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  • Writer's pictureLaura Peters

The Foxless Fox Hunt - Tally Ho!

Offspring tourism has taken me and my husband, John, on some unexpected adventures. One such surprise came in January 2019 when we arrived at our daughter’s house in Oxford, England, to learn that she and her husband arranged for us all to go to a Fox-less Fox Hunt. I never dreamed that I’d have the occasion to attend such a symbol of British tradition, and was certainly delighted at the prospect. We learned about the rituals and controversy surrounding a hunt, the people who participate, and – dear reader, I kid you not – even spent a few hours with a woman we were later told was a murderess!

How to get invited to a fox-less fox hunt

I’ll get to the murderess soon, but let me start by telling you how this day came about. My son-in-law, Stephen, and my daughter, Rebecca, have a knack for locating amazing antique furniture, which is relatively inexpensive in England. Plus, they are personable and always interested in other people. They found a fabulous hand-carved bed from the 18th century on the British equivalent of Craigslist, and the couple selling it – Esme and George - invited them to their farm to see the bed in person. One conversation led to another, and next thing they knew they were invited to a neighboring farm for a day of fox-less fox hunting.

The Hunt - The cultural and political

Maybe you’ve seen people ride to hounds in the movies or television. Men in red jackets persuading their horses to leap over hedges in hot pursuit of the dogs who follow their noses to find a red fox. Fox hunting used to be the sport of nobility and landed gentry, but now farmers and people down from London who have a horse participate. British citizens objected to a) causing terror to the fox, b) the killing of the fox, c) the possibility that the hunting dogs are ill treated, d) the damage to the fields and crops from horse hooves pounding over them, e) the fact that it can be classist. As a result of a concerted campaign, fox hunting was banned in 2005 with some complicated provisions to let some form of the tradition continue. Now, hunts are allowed to use “drag hunting” whereby men use an all-terrain vehicles (“ATV”) to drag fox scent over the ground for the hounds to follow.

Our experience at the Fox Hunt

Bundled up in our best tweed, we arrived at the muddy ground of the farm hosting the hunt about 11:00a.m. after a light morning rain. We were all glad we wore sturdy boots and waterproof outer wear. We watched the riders saddle up and gather in an arena. The farmers’ wives walked around with trays of glasses of port and small plates of cake to the horsemen. They generously offered refreshments to those of us standing at the rail as well. As the Master of the Hounds welcomed everyone, glasses were lifted to toast one and all and a safe hunt. The dogs became visibly more excited, as if sensing the chase would soon begin.

As John and I were speculating with each other about what came next for us, a stout older woman sucking on an e-cigarette chimed in to say that we all followed the hunt in our trucks, of course! She invited me, John, Rebecca and Stephen to join her in her gigantic pickup. She had an app on her phone to track the hunt, where participants could text and call to explain the location of the hunters. And off we went!

The immense truck would crest a hill pull to the side of the road, where we leapt out into some mud, and fixed our binoculars on the horses and hounds racing ahead of us. Or we’d pull into a village where more huntsmen and dogs ran through. Vivian*, our hostess, kept up a running commentary about where people were, who they were and the risk of the hunt being attacked by anti-hunt protestors, along with her tales of farming village life and the recent loss of her dear second husband after only two years of marriage.

As it turned out, some anti-hunt protestors on ATV shadowed and taunted the riders and people like us in viewing vehicles, but didn’t hurt anybody. We did not encounter the protestors ourselves – Vivian’s immense vehicle probably scared them off.

The Murderess

After a couple of hours, Vivian dropped us back at the farm so we could get our car and continue with our day which included a fine pub meal and a stop to see the antique bed Rebecca and Stephen were thinking of buying at Esme and George’s farm. That’s where we learned that Vivian was a suspected murderess. John, Stephen, Rebecca and I all looked at each other in wonder, surprise and amazement with a soupçon of horror thrown in. Had we just spent the afternoon with a vaping murderess? She had two husbands who had died rather too conveniently from the perception of many villagers. When those husbands died, her wealth and land holdings increased exponentially – or so the rumor mill in the small village tells it. Vivian seemed nothing like what I would expect of a femme fatale; apparently her deceased husbands may or may not have agreed.

*Not her real name


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1 Comment

Apr 13, 2022

Loved it! Brava!

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