It was Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, and we joined in on a centuries-old tradition in England: Fox hunting.
Though the fox hunting of yesteryear was outlawed in 2004, people still get dressed up and go through the other motions of preparing for a big hunt. My sister-in-law and her family live in a small English town, where there is a “fox hunt” and I was stoked to take part.
In packing for our trip to England, I asked her what one wore to a fox hunt, hoping she’d give me a good excuse to buy some new camel colored boots that I could pass off as “riding boots.” Or even a natty tweed blazer. But no, she told me we as spectators are pretty casual, wearing whatever we want.
It was late morning on Boxing Day, when our two families bumbled out the door and walked along a perfectly snaking, narrow English road. The even narrower sidewalks were choked with people headed to the square. Occasionally we’d hear the clop, clop, clop of beautifully groomed horses that were also on their way to the “hunt.”
When we arrived at the square, I felt a little like I was in Hogsmeade, but surrounded by fellow muggles. The buildings are well-kept, but everything, like much of England, appears very old to my American eyes. There’s a three-story Tudor building that dates back to 1460 and is called King John’s Hunting Lodge and across the square, overlooking the town is this ornate and stately Church of St. John the Baptist. This towering structure has a foundation that dates back to about 1230, but the work on the existing building began in the early 15th century.
As someone who loves, loves, loves history, I get overly excited about all of the layers upon layers of history around every cobblestone. I’m sure I look like a crazy person petting these old buildings, but that’s a story for another blog post. Back to Boxing Day.
What really cracked me up was the hunting dogs. I’d never before seen a pack of hunting dogs, so it struck me how spot-on the cartoons from my childhood were. You remember the ones, where the dogs where just a rolling ball of barking legs, tails and snouts? Though these dogs were more mild than that (probably because it was pre-hunt,) it was fascinating to watch them plod aimless through the crowd, sniffing, curious of everything, excited, but aloof to the kids who were wrapping their arms around their muscled necks.
Soon one of the men atop a horse blew his horn a few times and shouted a few words out to the crowd. I couldn’t tell you what was said, I was busy meeting my sister-in-laws friends and taking in the sights, specifically the full pints of beer people were carrying in glass mugs.
Then the man with the horn blew it again and the horses formed a line that trotted out of the square with the dozens of hunting dogs alongside them. We all waved them goodbye, some people popped open bottles of champagne and our crew took part in another centuries old tradition: We went to the pub.
My brother-in-law tells me this pub, called the Crown Inn, dates back to the 1300s. It apparently underwent a few renovations recently and it’s very cozy, like you’re visiting a cousin’s house, not an eating and drinking establishment. Furthering that family vibe, people are allowed to bring their dogs in. I admittedly was startled to see this, but it made perfect sense.
We all had a round of drinks, laughs and then soon went home. All in all, a great Boxing Day.
As a side note to my American friends, it was funny that evening to turn on the news to watch how people were lined up at stores for hours before they opened to snap up doorbusting deals. I smiled because it was good seeing how Americans weren’t the only ones willing to risk a stampede for a good sale!