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The hounds – and the humans – who are still loving the thrill of the chase

PUBLISHED: 00:47 22 November 2020

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

After a breathless chase, the pack finally tracks down its quarry — and a frenzy of licking ensues.

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The floppy-eared Hamilton Bloodhounds have become a popular sight on their daily exercise run through the village of Easton, near Framlingham.

These crack canine sleuths are trained to track down human runners.

The runners spend time having a ‘big hug’ with the hounds before the hunt so that they can get to know their scent.

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Then they are dropped at agreed locations and will lead the pack on a merry chase through the countryside.

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Using pre-set trails, the runners head off and get as far as they can before the dogs and riders catch them up.

The whole event culminates in a rather slobbery reunion — and as the runners are pre-armed with doggy biscuits and liver snacks — a treat for the dogs.

The Hamilton Bloodhounds was set up last year with the aim of reviving a very old tradition in the village — but with a modern twist.

They are looked after at kennels run by joint master and professional huntsman James Chadwick.

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The pack’s predecessor — the Easton Harriers — was set up in 1875 by the Duke of Hamilton and historically hunted hares before the hunting ban of 2005.

But the old hunt appeared to have run its course and numbers were dwindling. The pack was rehomed and the hunt itself was on the cusp of disbanding when a group of enthusiasts came up with an idea which is also catching on in other parts of the country.

“We decided as a committee that we wanted to be able to hunt a pack of hounds that we could follow a human scent rather than a trail of artificial scent,” explains joint master Clare Simper.

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An entirely new type of ‘hunt’ was devised, and a bloodhound pack was established to track down humans, who would run ahead, thus laying a scent trail for them to follow.

“They go into the truck with the hounds and have a really big hug,” she says. “They are really gorgeous — they are beautiful hounds.”

Clare, along with senior master Lydia Freeman, whip Tegen Dovey who is also James’ partner, chairman Nick Dowding, and secretary Kevin Francis run the meets, which take weeks of careful planning.

As well as doing away with some of the more unhelpful vestiges of the past, the new approach means that a trail can be carefully co-ordinated with the agreement of landowners in the area.

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Bloodhounds are tracking hounds they have the most incredible nose for the scent of a human and were used historically to catch criminals and escaped convicts, sometimes being called sleuth hounds,” explains Clare.

“We hunt what is known as “the clean boot” which means we follow the natural scent of a human runner or quarry as they are known.”

With permission from farmers and landowners they usually covering up to 17 miles over three lines of scent. Runners will run three to four mile lines and there are usually three or four lines per meet.

“Hounds, horses, riders and runners are able to have a wonderful day crossing beautiful country and it’s been great to set up a real community with so many people enjoying the experience of being outdoors and having fun.

Hamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master  Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDHamilton Bloodhounds in Easton with Huntsman James Chadwick, Master Clare Simper and Bill Gilchrist Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

It is that fun approach, explains Clare, which has made the new-style hunt increasingly popular. The old hunt had dwindled to a membership of just 27 — now there are 60-plus.

The Hamilton Hounds meets have inevitably been curtailed by the pandemic, but it’s clear from the reaction so far that many are keen to get involved.

“It just felt the right time to have a change,” says Clare. “There’s a real sense of a lovely community forming now.”

She adds: “Our decision to do what we did was the right decision for us for sure and it’s enhancing lots of people’s lives across many spectrums. It is the next phase of what was a very old hunts history and we are justly proud of it as we hope it will help keep a pack of hounds in Easton for many years to come.”

The Hamilton Bloodhounds are hoping to get back on track after lockdown with Christmas holiday meets planned, restrictions permitting.


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