Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A night in Scotland

On the weekend we had arranged to collect the hounds from Scotland, a friend and founder member of the hunt, Mick and I hired a white van large enough to accommodate the hounds. We set off for Scotland on Saturday morning and had an uneventful trip north. We arrived in Lockerbie around five in the afternoon and decided to have a quick look around the area, not least to locate where we needed to be the following morning and also to locate a suitable place to park up and spend the night.
We had taken sleeping bags and it was our intention to bed down in the back of the van. Having located the Dumfrieshire Kennels we selected a pull-in with a gate to a large meadow about half way between the kennels and Lockerbie. We then went back into the town of Lockerbie to have a look around and select somewhere to eat. The town isn’t large and, other than pubs, there didn’t seem to be much that suited us by way of eateries. It was, therefore, a pub we ended up in about mid evening. I don’t remember which pub it was but it clearly had an association with all things hunting as there were prints depicting hunting scenes all around the wall and masks of foxes and otter which had been accounted for by the local packs. We had a good meal and settled down to while away the rest of the evening with a few pints.

Sometime during the evening a man and a woman entered the bar we were in and selected the corner seat. After a while, and having heard Mick and I talking about the hounds etc., the man asked if we were up for the hunting. We explained our mission and had a general chat. At around ten thirty Mick and I departed for our night in the van. We settled down, having had a night cap from our hip flasks, and soon fell asleep. About two hours later we were rudely awoken by a thumping on the van.

Thinking it was probably the Police I crawled out only to find the man we had encountered in the pub. I don’t for a moment think he is still with us as he was quite a bit older the me, but, just in case, I will refer to him only as Jock. He was a very nice chap and I would not wish to cause him any embarrassment. Having woken us up, Jock insisted that we couldn’t possibly spend the night in the van. He said we should come home with him where we would be warm and secure. I gently tried to convince him that we were fine and as much as we appreciated his invite we would stay where we were. Mick was insisting that I told him to "go away"!.

However, Jock was having none of it and in the end the easiest solution seemed to be to go with him. We followed his van as instructed and having been sworn to secrecy regarding his female companion of the evening. The drive seemed to go on forever and, upon leaving the road, we drove down tracks through tall trees in what appeared to be a forest. Eventually we came to a large clearing where Jocks cottage was located. We were taken into his sitting room, where a large log fire was burning and told this was where we could spend the night. Jock went up stairs to make his wife aware of our presence and then made us a coffee before departing himself. We settled down but my goodness was it hot. It was not the most restful night either of us had enjoyed, the heat being a major impediment to sleep. In the morning Jock appeared bright and early and provided us with a very good breakfast. We met his wife and daughter who were both charming. Having eaten, Jock took us on a tour of his grounds. He was, it turned out, the gamekeeper for Sir Rupert Buchanan Jardine and his cottage was located in the middle of his shoot. In a paddock at the back of the cottage we were shown Sir Rupert's collection of game birds. By game birds I do not mean pheasants and partridge but game cocks. One of Jock's duties was to look after this collection. They were beautiful birds, housed in quite unusual houses.

Each unit had a wire run and a house at one end but the house part of the structure was in the form of a tall tower. This, Jock told us, was to enable the birds to get up high for roosting purposes which, it appears, they favoured. Each unit housed a trio of two hens and a cock bird. I have no idea how many birds or units there were but the paddock seemed to be covered with them. Having seen the cocks we were taken to see Jock's terriers which were also a bit special, being quite long in the leg. These also, it seemed, were special to Sir Rupert as they were bred to chase deer.

We were told that Sir Rupert was a very keen foxhunter and the numerous deer within his woodlands had a seriously detrimental effect upon his foxhunting. They, therefore had to go. The way this was achieved was by holding deer shots when the deer would be driven out of the woods by teams of Jock's terriers and shot by the waiting guns that surrounded the woods. We were given a look at the results of the most recent deer shoot and were confronted with a large cold room full of deer carcasses all waiting to go to local butchers. Jock then arranged for us to go and see Sir Rupert's foxhounds before we collected our otter hounds. The foxhounds were, he told us, kennelled quite close to the otterhound kennels. Upon arrival we were greeted by the huntsman and escorted to the kennels. It was one of the strangest kennels I had ever seen, each hound yard had a high, sort of, balcony around it which meant the viewer was standing high above the hounds and looking down upon them. Foxhounds are by nature a very placid breed and usually quite harmless to people but I had the overwhelming feeling that had I fallen into the yard the hounds would have eaten me. The kennels were spotless and the hounds quite magnificent. But, like most things belonging to Sir Rupert, these were no ordinary hounds. For a start, they appeared to be rather taller than the usual foxhound, and all of them were coloured black and tan. Not a spot of white to be seen.

Having left the foxhounds we made our way to collect our otter hounds John was waiting for us as was his kennel huntsman Billy. We had another kennel tour and eventually loaded up our precious cargo.We left Lockerby by mid- morning and arrived back home in Surrey early in the evening. What a great experience and some really lovely friendly and kind people. After all, we were very much strangers to all of them, sometimes people really do restore ones faith in human nature, this had been one such occasion.

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