It was a few days after Christmas amid the rumblings leading to the Great War and Diddlington Hall had a houseful of guests all of whom were somewhat noisy that evening. The host Lord Percy was about to make an after dinner speech to his London pals and their high society wives. It was also the second day of a long planned hunting break but to date it had been far from successful. Yesterday the arranged pheasant shoot was so bad that you could be forgiven for thinking that the birds had been given inside information as they had failed to show. Then earlier the deer herds of Thetford Forest had likewise been strangely elusive. Now trying very hard to win the favour of his guests Lord Percy was resorting to extravagant feasting and overdrinking. He banged on the table and requested everyone’s attention to proudly announce that tomorrow they would all go otter hunting!
So we fast forward and find Lord Percy, master of his otter hunt, dressed in the uniform of blue jacket with cream plus fours, red stockings and bowler hat as were the other members of that elite sporting club. All had their long poles to assist walking and wading which could also be used for poking out likely holes and crannies. The weather was dull and miserable with a biting cold wind but hopes were high with all the house guests gathered outside the hall dressed in their ‘once a year’ country wear. A horn sounded out where upon the hunting party stepped down into upper reaches of the river Wissey. A pack of otter hounds was at the forefront and soon commenced their nosing and rooting into all the tree roots and growth down the sides of the narrow water course. Everyone other than the hunting party were to follow walking down the riverbank. So with plenty of splashing and crashing they all progressed towards the village of Northwold.
Within the river Wissey itself anything with a half sense of hearing was soon made aware that danger was afoot and heading their way. Thus the trout and chub and similar all swiftly swam away. The otter folk were in large numbers in those long ago days and they also heard the noise. Being used to hunters and hunting over past generations they knew to also join the mass exodus. Likewise a heron minding his own business standing in the shallows of a nearby cow drink cocked his head and leisurely unfurled his huge wingspan and was soon far away.
An hour passed on the clock and nothing had happened. Not surprisingly the initial excitement of everyone was fading. In truth most of the house guests had appeared uninterested from the very start. Today they were mere spectators watching their host so boredom had already returned them back to the hall to play bridge and the like. Only the dogs were enjoying the wet romp and remained ever eager to drive forward. Even Lord Percy was tiring but he refused to give up as his personal reputation was at stake. Perhaps his boasting of numerous successful otter hunts in the past had been somewhat exaggerated but very occasionally an otter or two was caught so on the hunting party pressed onward. Most of the likely hiding places had already been investigated and prodded by the hunters’ poles but please be aware that the further the party travelled the deeper the water became!
Foolishly a solitary otter had ignored natural instinct and thought he could stay put and outwit the humans. Instead he stayed deep inside his riverside hideaway. He curled up in a ball and merely closed his eyes tight as the noise got louder. Suddenly he was poked with a stick and had a dog muzzle in his face. In terror he forgot to stay unseen and swam out using a second hole into the open river. The dogs immediately spotted him followed by shouting. At last the chase was on. The poor otter swam till his lungs almost gave out. He just kept going on and onward in oblivion but as good fortune had it the hunters had to slow their progress as they were now chest deep in the river. So he escaped unharmed but he had certainly learned his lesson!
Now the hunting party had long passed Northwold and were in the river somewhere near the old river crossing at Oxborough when common sense had to prevail. Lord Percy was still proving stubborn but the rest of his merry band over ruled him and manhandled him out of the river. Enough was enough and again he had failed to provide a day’s sport. He now feared ridicule for ever and ever. Without doubt all other members of the hunting party were relieved that the quest had ended despite now being in fields a long way from home. In truth they had never been this far down the river before!
Now the story could stop there but please read on as it does continue.
There is often precious little Mother Nature can do about such persons interfering with her animal kingdom but today she really did hand out justice. As we know the hunting party were somewhat lost and desperate to have hot baths. Then it happened! The day suddenly went from worse to terrible for there was the most violent rainstorm known for several years. The already dark sky turned pitch black. Thunder rattled and rolled. Sheet lightening flashed overhead and was the fore runner of stair rod rain which hammered down for several hours. The fields filled up with mud and water and the nearest road was temporarily closed to traffic because of severe flooding. Help and rescue was seriously delayed although a search party finally found the men and dogs long after midnight. A doctor was summoned and deemed that they had all escaped pneumonia or even worse by a mere fraction.
Then I suspect dear Mother Nature was fully satisfied. The rain stopped and she went to sleep!
With a Merry Christmas from Ivor Hook