It was about the last day?s hunting of this season and it was a corker. This particular meet is always a good ?un ? and I can get to it across country on my quad. The landscape is awesome ? open, roadless, rough pasture and white grass moor, with a scattering of crags and small conifer plantations. A visitor from a neighbouring pack, surveying the windswept scenery, said to his companion: ?Well, this is big country, ain?t it??
The home team comprised my wife on a horse, myself on my quad, my friend Martin on a quad I had borrowed for him, and my eldest son Tom on another. Hounds were soon away and we set off at a cracking pace, running along the tops of the ridges. In wet areas, the quaddies (there must have been 30 of us out) spread out to minimise the tracking. (Having said this, most quad marks are gone within days; it?s the hoofmarks of the horses that last much longer.)
My courage ran out at a nasty, steep-banked stream. The diehards insisted on tackling it, but I saw at least one machine overturned and that was enough for me. Those of us of a more sensitive disposition (as I like to say) tried to find another way. This involved a huge detour, the crossing of a considerable peat bog at speed (we didn?t dare slow down) and the negotiation of yet another stream ? pretty hairy, but survivable if you got off the quad and ran alongside, thumb on the throttle.
We emerged on to a broad grassy ridge, miles from the meet, with neither sight nor sound of the hunt. Somewhere along the way, Martin had picked up a passenger ? a youth in a balaclava, who had asked for a lift. We tried ringing a few people, but there was no signal. It seemed like an opportune time for lunch. We broke out the flasks and sandwiches.
A suspicious Samaritan
Then we set off again. We eventually heard, from one of the scattered foot followers, that the hounds had run straight out of our own hunt country, and were miles to the east. We went that way, and found ourselves descending into a cultivated valley. As we were passing through a quaint village, Tom?s mobile rang. It was my wife. He handed me the phone.
?We?ve galloped for about an hour, Gemma has lost two shoes, she?s lame, I?m leading her on foot, everybody else has gone on. You?ll have to get the trailer and pick us up,? she said.
Frankly, this was not the sort of news I wanted to hear. I asked her location. Somewhere south of Kielder Forest, seemed to be about the best she could do. Eventually, Tom managed to find her, and got the car keys. Now all we had to do was to motor back to the car ? about 12 miles away by now ? and drive it back to an agreed rendezvous. But there were logistical complications to do with the quads. Martin?s balaclava-clad passenger kindly offered to drive the borrowed quad back to the meet. This was tempting, but what if it went wrong? I could only imagine the subsequent conversation:
?So, you gave this person your friend?s quad, and he hasn?t returned it.?
?Er, that?s right, officer?.
?What?s this person?s name??
?I?m afraid I never asked?.
?Well, what did he look like, then??
?I don?t know, he was wearing a balaclava?.
?Where did he come from??
?Well, we found him in the middle of a bog.?
No, it wasn?t a feasible option. But we eventually managed to get everything sorted out, and returned to the fray after an intermission of about an hour. As dusk began to fall, the hounds were still going strong ? but we?d had enough. When we got home, my quad?s trip meter showed 55.2 miles.