A case of the unspeakable in pursuit of the doubtful

A Slice of Britain: Deep in the English countryside, the hunting lobby launches a recruitment drive to bring in new blood

Small wet noses poke expectantly from identical rows of circular holes in the side of an oversized lorry parked in the middle of a field in the Surrey countryside. From deeper inside the lorry come the neighing of horses and the high-pitched chatter of their owners.

At the sound of the lorry opening, my heart sinks. In moments, a pack of dogs and ranks of thoroughbred horses (with even more thoroughbred owners) emerge to take part in a sport that divides Britain.

Tweed-clad people all around me continue as if nothing has happened, but my stomach clenches. Only one thing frightens me more than dogs, and that is the horses they accompany. The combination is nothing short of hell. No doubt their owners consider all these stamping hooves and wagging tails mere exuberance. But my worst fears are realised as slavering hounds begin to rub against my legs and an angry mare kicks out dangerously near my head.

It is the first day of Newcomers' Week, a recruitment drive by the Countryside Alliance to get more people on side with the scarlet-coated pursuit. At the Surrey Union hunt, in a field not far from Guildford, there is an atmosphere of excitement: the expectation of a brave new world.

Last week was a good week for hunting. On Tuesday, to the delight of the party faithful, David Cameron dubbed the 2004 Hunting Act which banned the killing of foxes by hounds "a farce", and announced he would be holding a free vote in the Commons to repeal it. He even admitted to a crime more heinous than puffing a joint as a teenager: he has indulged in the national sport of toffs. "I have taken part in a number of rural sports, including hunting," he confessed to the Today programme, adding with a stammer, "but not for several years." Before he had had the chance to explain he hadn't inhaled, the damage had been done.

Nigel Morland shares none of Mr Cameron's discomfort with country pursuits. In a tweed jacket, checked shirt and a yellow tie covered in cartoon foxes and hounds, the 54-year-old accountant is the perfect caricature of the gent who rides to hounds. He cuts the sort of figure you can imagine pinned to the dartboards of animal rights campaigners.

"It's great news that there could be a vote," he says, in a voice so loud I have to retreat six feet. "I just think the current ban is rather stupid."

He is one of about 70 riders who gather in Surrey. The bumf from the alliance promises "thousands of people" will be going to meets around the country to try hunting for the first time this week. Plainly they're congregating elsewhere. At our conclave, only 10 or so of the people on horseback are not regulars.

Chantelle Evans, 19, is one of the genuine newcomers and a public relations dream for the hunt. For a start, she is the only person who is not white. The bonus is she is also not from the generations of privilege that have made the sport so hated. She works as a groom in her local stables near Reigate and has come with her mum, Julie, who is a carer for the elderly.

Putting on a velvet-trimmed riding cap, she says: "I've never hunted before, but that's partly because until recently I didn't have a horse." In answer to questions about the way hunting is perceived, or the problems people might have with it, she is shy, simply saying she is "excited about going along for the first time".

Penny Wilson is master of the hunt for the day. "There's no fox today," she says. "The farmers get the foxes and shoot them; then the entrails are put into a bag that we call a jollop, which we drag along for scent." Noting my grimace at the carnage in this supposedly "animal-friendly" hunting, she adds, a mite huffily, "It's perfectly legal: we're allowed to shoot them but we're not allowed to hunt them."

Charlie Thomas from Berkshire is the first whipper-in. "I make sure all the hounds are in line," the 27-year-old explains, calming his horse. The hunt is ready. A blast of the horn is swiftly followed by the thunder of hooves and the chase is on. They gallop past plane trees, the unspeakable in pursuit of the invisible.

Even some of the participants agree that the lack of live prey is a good thing. Debbie Wanbon, with two of her three children taking part in yesterday's hunt, says, "I have great reservations about chasing a fox. I only take part because now it's a scent. I'm happy for it to be as it is. People seem to enjoy it, so why take the law backwards?"

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas