Early Fox Hunting

The government recently tried to legalise fox hunting again, but failed in part due to the badly written bill. Here si an account when such debates just didn’t happen, from Highways and Byways of Oxford and the Cotswolds:

“The traveller may have a rapid glance at all the various features of the landscape: vast rolling sweeps of cultivated down, parches of ancient sheep-walk, dingle, water-meadow, and woodland are passed in quick succession: with 1 or 2 exceptions, the villages are unseen for, like the high roads, the railways have managed to avoid them. As in other hilly countries, the large enclosures are divided by loose stone walls, but here they are so low that on a horse well used to them you might gallop as far as the eye can stretch without a stop. Saving he eastern frontier, which belongs to the Heythorp country, 2 packs, the North Cotswold and the Cotswold, divide the great tract between them. The late Arthur Gibbs knew it well. ‘How exhilarating… is a gallop in this fine Cotswold air in the cool autumnal morning! and what a splendid view you get out of hounds!… what is the charm which belongs so exclusively to a fast and straight ‘run’ over this wild, uncultivated region? It does not lie in the successful negotiation of Leicestershire ‘oxers’, Aylesbury ‘doubles’ or Warwickshire ‘stake and bound’ fences, for there need be no obstacle greater than an occasional 4 foot stone wall. Perhaps it lies partly in the fact that in a run over a level stone-wall country, where the enclosures are large, and the turf sound, given a good fox and a ‘burning scent’, hounds and horses travel at as great a pace as they attain in any county in England. Here, moreover, if anywhere, is to be found the ‘greatest happiness for he greatest number,’ the maximum of sport with the minimum of danger; the fine, free air of the high-lying Cotswold plains; the good fellowship engendered when all can ride abreast; the very muteness of the flying pack… the long sweeping stride of a well-bred horse; the uncasing twang of the horn to encourage flagging hounds beaten off by the pace and those which got left behind at the start. ; lastly, the glorious uncertainty! Can it last? Where will it all end? Shall we ‘bang into him’ in the open, or will eh beat us in yonder cold scenting woodland, standing boldly forth on the skyline miles ahead? All these things add a peculiar fascination to a fast run over this wild country.”

This shows how fox hunting used to be: a competition in which the fox could escape. Which is not likely today with so much loss of woodland, the loss of open spaces and our changing sensibilities as to what is acceptable behaviour. This was written over a century ago. It was another world.

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