beech trees. horseback_vacation_england

Although the gardens themselves aren’t open to horses, riders can buy an annual pass to ride on the labyrinth of tracks that cover the West Stourhead Estate. These stone tracks are good going all year-round and have access to some lovely spots – such as the grassy mile up to Alfred’s Tower. I challenge anyone not to gallop! The South and West Wilts Hunt have an annual fun ride in the area if you want to spare the tricky navigation.

3: Corton Denham

For the perfect ride-to-pub expedition, set your gps to the hills just north of Sherborne, on the Dorset-Somerset border. This is one of our favourite rides (in fact, we’ve blogged about it before – click here for a route map) and it takes the stunning hill country around Corton Denham. Riders are rewarded with a lovely tradition country pub at the end of the day, the Queens Arms is one of our favourites and always welcoming to mud-splattered riders!

Plan this ride on a bright clear day as the views along the way are spectacular. One of the best ridges is the Lady’s Mile, which looks down on the picturesque village of Poyntington. Forget taking in the view though – the turf along the top is superb, brilliant for a proper pipe-opener!

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4: Putsborough Beach

When it comes to riding, not all beaches are created equal. Despite our proximity to the South Dorset coast, its steep cliffs and rocky bays mean it isn’t really suited to equestrian vacations. Travel South West into North Devon however, and the Atlantic coast has some real treats. Our favourite spot is Putsborough beach, which is hidden around the corner from surf Mecca, Croyde Bay. With a decent scattering of VW campers and bronzed bodies for added seaside flavour, Putsborough is nearly three miles long and perfect for both a seaside amble or a blast along the sand. You can then head up through the sand dunes onto the cliffs for some unforgettable ocean vistas. We can recommend Roylands Riding Stables if you’re looking for a safe, steady mount in the area.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our riding vacations, check out our riding holiday website here, download a copy of our brochure or contact Ben and Megan via holidays@blackthornandbrook.com.

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Our luxury riding vacations in Virginia Living Magazine

It is with great pride that Blackthorn & Brook can report that our luxury riding vacations have been featured in this month’s edition of Virginia Living Magazine.

Virginia Living MagazineIf you turn to the ‘Up Front’ section of the November/ December edition you will find a profile of the foxhunting and riding vacations we offer, and a little bit about Ben Darlignton and Megan Corp.

This is a really exciting bit of coverage for us – Virginia Living is a very well respected magazine in the state and its emphasis on luxury lifestyles, exclusive experiences and unusual enterprises closely matches with our vision of bespoke equestrian travel in England.

The article is by Greg Weatherford and includes some kind words from Charles Luck IV of Luck Stone in Virgina, who travelled with Blackthorn and Brook in February of 2014.

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News: Bid on a Luxury Equestrian Vacation

Blackthorn & Brook is delighted to announce that one of our luxury equestrian vacations is up for auction in the Countryside Alliance’s prestigious New York Sporting Auction.

Countryside Alliance Auction 2014

If you are in New York on 19 November, don’t miss this chance to bid on a special horseback trip with Blackthorn & Brook. The catalogue is stuffed to the gills with lots of other exctiting lots, from deer stalking at Blenheim Palace, to commissioned portraits by greats such as Leland Neff.

To cite the catalogue:

Blackthorn & Brook are a boutique travel company renowned for their luxury foxhunting vacations in the South West of England.

For the Countryside Alliance’s New York auction they are offering a luxurious four-night stay in England for two. On the itinerary are a day’s hunting with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt, a long ride around the breathtaking Stourhead Estate and a night at the theatre in London.

Throughout your stay you will be personally looked after by Ben & Megan, the company’s founders. They have an attentive and personal guiding style that guarantees you’ll be well looked after both in and out of the saddle.

Expect safe, high quality horses, a prize-winning English Country pub as your lodgings and a Range Rover and driver on hand throughout (including airport service from London).

Dates are negotiable for the 2015/16 hunting season; a few weekends are still also available in late January thru March 2015.

Blackthorn & Brook’s hunting vacations are completely bespoke so any additional adventures that you might like to include can be added at normal retail price.

Luxury equestrian vacationsThe Itinerary:

Wednesday: Arrival. Lovely overnight stay at the Goring London and an evening at the theatre in the West End.

Thursday: Transfer from London. Welcome drinks at the historic hunting home of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt.

Friday: A long ride on the Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire with a grand winter picnic.

Saturday: A day’s hunting with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt. A social supper with local hunting luminaries!

Sunday: Departure

Don’t miss this chance to bid on the luxury equestrian vacation of a lifetime! If you would like to attend the event please contact Lady Emma Mancroft of the Countryside Alliance at theladymancroft[at]countryside-alliance.org and quote Blackthorn & Brook. Happy bidding!

Countryside Alliance


News: Our Luxury Riding Vacations in Hounds Magazine

We were delighted to have our luxury riding vacations featured in the October edition of Hounds Magazine. Many thanks to the superb editorial team there for their support. You can read more about this cracking publication here.

Hounds magazine was started 28 years ago to fill a gap in the market for editorial coverage of foxhunting. It is dedicated solely to hunting with hounds and is full of excellent articles on foxhounds, bloodhounds, basset hounds and beagles. In fact, it definitely warrants its title!

One of the nicest elements of the magazine is the superb artwork that always graces the front page. Original paintings each month are chosen and they give the magazine a lovely traditional feel.

They certainly are the perfect thing to put in our guests’ rooms when they come to visit on our riding or hunting vacations.

Our Luxury Riding Vacations in Hounds Magazine

You can read the full article here:

We sometimes forget our cousins across the pond and their shared love of the chase. North America has over 155 hunts registered with their MFHA; their countries range from the soft deciduous hills of Virginia recognisable to any Englishman, to the arid deserts of Arizona and Texas more reminiscent of a western film.

Whatever the terrain, North American packs remain faithful to their English heritage. Drafted hounds, imported hunters and a troop of British and Irish hunt staff guarantee the field a strong echo of the old country.

For the American sportsman with an eye on the birthplace of hunting, a small travel company based in Somerset is now offering luxury hunting holidays with packs such as the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale, the Portman and the New Forest.

Run by Ben Darlington & Megan Corp, Blackthorn & Brook offers an all inclusive experience. “We match each customer to a good horse, choose a day that will suit their ability and even fill their flask with their favourite tipple!” says Megan. Out of the saddle, they source handpicked pubs and hotels, personally chauffeur their guests and arrange exciting and unusual diversions for non-hunting days.

The idea for luxury riding vacations grew out of the pair’s experience of working for Ben’s grandfather, Brigadier Peter Marzetti. The former MFH of the Blackmore Vale has been sending hunters to Virginia since the early 1990s. Over 30 horses have gone to the Blue Ridge Hunt where Jt. Master Anne McIntosh finds them homes on the East Coast.

“There’s a real taste out there for doing it the English way”, says Ben. “When Meg and I were hunting in Virginia, it seemed there were plenty of people who might like to come over and hunt, but perhaps would appreciate the whole package rather than just being handed a strange horse at the meet”.

Between them they seem to make a good team. Megan is an experienced horsewoman who was formerly head groom for the French showjumper Pierre Marie Dubois. Whilst she provides the guiding from the saddle, Ben is the man on the ground. “I love the rural history, architecture and natural life of the West Country, and I think our guests really enjoy being able to share that”.

With a successful season last year under their belt it seems the Americans agree – a dozen more foxhunters have signed up this year and are looking forward – as we all are – to some superb hunting this season.

 

 


Sloe Gin – a Refined Recipe

I readily admit that before hunting this week past I dug out my thermal long-johns. There can be no clearer fanfare for the arrival of the vernal seasons! Opening meet is fast approaching and the first bite of autumnal chill in the air. This bodes well for the hunting but also gets me thinking about my flask and what warming draught will keep spirits up covertside on those dark winter afternoons.

For all those who are thinking the same, I’d like to share my recipe for sloe gin.

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Sloes are the nearly inedible fruit of the blackthorn tree. Our namesake bush is a stalwart of the hedgerow and the slate blue berries can be found for picking anytime after the middle of September into late October.

Sloes on the bush - this was a great year.

Sloes on the bush – this was a great year.

Sloe gin is the delightful tipple that comes from steeping the fruit in gin and sugar for an extended period of time. It is a hunting classic and a firm favourite with our guests.

To make a litre you will need 750 grams of sloes (26 oz), 350ml of gin (12.5 fl oz) and 170 grams of sugar (6oz).

Traditionally one had to wait until the first frost to harvest, so the skins would be split, but these days it is just as easy to take your batch and put them in the freezer over night. Wash them and remove the stalks and debri before they go in. You’ll notice that mine are unusually large and purple – this I think is because they are actually bullaces, reputedly a sloe-cherry hybrid. When it comes to the drinking I suspect it’s all the same…

Old country lore dictates that the sloe should be pricked with a thorn from the same bush, or even by a silver knitting needle, but as some wit once observed ‘they’re a prune darn it, not a blinking vampire!’

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Washed and ready for bottling.

The method of production itself is easy. Take your defrosted sloes and stuff as many as you can into your glass vessel of choice, whilst leaving a couple of inches at the top. Old pub gin shoulders are good, but in their absence any old bottle will do. I have chosen these kilner jars with the sealing lids, they’re 1 litre capacity and take about 750g (26oz) of fruit.

Next add your sugar. And this, I believe, is the critical bit. The tendency is for too much and the final tincture will be sweet, medicinal and bereft of the delicate hedgerows flavours that make this drink special. I have put in 170 grams (6oz). You will need to shake the bottles to get it all in.

Sugaring sloe gin

Adding the sugar

Finally, add the gin. I managed to get about 350mm (12.5 fl oz) into our 1 litre pot.

Once assembled and the lid is on, you will need to shake the vessels twice a day for a week to make sure the sugar dissolves. After this is simply a case of hiding the bottles somewhere dark. The second critical point is PATIENCE. Immature sloe gin is like cough mixture, a fruity, alchoholic ribena. Time is the key here. 12 months steeping will bring out all the flavours, from the rich berry taste to the slight almond fragrance from the stones. If you can possibly manage it, exercise restraint and drink this year’s batch next year. It will be worth the wait.

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Come and visit us in 2015/16 and this will be your reward!

After about 9 months, crack a bottle open, put on your favourite smoking jacket and have a little try in front of the fire. If it needs more sugar, add it now. Then, when the time comes to decant your brew, strain the liquid off into prepared bottles using muslin and there you go. Your fellow subscribers will crowd to your side after every memorable run for a sample of your famous sloe gin. Whether you choose to share it is down to you…


  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.