Having bought and moved into our first house, which was located on top of the North Surrey downs about Oxted I began to think of new challenges. Right on the Kent and Surrey border our first purchase was a flint and brick cottage, grade two listed and located right on top of Titsey Hill. What is it they say about location, location, location? Trust me that is so true. Our house was in a lovely rural position with some stunning views. It backed on to a large woods which still belonged to the Titsey Estate which had once owned our cottage. We had free access to the woods and lovely walks over and around the downs upon which our cottage was located. All this was positive, in addition, we were far away from our work in London but close enough to get in and out without much of a problem.
What we had not considered was the fact that we were living on the top of a very long steep hill with both a small pull-in and telephone kiosk outside of our side entrance. Never again ! Cars coming up the hill were in the habit of boiling up, breaking fan belts, running out of petrol and all manner of other vehicular disasters. Upon reaching the summit of the hill they seemed to regard my property as the local garage. We were knocked up at all hours of the day and night with requests for just about anything regarding car repairs on for giving the callers onward journeys to wherever. Upon being told that I was not a branch of the A.A or R.A.C. or, indeed a local garage, the callers would, for the most part, get quite stroppy. So, do not buy a house on top of a large hill with a road beside it.
One of the reasons I had been keen to buy this particular property was the fact that is was fairly isolated and would allow me to keep poultry and my pack of Jack Russell Terriers. At the time I was involved showing and working the terriers. These were hunt terrier shows not your Kennel Club type. Not having a lot of neighbours, together with the woodland around us was, I thought, ideal for my way of life.
It was around this time that mink hunting was becoming very popular and The Masters of Mink Hounds and Coypu Association had been formed. Later to remove the, and Coypu, part of their title when the Coypu had been eradicated. By, I hasten to add, Government request. Having been out with a pack of mink hunting several times in the West Country, I had taken quite a shine to it. I had a group of friends whom had a similar interest and bit by bit I formed the idea that I would like to put a pack of my own together. There are two main obstacles to so doing. The first being the registration of a suitable country over which to hunt, and the second, that of obtaining hounds. One has to join the relevant association in order to demonstrate that your pack will comply with responsible regulation and hunt within the rules etc. Registering country can only be done it you can find an unregistered area or if a friendly registered pack will loan or donate you an area. In our case there was a very large area of Kent and north Surrey which had not been registered so I registered that without too much bother. With regard to obtaining hounds, once again registration and membership of an approved hunting association is required, as it is forbidden for a hunt to dispose of hounds other than to another registered hunt. This is to ensure, as far as it is possible, that hound breeding lines are preserved and not corrupted.
This is where my previously mentioned, (last month’s edition of these notes ), friendship with Douglas Lesley came into play. I contacted Douglas, told him of my plans and asked if he had any idea where I might get hold of a few pure bred Otter Hounds to form the basis of the hunt. I had this mad idea that it would be much nicer to hunt Otter hounds than old foxhounds. After all Otter Hounds had been made for hunting water and had both the coats and feet to cope with all that the rivers could throw at them. It didn’t take long for Douglas to reply and, not only was he very enthusiastic about my idea, but he also knew the man he felt could help. He had, he told me, been in the army as a young man with Captain John Bell – Irving.
John was the master and owner of the Dumfriesshire otter hounds. Well to cut a long story short John agreed to talk with me and we exchanged a number of letters regarding my plans. Being satisfied with what he learned he agreed to draft, (give), me five pure bred Otter Hounds which would form the nucleus of my pack. He proposed giving me two old and trusted bitches, a slightly younger bitch of breeding age, a young dog of breeding age and another dog puppy. This would give us hounds to hunt with and also the ability to breed new stock for future seasons. What an absolute gent, he did us proud. All we had to do was to get to Dumfriesshire, actually to Lockerbie, which was where John lived and collect our hounds. This was, in itself, quite an undertaking and another story on its own. But the Tandridge Minkhounds were about to come into being. More next month.