It is the East Devon Hunt Opening Meet and from the balcony of Rockbeare Manor in Devon, Countryside Alliance Regional Director Alison Hawes appeals to the solidarity of British hunting folk.
The week before, at a farm outside Bergerac, a priest appeals to the souls of the local hunting fraternity. It is St Hubert's Day and huntsmen across Europe are attending masses to honour the patron saint of hunting. Special blessings are said for the safety and success of hunters and the health of their animals and dedicated hunting hymns are accompanied by a chorus of hunting horns.
Although I had been forewarned that there would be a Mass before the hunt, I was not prepared for the magnitude of this al fresco ceremony. When the heavens opened and rain poured down on the congregation no one moved a muscle. And when the horns started playing, even the teenagers burst into song. The stone barn, red, blue and green coated huntsmen, strange shaped hats and bugle-clad youngsters gave the setting a medieval feel - more Breugal than Belvoir.
After the service, slinging their horns over their shoulders, the huntsmen headed off into another barn for lunch, seemingly in no rush for La Chasse to begin. The rest of the congregation followed only to emerge an hour and a half later, blinking at the sun. Sausage rolls and a stirrup cup at the meet is one thing, but a buffet lunch composed of the finest cheeses, meat, pates and bread washed down with vast quantities of red wine is decidedly superior. 'Hunting is what the French do best,' someone said to me, 'eating, drinking and dressing up''