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Hunting Country

When I was ten, a man cut off a fox’s tail and used it smear blood on my face. I had been ‘blooded’: a hunting rite of passage.

We had been on our way home, picking our way up the heathery side of the hill, when we passed the scene of the kill. Haig, our eccentric farming neighbour and my father, on their shaggy Highland ponies, had broken off from the rest of the riders and spent the day on the other side of the glen, watching the hounds work while exchanging farming gossip and plans. I had been with them, mainly trying to control my wilful pony who set his mouth to steel on seeing the hunt. My feet hurt from the cold.

In the gloaming, down near the boggy burn, the hounds were milling. The fox’s body had been flung high and the hunting horn blown to mark the moment. I was urged to dismount and approach.

The blood cooled quickly on my cheeks.

“You’ll hunt forever now,” said the huntsman.

The blood cooled quickly on my cheeks.

Hunting with dogs was banned in 2004. Nearly twenty years later, all of Britain’s 180 foxhound packs are still in operation. In England, a legal loophole has allowed them to follow ‘laid’ trails. If a live fox happens to cross that route, it is hard to stop the hounds from diverting to the chase. The League Against Cruel Sports says the hunting fraternity widely admits that trail hunting is ‘a smokescreen’.

In Scotland, the ban was enforced differently. A pack of hounds could only be used to flush foxes out from cover to where they could be shot by guns. Now a new law, passed in January,  limits that activity to just two dogs at a time. In Lauderdale country, scene of my bloody anointing, foxhunting, finally, is no longer forever.




© Laura Parker

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