What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Taking the dogs out (style 2)


Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of many countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola

Imagine controlling 32 large dogs. Now make it mathematically more interesting for yourself by calling two dogs one couple - so that means you are looking after 16 couple. Now put yourself on a bike and hold a long trailing whip that seems determined to tangle itself around the spokes and gears. Learn a new set of phrases (a north London 'oy' just won't do, it's got to be 'hard on', 'git over' and at least two more that I never managed to get my tongue around). Remember to get up very early so there's not time for a stimulating cup of black coffee, and then head off along the lanes for an hour or so with these dogs all the while dodging rural traffic and making sure they don't make a break for it. That's what Lola and I did when we joined the West of Yore on hound exercise for an hour and a half last Wednesday.

Just in case you've forgotten, hunting an animal with dogs is illegal in Britain. You are allowed to take them for a walk though. However, as it is June and foxes (vixens are the females) have young cubs even if hunting was legal there would not be hunting at the moment. The end of August used to be the start of cub hunting and 1 November the start of fox hunting proper with the season finishing four months later at mid-end March. It's a little bit shorter than the football season.

The hunting set has lots of obscure names and terms to trip up newcomers. The dogs are always hounds. Their tails are sterns - which they don't wag. When they are just weaned the puppies spend a few months with a family to learn some manners. The Master, my old friend Richard, points out Madonna and Mayfly who stayed with him and his four sons so are particuarly fond of children. Lola soon finds that this bitch couple (note this is a correct term so I don't have to put money in the swear box) like to lean up on her. But it is cheeky Butler who Lola likes best. Hounds have particuarly evocative names - like the lemon-coloured Hellfire - usually of two syllables. The Master knows all these of course, but Lola is in a class at school of 14 couple (28 kids) so she thinks I'm just silly when I struggle to try and match names to faces.

Lola and I are vegetarian so you might think our interest in foxhounds strange, but since we started keeping chickens we've lost two hens and two chicks to foxes (despite double-thick chicken wire and a padlocked hen house!). In short, we are not great fans of foxes. We don't
just see them at home, we smell them too. Poet Ted Hughes called it: "the sudden hot sharp stink of fox".

Even the Yorkshire-based Master is amazed when we tell him about the London foxes that hang around in hoodies in our garden, day and night, waiting for a slip up. Everyone in our inner city neighbourhood has a fox horror story - the mauled guinea pig, the headless pet cat, the rabbit replacements.

Man v Fox is an age old battle. As for its solution, hunting, well most people have strong opinions. They love it or loathe it. Fortunately none of the vehicles going past us seemed to dislike us, so we got the pack and our bikes home safely. Going out on hound exercise is an astonishing lesson in how to control a lot of dogs at the same time & provides a fascinating insight into a countryside obsession since its beginings in the late 18th century.

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