The Lowcountry Hunt, whose territory encompasses land southeast of the South Carolina city of Walterboro – approximately half way between Charleston and Hilton Head – was formed in 2006 which places it among the newer Recognized Hunts in the United States. That youth is belied by the passion and ability of the field, the staff and the hounds. Jointly led by four Masters, the chase for quarry carries over onto private plantations owned by family, friends and supporters who generously open their land to the Hunt.
This year marks my third year coming back to the Plantation Hunt Weekend. Such is the conviviality and genuine hospitality of the Masters and the members that most hunters, having come once, return year after year for The Weekend. Lowcountry hosted hunters this year from twelve states and even more hunts, including a large contingent from Virginia.
During The Weekend, hunt territory ranges from a plantation covered by Live Oak hardwood (1), to a farm actively logging conifers (2), to salt marsh along the Ashpoo River(3). Quarry likewise is varied, comprising red fox, black fox, coyote and bobcat. As can be seen from the Google Earth map below, the area is still heavily agriculturally based, characterized by green spaces with drainage to the Atlantic Ocean just below Edisto Island.
This year I was accompanied by a friend from Cheshire Hunt who made the 12 hour trip to join me in Aiken; from there we loaded up horses to head over to Walterboro. Our horses were boarded at Airy Hall Plantation, one of the fixtures of the Hunt. Volunteers from Lowcountry take on the herculean task of coordinating board for all of the incoming hunt horses, stashing them in barns large and small all over the territory.
The entrance to Airy Hall Plantation from Bennetts Point Road.
The allee of Live Oak trees with Spanish Moss backlit in the early afternoon of our arrival.
One of the several barns at Airy Hall.
As we travelled east towards Walterboro a rain squall tailed us much of the way. A welcoming trail ride was scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon but with darkening skies coming from the west, the ride lasted not more than 15 minutes before rain began to fall and thereafter became a downpour. Riders scattered back to their respective barns and trailers, retreating to prepare for that evening’s Kick Off Party. A Lowcountry Boil (a steamed pot of seasoned shrimp, potatoes, corn and sausage) was preceeded by an Oyster Roast where oysters were dumped in batches on tables, replaced as fast as we could shuck and eat them.
The rain associated with a cold front brought daytime temperatures down from the 80 degrees of the day before to the mid-50′s; temperatures dropped 10 degrees an hour. Nighttime temperature was in the 30′s. The next day was beautiful, bright and clear with the incredible Blue Sky for which South Carolina is known. The first day of hunting kicked off with a noon luncheon under the trees of Hayne Hall Plantation, a tract of land which has remained in the same family since it was owned by Isaac Hayne, a Revolutionary War hero who died in 1781 (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11769).
Hayne Hall (through Google Map service)
Blue Field Farm of Hayne Hall Plantation.
Masters of Lowcountry Hunt: from left to right, Nina Burke, Melinda Shambley, Christina Bates-Jones, Dr. Mark Shambley
Our host, Parker Tuten, welcomes us to Hayne Hall.
Lunch is eaten where you can find a horizontal surface. Not all Hunt Breakfasts are silver, crystal and white tablecloths.
One of the amazing attributes of Foxhunting is the development of close friendship regardless of age difference.
Prior to releasing the hounds and the commencement of the Meet, Huntsman Doug Russell meets with Whippers In to discuss where hounds will be cast.
Riders mounted prior to the 2:00 meet wait for the hounds on the hay field. Riders are dressed informally in tweeds and ratcatcher.
Hounds from three Hunts – Lowcountry, Green Creek (Tryon, NC area) and Mecklenberg (Charlotte, NC) – mingle before following the Huntsman off the field.
Huntsman Doug Russell of Lowcountry Hunt.
There are three fields of riders led by four Fieldmasters. There are two First Flights, one that jumps everything, one that picks and chooses; a Second Flight that runs but doesn’t jump; and a Third Flight that moves slowly and carefully, the ideal place for a green horse new to hunting.
Occasionally the dirt lanes are pitted with tire marks from the very large equipment used to bring the timber out. This was particularly soggy because of the heavy rains the day before.
Hounds split and the Second Flight and one group of hounds met back at the hound trailer until the remainder of the hounds could be gathered and brought back.
Whiling away the minutes waiting for the remainder of the pack to return, William Dunne, Whipper In, tosses cookies to the hounds.
When the full pack is recast, riders return to the dirt paths and, making a turn, discover a wagon carrying hilltoppers, photographers and patient spouses.
At the end of the day, Whipper In Tommy Gissell helps load hounds for the return trip to the kennels.
Food yet again at 5:00. The Cocktail Hour is hosted by Reynard, the Red Fox.
With temperatures dropping rapidly as the sun sinks, party goers stay warm around the fire.
It is a 30 minute trip from Hayne Hall to the barn where we wash the horses, feed them and put them up for the night. As there is no warm water, light in the barn is dim and the temperature is now somewhere around 40 degrees, we load up our tack into the truck and return to the hotel. We still have to clean the tack. It turns out the the hotel supplied luggage rack is a awesome saddle holder. We drop into bed totally exhausted at 10:15.
The next morning, the alarm goes off at 5:15. We have to get some breakfast (The Walterboro Comfort Inn cafe hostess Cindy has graciously agreed to open it early for us foxhunters), 45 minute trip to the barn, tack up and off yet again (30 minute drive) for a 9:00 Formal Hunt at Ravenwood, the plantation owned by Joint Master Nina Burke and her husband.
Seen on the feet of a hunter from Virginia, she definitely WILL NOT be wearing this wonderful footwear in the barn this morning.
The barn at 6:45 A.M.
Thank goodness for the extended cab as there is no tack room on the stock trailer.
Ravenwood Plantation (courtesy of Google Map service)
The parking area under the Live Oak at Ravenwood prior to the Meet.
Master Nina Burke is joined by other Joint Masters and staff to welcome the riders to Ravenwood.
The front lawn of Ravenwood.
Staff and hounds passing through.
Staff and Masters carry radios so they can keep track of each other over the vast distances. Just after turning onto this pathway, we get a radio message from Nina Burke heading up the Third Flight that she has seen a black fox pass right in front of her and over the track we had just left moments before. It is heading our way. We don’t see it. She sees it again. It is Not a Black Fox, it is a black cur dog. As we retreat to our previous location, we pass Master Burke who is good naturedly singing, “I’m in the dog house now, I’m in the dog house now.”
At the end of a long dirt path, in the distance we see two black forms cross the track from left to right. Master Melinda Shambley thinks it is two hounds. Hounds are indeed working the woods to the left and we can hear them in the distance. After a while she says, “I think we had a “sighting” and didn’t know it.” The forms in the distance were two coyote. Hounds continue to work the woods and there is lots of hound song. Finally the Huntsman picks up his hounds to drop them elsewhere.
New to South Carolina, rider Emily Harris is the daughter of Joint Masters of Andrews Bridge Hunt. She works during the week in Charleston and on weekends Lowcountry members provide her with a horse for hunting.
A view of the very large equipment used on this plantation.
First, Second and Third Fields assembled.
Returning to the Meet.
Today it is a Grey Fox standing guard over the Long Island Tea (with very potent vodka).
Bagpipes before the Hunt Breakfast.
Senior Master Mark Shambley blesses the food, the hounds, the participants, the horses, the quarry.
Joint Masters Melinda Shambley (on left) and Nina Burke (on right).
Lunch! Roast Pig.
Seen in the parking area. Yes, this definitely is a Recreational Vehicle.
Following the Hunt Breakfast, return the horses to the barn, clean tack, take a nap (huh?) and prepare for the 7:00 Cocktail Party at Ravenwood. The travel this day alone from Hotel in the A.M. to Hotel in the P.M is 160 miles.
Airy Hall (Google Maps)
The last day of Hunting is Formal at Airy Hall Plantation, a piece of cake for our preparation as our horses are stabled just a half a mile from the front lawn. I can’t imagine a prettier hack to a meet than this one.
The main barn and parking area at Airy Hall before the Meet.
Lowcountry Hunt has several children who are encouraged to join the hunt field on the weekends.
Joint Masters (l to rt) M. Shambley, Nina Burke, Christina Bates-Jones and Dr. M. Shambley welcome the field to Airy Hall, owned by Frankie and Buck Limehouse.
The soil at Airy Hall is sandy and covered with pine needles. It cushions the footfall.
Riding over the ancient levees of a former rice plantation.
This day, the First Field was led by Master Bates-Jones on the grey. Hounds worked the marsh land behind the tree line for at least a half an hour.
Lunch on the Levee. There ARE alligators on this plantation.
The Meet concludes.
Huntsman and staff join in a large field below the Barns to gather hounds. The Huntsman blows his horn for at least a half hour to bring the hounds in before they are all accounted for.
We leave the hounds behind and hack back to the barn.
We pass this beautiful site on the way back. It is one of my favorite locations in the Lowcountry.
All hounds accounted for, the Huntsman and staff return to the barns.
Buck Limehouse, our host, enjoys some libations.
The Hunt Weekend concludes with a luncheon around the pool.
Abby Shultis and Mary Ellen Bailey of Southern Pines epitomize both the elegance and the unabashed fun of the farewell gathering.