Over the stable door: A life spent breathing and dreaming of the outdoors

Country Week columnist Jo Foster. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Country Week columnist Jo Foster. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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My friend sent me a copy of his new book recently. It is called True to the Line by Adrian Dangar, and I am proud to say it is a highly entertaining read based on his memoirs as a huntsman and countryman – a life spent breathing and dreaming of foxes, hounds, wildlife and the countryside. I met Adrian years ago when he was hunting the Sinnington hounds. He was an old classmate of my boyfriend at the time and we have remained friends ever since so I awaited his first book with keen interest. Last week it arrived and I began reading, keen to fill in the gaps he had often hinted at but rarely divulged to us in much detail. Adrian has written many articles for The Field, Horse and Hound and Country Life in his articulate and witty manner.

His book is funny, interesting and slightly poignant. He was a feral child who left school with a headmaster’s report crowning him the patron saint of ferreting and stating ‘in spite of everything one cannot help liking him.’ It moves through the wilds of Dartmoor, the Wolds of Yorkshire and the diverse patchwork county of Leicestershire, with its bold hunting country and even bolder women – or so he admitted to be the case at the time.

His tales of Yorkshire country folk are described with that cleverly comical tone I can only envy. It is a gently written, satisfyingly rhythmical book about a way of life dear to so many of us. He subtly educates on hound rearing, wildlife tracking and old country ways recalled in such detail only a gamekeeper or huntsman would know. The characters he describes are infamous to any rural county.

What struck me, as I was chuckling my way through it, was my own underlying stirrings of loss. Beneath the entertaining stories and poignant scenes, which he evokes so clearly you could be riding to the chase alongside him, lies a stark reminder of the huge change which has occurred in such a short period of time. I remember some of the occasions he describes, they were not long ago but our nation’s mood changes as fast as fashion. It is now politically-incorrect to endorse nature’s method of survival and re-generation in a ‘civilised society’. Little did any of us realise then what precious memories we were taking for granted. Adrian’s tales belong to an almost extinct existence. A life gnawed away by misunderstanding masses, all that is left are scattered crumbs on the table for which we are expected to be dutifully grateful. I am ashamed to think my son and future generations will never be at liberty to experience many of these wonderful things. True to the Line can be ordered at www.adrian dangar.com.