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  • Writer's pictureWill Topley

Carnival Weekend

A Weekend at Fonthill

I have never been to an Indian wedding but have heard that the party goes on for 3 days and nights and that they are both spectacular and great fun. Last weekend we went to the party for my stepson Declan’s 21st at his father’s house Fonthill. It turned out to be an event to rival any Indian celebration.

We spent Thursday night at Splendens, a pair of studio cottages in Fonthill Park that are managed by the Beckford Arms. I would highly recomend staying there.

That night we had dinner at The Lamb at Hindon with Declan and a number of his friends.

On Friday, Declan and his friends spent the day enjoying the superb shooting at Fonthill. There are a large number of people involved in a day’s shooting, The keepers need to raise all the birds and protect them from disease and predators; The land needs to be looked after; special crops planted for cover; woods swept, but some areas made for more cover. The drives must be planned and the day organised to suit the prevailing conditions – wind direction and speed, rain, cloud cover and temperature are all factors to be taken into account.

Some hours before it starts the beaters go out with sticks and bring the birds to where they are needed to start the drive. When the drive starts it is all beautifully timed. The keeper directs everyone so that the birds fly out at regular intervals over the guns. They need to fly high as shooting at low flying birds is both unsporting and dangerous.

I have always wanted to paint a shoot, but when I go shooting I am generally invited as one of the guns, and to put ones gun down and pick up a brush in its place would be unforgivable. This however was a great chance. I found a really good place to stand for the last drive before lunch where i was out of the way of the guns, but with a good view of the pegs where they would stand.

wt painting the shoot at Fonthill

wt painting the shoot at Fonthill

At 9.30am I started on the landscape. Everyone turned up at about 12.30pm by which time I had the landscape more or less done. The action is fast and doesn’t last more than about 15 or 20 minutes but I managed to get Declan in as the main figure, some other guns standing further down the line, a few partridges flying past and a shot bird falling.

Last Drive Before Lunch 8×10

In the afternoon I loaded for a couple of people. Then, in the evening there was the Estate Party in the Tithe Barn. I thought of having a rest but instead I went across the road and found a view of Fonthill House from the park.

Fonthill House 8-x-10

The party started at 6pm but my stepdaughter said she would take my wife to it in her car which gave me until just before 7pm to do something. I got down to painting and the time flashed by. In the end, I only just got to the party in time to hear Declans speech thanking everyone. I was a good speech and he got in a fair number of jokes to cheer it all along. We were pretty tired after all that and as I had taken full advantage of the canapes, I was ready for bed.

Horsebox at Fonthill Stud 9×7

On Saturday I got up early and went to the stable yard to paint. The day’s work there starts early so it was all fairly peaceful by 9am. I found a good spot looking into the yard by one of the two entrances and asked for the horsebox to be put on the left. I had until 12 to get that done as my stepdaughter’s filly which is named Kitten was going to a show and would be travelling in the box. I love painting yards, there is tranquility with bursts of great excitment. Kitten came back at about 3pm. She won second prize and a blue rosette.

Sophy and I dressed up for Carnival

By 3.30pm it was time to leave for the station collect my son Lewis, drop him off at his hotel on the way, come back and change and then rock-on to the party. It was a great evening. Everyone made a real effort to dress up in the Carnival theme and we danced until 2.30am. Lewis and his girlfriend Andreea danced on until 9am and said that Declan was still going when they left!

The next morning I was up early again and, looking at my painting of the yard, I decided to go up there and change the values of the stables, I had done them fractionally too light. That didn’t take too long so I then turned the other way to a view of an old black barn where hay and bedding for the horses is kept. There was a nice red tractor which had caught my eye so I got an 8 by 6 inch sketch done of that. I finished it in perfect time to get back to our billet and change to go for lunch.

Red Tractor at Fonthill Stud 9 x 7

3 days of great fun and four paintings to show for it. However I’m not getting any younger and I felt somewhat jaded most of Monday. A truly memorable time.

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