British hunters galloped through fields and forests on the year's biggest hunting day on Monday in a show of defiance at a newly introduced ban on the age-old custom of killing foxes with packs of dogs.
organizers laid trails with the smell of fox - rather than allow dogs to chase real foxes - to avoid falling foul of the ban imposed this year by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's ruling Labour Party.
The day after Christmas is traditionally the biggest hunting day of the year.
At The Quorn Hunt at a stately mansion in Leicestershire, riders - half in shiny black, half in the rich red coats known as "pink" - rode across fields and down country lanes surrounded by enthusiastic hounds.
Warm weather and a desire to show support for a repeal of the ban swelled crowds at the Cheshire Hunt, England's oldest, said that hunt's former chairman Caroline Paton-Smith.
"I thought it went very, very well. I was just amazed at the crowds. I don't know where the people had come from. A mass of foot-followers, people who just wanted to get out and see the hounds," she said.
'Making the best'
Many hunters say galloping down a pre-laid scented trail is no match for the thrill of chasing a real fox. But they have made the best of the situation.
"It is different. But it's good to get out and it's good to be in the countryside. I saw lots and lots of non-hunting people who seemed to be happy to be there," said Paton-Smith.
Parliament voted to ban hunting after years of debate on the topic, which raised passions on both sides. Hundreds of thousands of pro-hunt supporters marched through London to protest the ruling, while animal rights activists have vowed to ensure that the ban is enforced by authorities.
Opponents of the ban say it will doom a traditional way of life and an important source of revenue for rural communities who look after the British countryside. They also say foxes are a menace to poultry and livestock and must be controlled.
But the ban's supporters say killing foxes with dogs is cruel, and chasing a scented trail is a good substitute.
"The Hunting Act was never about stopping people from dressing up in funny costumes, having too much to drink and going galloping across the countryside. It was about stopping cruelty to foxes," said Mike Hobday, spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports.
"If they're able to take the cruelty out of their activity, no one's more happy than we are if they go out and have a good day."