Pink coats, red faces and a little blue language

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The sun came out just as the number of hunting supporters massed in Hyde Park, London, yesterday hit the magic figure of 100,000.

After listening to fiery speeches and belting out a rousing chorus of "Jerusalem", the vast crowd of indignant country dwellers and blood- sports enthusiasts streamed back to the shires yesterday, content that they had themselves heard.

It was an earsplitting, colourful show of resistance to the Worcester MP Michael Foster's Bill to ban hunting with hounds. Despite the scorn and threats heaped on anti-hunting townies, the atmosphere was good-natured and friendly.

But some speeches had a note of menace which fitted ill with the rally's slogan, "Listen to us". Sam Butler, joint master of the Warwickshire Hunt, warned: ``This is the last peaceful march and the last peaceful rally.''

Sir Mark Prescott, a vocal supporter of hare coursing, pointed out that a mere 10,000 poll-tax rioters had eventually brought down Margaret Thatcher. ``If it's a battle Parliament wants, it's a battle Parliament can have,'' he said.

But while the crowd shared that sentiment, yesterday their mood was as sunny as the weather. They came from all classes and corners of the nation, taking hundreds of their children out of school for the day - estate, forestry and farm workers, hunt servants, farmers and some proper country gents.

``It's a bit of a scrum, like a football crowd,'' remarked one lady, wearing a shirt with a striking pattern of sword hilts, to her friend as she squeezed into the VIP enclosure.

Reg Makin, aged 57, who farms near Leeds, came down on a coach with other supporters of the York and Ainsley South Foxhunt. He used to hunt, and he approves of the service the hunt offers in putting down sick farm animals and removing carcasses.

``It'll be a bloody sad day for the freedom of the country if this Bill becomes law,'' he said. The majority opposed to hunting with hounds had ``a lack of understanding of these things''.

The greatest applause came for marchers who had walked all the way from Scotland, the north of England, Wales and the South-West, to make their protest. Some were weeping as they walked off the stage after being presented to the crowd.

Michael Heseltine, Lord Steel, Jeremy Irons and Frederick Forsyth were among the speakers. The strangest speech of all came from David Bellamy, the environmentalist, who told the approving multitude: ``I think you're bloody cruel, I couldn't do it [hunt] myself.'' But he recognised that country sports played a crucial role in conserving wildlife and landscapes.

William Hague, the Tory leader, popped into the VIP enclosure to register his support, but gave no speech. In fact, the day was made not by speeches but by the crowd, simply turning out and sensing its strength and cohesion.

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