Hunting for fun and not a fox to be seen!
Although it will be 13 years this February since the Government Act to ban fox hunting came into force, a group of enthusiasts have kept the tradition alive on the Isle of Wight, albeit in a very different and acceptable form.
The Isle of Wight Foxhounds meet twice a week between November and March, with normally around 20 riders and 30-plus dogs bounding across the Island countryside. But they are not in pursuit of foxes – their only ‘prize’ is to find the source of an artificially laid scent, with a team of two having laid the trails before the hunting begins.
Hunting on the Island goes back more than 170 years, beginning with kennels at Marvel, near Blackwater. Hounds were moved to Appuldurcombe in 1864 and to Afton House, Freshwater between 1877 and ’79. But otherwise they remained at Marvel until they were moved to new kennels at Wootton in 1920. They stayed there until 1927 when new kennels were built in Gatcombe, where they remain to this day.
The Isle of Wight Foxhounds currently have three Masters, Anthony Blest, Karen Begley and John Curtis. Karen said: “I can’t emphasise enough that we don’t hunt or kill foxes. We are simply trying to keep the hunting tradition alive, but without the kill. Everything is done within the law, with trails being laid. As one of the Masters, I certainly don’t want to break the law and end up in prison!”
Karen has been hunting on the Island some 20 years, and this is her fourth season as one of the Masters. She added: “We meet in different places, and ride out right across the Island. We are allowed on a lot of private land that we wouldn’t normally be allowed to go on, but we adhere to rules and respect the land. We have 65 hounds kennelled at Gatcombe with Huntsman Keith Blaydes, but usually take out about half that number each time. Depending on the weather, and what time it gets dark, we are usually out for about four hours.”