THOUSANDS of people gathered in Ledbury Town Centre on Boxing Day to cheer on the Ledbury Hunt, for what is by now a very long-established festive tradition.

Around 3000 people gathered in the High Street to show support for Ledbury Hunt and, as is customary, many of the riders enjoyed hot punch from the saddle, courtesy of the Feathers Hotel.

This year, a number of American voices could be heard in the crowd, an indication of the pull of the spectacle which, for many people, still represents the appeal of traditional rural England.

After rain in the night, followed by a mild frost, Boxing Day offered a morning of bright sunlight, and a big crowd started to gather in Ledbury town centre.

From a matter of perhaps hundreds at 10.15am, by 10.45am the numbers easily exceeded 3000, as more than 30 riders settled down their horses and the excited hounds mingled with the crowds: even at times touching noses with bemused family pets, on leads.

Late-coming riders eventually pushed the number of riders up to around 45.

Edward Philipson-Stow who is one of the Ledbury Joint Masters, welcomed everyone present and said how encouraging it was again to see such a huge crowd showing there support for hunting.

He pointed out that the tradition of the Hunt meeting in Ledbury on Boxing Day could be traced back more than 175 years.

Hunt spokesman, Donald Haden said: "He also reminded everyone that the Hunt and its members are very much a part of the local community; everyone is welcome to take part whatever their background or standing in society and, apart from hunting, members worked hard raising money for local charities in the area as well as organising many social and horse related events."

After parading through the town, the hounds were taken down New Street passing the Rugby Club and on to Leddington, Kempley and Much Marcle where they followed some pre-laid trails before finishing at Hallwood Green at about 3.30pm.

Mr Haden added: "Those still present were then able to enjoy a welcoming mug of hot tea, sausage rolls and fruitcake provided by one of their members."

There was a large gulf in ages between the youngest riders who were perhaps under ten years of age, and the oldest, who was Ivor Stephens, aged 94, and perhaps the oldest active member of any hunt in the land.