Saturday, 28 December 2013

Berkeley Deer Park

The deer park at Berkeley is one of the last remaining medieval deer parks in England. First enclosed in the   the 13th Century, during the reign of Henry III, it was a private hunting reserve for the earl of Berkeley and his guests at a time when hunting was the preserve of royalty and the very privileged. This park, the Whitcliff Park was one of three deer parks owned by the Berkeley family, beside their castle on the banks of the Severn, and  the only one of them to survive. The high brick wall surrounding the park was started in 1770 and took seven years to complete.

The Berkeley Hunt lay claim to be the oldest pack of hounds in England, and trace themselves back to the 12th Century, when deer were the quarry.. During the tenure of the 5th Earl of Berkeley they hunted famously from Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire to Berkeley Square in London. To enable him to do so he maintained kennels along the route. Today, hemmed in the the M5 they are short of country and restricted to two days hunting a week during the season  from November to the beginning of March. The Berkeley hounds remain the property of Mr Berkeley and as such are one of the few remaining privately owned packs in the country. The hunt staff wear the mustard coats with green facings which are the outdoor livery of the Berkeley family, while the ladies wear blue coats with maroon facings which are their indoor livery. The masters of the hunt have a running fox embroidered on their lapels.

It has become a tradition for the tenants of Park House, the folly in the Deer Park to host a meet of the Berkeley hounds close to the New Year. The Gothick folly built in 1799 is a superb backdrop to a meet of these historic hounds, preparing to do what they have been bred to do, chasing the scent of a fox rather than deer. In these days after the hunting ban, I should emphasize the scent of a fox.