Thousands show support for the hunt - despite rain
High up on Dartmoor, in mist rain and gales, hundreds of supporters gathered for the traditional Boxing Day meet of the South Devon Hunt.
The air was full of Christmas cheer as mounted and foot followers all turned out to demonstrate their staunch support for hunting.
"We're delighted to see so many people here," said joint master of the hunt, Stephen Froy. "The Boxing Day meet is a wonderful occasion. So many people come to support hunts here and across the country. They are here for a reason because they are supporters of what we are doing despite the weather, which is very grey and gloomy. There are over 1,000 people here on foot today which is fantastic."
Since the hunting ban Mr Froy confirmed that the hunt has seen its support go up and up. We've also seen young people coming out all across the age ranges enjoying what we do and supporting us and supporting in the long-term a repeal of the Act, which we are looking forward to, sometime in the future."
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With South Devon huntsman Ian Pearse unwell, first whip Simon French took over the reins for his first ever Boxing Day hunting with hounds. "It's a very big day for me and it's great so many people are here to support us," he commented, standing out on his beautifully turned out grey with the hounds waiting patiently beside for the sound of the horn to signal the off.
On the incessant rain, he said: "I expect some riders will soon go home if this continues. The ground is extremely wet and so we will keep to the high ground."
Keen to get going was young Josh Pearse, nephew to huntsman Ian, who was visiting from Ireland. "I hope to be out all day," he smiled aboard his pony Fern. "I've hunted here a few times before and I definitely prefer the country."
Also beaming from ear to ear was Debbie McCrady, riding with her two friends Ava and Jemima Hill.
"We plan to stay out as long as we can. The weather is not so kind and with such small ponies we may disappear in the mud!" chuckled Debbie, undeterred by the weather. She added: "It's so lovely to see the hunt so well supported. They so deserve it."
Among the crowds was life-time supporter Fred White. "Hunting people are wonderful people who look after the country, it's how the countryside should be," he said.
Simon Shaw and Claude, his European eagle owl, drew much attention while waiting for the off. As the huntsman's horn cut through the lashing rain, the crowds lined the route to salute Simon and his troops who were Bagtor bound, with their tails in the wind.