Nothing seems to make people more heated then discussing the pros and cons of hunting. Fox hunting is alive and kicking around Hay On Wye - at least four hunts span the immediate area - and in fact fox hunting is happening all over the countryside. Most city people I talk to think it is cruel and want it banned. Most country people think the opposite.
Tales of foxes killing entire coops of chickens and geese fuel the fire here in the countryside, meanwhile the townies talk of hounds ripping the throats of family pets in their crazed efforts to hunt down the "poor little fox". Whatever the argument, the sport is certainly not relegated to history and seems to actually be thriving and growing amidst all the ideological conflict.
Last Friday I had my weekly horse riding lesson with my instructor Charlotte in her outdoor school. I had just finished, and was quietly hacking home thinking of shoulder-ins and half passes when I suddenly heard the very thin but beautiful sound of a bugle in the local woodland area below the local common land.
My pony pricked up his ears and started to look about excitedly, and as I began to trot home I came across about 15 hounds, a jumble of vehicles and some men wearing Barbour-type jackets with flat caps and sticks. Very Down to Earth Powell and Pressberger.
The hounds were impressively polite and allowed my pony to walk down the lane unaccosted and I stopped to ask one gentleman what they were doing. "Cubbing", they answered.
Everyone round here knows what that is - rooting out the young foxes and preparing the hounds for the proper hunt. As I had just been in an outdoor riding menage littered with the droppings of over thirty foxes (each with big plumstones in them - they had obviously gorged themselves on Charlotte's plums the day before), I knew as well as the hunters that the area was teeming with foxes.
Nobody says much though. It's an official secret throughout the land - away from Westminster and all the townies - that fox hunting is going strong.
As I left the hounds, the cars and the men, with an invitation to the join the opening meet next month, I passed an elderly gentleman with a pair of binoculars and a walking stick. He stopped me and asked what the noise was. Assuming he was following the hunt I asked him if he had seen the hounds. He looked at me with a strange expression..."but I thought hunting was banned?" he said.
"It is" I replied, and trotted on.