A few months ago my boyfriend invited me to a hunt ball in Scotland. I had no idea what that meant, but I said yes. After all, I’ve been an expat long enough to know how to smile and nod like a pro, then Google it later. Upon researching, I found out that hunt balls are festive evenings that take place throughout the UK to raise money for fox hunts. Controversial (I love foxes! They’re so cute!), but I love a good party (foxes do eat babies, after all). Squashing my conscience, I affirmed my positive response.
Hunt Ball in Scotland
But my initiation was just beginning. How do you prepare for a hunt ball in Scotland? Or anywhere, for that matter? I had a lot to learn. First, I learned that hunt balls are all-night affairs that start around 10pm, involve a night of Scottish reeling (that’s dancing), and end with breakfast sometime around sunrise. It was a starting point.
Hunt Ball Dress
The next thing I learned about how to prepare for a hunt ball is that this particular ball had a white tie dress code. Ball gown o’clock! Most women would love the sound of that, but I seem to have a disability when it comes to fashion. My boyfriend and I ran all over London looking for gowns, checking out dresses everywhere from Vivienne Westwood to the King’s Road. Eventually we made our way to Harrods and found a lovely navy blue Jenny Packham dress. If they’re good enough for Kate Middleton, they’re good enough for A Lady in London. Right? Right.
Hunt Ball Dancing
Dress ready, I faced the challenge of learning Scottish reeling. By myself. In a hotel room in Canada. Seriously. I waited a bit too long to learn, so my boyfriend emailed me links to a bunch of YouTube videos while I was traveling. I bounded around my room making a ruckus as I attempted to follow along to the Dashing White Sergeant, Reel of the 51st Division, and Duke of Perth. It had mixed results.
Thankfully, upon my return we also headed out to Parsons Green one evening for a night of Scottish reeling at a church on the square. I had no idea how many people were into this kind of dancing; the place was packed. I bungled through a few of the dances, making a bit of progress by the end. I was still pretty nervous about screwing the whole thing up, though. Leave it to the foreigner to not know her Hamilton House from her Eightsome Reel. You can’t take us anywhere.
Hunt Ball Evening
And then it was time to actually attend the hunt ball in Scotland. This particular one was the Berwickshire Hunt Ball in the Scottish Borders, and it was held at Manderston, a beautiful Edwardian country house near Berwick-upon-Tweed (it’s open to the public, and worth visiting even on non-ball days).
We went to friends’ for dinner, squeezing in a bit of reeling practice at cocktail hour. During the meal we made sure to fill up our dance cards—yes, just like in Jane Austen novels!—and I was relieved that none of the men seemed to want to avoid dancing with the foreigner.
Dance cards full, we arrived at the hunt ball. I felt as ready as I ever would be for the evening ahead, and as it turned out, it was a lovely evening. The house was every bit as grand as I would expect from such a place, and the swirl of kilts and ball gowns made the night pass in a heady haze of reeling and champagne. I managed not to screw up any of the dances, which was both a relief and a lot of fun, and the disco, casino, and full English (Scottish?) breakfast at 3am were great ways to round out the evening.
Hunt Ball Aftermath
The hunt ball ended with a traditional singing of “Auld Lang Syne” as we stood in a big circle in the ballroom and pretended to know the words (or at least I did). After that we piled into cars and carriages (ok, so I didn’t see any carriages, but that would have been amazing) and headed home for what remained of the night.
So what did I think of my first hunt ball in Scotland? I thought it was great fun, and an exciting way to experience yet another facet of British culture that I never knew about. Sometimes it amazes me that there’s still so much to discover after living in London for so long, but that’s what keeps expat life entertaining. Well, that and Scottish reeling. It’s really fun, even when stumbled through alone in a hotel room in Canada.