HUNT meets attracted large crowds on Boxing Day with officials reporting some of the biggest turnouts for years.

Harry Stephenson, master of the York and Ainsty, said that at Easingwold Market Place there had been “thousands” of spectators many of them visitors on coach trips. “The turnouts were massive, as they were at a number of other meets in North Yorkshire,” he added.

There were also big crowds at Blakey Topping, high on the North York Moors, where the Farndale held its meet and another large crowd is expected for the New Year’s Day meet at the Eskdale Hotel, Castleton.

The Saltersgate, too, had a large number of foot-followers at its meet at the Fox and Rabbit Inn, Lockton, as did the Sinnington, which brought Kirkbymoorside Market Place to a standstill with 50 riders and hordes of residents and visitors Edward Duke, master of the Sinnington Hunt, said a crowd of 600 packed Kirkbymoorside Market Place and one of the highlights was a coach-and-four with its driver and passengers dressed in Victorian costume.

He told the crowd that after four years of “imitation hunting” he hoped a future Conservative government would overturn the hunting ban.

Bilsdale met at Cowesby Hall, near Thirsk, where, said master Nigel Clack, there had been “a huge turnout” with 75 mounted followers and 250 others on foot. “The turnout seems to get bigger every year.”

Nationally, an estimated 300,000 people turned out for the Boxing Day meets, nearly four years on from the ban on hunting foxes with dogs.

While there were no protests at Ryedale’s meets, the Hunt Saboteurs Association called for the Hunting Act to be strengthened with what spokesman Lee Moon described as a “recklessness clause” added for prosecutions where animals were chased and killed “by accident”.

The Middleton Hunt’s meet at Old Malton was hit by the tragedy of a horse having to be put down following an accident. A spokesman said it had been kicked by another horse, not involved in the meet. The rider was unhurt.