Dylan Jones: 'On a French stag hunt, you’ll see sexy quinquagenarian women with lipstick-slashed mouths'

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The Independent Online

I spent most of New Year's Eve following a stag hunt in the forests around Chantilly, just outside Paris. Few things are as exhilarating, as anyone who has ever ridden in a hunt here will tell you. Where most fox hunts run across open fields and meadows with hedges, French hunts are usually conducted in deep forests. It is a great day out (if you're not a stag), a day full of pomp and ceremony, where you will see 50-year-old men with aggressively styled hair and bright pink tunics, fortysomething millionaires in long black cloaks and tilted berets, unbelievably sexy quinquagenarian women with lipstick-slashed mouths and tight green quilted vests – and the mistress of the hounds, dressed up in all her finery (including a stag tooth stock pin) and looking something like Catherine Deneuve on a horse. They sip from hipflasks, gossip about local politics, flirt, and follow the hounds across the mud and the snow.

The first time I went, I found the whole thing terribly exotic. There are few places in Britain where you can find such a visual feast of sartorial elegance, and it made me nostalgic – for a time and a world I knew little about.

We took our children out a few years ago, when they were four and six, and allowed them to watch the stag's death ceremony. We had taken them to the butcher's, so why not this? I'm sure, for some, this can be a gruesome experience, but it is a quintessential part of the process. When the master and huntsman have finished counting the dogs (some always come in late, panting and irritated at missing the kill), the ceremony can start: the skin is lifted off the beast's entrails, which are then devoured at spell-binding speed by the hounds.

And the children loved it. They loved the noise, the thrill of the spectacle, even the ferocious way in which the hounds consumed everything in front of them. No, they didn't particularly like the smell, but they got used to it. It is a pretty primal experience, but an instructive one at that. And they were far more terrified of ET which they watched a few months earlier.

Real life can sometimes be reassuringly simple.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'