Boxing Day and An Outing with the New Forest Hounds
Boxing Day, December 26, 2014, is a truly British event and one steeped in history and traditions. It is a traditional day for English hunts to come out with hounds and for locals who are off work to join in the event. It is a day when the Masters of Foxhounds box up gifts of food and toys (thus the name Boxing Day) to give to their hunt employees as expressions of holiday cheer. For me it was a special day spent with my daughter Cary, whom our family was visiting over the Christmas and New Year Holidays.
This day we saw the New Forest Hounds in action. The New Forest Hounds follow a long tradition of English foxhunting, with the annual Boxing Day meet held at the Balmer Lawn Hotel, an 1800s hunting lodge set in the heart of the New Forest National Park. Master of Fox Hounds Alan Brown and Huntsman Michael Woodhouse cast the hounds at Balmer Lawn Hotel, where close to 100 foot followers and well-wishers gathered. The Field of riders consisted of about 50, riding everything from 17 hand high hunters to a 3-year-old child on a lead line. (They start them early in England.) Unfortunately, I was not riding, but would be a foot follower. Foot followers and car followers are quite common in England, as they are with some hunts in the United States.
Master Brown welcomed everyone and introduced the staff, while the English foxhounds milled about among the crowed. He mentioned the long tradition of 900 years of hunting in the New Forest and wished everyone a good time. He explained that, due to the Hunting Ban Act, the hounds would be drag hunted, i.e., someone would lay the scent down and the riders would be following on the tracks. With that announcement, the hounds were called up and riders and hounds made their way to where the Huntsman cast them, followed by the large Field of riders, foot, and car followers.
The New Forest, located in southern England, has a 1,000-year old history, created by King William the Conqueror in 1079. It takes its name from the Latin nova foresta, which translates literally as “new hunting ground.” Today, it includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heath land and forest in the heavily populated south east of England. The New Forest is in an estuary of the Thames and while it has large forests, it also has large areas of gorse (Ulex europaeus), which blooms with yellow flowers in the winter, heather, bracken, and bogs.
We followed the hounds and riders along a paved road, along with many of the other foot followers, and then the hunt turned onto a track into the Forest.
Since one of our group had had double hip replacement, we sent my daughter back for the car. We continued to trudge up a long hill, stopping to check out some of the Forest ponies that were grazing along the road. Once in the car, we were able to drive onto a track that served a house in the forest; then by walking out to an open are, we could hear the hounds open faintly. The hounds spoke more closely once or twice, but the scenting was not optimum and they did not seem to find the line to their liking.
It was our hope that they would turn and cross the railroad bridge at our location but they choose a bridge further up the line. Crossing the railroad line under the bridge was not an option since all railroad lines are electrified. At one point, we got a glimpse of the predominantly light colored hounds through the trees as they worked the cover before the bridge. We really wanted them to come our way because as we stood next to our bridge, the unmistakable scent of fox wafted up to us from the gorse. Evidently one had come that way. But the hounds were on another line and left us with our fox quite alone. Drops of rain began to fall was we proceeded up an old forest logging track. The hounds had moved away from us and the clouds that had hovered over our heads all day opened up. We beat a retreat along with many of the riders, finding solace in a nice hot cup of tea.
The Mid-South Horse Review is grateful to photographer Mark Webb for sharing a few of his photos from the hunt. For more photos, visit Mark Webb Photographer’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/markwebbphotographer or visit his SmugMug site: markwebbphotogallery.smugmug.com/
Find more information about the New Forest Hounds at: www.newforesthounds.co.uk; about the Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest at: www.balmerlawnhotel.com; and about the New Forest at: www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/
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