I took a wrong turn from either Upper or Lower Slaughter or Upper or Lower Swell, (and these are villages, not bars!) and found myself on a narrow wooded lane lined by half a dozen cars parked in the trees with guys hanging out, drinking tea and looking at the rolling hills and fields beyond them.
I had to get THIS story!
“What are you waiting for?” I asked.
“The hunt,” they said. I had already seen half a dozen horse back riders here and there but had no idea they were riding to the hounds!
“We just saw the fox run by,” they said, drinking their tea. (Actually, I later learned that they’re not chasing a live fox–although I did see both fox and rabbits sprinting across fields–because the live hunt was outlawed a decade ago. My source was quite rueful about that. They paint a scented trail for the hounds; hence the new, less satisfying name: trail hunt).
So, I discovered quest number two in this trip through the Cotswolds. I’d wait and wait and nothing would materialize, so I’d return to my backroads tour. And then, I’d see a car with four guys in their mackintoshes sitting jammed together, zooming around a corner and up a one-lane road with a hedge on one side and a field on the other and I’d think, damn, they know where they’re running, and I’d follow them.
Some people watch football games on Saturday. In the Cotswolds, some people park their cars on narrow lanes abutting fields, drink their tea, and watch and wait. Some walk up into the fields. Some, like me, jog along stone fences and through woods, following the sounds of the hounds baying (they get quite hysterical) trying to get a glimpse. Occasionally, two or three riders, separated from the main group, canter by.
“Scuse me,” said two, when they surprised me on a wooded lane. I hung out for awhile at the intersection of a couple of fields with the support team, some others on horseback, and two sets of others on mud-spattered all-terrain vehicles.
They were politely wary at first–thought I might be some animal rights nut. But, reassured that, like them, I was just into the thrill of chasing the chase, they offered me the first swig of port. And everybody took a swig. (The ATVers said their main job is supplying port.)
It’s a tease. The hounds sound as though they’re just on the other side of a stand of trees or just beyond the next hill.. You hear the horns. And the horseback riders and ATVers are on their phones, getting updates. “You can tell Jimmie never pays his phone bill, the way he calls all the time,” observed one smartly tailored guy on a beautiful white horse. “You have a beautiful horse,” I said (very nice braided mane). As he trotted off he patted the horse’s neck and said, “Hear that lovey? You’re beautiful!
All that scrambling through fields, along stone fences and through woods was worth it. I finally saw the riders. Those men and women can really ride. If you can do it, it must be addictive.
Hunt (I mean trail hunting) season is September through March. They ride three days a week.
“Three days a week!!” I said, “Don’t they have jobs?”
“Well,” the guy I was talking to at that point admitted, “it’s a pretty affluent area.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking about the cars I’ve been seeing here. “I’d love to be the Cotswolds Range Rover dealer.”
I looked around. The late afternoon sun made the green fields even greener. A brisk wind was pushing clouds through the sky. And manor homes gleamed gold in the light.
“Do you guys know what a beautiful place you live in?” I asked.
“Yes,” they said.