There’s no better way to show commitment to your hunt than by puppy walking – and it’ll provide you with lasting memories, too
To many, and this includes those who ‘hunt to ride’, they ‘ain’t nothing but a hound-dog’, a friendly face at the meet and then a pack in the distance, their presence only occasionally acknowledged by the huntsman’s cheer and horn. To the hound purists, however, they are the very foundation of the hunt, both on and off the hunting field, and no one, save the huntsman, his Masters and staff, take more pride in them than their puppy walkers.
Like the hounds themselves, puppy walkers come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Some have done it on their farms for generations, others, wishing to show more commitment to their hunting, have brought them home perhaps as a companion to young children.
‘The best fun ever’
When Claudia FitzHerbert, the grand-daughter of Evelyn Waugh, came from London to her Devon home with her twin boys, aged 10, she did not know how to keep them amused. The Tiverton foxhounds duly obliged, with Butler and Buckshot. “I had never had a dog before,” recalls FitzHerbert, who often wrote about their antics in her Daily Telegraph column. “The huntsman would come with flesh and the bones in the courtyard were like an elephants’ graveyard. Then they would take off, visiting my neighbours like ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’.” Once, when I went to visit them, the twins, Ivo and Xavier, had made them painted paper name collars, each with a garland of daisies. “They were the best fun ever,” she remembers. “The day they had to go back I lay in bed until the tears filled my ears.”
Traditionally, puppies go out to walk at 10 weeks old in midsummer and stay with their families for anything from four to six months. “They get a massive variety of experience, like a child going to nursery school,” says Daniel Cherriman, Pytchley huntsman for the past 10 seasons and due to become Joint Master and huntsman of the South Shropshire this month. Cherriman had 20 puppy walkers at the Pytchley. “Good puppy walks do not necessarily make good hunting hounds, and the walkers accept that. What their immense contribution is, is to give the puppies a rounded education, to be steady on all manner of farm animals that might come their way.”
It was as a 12-year-old puppy walker from a Sussex shooting family who got Daniel Cherriman into hunting. “I had no hunting connection, but I went with my father to buy a labrador puppy and the lady walked hound puppies. I got Pageant from Bob Collins at the Hampshire Hunt and have never looked back.”
My own first puppy walk, Crocus, when I was aged 10, came from Captain Brian Bell at the East Devon. I don’t recall too exacting a regime, and we would sit on the granite steps of a fallen-down farm barn, me with an arm draped over her shoulder like Pooh and Piglet.
Talking to younger puppy walkers today, that same sense of responsibility and fun shines through. At the Teme Valley, Kate Bowen and her daughter, Scarlett, aged six, have walked several puppies but one, the fell hound Gracie, who came to them in 2018, stands out. “The most fantastic character,” they both told me. “She started off in the kitchen but soon learned to open gates. We then kennelled her a mile down the road but she always managed to escape. One New Year’s Eve she turned up in our bedroom at three in the morning. She had come in through the bathroom window.”
Walked three times a day, and fed on a mixture of flesh and biscuits, Gracie has even been with the family to the beach. “Scarlett is in charge of lead training, so she was very well behaved,” says Kate Bowen. One is reminded of the Will Ogilvie poem, Will You Walk a Puppy?, in which he wrote:
It is safe to bet when our hound goes back
He will make a name in the ducal pack,
For he’ll empty a cover – of beef or brose,
And he’ll stick to the line – if it’s hung with clothes!
“She has turned into a fantastic hunting hound,” says Teme Valley huntsman David Savage. Another of his puppy walkers is Ellen Jones, 20, whose Graphic (2015) was in the habit of nibbling her horse Bertie’s ears. “The hound knowledge here is very strong,” Jones tells me. “For those of us who have walked puppies there is an added conversation to be had at the end of the day to talk about how well they have worked.”
Of the puppy walkers, Teme Valley Joint Master Clodagh Blain says: “They are the legs on the chair, symbolic of the support the hunt can rely on. The quality of our hounds means everything and we are full of admiration for the selflessness of the puppy walkers.”
For many puppy walkers, the tradition is handed down the generations. But for schoolmaster Chris Pattison-Dick and his partner, Sue Brace, it is a relatively new experience. He is chairman of the Cresselly hunt in Pembrokeshire, which has been in the family of Master Hugh Harrison-Allen since 1789.
“We rented some ground off Hugh and I think one of the unspoken conditions was that we would walk hound puppies,” says Pattison-Dick. “They certainly get to see other animals as on our smallholding we keep sheep, goats, chickens, geese, ponies and donkeys.” He also has a schoolmaster’s eye for well-being. “We feed chicken which are donated to the kennels and we have seen how their coat condition has blossomed dramatically,” he says.
So the consensus amongst puppy walkers seems to be that feed of a mixture of biscuits and flesh is desirable, regular exercise, company and routine. Their reward is that totemic occasion of the summer, the Puppy Show. “We would regularly have 150 come to a marquee on the lawn,” says Hugh Harrison-Allen. “It is a way of thanking the farmers and friends but, most importantly, the puppy walkers.”
“We haven’t won a cup yet,” says Chris Pattison-Dick, not at all downhearted. “I think we might have done with our couple in 2020, but sadly it was cancelled.”
One person whose puppies have deservedly been in the honours is Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray (CLC) puppy walker Diane Evans, who has walked more than 75 puppies from her home near Chichester. CLC’s Dragon (whom I have judged at Ardingly) won the entered championship in 2018, a fine, upstanding hound, biddable and, according to huntsman Sage Thompson, “a very fine hunting hound”.
“I love doing it,” says Evans, “and I think we have got it down to a fine art. It’s hugely time consuming and sometimes the nerves jangle. I have a strict routine, with three good walks a day through our chickens, paddocks and orchards.” She is also a stickler for lead and collar training, and getting them to know their names.
The intelligence that a puppy walker can give the huntsman as to the puppy’s developing character is also important. “With Dragon, he was quite different from the others,” says Evans. “He was bouncy, forward and ‘with it’.” Another of her ‘walks’, Habit (2011), won the unentered bitch class at the Royal Peterborough Hound Show, in 2012, the hunt’s first win there in many years. “She was very quiet and loved lots of cuddles,” recalls Evans. “I give all my walks lots of fun. It is sad when they go back, but mine go back as fit as I can get them. Bits and pieces do disappear, but that’s how it is.” Thompson visits regularly with mince, which Evans supplements with marrow bones and biscuits.
For farmer’s wife Heather Runciman, her interest in puppy walking for the Lauderdale in the Borders came when a Buccleuch hound pup was brought in for medical attention. “We farm quite near a busy road and there was always going to be a worry,” says Runciman. But both former Master and huntsman Tim Coulson and present incumbent Claire Bellamy trusted her abilities and enthusiasm. She is currently walking two College Valley bred puppies, Roxburgh and Royal, of whom she says: “They have lovely temperaments and are so biddable.” I also get the impression they have quite a lot of luxury, being allowed free rein of the kitchen, and can walk in and out of the house by way of sliding doors. “It is vital for them to be lead trained,” continues Runciman. “This is not just because we have a busy road nearby but it gives them a foundation for when they are put on couples back in hunt kennels.”
Runciman is also one of those devoted puppy walkers who has taken back hounds in retirement, hers being Scotia, who enjoyed four years at home on the farm. “He took to his retirement like a duck to water and was always protective of the family and the farm dogs,” she recalls. “In the end, he just curled up and went to sleep.” What of her Puppy Show wins? “I’ve always been the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she laughs. “But as walkers we get beautiful cut glasses.”
Claire Bellamy likes to include everyone in the Lauderdale proceedings. “Heather sends me videos and I take every opportunity to go and see the little darlings,” she says. She also has puppies out at walk with former Masters. “It is such an important way of keeping them in touch when hounds have been part of their whole life. So walking pups helps solve that problem.”
No one knows this better than Captain Ian Farquhar, who hunted both the Bicester and four-day-a-week Duke of Beaufort’s hounds from 1973 until 2018. In his study is a framed, anonymous poem, which brings home the importance of the hound to the huntsman, the Masters, puppy walkers and anyone wishing to have a greater understanding of and commitment to hunting:
Who mourns the soul of a hound when he dies?
Who even knows that he’s gone?
The Master, the huntsman, they miss him perhaps,
And the farm where his walking was done.
When I rang Farquhar to talk about puppy walking, he recited to me the whole poem by heart. “Community and the hound are two great things about the countryside,” he told me. “And the puppy walkers stand at the very heart of both.”
Brian Bell might have remembered my own contribution to community and hound as Crocus’s puppy walker. When I was a Stowe schoolboy, and he was hunting the Warwickshire, he took me out to lunch. On the way back I asked to be dropped off at a house. “I have never been to a bungalow before,” he told me. He was missing a trick. Inside, by a roaring fire, were two hound puppies and four beautiful daughters, one of them my sweetheart. So, for me, not just puppy love, but a love of puppies also.