Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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dartmoor ponies.janetladnerJanet Ladner photo

Photographer Janet Ladner was out following the Mid-Devon Foxhounds when she came across these wild ponies taking shelter from the snow. I have hunted on Dartmoor, in England’s West Country, and found it to be a fascinating landscape of bleakness and beauty, with visible reminders of cultures that serially take one back in time all the way to prehistory. While hunting, one comes across ditches left by tin mining activity that began in pre-Roman times and continued to the twentieth century, evidence of farm tillage going back to the Bronze age in the parallel rows running across the slopes, and standing stones erected in prehistoric times. During quiet moments when hounds check, one can allow the imagination to soar.

For me, Dartmoor also conjures memories of cold winter boyhood days at home, reading the spooky mystery, Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the third of his Sherlock Holmes novels to be published, and this Dartmoor mystery filled my young head with delicious terror.

By coincidence, Janet Ladner’s photos of the ponies on Dartmoor arrived just as writer/editor Steve Price sent me this foxhunting poem, written by Arthur Conan Doyle. A confluence of Dartmoor and Doyle. Who knew he wrote such poetry?

A HUNTING MORNING
by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Put the saddle on the mare,
For the wet winds blow;
There's winter in the air,
And autumn all below.
For the red leaves are flying
And the red bracken dying,
And the red fox lying
Where the oziers grow.
 
Put the bridle on the mare,
For my blood runs chill;
And my heart, it is there,
On the heather-tufted hill,
With the gray skies o'er us,
And the long-drawn chorus
Of a running pack before us
From the find to the kill.
 
Then lead round the mare,
For it's time that we began,
And away with thought and care,
Save to live and be a man,
While the keen air is blowing,
And the huntsman holloing,
And the black mare going
As the black mare can.

"A Hunting Morning" is reprinted from Songs of Action, A. Conan Doyle, London, John Murray, 1916.

Posted March 6, 2017

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