Sunday, 14 October 2012

Wayward Chestnuts, Rioting Foxhounds and a Plucking Pheasant — The Spills and Spoils of a Day in the Country

What had started out as a mission to catch a few redfins, and big ones hopefully, soon transformed into an Ealing-style-comedy-turned-real-life-entertainment featuring a motley cast of clowns and crazed creatures all vying for centre stage whilst a guffawing audience of anglers looked on in bewildered amusement.

On the way down we'd spotted road kill — a freshly dead pheasant on the grass verge of the Fosse way. We noted landmarks for the way home so that we could nip out and get it for Sunday lunch. Who's Sunday lunch that would be wasn't mentioned, but I guessed Martin had eyes for it and being passenger it would my job to retrieve the feathery thing. Fair enough.

The stage is set, and the curtain is about to open
Lemington Lakes was windy as it ever was. High up in the Cotswold Hills, it suffers from an aspect that seems to catch the breeze and funnel it down whatever opening it can exploit, including any unplugged gap in clothing. Knowing the place well, I'd taken scarf, coat and Barbour 'Trapper' hat with let down ear flaps even though at home it had seemed warm enough for an outfit more autumn season than winter. What's also odd about Lemington's windiness, is that it often starts off one direction and stays there for a couple of hours, then turns another and stays there a couple more before veering someplace else, which means moving about a lot just to stay with your back to it.

Unless you're Martin that is, who likes to fish into the teeth of wind. I however, hate it and like to have my back to it at all times even if that means 'less fish,' which old angler's fishwife's tale I'm not at all certain about anyhow. Let's put it this way, skinny butts like me can't endure penetrating wind for too long and fish well, so putting my back to it means fishing in peace, not shivering on my perch.

And perch were the order of the day, because roach were hard to find. In drips and drabs came fish but perch were predominant (and proved to stay that way the whole day long) however, just when the fishing looked to be heading toward boredom in extremis, we heard the distant toot of hunting horns. Oh goody! Entertainment in the form of a passing fox chase, which is always a bit of picturesque fun...

All of a sudden, a crash - bang - wallop behind us heralds the entrance, stage right, of a fully tacked but very skittish chestnut mare minus rider, who'd leapt a stile in a gap in the bushes and was now in search of no particular place to go but up and away from whence it came. It began to look dangerously wild and might have come at us pell-mell, but then stamped up to a canter, climbed the dam, galloped off along our bank throwing a shower of divots up behind, and disappeared uphill.

Naturally, we wondered if imagined ditch it'd thrown its rider into was wet or dry. We anticipated having him on stage some time soon when we'd no doubt find out which...

Half an hour later — enter stage right — our hapless mount!

Dry as a bone in the cloth, but sweating like a pig beneath, he mutters a few ripe expletives, gasps out an explanation whilst at a sluggish trot to the now upstanding crowd of enthralled onlookers, when we find out the less than violent but equally entertaining openings of the unfolding plot. He'd dismounted for a pee, when his steed had simply vanished!

Exit stage left — uphill, and at a gnat's pace — our rider.

Dogs are heard approaching. There's a barking and a yelping and a throttled choking going on some way back in the dressing room. Someone's parping on a horn to recall them, but the foxhounds are expected to make their entrance on our stage soon enough...

Enter stage — well, from all and any directions really — a riot of rowdy hounds!

Fan-bloody-tastic!  They're everywhere at once. Thirty or forty of them all in little packs splitting this way and that and generally making a nuisance of themselves in their hopeless search for the lost scent.

It's well worth the ticket money this, so sod the fishing!

After ten minutes of general mayhem, the dogs vanish through the hedgerow, a deer bolts from cover right under their noses and tears up the hill rising behind but they take no notice, it's not what they're after. All is peace and quiet once more. It's all over, surely... but then

Enter stage left — our hapless huntsman and wayward chestnut, reunited!

Now composed, they regally progress along our bank, stop briefly before the stile, take a trot at it, leap over with a swish of brushed branch and twig, and are gone.

For now...

Ten minutes later — enter backstage — horse and rider, plus foxhounds!

Commence general mayhem once more, and just as before. In the distance though, are seen a line of trotting horses and riders making their way up the far hill where our horse and rider had not long come down from, and they're tooting as they go, but the hounds are after that foxy odour hereabouts and swarming all around us, but are taking no more notice of them and their horn blowing than they're taking of us and our consternation.

The hounds look bewildered — our rider looks confused. He stops and he starts, and they come and they go. He decides it's a lost cause and eventually trots off backstage taking the hounds with him. The curtain closes on the high jinks and drama, we never see them again, and the show is finally, over.

Bravo! A standing ovation!


I decide a move is a good thing after all the commotion and make my way where the wind can't seek me out. It's a lost cause though, because there's no getting way from it. In an hour the wind has changed once more and is blowing down my neck and up my cuffs.

After a long afternoon of relative tedium after the hilarious entertainment of morning during which I catch almost bugger all but freeze half to death in the process, we finally pack up and head for home. I'm never more glad of the warmth of the interior of a vehicle than I am now.

Along the Fosse Way Martin overtakes a horse truck no doubt containing our wayward steed, or at least similar if not!  Then, just a mile along we clock the landmarks we'd noted and remember the dead pheasant. Martin pulls over very sharply. The horse truck veers noisily to the right and the driver (or even our rider!) toots his horn in a long doppler-effect blast of hot air as he vanishes downhill.

The pheasant has not yet been nabbed by a fox, and so it was perhaps our wily fox's late night supper I walked all the way back to, picked up, and unceremoniously dumped in the boot whilst another motorist veers hard right taking a chain of others along with her, and in going by parps her horn in either outright disgust at my road-raking activity, or Martin's crazy parking in a 60mph kerbless zone?

Some might say I'm naturally 'a pheasant plucker,' or even the 'son' of one... so, this Sunday morning bright and early (and very chilly too, I'll say!) my bird — because Martin wanted no part of it after all — was duly plucked, gutted, and trimmed for today's roast lunch. We'll get the succulent fresh meaty bits, our own hounds will get the scrawny carcass, the giblets and the good offal, the rest of the guts will feed the maggots we'd use as bait for perch, and the feathers I'll sell on Ebay to craftspeople in search of earring danglers. Waste not!

I can smell the oven heating up to broiling point right now, and Judy calls out for spuds from the larder so I'll have to sign off. Mmmm. Fresh pheasant and roasties...

The spills and spoils of a day in the country, eh?

PS, no animals (apart from the pheasant) were harmed in the making of this blog— it was of course a trail hunt, not an illegal fox or stag hunt. Also, the horse was a 'bay,' not a 'chestnut,' but chestnut sounds so much better in the title!


  1. Are you saying I'm a fat bloke then Skinny Hatt ? I'll have to sit on you & then see if you can call me fat, If you can speak with 16 1/2 stone on you that is. Anyway I was quite bemused about the horn tooting as I clearly indicated I was pulling over and slowed down before finaly stopping, with my indicator still on. You make it sound like I was stopping all the traffic.

  2. Must spend more time reading this "sensible" stuff, great usual Jeff.

  3. Great read as ever Jeff. Haven't done much fishing at all since we discussed a possible meet up. Will drop you an email tomorrow.

    Also found this, which should interest you: