AS you drive from the village and through the distinctive Badminton gates, the drive rises gently, cushioned each side by a wide and immaculate grass verge. Yew and evergreen holm oaks guide the way into ancient parkland over the brow, where the famous lake lies.
Just before you reach the park, on the right is the beautiful stable yard. Directly opposite is the Duke of Beaufort’s hunt kennels. The first impression is how normal these kennels are, despite their setting. This is a working environment like every other kennels in the country. However, history runs deeper here.
Hounds have been kennelled at Badminton since 1640. Since then they have remained the private pack of the Dukes of Beaufort. The 10th Duke was so synonymous with foxhunting he was known as Master and his car’s number plate MFH1. One specific Beaufort female line can be traced back over 60 generations to 1743. This makes the foxhound the most chronicled animal in the world; the Arabian horse comes a close second.
Today there are 25 couple of dog hounds, 35 couple of bitches and 20 couple of pups preparing to enter next season. These are big, strong hounds that, as a pack, resonate a demeanor appropriate to their surroundings.
Hounds meet four days a week: the dog hounds hunt Mondays and Thursdays and the bitches Wednesdays and Saturdays.
AN EXCEPTIONAL TEAM IN PRESTIGIOUS ROLES
DUE to the scale of this operation it takes an exceptional team of staff to turn out hounds to the exemplary benchmark the Beaufort is feted with within the hunting community.
Nick Hopkins is in charge as kennel-huntsman. His is one of the most prestigious roles within hunt service. Both he and amateur huntsman Matt Ramsden, who spent five seasons hunting the Bedale, moved to the Duke of Beaufort’s in 2016.
“Nick was certainly the obvious choice to come here with me as kennel-huntsman,” says Matt, joint-master with the 12th Duke of Beaufort.
Matt and Nick have history. After hunting the Royal Agricultural College beagles Matt spent two seasons at the North Cotswold honing his knowledge of venery, kennel management and hunting etiquette under the watchful eye of Nigel Peel. Ironically Nick was kennel huntsman, so Matt worked “under” him both in kennels and out on the hunting field.
“I was 29 when we came here, which is quite young, and I had a lot of responsibility,” says Matt. “I knew Nick knew his role inside out and was aware of the level of responsibility involved. I could trust him. I had so much to learn away from the kennels — the farmers, the lie of the country — without having the anxiety of what could be going on at the kennels.
“Nick has a very level head, which is essential as there is an added element of pressure here in terms of expectation on a hunting day [up to 200 horses on Wednesdays and Saturdays]. That needs dealing within a sensible way.
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