“LAUDERDALE…….a wall country; about 45 per cent in pasture; 25 per cent moorland; 20 per cent plough; 10 per cent woodland”.
That extract from Bailey’s Hunting Directory of 1939 – the half-way point in the story of hunting in Lauderdale – aptly described a country almost unchanged for half a century. Today, fifty years on, how much has the country altered? On the face of it the essential character is the same but it is nonetheless interesting to consider the more subtle changes since World War Two.
Until a few years after the war, with the arrival of the Land Rover and towed horse trailers, practically everyone hacked to meets and it was not uncommon to be one and a half hours on the road. There were grooms (all of them male!) to ride second horse and also shut gates as they were expected to ride at the back of the field. Traffic on trunk roads such as the A68 was so light that you could jog along sections of it behind hounds, and after a long day you might hack home in the moonlight.
There is no doubt that until then hunting in Lauderdale was much easier than now. Walls could be jumped with confidence in the reasonable expectation that there was no wire lurking except along some marches and even there you would be sure to find a well-marked hunt jump or gate. Mains electric fencing, that modern phenomenon, was unknown then – (though let it be said that today farms will switch off the current if warned that the hunt might pass) – as were large herds of autumn calving suckler cows and also early lambing ewes.
The going was probably better, for much of the grassland was unimproved permanent or rough pasture, lightly stocked by today’s standards and not grazed bare, which made for excellent going and seldom cut up. Plough (as defined by Bailey) meant ploughed stubble, grass or turnip land. Cropping rotations in Lauderdale were based on oats, barley (all spring grown) and turnips. Indeed the large fields of turnips grown until the ‘sixties were often a useful draw for hounds. Also included would be small acreages of potatoes and winter wheat but they would be grown mainly in lower Lauderdale. Winter barley began to appear in the late ‘seventies, but this crop may now be retreating from the higher ground, having lost favour with many.
The disappearance of the binder has probably been the main reason for delayed starts to cub-hunting, apart from the debatable alteration to the seasons. It was quite usual for oats in the lower lying parts of Lauderdale to be bindered and stoked during the second half of August. This allowed the young entry to be introduced to adjoining coverts in plenty of time before the hunting season proper began. Combine-harvesting grain crops has meant that in late seasons the whole country is not opened up until early October, sometimes even later.
In case the impression is one of unfavourable comparison between hunting today and hunting in the earlier half of this century, it has to be said with some truth that the changes in agricultural practice affecting foxhunting happened over a period of say thirty or forty years and both hunt officials and subscribers have adapted to them as well as possible. They have become accepted as part of the changing rural scene. Set-aside and a return to extensification of the way Lauderdale is farmed may yet bring benefits to hunting. Whatever the fortunes of farming – and the period of 1889-1989 has seen many ups and downs – hunting in Lauderdale has survived them all.