Magazine article The Spectator

A Kingdom for a Horse

Magazine article The Spectator

A Kingdom for a Horse

Article excerpt

One of my recurring dreams is that I am driving through central London when suddenly I turn a corner and find myself among fields. The gardens of Buckingham Palace magically elongate and grow wild, and soon I am on horseback and cantering across Belgravia or (the geography varies) Soho. The dream is a happy one of unexpected space, like the Tardis, or Narnia hiding in the back of the wardrobe. Contained in the familiar world lies an unexpected chance of romance.

I felt I was in such a dream when I was a guest of the Bclmont Hunt the other day. The field approached the motorway which, in every other hunt I have seen, is cause to turn away in fear, lest hounds chase a fox across it with all the consequent carnage and disgrace. But here, as Eddie Stobart and monstrous machines from Spain and Hungary and Nuneaton loomed and roared, we simply rode on above them, crossing the motorway bridge, and then drew the gorse hard by. We found, and the fox, breaking cover, crossed three fields, tried another wood and then doubled back, making for the motorway fence. Not knowing the country, I watched in horror, but the fox had in fact sealed his fate. The fence was so big, so strong and so carefully maintained by the hunt that he would have had a better chance against the old Berlin wall. Hounds fell upon him and killed within 20 yards and in full view of the oncoming lorries. In front of me was a snapshot of how things can be but usually aren't - the rural world pursuing its pleasures and the urban world pursuing its business almost on top of one another, but without conflict. Would the dream dissolve and leave me disconsolately buying petrol and Murray Mints in the Welcome Break?

The Belmont offers the nearest thing that hunting has to a kingdom. It has a constitutional monarch - the Duke of Belmont - who represents the rule of law without himself enforcing it. It has a palace - Beaudesert - with pinnacles that gleam above the frost. Before its main front lies the park in which roam red deer. To one side is the church, all box pews and ancestor worship, in which 300 gathered for the hunt carol service the night I arrived. On the opposite side cluster the more functional aspects of the kingdom stables for 30 horses, kennels and tiny streets of cottages. …

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