Keswick hunts a gorgeous territory divided between woods and farmland in the foothills of the Blue Ridge at the southern end of Northern Virgina’s Hunt Country. Its territory includes Civil War battlefields, the birthplace of Zachary Taylor, James Madison’s Montpelier, and the point from which the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe set out to explore the wilderness in 1716. Karen and I were out with them once on a joint meet just a few years ago.
Blue Ridge Hunt hunting at Priskilly. (click on picture for larger image — Photo by DZ)
James Delingpole (who hunts) deplores Britain’s Puritanical hunt ban. In his view, foxhunting should not be illegal, it should be compulsory.
Foxhunting is the greatest sport ever devised. It takes place on a wildly uneven pitch perhaps 100 miles square, in often fiendish weather conditions, involves extraordinary team work and cameraderie between man and beast, with, instead of a football or a rugger ball, a living, intelligent quarry often more than capable of outwitting its pursuers. If you havenâ€™t hunted, you really havenâ€™t lived.
The best advert for hunting are the people who are against it: joyless vegans; vindictive class warriors; the noisome RSPCA; dreadlocked inner city crusties with dogs on ropes; mimsy unmarriageables with a dozen cats; Nick Clegg; Ed Miliband; the Green party; everyone who works at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales; townie tossers.
James Delingpole has succumbed to hunting mania, and like most of us he’s having difficulty affording it. I wonder if Roger Scruton (who also hunts) has any advice.
I have fallen in love with an unsuitable male. My wife isnâ€™t totally happy about this relationship because she recognises how dangerous it is. The problem with Eddie is that his vices are my vices. Heâ€™s reckless, an adrenaline junkie who likes always to be up front. Really, a most unsuitable companion for a skinny, breakable family man fast approaching 50.
And did I mention how expensive he is? Itâ€™s as bad as having a high-class mistress or a serious cocaine habit, but Iâ€™m powerless to resist. I love hunting. I love my mount Eddie Stobart. When Iâ€™m riding to hounds, all my worldly cares vanish. It makes me feel like Iâ€™ve finally discovered the point of existence. Tragic, isnâ€™t it?
Itâ€™s tragic because I know I could quite easily die â€” or worse. And also because I canâ€™t afford it. A day out with my local hunt, with hireling, will set you back around Â£300. But really, if you want to get any good at it â€” which I do, so as to improve my chances of not breaking my neck â€” you want to be going out at least twice a week. Itâ€™s at times like this that you learn seriously to regret those early career choices. If Iâ€™d gone into the City and made my fortune, maybe I could have retired early and spent the rest of my days doing what I was really born to do: being a Master of Foxhounds, of course.
Melvin Poe hunting his Bath County Hounds in Hume, Virginia in 2009. (photograph: Karen L. Myers)
The sad news arrived yesterday morning, via friends on Facebook, that Northern Virginia Horse Country’s most-admired huntsman, Melvin Poe, had passed away at his home in Hume at the age of 94. I suppose we were all expecting it. Last year, when the anniversary of his birth arrived in late August, there were gleeful reports about Melvin celebrating his birthday, on horseback as usual. When there was no such story this year, we began to worry.
Melvin’s longevity, and extraordinary ability to ride and even to jump a horse at such an advanced age, had been noteworthy objects of envy and admiration throughout hunting circles for years. Melvin would occasionally ride with us, car following the Old Dominion Hounds, and when we’d leave the car to take up an observation position, I’d often find myself left behind, despite being almost 30 years younger, walking carefully and favoring a bad knee afflicted with damp weather arthritis, while Melvin could scramble up a hill as nimbly as a goat.
I grew up in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, where hunting and fishing were treated by many like religion, and though Melvin’s native Virginia milieu had a different sporting emphasis, on hounds and fox hunting rather than trout and deer, nonetheless, I recognized Melvin at once, on making his acquaintance, as a kindred sporting fanatic.
We tended to hang out together at hunt meets, banquets, and hound shows. I last saw Melvin on Election Day of 2012, at the Episcopal Church Hall in Delaplane. We had both turned out to try to vote down Caliban, and we stood around together talking hunting for a long time. I remember that along came a lady member of a couple of local hunts from down the road in Markham who asked our advice about dealing with a skunk which had intruded into her horse barn. (Melvin and I recommended shooting the trespasser carefully in the head, from a safe distance.)
Melvin had been working as professional huntsman for Old Dominion back when I was attending grade school. He left Old Dominion in 1962. I think he hunted hunted briefly for Piedmont and/or Middleburg, but before very long took to carrying the horn for Orange County (possibly the toniest Northern Virginia hunt). He was Orange County huntsman for decades, and his tenure there gained him national renown. Peter Winants published a Derrydale Press book on Foxhunting with Melvin Poe. A documentary film, produced in 1979, called Thoughts on Foxhunting, starred Melvin and preserves a living record of his remarkable dialogue in the field with hounds.
Melvin retired from Orange County in 1991, but continued to hunt the neighborhood around his farm in Hume, and occasionally the vast Ohrstrom domain in Bath County in the Western mountains with a private pack made up of ill-favored, misshapen, or misbehaving hounds culled by local packs. Their quality didn’t matter in the least because Melvin could get any hound to cooperate and hunt well.
We had the opportunity to go out with Melvin and his Bath County Hounds back in 2009. More frequently, we car-followed the Old Dominion Hounds with Melvin. I remember in particular one day when, I can’t remember why, Melvin and I were separated from Karen and we’d gotten in a spot well ahead of the pack when one fox after another began popping out of cover and dashing off to our left. Melvin let go with the most extreme example of the Rebel Yell (preferred by true Virginia aborigines to a mere “Tally Ho!”) I’ve ever heard. Melvin gave me a fishy look for standing there silently, so when the second fox appeared, there I was, imitating Melvin and Rebel Yelling away with him. What a memory!
Karen’s photoessay on our visit with the Rappahannock Hunt on September 11th is now up.
The Rappahannock hounds are Crossbreds. Now recognized as a separate category at hound shows, the Crossbred Hound, a mixture of American and English foxhounds, was created by Ben Hardaway, Master of Georgia’s Midland Hunt, in response to the arrival of White-tailed deer in his country in the 1960s. Hardaway’s July hounds went off on a deer, and they were eating the same deer when he finally caught up with them days later. To create a deer-proof foxhound, Hardaway searched the British Isles for more docile, deer-resistant strains of foxhound which he subsequently successfully blended with classic American hound lines, finally added a soupÃ§on of Penn Marydel to add just a little extra cry. Hardaway’s breeding program was so successful that the Crossbred category is usually the best represented at current hound shows.
Several of the Rappahannock hounds were long-haired, a trait evidencing Welsh hound ancestry.
That Saturday morning the Rappahannock hounds seemed even more filled with energy and high-spirits than hound packs typically are in general, which is saying a lot. It seemed to be snowing hounds as the pack, released from their trailer, ran, rolled, and frolicked, dashing in circles around the huntsman.
The morning’s cubbing was overlooked by a Bald Eagle who sat perched and watching with obvious interest from a dead tree by a local stream, which I think must have been the Thornton River.
Will Goodall (1812? — 1859?), renowned huntsman to the Belvoir (pronounced “beaver”), the Duke of Rutland’s, was famous for his devotion to his hounds, whom Lord Bentinck reports he contended required to be treated like women, as “they could not bear to be bullied, deceived, nor neglected with impunity.”
Lionel Edwards (Huntsmen Past and Present, 1929) tells us that Goodall’s illustrious career was curtailed by an unfortunate accident.
Will died as the result of falling on his horn, which he carried in his breast, on the last day of the season, after Croxton Races. The meet was at Belvoir. The day was the third anniversary of the Hunt presentation to him — a day on which the inn at Grantham had rung again to the tune of “Will Goodall’s the boy!” The year was probably 1859, the last year of Lord Forrester’s Mastership, as the sixth Duke of Rutland’s first season as Master appears to have been 1859-1860. Will was only ill ten days, during which time he rose from his bed but once, to show Lord Henry Bentinck his young Rallywoods of the third generation. It was with a strange fitness that as the hearse moved away the hinds began to “sing” a strange and mournful requiem, which the “Druid” tells us, fairly thrilled the mourners.
A Guest Blogger at Lilla Mason’s (huntsman of the Iroquois Hounds) Full Cry blog last summer wrote a tribute to Goodall last July.
James and Denise Davies… decided to bid on the copper horn at a local auction near their home in Zimbabwe. The couple have a restaurant in the African nation and also have been collecting antiques for about six years.
â€œNobody bid on it, so we got it more next to nothing,â€ said James, whose usual auction picks are more in the line of figurines and military memorabilia. â€œWe were the only bidders.â€
It would seem that Mr. and Mrs. Davies had acquired Will Goodall’s famous (and fatal) horn.
Queen Victoria was celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac was playing to packed houses in Paris, and the adventurersome (including Jack London) were heading to the Klondike in search of gold in 1897, the year in which Baily’s Monthly Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, founded in 1860, began issuing its annual Directory of Hunting, listing organized fox hunts in Britain. The listings were later extended to beagles, bassets, otter and mink hounds, and its coverage made world-wide.
Charles Moore reported recently, in the Telegraph that, despite Labour’s tyrannical hunt ban, Baily’s is not only continuing publication, but is this year, for the first time, available on-line by electronic subscription.
Since the 19th century, the facts of hunting have been compiled annually by Baily’s Hunting Directory. Like Jane Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot in relation to the Baronetage, I find Baily’s my “occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one”. Between its red covers is contained a mass of information about almost every known and recognised pack of hounds in the world. According to the count for 2009, there are now 761 of them. You learn something new, interesting and satisfyingly obscure every time you read it. You also feel a thrill because of the adversity which hunting has so successfully resisted. As Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner says in his spirited introduction to the latest edition, the loss of liberty always “stirs something deep in the British soul”.
I mention the red covers, but in fact the cover turned black in recent editions, in mourning at the ban. This year, for the first time, Baily’s goes online . The publishers say that they still want to produce the book version as well â€“ and I hope they succeed â€“ but a web version undoubtedly offers certain advantages over a book. One is that new photographs can be posted at any time, so the site already carries first-class pictures of the current season. Another is that any subscriber (annual price Â£12) can contribute his own report of his hunt.
I have happily subscribed.
The print version costs Â£44.95/US$107 and may be ordered here.