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Foxhunting on the Lakeland fells online

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Hounds well fed with good stiff food will work better, and keep in better
condition, than those which are blown out with sloppy feed. Due attention
should, of course, be paid to the gross feeders and those with more
dainty appetites, but the chief thing to remember is the _stiff_ food.

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: AT THE “TRAVELLERS’ REST” INN, ON THE
SUMMIT OF THE KIRKSTONE PASS (1469 FT.).]

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: WAITING FOR THE PACK ON THE FELL.]

On the return from hunting it is, I think, bad policy to allow hounds
to absolutely gorge themselves, just a nice feed being much better, and
less liable to cause internal disorders such as indigestion. Old hounds
which, owing to their experience, are so valuable in a fell pack, should,
with advancing years, be fed lighter than was the case in their younger
days. An old hound is like a human being, apt to put on fat internally
with age, and though he may not show it markedly in his outward
appearance, such fat has a deleterious effect on his wind. Over-feeding
only increases this fat, and though the hound may be able to stay almost
as well as ever, a fast burst over a country finds him tailing behind
his fellows. Quality of food, and thickness—in fact, the thicker the
better—has everything to do with hounds keeping their condition. It
should never be forgotten that the superior condition of the hounds over
that of the fox, is the chief factor in enabling them to bring their
quarry to hand.

The fell hound, like his relations in the Shires, is sent out to walk
as a puppy. A great deal depends upon his treatment during this period
of his existence. The majority of fell hounds are walked at farmhouses,
where they are assured of sufficient liberty, and become accustomed to
knocking about amongst sheep, thus quickly learning that mutton on the
hoof is strictly taboo to a hound.

When out on the fell with the shepherds, the puppy soon learns to chase
hares, which teach him to get his nose down and hunt. He may also get
to know the scent of a fox long before he becomes a working member of
the pack. The shepherds’ cur dogs often unkennel foxes on the fells, and
occasionally roll them over.

A sharp cur dog is much handier and quicker than the fastest hound in
rough ground, and generally possesses an excellent nose; therefore, if
Reynard gets up close in front of such an one, it means a close shave if
nothing worse.

After the dispersal of the Sedbergh Foxhounds, a party of farmers were
gathering sheep in the vicinity of Cautley Crag, when one of their dogs
unkennelled a fox. Four other curs joined in the chase, and after a sharp
spin, the fox was rolled over. On proceeding further up the fell, still
another fox was disturbed, and the same quintet of dogs repeated the
performance, killing their fox after a sharp scurry. I have seen a cur
dog lead hounds in a fast hunt, and be in at the finish when the fox met
its death in the open. A cur dog can twist and turn at a wonderful pace
amongst the rocks, and can climb at a surprising rate.

To return for a moment to the subject of hound food. Hard feed not only
ensures condition, but is a safeguard against eczema. Sloppy food induces
the latter, and without a doubt aggravates mange. Hard food is better for
the teeth, and by causing a flow of saliva, as hounds have to chew it to
some extent, it digests better.

Hounds from both the fells and the Shires have from time to time been
purchased and imported by Americans. Except in the East of America, the
Peterborough type of hound has found little favour. On the contrary,
the fell hounds have been well received, and cross nicely with the
native-bred hounds.

The country, and the method of hunting in many of the American states,
is on similar lines to that on the fells, so the imported hounds find
themselves more or less “at home.” Col. Roger D. Williams, M.F.H.
(Iroquois Hunt Club, Kentucky), in his book “Horse and Hound,” has this
to say, when comparing sport in England and the States:

“The problem that confronts the American hound is an altogether different
proposition. Our coverts and forests are extremely large, the foxes
remaining wild and timid, and seldom pass twenty-four hours without a
run of from four to eight hours, the hounds frequently running them by
themselves without hunters (unless the packs are large they are not
kennelled and generally run at large).

“One or two ambitious hounds will alone get up a fox at dusk, and as they
circle through the neighbourhood all the hounds in hearing ‘hark’ to them
until ten or a dozen couples are hustling him in full cry. Does the fox
go to earth? Not he, earth stoppers are unnecessary; he will lead them a
merry chase as long as he can drag one foot behind the other, or until
daylight warns him he had better ‘seek the seclusion that his burrow
grants.’ I have, upon more than one occasion in the ‘Blue Grass Country,’
heard two and three different packs in the middle of the night, each one
after a different fox, making music that would cause the blood to go
galloping through one’s veins like a racehorse.

“Thus at any time his ‘foxship’ is trained to the minute.

“The character of the country hunted over is frequently dry and rocky,
many large ploughed and cultivated fields, with woodlands strewn with
dry, parched leaves. It is not uncommon for hounds to hunt half a day
before a trail is struck; it may then be an old, overnight trail that
will require hours of persevering work before the fox is afoot.

“I am prepared to state that a hound that would be considered a wonder
in the grass countries of England, if cast with a pack in America in our
Southern States, where he would be expected to take a trail many hours
old, in a dry, barren, country, puzzle it out for several hours, make a
jump (unkennel), and then run it from ten to twenty hours—a feat I have
seen performed scores of times by American hounds—would find himself
hopelessly out of a job.”

That the imported fell hounds have found favour in America is
corroborated by two “At stud” advertisements in a copy of the _Red
Ranger_—an American publication devoted solely to foxhunting—which I have
before me as I write.

The date is February, 1913, and the “ads.” are as follows:—

“At stud. ‘Ringwood,’ a full-blooded Eskdale foxhound, bred by William
Porter. A wide and rapid hunter, an excellent trailer, fast and dead
game. Ship bitches to Woodland, Ga. All communications to A. G. Gordon,
Junr., Talbotton, Ga. Stud fee, $35. Cash.”

The other advertisement reads as follows:—

“At stud. ‘Streamer,’ the imported Eskdale dog. Fee, $25. The one source
of new blood for all American strains of hounds that you know is right.
Write for description, etc., to Thomas Hackley, Stanford, Kentucky,
R.F.D. 1.”

Except, as I have previously stated, in the East, American foxhunting
conforms to sport on the fells and the moorlands in England. Hounds do
their work quite unassisted, and so become persevering and independent.

Whilst financial considerations necessitate small packs in the fell
country, lack of numbers is made up for by the ability of hounds to
come out three or even four days per week. Hounds are not kept under
artificial conditions, and so grow hard and healthy, seldom suffering
from any sort of complaint.

“Shall I repeat the story? No, it were best untold,
Forty fair minutes he took us—minutes more prized than gold.
Than gold refined in the furnace, than the wealth of Golconda’s store—
And they pulled him down in ‘the open.’ ’Twas an eight-mile point—no
more.”




CHAPTER IV

HUNTING ON THE FELLS

“The hounds but chop, the game is strong,
That pace of plight cannot be long,
Hark! Tally-ho’s from yon far height,
And now the whiners wend in sight,
Through Silver Ghyll for Skiddaw Fell,
They’ll kill him if he goes to h—l!”


No description of fell hunting would be complete without a reference to
John Peel, the famous Cumbrian Master and Huntsman.

Although Peel was well known in his own country, his fame did not extend
beyond the North, until the old song, “D’ye ken John Peel?” became
popular. The spirited verses had little vogue until after Peel’s death
in 1854, when the song suddenly became fashionable. The original song
differs in some respects from the modern version, particularly in the
first line. “D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay?” is sung to-day,
whereas the original is, “Did ye ken John Peel wi’ his cwote seay gray?”

[Illustration: BLENCATHRA FOXHOUNDS: ON RIGHT, GEORGE TICKELL, ESQ.,
EX-DEPUTY MASTER (1907-1919).]

Peel never wore a scarlet coat, his jacket was made of home-spun
Cumberland wool, known locally as “hoddengray.”

The late Mr. Jackson Gillbanks, of Whitefield, gave a good pen-picture of
John Peel, and I take the liberty of quoting it here. He said—

“John Peel was a good specimen of a plain Cumberland yeoman. On less than
£400 per annum he hunted at his own expense, and unassisted, a pack of
foxhounds for half a century. John has in his time drawn every covert in
the country, and was well known on the Scottish borders. Except on great
days he followed the old style of hunting,—that is, turning out before
daylight, often at five or six o’clock, and hunted his fox by the drag.
He was a man of stalwart form, and well built; he generally wore a coat
of home-spun Cumberland wool—a species called ‘hoddengray.’ John was a
very good shot, and used a single-barrel, with flint lock, to the last.
Though he sometimes indulged too much, he was always up by four or five
in the morning, no matter what had taken place the night before; and,
perhaps, to this may be attributed his excellent health, as he was never
known to have a day’s sickness, until his last and only illness.”

Mr. Gillbanks was also the author of the following verses, published in
the _Wigton Advertiser_:—

“The horn of the hunter is silent,
By the banks of the Ellen no more
Or in Denton is heard its wild echo,
Clear sounding o’er dark Caldew’s roar.

For forty years have we known him—
‘A Cumberland yeoman of old’—
But thrice forty years they shall perish
Ere the fame of his deeds shall be cold.

No broadcloth or scarlet adorn’d him,
Or buckskins that rival the snow,
But of plain ‘Skiddaw gray’ was his raiment,
He wore it for work, not for show.

Now, when darkness at night draws her mantle,
And cold round the fire bids us steal,
Our children will say, ‘Father, tell us
Some tales about famous John Peel!’

Then we’ll tell them of Ranter and Royal,
And Briton, and Melody, too,
How they rattled their fox around Carrock,
And pressed him from chase into view.’

And often from Brayton to Skiddaw,
Through Isel, Bewaldeth, Whitefiel,
We have galloped, like madmen, together,
And followed the horn of John Peel.

And tho’ we may hunt with another,
When the hand of old age we way feel,
We’ll mourn for a sportsman and brother,
And remember the days of John Peel.”

The late Sir Wilfrid Lawson also gives a good description of Peel. He
says:

“I have seen John Peel in the flesh, and have hunted with him. He was a
tall, bony Cumbrian, who, when I knew him, used to ride a pony he called
‘Dunny,’ from its light colour, and on this animal, from his intimate
knowledge of the country, he used to get along the roads, and see a great
deal of what his hounds did. Peel’s grey coat is no more a myth than
himself, for I well remember the long, rough, grey garment, which almost
came down to his knees. No doubt drink played a prominent part—if it were
not, indeed, the ‘predominant partner’ in these northern hunts. I have
heard John Peel say, when they had killed a fox: ‘Now! this is the first
fox we’ve killed this season, and it munna be a dry ’un!’—words of that
kind being a prelude to an adjournment to the nearest public-house, where
the party would remain for an indefinite time, reaching, I have heard it
said, even to two days.”

In the book “Sir Wilfrid Lawson (A Memoir),” by the Right Hon. George W.
E. Russell, it says:

“The famous John Peel, who is ‘kenn’d’ over the English-speaking world,
was a Master of Foxhounds on a very primitive and limited scale, and
hunted his own hounds in Cumberland for upwards of forty-six years. He
died in 1854. By this time Wilfrid Lawson was twenty-five years old, and
desperately fond of hunting. So, on the death of John Peel, with whom he
had hunted ever since he could sit in a saddle, he bought Peel’s hounds,
amalgamated them with a small pack which he already possessed, and
became Master of the Cumberland Foxhounds.”

The famous song, “John Peel,” was written by Woodcock Graves, an intimate
friend of Peel. Graves emigrated to Tasmania in 1833, and spent the last
years of his life there, far from the hunting country of his younger days.

John Peel was born at Grayrigg, and in later years lived at, and hunted
from, his cottage at Ruthwaite.

The hunting man desirous of having a few days’ sport on the fells,
can take his choice of five packs, _i.e._ the Ullswater, Coniston,
Blencathra, Eskdale and Ennerdale, and the Mellbrake. The Ullswater
hounds are kennelled at Patterdale; nearest railway stations, Penrith
and Troutbeck (Cumberland). Mr. W. H. Marshall, of Patterdale Hall, is
Master, and Joe Bowman is huntsman. Whipper-in, B. Wilson.

The Coniston are kennelled at Green Bank, Ambleside; nearest station,
Windermere. Mr. Bruce Logan, of “Westbourne,” Bowness, is Master, and
George Chapman is huntsman.

[Illustration: FELL COUNTRY HUNTSMEN.]

The Blencathra are kennelled at the Riddings, near Threlkeld; railway
stations, Threlkeld and Keswick. Master, Mr. R. J. Holdsworth, Seat Howe,
Thornthwaite, Keswick. Deputy Master, Mr. Andrew Anderson, Lair Beck,
Keswick. Secretary, Jonathan Harryman, Howe, Portinscale, Keswick.
Huntsman, Jim Dalton. Whipper-in, E. Parker.

The Right Hon. The Speaker (Mr. J. W. Lowther) was Master of the
Blencathra from 1903 to 1919. He resigned the Mastership in 1919.

Mr. George Tickell, of Shundraw, Keswick, was Secretary for fourteen
years, and on the death of the late Mr. John Crozier, who was Master
from 1839 to 1903, he held the Mastership until the appointment of Mr.
J. W. Lowther. He then acted as Deputy-Master from 1907 to 1919, when he
retired.

Mr. Tickell has hunted regularly since he was a boy at school, thus
covering a total of nearly seventy years. He is still (1919) hale and
hearty, and regularly attends the meets of the Blencathra.

The Eskdale and Ennerdale are kennelled in Eskdale. Master, Mr. W. C.
Porter, Field Head, Eskdale, R.S.O. Railway station, Ravenglass. The late
Tommy Dobson was Master of this pack from 1857 to 1910. Huntsman, the
Master.

The Mellbrake are kennelled at Hope Lorton. Masters, Mr. Robinson
Mitchell, Mr. E. A. Iredale and Mr. D. B. Robinson. Secretary, Mr. R.
Rawling, Lanthwaite Green, Cockermouth. Huntsman, R. Head. Whipper-in, J.
Norman. Nearest railway station, Cockermouth.

The Mellbrake and the Eskdale and Ennerdale are somewhat isolated from
the other Hunts, but it is often possible to attend meets of the
Coniston, Blencathra and Ullswater during the week. Once or twice a
season the Blencathra visit Wythburn, at the head of Thirlmere Lake,
where they remain for the inside of a week. If during that week the
Coniston and Ullswater are in their home countries, they can easily be
reached from Windermere or Ambleside, by motor or cycle. If the visitor
wishes to put in most of his time with an individual pack, he will find
comfortable hotels and inns within easy reach of the kennels. There is,
of course, a good deal of luck about hunting anywhere, but particularly
so on the fells, where weather conditions are apt to interfere with
sport. The fell packs usually account for from fifteen to twenty-five
brace of foxes in a season, the number, of course, varying with the
character of the seasons. In the 1918-19 season, the Ullswater brought
to hand close upon thirty-five brace, while the other packs all did
remarkably well. Considering the roughness of the country, such records
are very good indeed.

Joe Bowman, the veteran huntsman of the Ullswater, is a personality in
Lakeland hunting. He has carried the horn with this pack—with one short
interval—since 1879, and is still hale and hearty. His fame as a huntsman
reaches far beyond the borders of his own wild country, for he is well
known to most keen hunting folk.

[Illustration: ULLSWATER FOXHOUNDS: JOE BOWMAN, THE HUNTSMAN.]

[Illustration: BLENCATHRA FOXHOUNDS: GONE TO GROUND ON ARMBOTH FELL.]

[Illustration: BLENCATHRA FOXHOUNDS: AFTER A KILL AT RAVEN CRAG, NEAR
THIRLMERE LAKE, NOV. 7TH, 1919.]

Except in certain parts of the low country, which are visited once or
twice a season, riding to the fell hounds is out of the question. Even
in the aforementioned districts it is a case of riding to points, and
nicking in with hounds when the opportunity presents itself. There are
places where, should you be lucky, you may chance to see the best part
of a run from a main road below the fell. Such a place is the road
which circles Thirlmere Lake, from which I have watched many a good
hunt with the Blencathra. As a rule, however, it pays best to climb the
fell, from which vantage point you are more likely to keep in constant
touch with hounds. If you hang about the roads hounds _may_ come back
to you, but again they may not, and it requires a good deal of patience
and self-control to remain where you are on the off-chance. Once on the
fell top, it pays to stay there until hounds either drive their fox for
the last time into the dale or run him to ground in some rocky “borran”
(earth). It is much easier and quicker to walk round the fell tops than
descend to the dale and have to climb out again.

In addition to the type of hound used, the method of hunting on the
fells differs from that in the riding countries. There hounds are thrown
into covert, from which in a few minutes they get away almost on top of
their fox. While the same thing sometimes happens with the fell hounds,
as a rule, _their_ fox is lying in some snug kennel at a height of two
thousand feet or more, and before hounds can run him they must find him.
To do this they quest for the drag, or in other words, they search for
and pick up the line of a fox which during the night has visited the
dale, and then before daybreak has returned to his mountain fastness. If
the fox has cut his return trip rather fine, and hounds are out early, as
they very often are in spring, the drag may prove a warm one. If it is
cold and the fox long gone, it may require a lot of working out.

Anyhow, the same end is eventually attained, _i.e._ hounds gradually
work up to the spot where their fox is lying. It may be on the ledge of
some crag, or amongst the rocks strewn about the fell breast. Wherever
it is, Reynard may wait till hounds are close to him, or he may steal
away and, if unseen, gain a long start. As a rule, however, there are a
few keen hunters scattered about the fell tops before hounds leave the
dale, and the fox is lucky if he can slip away without the sharp eyes of
some shepherd spying his movements. A series of shrill view-halloas soon
bring hounds to the spot, and the run begins in earnest. Although such a
halloa saves time when a fox has stolen away, it is a much prettier sight
to see hounds find and unkennel their fox in a crag by themselves. It is
an exciting moment when Reynard springs up from his heather-covered ledge
and goes shooting through the dangerous crag-face, _en route_ for the
open fell top. Hounds may be practically all round him at the time, but
he dodges first one way and then another until he is clear, and amongst
the rocks and rough _débris_ of the fell-side, he is more than a match
for the fastest hound.

If it is a clear day, with not too much wind, you can both see and hear
hounds at some distance. If there is a mist, the music is your only guide
to the whereabouts of the pack. If scent is at all good, not many minutes
will elapse ere hounds have disappeared beyond your ken. You follow on,
keeping to the good going on the fell top, and ere long you hear them
again in another dale, still running strong. A thorough knowledge of
the country and the run of the foxes will enable you to go far and more
or less keep in touch, even on a misty day. If you are a stranger, you
will be wise to stick to some local hunter, who will pilot you safely,
although possibly at a rather faster pace than you deem compatible with
such rough going. Mist is the fell hunter’s greatest bugbear. It may roll
up suddenly and block out your entire view, shrouding you in a damp, grey
mantle. Then all you can do is to pray for an occasional rift in the
vaporous screen which will afford you a glimpse of your whereabouts, and
possibly reveal the hounds.

Sometimes when the dales are thick with mist the fell tops stand out
quite clear, and you look down on to a white sea. Next to mist hard
weather—especially when there is much ice on the crags—may stop hunting
for a time. Snow is not so bad, for though it makes hard work of it for
followers, hounds can get through it all right, and scent is often good
when the white covering is damp.

I must not dwell on the dark days, however, for there _are_ times when
weather, scent, and all the rest of it goes right, and a day of this kind
is a day to remember. The morning is fine and still, and the atmosphere
so clear that every rock and stone stands out distinctly. The distant
hills are tinted from indigo to mauve, and you wish you could transfer
the glorious panoramic view to canvas. You are out early, having made a
slow and easy ascent of the fell, and you sit down where you can command
a view of the dale and the rough ground below you. Far away in the bottom
you espy the huntsman’s scarlet coat, and those little white dots moving
here and there are the hounds.

[Illustration: ULLSWATER FOXHOUNDS: OPENING MEET AT BROTHERSWATER, OCT.
11TH, 1919.]

A faint note sounds, and then another, and gradually the music swells and
grows louder. Hounds have struck a drag, and are making their way towards
a frowning crag which juts out from the rough breast beneath you. Your
companion, a hill-shepherd, moves off a few paces in order to get a
better view, then suddenly turns and points with his stick, exclaiming,
“Sista, yonder he gars!” You look quickly towards the point indicated,
and there you see him, a fine fell fox, his brush held stiff and straight
behind him, moving along with the smooth gliding action peculiar to
his kind. Once he halts and looks back, then he resumes his easy pace.
Your companion runs a few yards down the breast, and you are treated to
a sample of a dalesman’s view-halloa. Scream after scream rings out,
echoing from the crags. The fox, still in view, and unhurried, stops at
the sound, glances back, then mends his pace and disappears round the
end of a jutting crag. Hounds come like mad to the halloa, scrambling up
the steep ground at a wonderful pace. The leaders strike the line, and
there is a burst of music as the remainder of the pack settle to it, and
go racing through the breast. You watch them until hidden by a shoulder
of the hill, then scan the fell head anxiously for their reappearance.
They are almost out of hearing, but suddenly the cry is carried back to
you clear and distinct, and you see them climbing out at the fell head,
looking like white ants in the distance. One glimpse you get, and they
are gone over the fell top, heading for the rough ground beyond.

Although you meditate following them, your better judgment prevails, for
this dale has not been previously disturbed, and you know that a litter
has been bred there. It is more than likely that the fox will return ere
long, so you walk a short distance up the narrow trod leading to the
tops, and sit down to listen. Scattered about the fell slopes are the
little Herdwick sheep, tiny things in comparison with a Southdown, but
famed for their quality as mutton. Overhead, wheeling in wide spirals,
a buzzard is rising to a dizzy height, his shrill “whee-u, whee-u,”
sounding clear and distinct. Over the fell head you hear the raucous cry
of a raven, and catch sight of a black speck floating into the distance.


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