Farmers bring ‘people hunting’ to Norfolk after adopting pack of bloodhounds
- Credit: Archant
Imagine being chased through fields by a pack of baying bloodhounds using your scent to sniff you out.
It might sound like something from a dystopian novel - but farmers Charlie and Justine Ward have brought the sport to west Norfolk after adopting an entire pack of 25 hounds.
Runners are tracked through fields in the hunts, as they try to outwit the hounds’ excellent sense of smell.
The couple, who are keen riders, had always dreamed of having their own hunt. When they heard the master of the Isle of Wight Bloodhounds was looking to retire and give up his hounds, they offered them a new home in Norfolk.
Four days later, the pack was on its way to the Wards’ farm at Castle Acre, between Swaffham and Fakenham, which their family has worked since 1962.
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Bloodhounds are legendary tracker dogs which hunt the so-called “clean boot”, chasing a runner through the countryside.
Once they and their scent are introduced to the dogs, the human quarry gets a head start of 15 minutes before the pack is let loose, with each hunt lasting for two or three miles as the hounds gallop off in full cry.
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With the hounds trained on the runner’s scent alone, there’s no risk of foxes being caught up - and it ends in an excitable, and somewhat slobbery, reunion.
Mr Ward, 52, said the hunt had proven popular with landowners. One or two have even volunteered to pull on their running shoes.
“When we went to Holkham, we hunted the Earl of Leicester,” he said. “He didn’t last very long - he tried hiding behind a tree stump.”
Mr Ward is the huntsman who directs the hounds while his wife acts as the whipper-in, who keeps the pack focused on its task and rounds up the stragglers.
He admitted opinions can sometimes differ in the rough and tumble of the hunting field, adding: “She mouthed an obscenity at me when we were out yesterday.”
“Yes,” shrugged Mrs Ward. “Unfortunately there was someone there who could lip read.”
The couple’s children Tilly, 22, Joseph, 20 and Maddie, 15, help look after the hounds, who need around two hours’ exercise a day - regardless of the weather. Feeding time is an undertaking in itself.
“On the Isle of Wight, he fed them sandwiches left over from the local bakery,” said Mrs Ward. “We feed them on chicken, fresh chicken.”
Eight-year-old Pedlar is the oldest member of the pack, which has been renamed the Nar Valley Bloodhounds. It includes nine puppies along with Brexit, Brittany, Escape, Europe, Fettish, Fenton, Fearsome and Rambo.
“It took us all weekend to learn their names,” said Mrs Ward, 51. “Then there are all the instructions you have to give them as well.”
A field of around 20 riders and around the same number of car and foot followers join the bloodhounds for their weekly Sunday meets. Those joining the hunt have to pre-book because of coronavirus.