The Blackmore & Sparkford Vale secretary and riding expedition leader Rose Cameron on nights under the stars and the (equine) wedding present of dreams

Rose Cameron began hunting with the Essex & Suffolk as a child and is now secretary of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale in the West Country, from where she runs her travel company Rose Cameron Rides.

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My first day’s hunting was with the Essex & Suffolk when I was nine years old and we were living in Colchester with the Army, but it was with the Bedale during the next two seasons that I really caught the bug. By the time we returned home to Gloucestershire I was hooked, so most Saturdays for the next decade were spent hunting with the VWH, where I met many of my friends for life. I remember fondly the family hunting rituals; three children locked in the stables until horses and tack were spotless; the classic “Don’t tell Mum,” when things went wrong and my amazing mother always on call for the A&E run. Favourite hunting companions included Freddie, the perfect hunting pony, and Spot, who was bought by my father after a few whiskies and a cracking day with the Meath. Spot bucked me off within 10 minutes of arriving, then three times in the same week. We were eliminated at every event that had any flags – but hunting was her forte and she was a loyal friend to us all.

Alongside these happy days, I have been lucky to benefit from Dad’s [Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter] pastime of leading riding expeditions in wild and wonderful places in the footsteps of heroes of historical military campaigns. His formula has been simple: find a campaign in beautiful countryside; invite like-minded friends; source good horses; and include plenty of decent food and drink. My first adventure was to South Africa when I was 14 to ride over the battlefields of the Boer War and the Zulu War. I will never forget the evening when we camped beside the Isandlwana mountain, sitting around the campfire and listening to the late David Rattray tell the story of the battle, as if under a spell.

There have been many more since. In Ethiopia, we rode mules to retrace the long-forgotten Abyssinia campaign of 1868, when Sir Robert Napier led the British military expedition to the fortress of Magdala to rescue the British consul taken captive by the ‘mad’ Emperor Theodore. In Jordan, we rode Arab horses across the empty desert following the route taken by TE Lawrence to seize the port of Aqaba. In the evenings, we read extracts from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Everywhere we slept out under magnificent starscapes. In South America, we rode over the Andes following the hoofprints of José de San Martín, one of the great figures of South American independence from Spain. We rode across borders at 14,000ft, got caught in a blizzard and tasted 28 varieties of Malbec. It was on this trip that I met Ewen, my husband – one of the ‘like-minded friends’.

In 2019, I launched my own company, Rose Cameron Rides, with the aim of recreating some of the magic of these rides for others. I do not pretend to be a historian so the history is light. But I love the themes, which add romance and another layer of interest. When Covid struck, plans were off so I took inspiration from closer to home. I realised that all the vital components of a great riding holiday are here and that I could create some really special rides on my own doorstep. I have loved planning these and have been so lucky to find some superb places to stay, with wonderful hosts who have all become friends. Along the Ridgeway, we stay in the elegant Woolley Park and in Dorset, we link up the ancient hillforts and stay at a different place each night, including a beautiful manor house. I can’t wait to return to Jordan in 2022 but I’m also excited to continue these rides along the timeless bridleways of England.

I didn’t hunt much in my twenties because I was either living abroad or in London. When Ewen said to me during our second dinner, “By the way, I’m afraid my hunting is not negotiable,” I said that I thought I could probably cope. I had my first day with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale seven years ago and I could not believe my luck. Three years later, my once-in-a-lifetime horse, Rebel, arrived as the wedding present of dreams. He is brave and careful in equal measure and has looked after me and provided huge amounts of fun crossing the Vale. I feel incredibly lucky to be trail hunting in a wonderful hunting country, thanks to the support of the farmers and hard work of our Masters. Any day in the best of our country, surrounded by friends, is a red-letter day. Hunting is certainly back in my life. When having to explain to Ewen why I might be hunting twice in a week, the answer is always, “I’m afraid my hunting is not negotiable.”

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