Foxhunting. The Belvoir Hunt (Grantham Journal 17th March 1906).
"Happy the man who with unrivall'd speed
Can pass his fellows and with pleasure view
The straggling pack."
'Tis unpardonably rash, I know - such folly more becomes the unfledged optimism of buoyant youth
than the sage experience of the lean and slippered pantaloon - to forecast scent good or bad on any day but there was something in the still quiet atmosphere of Saturday's gray calm morn which emboldened one and all alike to predict an hour or two of rare merrie sport. For this happy consummation, everything seemed right favourable - to start with we were in our best country, and so, with foxes in plenty, we felt assured that the chill tranquil air must mean scent most serving, and were hopefully happy, accordingly,as we cantered blithely to Clawson. A huge gathering at that tryst of classic memories, and a flutter of excitement as the signal was hoisted for Sherbrooke's Covert, and we realised that our Master intended as usual to take every advantage of the favouring conditions. Of course there was a fox, and with little delay and grim silence which boded ill for reynard, the big dog hounds pushed into the open, and at once settled down to run steadily, heading away at first towards Nether Broughton, and then veering round to Hickling. This meant the passage of the Smite at a particularly nasty boggy place for those who stuck religiously to the pack, and dire was the scrambling and stumbling, but by jumping a couple of fences to the right a much more tempting spot was available,and those that chose this better part had the best of it as the beauties chimed towards them. They were streaming along too, at a bonny pace now, gliding over the good sound turf like shadows, and flinging themselves with sweet venom up the slope of Hickling Standard, whilst Mr. W. Wilkinson and Capell piloted the big hard-riding Leicestershire field over the fairest of flying countries. Good as was the gallop throughout, this was assuredly the best part of it, and simply entrancing in its brisk life and action and sweet line of grasses we galloped o'er the verdant leagues past Parson's Thorns straight for that favourite tryst of Quorn - Widmerpool. Here came a sudden turn to the right, and it was odds untold that we should race up to Lodge-on-the-Wolds, but the beauties swerved more to the right, skirted Kinoulton Wood, and steadily advanced towards Lord Harrington's domains as they pressed up to Earl Manvers' New Plantations. Straight through the latter went our pilots, and on to Owthorpe Borders they streamed, barely half a field separating them from sinking reynard as they charged into this jungle. Here, though, our beaten fox was safe, for brothers in plenty came to the rescue, and a fresh customer enticed hounds towards Kinoulton. His mission fulfilled, he turned to Owthorpe Borders, led us on to Cotgrave Gorse, and therein Sir Gilbert Greenall decided to abandon further pursuit, and return to Belvoir domains. It had been a most enjoyable run of about one hour-and-a-quarter, with nearly a seven mile point,and over as ideal a line of country as man could desire. Kaye Wood was of course our next draw, and promptly was a fox away, but he was a twisting vacillating fellow, and, after sharp hunting out towards Harby Covert and round towards Hose Thorns, he was rolled over in the Smite on return to his lair. Some think this was an outlyer which hounds pulled down in the muddy stream, and there was justification for their belief in a holloa which rang out during the worry and a smart spin back to Kaye Wood, where our fox got to ground in the earth. From Harby Covert we had no sport, that cupboard being bare, but from Granby Top a fox fled at once, and gave us a merrie hunt past Plungar on the left to Belvoir's woodlands, wherein he beat us, and the good day was over.
Kind, almost, beyond belief were the Fates to us happy Belvoirites on Tuesday, for we were not barred out by frost and snow as were our neighbours, the Cottesmore, but we enjoyed to the full a long, good old-fashioned hunting run over one of the most sporting tracts of our Lincolnshire country. 'Twas a bitterly cold ride to Stubton, frozen ponds and patches of ice here, there and everywhere telling of the dour keenness of the overnight rigours of winter, but down at our tryst the frost had scarcely touched the ground, and the going was really in the pink of condition. So there was nought to delay a start, with customary promptitiude we moved away to draw, and were soon alongside Martin's Plantation, eagerly listening for the Eurekian notes of the pack. There was no fox in residence to inspire the hoped for chorus, the Rookery was also blank, and despondency was in the air, when Mr. Tonge's outlyer - now quite famous in Belvoir's history - happily saved the situation, and the Chase was up. "Up", though, only in a slow halting manner, for scent was very catchy on the ploughs extending to Court Leys, and hounds had much ado to work out a line to the left to General Willson's Osier Beds. This good haven reynard most unaccountably skirted to the right, hounds hunting sweetly along the grass to the foot of the steep ascent leading up to Fulbeck, where they turned into Colonel Reeve's Covert. Herein our chivalrous fox awaited his pursuers, and a change came over the spirit of the hunt as he thrilled us to deeds of derring-do by facing the open in full view, and giving the dog hounds a fair chance as Capell quickly had them on his tracks. From this point the long run quickened into brisk life and action, galloping was the order, and only those who followed Captain Steeds' and Mr. Rose's decisive leads over one or two nasty fences were on top of the hunt as we crammed along towards Fulbeck and then back to the right to the plantations near Caythorpe Hall. Pushing smartly through these, hounds forged ahead as if for the Beighton, and, just skirting this covert to the right, ran fast down into the vale towards Brandon, ere turning towards Hough Gorse. This, I thought, was the bonne bouche of the day, for the beauties streamed hotly along, nearly every field was grass, and the big open ditches on the taking-off side needed very little "doing", and thinned out the company of riders to very attenuated proportions. Those who tackled the country,however,came through scathless, and with radiant glowing countenance, joined the skirters at Hough Gorse, and in full force we rode up towards Loveden Hill. 'Twas here that the chances of war transferred the heat and burden of the Chase on to a fresh fox - a contigency most annoying to huntsmen - but in this case a slice of good luck, for we disturbed the siesta of a well-known depredator on Mr. Langham's farm, and hounds never left him until they were savaging over his corpse. Merrily they ranged over the hilly bit of country to the right of Gelston, and looked like sinking the vale to Marston ere turning up the slope, and ringing round to the left to the Speller Plantation. What was the reason for the fatal lethargy that suddenly possessed the majority of riders - hitherto so keen and pushful - at this point, I know not, but with one accord nearly everyone settled down to careless spell of coffee-housing, while Capell cast his pets round the covert, saw his fox slip out and with a cheer sent his pack screaming in pursuit. Thrilling was that race for dear life down to Sills' Plantation, and dubious right to the end, for hounds strained every nerve to overhaul the little red rover in front, whilst the latter as gamely kept up the hot pace, so that the half-dozen fortunates in attendance had a fast exciting ride. Close to the covert, a wide, deep ditch on the taking-off side caught Mr. Tomlinson's horse napping, the animal paying the penalty of not looking before he leaped by getting so tightly wedged in the ditch that it was some time ere he could be hauled out, and smaller than ever, accordingly, was the band that pressed on after hounds as they flew across the Carlton Ashes farm as if again for Gelston. A check here, a gallopping up in hot and angry haste of the host we had left behind us, and a sharp hunt back to the Speller with harmless roll of a habit in the soft clingling plough. Then another dart from the Speller to Sills' Plantation, and "whoop,whoop," "worry,worry," the long hunt was over, and the terror of Hough torn into the "hundred tatters of brown" by the exultant pack. The remainder of the day had no exciting incidents. We drew the Carlton osier Beds blank, and then found in the Bedlam Plantation a twisting, scentless customer, which led us very slowly up to Normanton Hill Top to Sparrow Gorse, where he got to ground. Curiously enough, though, we again gave the field the slip in this halting hunt, and for a time they were savagely scouring the heath in all directions but the right one. By many, this Tuesday will be remembered as the day of the vanishing hounds!
Although we rode in one rather jolly dart, we can only look back upon Wednesday as a somewhat disappointing not-made-the-best-of sort of day. The frost fiend had again been most busy during the night, but the threatened downfall of snow did not come, so that we had no doubts as to hunting as we jogged to Scalford, for in these March days of gaudy sunshine Mother Earth is quickly released from the cruel grip of the Ice King. Great was the company of riders in Mr. Kirk's paddock, incessant the raucous hooting as car after car rushed up to the tryst, and so odious was the mixed taint of petrol and oil in the atmosphere that it was unusually delightful to move away and escape from the vibrating Juggernaut of the Twentieth Century. To the heights dominating Belvoir's Sweet Vale we went for our first draw, only to meet the unexpected rebuff, both Clawson Thorns and Holwell Mouth, to the intense chagrin of the assembled ironstone labourers, being devoid of a fox. Then Oldhills followed suit, Scalford Ashes also proved a failure and, with Time so quickly on the wing, it was half-past two ere the welcome view holloa first rang out from Melton spinney. The end soon came with gone to ground in a small spinney on Mr. R.C. Cooper's farm. For about twenty minutes this was quite a cheery dart over a stiffly enclosed country, and great was the relief as the enormous Leicester field charged down upon the fences, Lady Castlereagh, the Duke of Marlborough, Colonel A. Brockenhurst, and Mons. Auriol being amongst the fallen during these flying moments. From the next draw, Newman's Gorse, a fox was soon away, but scent was now so woefully bad that hounds could only walk past Waltham Thorns on the left up to Waltham. Crossing the Melton road, they wriggled round the village as if for the station, and then hunted very slowly up to Goadby Gorse. A cast round that covert proving that reynard had travelled on, hounds perservered to the Bullamore, and therein pounced upon their quarry. Almost before they had devoured him, another fox was away, and him we chased across to Harby Hills, through these wooded heights, and on to the Eastwell Plantation, where he got to ground.
Scent has again been very catchy again this Friday, and we have, accordingly, had very little sport, but, all the same, we have spent several pleasing hours with hounds, and in the best of company, during an afternoon too redolent of poet's springtime to aid and abet the Belvoir bitches in their efforts to bring bold reynard to hand. After a morn of gloom and murk and rain, we paraded at noon in front of Sir George Whichcote's hospitable portals in bright sunshine, which increased so much in power that General Slackness took command of the field, and reigned throughout with enervating sway. Osbournby Hill Top was the first draw, but failed to come up to expectations, so we trotted straight away to Newton Gorse, and therein the pack chopped a fox at once. There were two more in residence, however, one of which hounds forced out on the Newton side, and then slowly hunted him down to, and over, the Bridge End road up to Osbournby Hill Top. Though but a dragging dubious hunt, it was exciting enough, for there was lots of jumping, and the fences were so trappy that our hardest rider and our Gallic visitor were brothers in distress. From Osbournby Hill Top the line was very faint through the Tally-Ho Plantation into Aswarby Park, where scent gave out altogether, and we had to look for another fox. The Privet, the Twenty Acres, and the Thorns were blank, but there was such plentitude of the "raw material" in Money's Gorse that minor hunts were in progress in several directions what time Capell stuck, with the faithful veterans of the pack, to one fox in particular. At last he got him away in the open, and, with forces reunited, tracked him nearly up to Silk Willoughby, when reynard bore back to the right, and got to ground in a rabbit warren near the new Asylum. The only plan to pursue now, of course, was to invade the ever-ready Rauceby domains, and this we did, drawing Bullywell's Plantation blank, but finding at once in Cliff Hill. Though mangy, he was a good fox, and, had scent only been better, would have given us a capital spin, for he went straight through California and Kelby Plantation to Culverthorpe Park. Here he waited to give the pack a second chance, but 'twas no good, the beauties could not run a yard, and I left them walking only towards the Northerns.
No need to remind you, I am sure, that our chases take place on Thursday next. We shall all meet, I guess, on the famous course, there to back our fancy, to eat, drink, and make merrie, and to cheer to the echo each winner whether we are "on it" or not. In our advertisement columns still appear notices as to the luncheon provided for the farmers, and I would also call the attention of Belvoir Hunt farmers to the announcement relative to the luncheon for them at the Melton Hunt Steeplechases. In another column they will find a list of gentlemen to whom application should be made for tickets of admission to the Gargantuan feast. 'Twill greatly facilitate the organisers of the lunch if intending applicants will notify their desire to be present before March 25th.