A small crowd braved the rain when the Derwent Hunt held its traditional New Year's Day meet at Thornton-le-Dale yesterday.

About 40 riders took part in the meet with a number of others following in vehicles. Other Ryedale hunts also held meets but attendance from supporters was generally said to be down because of the inclement weather.

A number of roads in Ryedale became partially flooded as a result of several hours of persistent rain and police warned motorists to take extra care to avoid aquaplaning.

On the trail of tradition

HUNDREDS of hunt supporters turned out for the traditional Boxing Day meet in Malton.

The Market Place was a throng of spectators, Middleton Hunt riders and their pack of foxhounds.

After gathering in the town centre the hunt trotted to the Old Lodge Hotel, then to an old people's home before their annual ride through the surrounding countryside.

Placards bearing slogans such as Scrap the Ban' were placed in the Market Place by the hunt's loyal followers.

Major Tim Easby, in his second season as master of the hunt, said that despite the ban on hunting with hounds, the pursuit had never been so popular.

He said: "There has never been as much support for hunting as there is now. They tried to ban hunting and it has just become more popular.

I'm amazed by how many people have turned out. We must have about 100 riders of all ages and it just shows you cannot ban something which has such a groundswell of support."

This is the second time hunts from across Ryedale have gathered for their traditional festive meet since the Government banned hunting foxes with hounds.

Many insist they still hunt 'within the law' and dogs follow a trail laid by a runner or rider dragging a lure.

Farmer Colin Milburn, from Scagglethorpe, who has been a member of the hunt for the past 30 years, said it was a country pursuit which was enjoyed by all kinds of rural people, not just the landed gentry.

He said: "Today has been a fantastic day for the sport because the number of people in the Market Place demonstrates the amount of support there is for hunting. We hunt with trails to exercise the hounds and keep this ancient English tradition alive.

People think it's just for the gentry but I'm an ordinary farmer so that blows that theory out of the water.

"The Boxing Day meet is part of Christmas - it wouldn't be the same without it."

One of the youngest members of the pack was 10-year-old Lily Spencer, who was tacked and turned out with her faithful pony, Duncan the Second.

She said: "I ride both with the Middleton Hunt and I am a member of Sinnington Pony Club. I love coming here to meet people and so does my pony because we get a lot of fun jumps."

Among the crowds were a group of rat catching rugby players who hoped that their pastime will soon be part of the Boxing Day tradition.

Members of the Malton and Norton rugby team ratters manned a stall with their terriers inviting people to join their pest controlling club.

Organiser Rob Hicks said: "We hope that as well as the meet of hounds on Boxing Day the annual meet of the local rat catchers will also take off.

People have been quite curious about our stall and I think the sloe gins and Cavas have helped to bait them.

"Afterwards we will be going to do a bit of rat catching at a local farm before our annual Boxing Day rugby match."