Vive la chasse en France

Hunting across the Channel is provoking an increasing amount of interest from the English but the intricacies of French hunting are decidedly foreign

By Anna Tyzack
Wednesday, November 9 2005

Michael Bamberger hunted with the Axe Vale in Devon for many seasons before becoming an 'épingle' of the Rallye Varéna hunt near Bergerac. 'French and British hunting styles are diametrically different,' he tells me, 'In every way they are opposite'. I ask myself how two countries can use a pack of hounds and a field of huntsmen in opposing ways, particularly when British hunting terminology is borrowed from France's 'code de venerie'. Bamberger notes my scepticism, 'You'll see by the end of the day' he says assuredly.

Rallye Varéna has only four full 'boutons' but a French hunt could have many more. Invitations to become a 'bouton' are only distributed to very experienced huntsmen whose expertise will help the hunt. Bamberger points to the gold buttons of his waistcoat, each displaying the crest of Rallye Varéna. I later learn that his waistcoat and tie pin also have significance. French hunting attire is a 'code de venerie' in itself with each hunt awarding a pin or 'épingle' to new members. Experienced riders are known as 'gilets', waistcoats ' there are 12 gilets in the Rallye Varéna. The Master, Docteur Rousseau wears a blue and red jacket, the colour allocated to Rallye Varena wheras Docteur Pasquet wears a green and red jacket for the Rallye Croquant.

Masters of Rallye Varéna (right) and Rallye Croquant (left)