Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 21 of 22)
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mines at North Molton. The deer is stated in the
diary of Parson Boyse to have been twenty years old,
and was known to have been a good stag in 1775.
He had all his rights, with seven on the top of one
horn and six on the other. A picture of the head,
which is in the possession of Sir Thomas Dyke
Acland, will be found in Dr. Collyns's " Chase of
the Wild Red Deer." This run is remarkable for
the fact that hounds were stopped for two hours in
the middle of the run, owing to a very severe

In 1789 a good stag gave a very fast gallop from
Yealscombe, in Horner, to Badgworthy, and over
Brendon Common to Barberick Mill, being taken at
Lilford Bridge.

On April 24th, 1849, hounds had a flying run
from Sweet Tree after a hind, taking her just about
Watersmeet in one hour and five minutes, a distance
of somewhere about thirteen miles in a straight line.
This is said to have been one of the fastest runs on
record, and it is easy to believe it.

In 1 891 the writer had the good fortune to
accompany Miles when he harboured a good stag
in the wood just below Stoke Pero Church. There
were three stags lying there ; the tufters acknow-
ledged the line where one of the stags had come in


from feeding, worked right up to him, and drove him
out without rousing the others. He went away
upwards through Hole Wood, and broke over the
hill to Chettisford Water. The pack was laid on
on Poole Common, and ran well to the water just
above Nutscale, and up stream to the foot of
Embercombe ; here a long check occurred, and
while hounds were being cast up the valley towards
Chettisford one of the puppies, coming on to
overtake the pack, hit the line and worked very
slowly upwards to Luccott Moor, but it was some
distance before hounds were really able to own the
scent ; when they did, they ran on at a good pace,
and we galloped over the wet ground to Luccott
Moor, over Porlock Common to Black Barrow and
on to Badgvvorthy. Hounds went at a good pace,
but not so fast as to prevent horses keeping easily
with them. The stag had not loitered in Badg-
worthy, but went straight on again over Lanacombe,
to the Black Pits, most of the field avoiding the bad
ground by going over Badgworthy Hill to Two Gates,
Hounds crossed Brendon Road and made away over
Black Pits towards Farley Water, and fresh found
t|ie stag as he was soiling in one of the deep peat
holes. From here he ran the whole length of the
Chains, bringing many riders to the ground, and
passing Pinkworthy Pond, went on by Wood Barrow
and Longstone. By this time the field was strung
out in long drawn file, and the moor was dotted for
miles with horses not able to get any further.


Longstone Bog stopped many blown horses, and
beyond that point there were very few riders with
hounds as they went down over the enclosed country
to Parracombe, where the deer was halloaed down
the stream. From here it was a race down the
water to Folley Wood, close above Heddonsmouth,
in the parish of Trentishoe, where the stag stood to
bay and was killed. This is certainly one of the
best runs which has been seen from Cloutsham in
modern times, and is fully equal to almost any of
the runs recorded in history. Very few were in at
the death, and many failed to get home. Martinhoe,
Combe Martin, and Lynton were full of dead-
beat horses, more than one of which died in the

The first and last days of the staghunting season
of 1905 produced runs of more than ordinary merit.
The opening day was a poor one for foot and carriage
people ; it rained as it only can rain in and around
Exmoor. Two stags went away from Sweet Tree
after hounds had been drawing a short time ; what
they were it was hard to say, for an extra heavy
storm was sweeping over the moor at the moment.
Probably the pack, which was brought on at once,
settled on the line of the smaller deer ; but be this as
it may, they rattled over the hill as if for Godsend,
swung round right-handed, and ran as hard as ever
they could drive to Oare Vicarage ; about an eight-
mile point without a check all the way. Here
hounds lost the deer, which beat them by lying down


in standing corn. A well-known sportsman from the
Midlands said it was the best gallop he had had with
this pack in fifteen seasons ; it certainly was a flying
pace the whole way.

On the last day of the season hounds ran from
Langcombe Head without a check over Luccott
Moor to the Shilletts, down Hawkcombe and up to
Luccott Farm, and down by Poole Bridge into
Horner ; a big ring with no check all the way. Here
the deer had soiled, but the ubiquitous Fred Goss
viewed him ; then hounds ran very fast up the combe
and through Whitbarrow Wood across Hawkcombe
to the Parks, right through the Porlock coverts.
Here they completely beat nine-tenths of the field,
and broke away by Pitt Combe and Weare Wood
Common to Robber's Bridge ; then they slanted up
the hill, and went over North Common and by Deddy
Combe nearly down to Oare, whence the stag turned
away up hill again, and, crossing the ridge, came
down to the beach between Rodney andthelighthouse.
After soiling he landed again, and once more faced
the hill, climbing to the summit of Countisbury.
Here Sidney, who for some miles had been absolutely
alone, was joined by the Master and whip and some
more hounds, and they ran down to the Brendon
Water and up stream to Millslade, whence the stag
broke back, and climbing the hill yet again, crossed
Countisbury Common, and went to sea close to the
Foreland, where the coastguard's boat secured him
just as the dark of an October evening closed down,



leaving the Master and his men a weary ride home
on a very bad road to Exford.


Second only to Cloutsham as a stronghold of the
deer is the big collection of thick woodlands, extend-
ing over some thousands of acres, to which most
people apply the general term Haddon.

The brown, heathery ridge of Haddon Hill is a
prominent landmark from any part of the district ;
almost surrounded by deep valleys clothed with the
densest and most impenetrable oak scrub, and
watered by the dashing stream of the Haddeo, a
tributary of the Exe, it has from the earliest been the
favourite refuge for the deer when other and smaller
coverts were disturbed and unsafe. So much was
this the case that there were always said to be two
herds of deer, the forest herd and the Haddon herd.

The road through the Haddeo Valley is a private
one, and, save for one cottage at Clammer and the
few cottages at Hartford Cleeve, there is nothing
whatever to disturb the quietude of the valley from
end to end, and it is small wonder that the deer
have made it their headquarters on the south-east
side of the district. Beyond Haddon to the east-
ward are large coverts at Bittescombe, belonging to
Sir John Ferguson Davie, through which deer
constantly pass and repass, but they do not very
frequently lie there. Further to the eastward again
are the big plantations between Huish Champflower


and the river Tone near Chipstable. These are
much frequented by the deer as they contain a vast
amount of thick bracken, most favourite covert for
stags and most difficult to dislodge them from. All
these woods are, however, subsidiary to Haddon, and
deer found in them, in nine cases out of ten, betake
themselves to Haddon before going away elsewhere.
So much is the deep Haddeo Valley the headquarters
of this side of the country, that it is probable that
most of the deer in the Huntsham and Stoodley
coverts, far down the Exe Valley, spend some portion
of every year at Haddon.

Every part of these coverts has its own special
name, but there are only two of interest. The drive
which extends the whole length of the valley is called
Lady Harriet's Drive, to commemorate the heroism
and sufferings of Lady Harriet Acland in nursing
and rescuing her husband. Colonel Acland, who was
sick and a prisoner in the hands of the French
during the war in America.

The other name is " Lousy Gate," which is a place
on the high road close to the upper lodge gate of
Baronsdown. It had been known from time
immemorial as " Lousy Gate," frequently pronounced
Loosy, but the name was an offence to some of the
ultra-refined, and it was suggested that it must have
been intended for " Lucy." This was improved upon
by some really clever person, who, seeing there was
a Lady Harriet's Drive, jumped to the conclusion
that Lousy Gate must be a corruption of " Lady

Z 2


Louisa Gate." Such it was sometimes called, and
the name has actually appeared in print, but was too
ridiculous for acceptance, so the dreadful point was
avoided by calling the place " Higher Lodge,
Baronsdown." This is veritably a case of " Much
ado about nothing." A pig's louse, or loose, is good
old West-country English for a pig's stye or
enclosure, more particularly the enclosure to which
the herds of swine were driven at night from feeding.
As such the word is frequently met with in old
documents and deeds, and is common in the district.
The names Loosehall Wood and Lousy Thorn will
occur at once to every staghunter. The particular
louse, or enclosure, which gave its name to Lousy
Gate was that to which the swine were driven at
night which roamed in search of acorns and beech-
mast, in exercise of the right of " pannage," in
" Swinescleeve," at the upper side of which Lousy
Gate is situated.

Hounds meet at Haddon a great many times in the
course of the season, for it is a sure find, and, indeed,
so large has been the herd of late years that Mr. Ian
Amory has had many " invitation " days there during
the hindhunting season, and has enjoyed some
excellent runs.

Haddon is, however, far from being a popular meet
— except for the carriage people ; for them it is a
perfect paradise. It is approached by fair roads,
and Haddon deer show a marked predilection for
running through the coverts in and near the Exe



Valley, all of which are commanded by a most
excellent driving road from which everything can be
seen; so when the deer takes to the Exe Valley, the
field consists mainly of a surging crowd of carriages
and motor-cars, most of the riders, except the few
who have learned how to get along the Exe Valley
without going on the road, having abandoned as
hopeless all attempt to see hounds.

Though the carriages and motors are without doubt
one of the main causes of the unpopularity of Haddon,
It is only fair to say that, though they may spoil the
fun of the riders, they do not as a rule interfere with
the hounds or with the run of the deer, for, being in
the valley, the top side of the covert is always open
for deer to break away towards the better country,
and they frequently do so ; and then the horsemen
who have faced the dust and the crowd to keep near
hounds reap their reward.

The Haddon coverts are entirely surrounded by
enclosed country, and it is only naturally to be
expected that deer, bred and born in such a district,
should show a greater tendency to run the coverts
than do their cousins, whose nightly wanderings lead
them over wide expanses of open moorland, and
whichever way a deer may make up his mind to go,
the field has of necessity to cross some few miles of
enclosed ground, going from gate to gate, and from
road to lane, ere horsemen find themselves on any
open ground such as Court Down or the heather
above Red Cleeve.


Still, when one comes to look back over the records
of sport, one is driven to admit that Haddon deer
are stout and strong, and that many a long hunting
run and not a few brilliant gallops have resulted from
rousing a stag beside the Haddeo. In old days
Haddon stags continually ran to Slowley and vice
versa, and now that the iron works on Brendon and
the mineral railway are - abandoned, they are
beginning to travel this line again ; most of the land
is now enclosed and one has to go gate hunting, but
none the less a very pretty hunting run may be seen
over this line.

The general run of Haddon deer is by Baron's
Down to the Exe Valley, and if hounds are lucky
enough to force their deer away towards the Barle, a
capital gallop over the heather is the result ;
especially is this likely to happen late in the season,
when the deer, W'hich earlier in the year have lain in
the upper part of the Barle, have congregated in
Haddon, as their custon is, in October. Then when
there is a meet at Haddon the villagers at Withypool,
twelve miles off, are always on the look-out to see
the field galloping hard over Bradley Ham towards
the Barle. At Haddon, more often, perhaps, than at
any other covert, it is the unexpected that happens,
and deer have been killed at the Castle of Comfort,
Nether Stowey, after going by Slowley and Donniford ;
at Woolston Moor ; at Bathealton, near Cruwys
Morchard ; at Withleigh Mill ; at Halberton ; twice
at Emmet's Granofe ; at Flexboroue^h ; at Orchard


Corner, and at Bosslngton. In fact, there is
a place within a radius of twenty miles to which or
through which a Haddon deer has not led hounds in
recent years.

Mr. Bissett had a curious experience at Haddon
when he killed his first big deer there in 1855.
They found in Huscombe Wood and ran by Aller's
Wood and Combe nearly to Anstey, and then took
a wide sweep round the enclosed country by Spurway
Mill, Highleigh, and Combeshead, back to Haddon,
where the old stag beat them in the water, but they
fresh found him by Hartford and ran him in the dark
up and down the water. They could only tell where
he was when hounds were at fault by the splashing
in the water, and they could do nothing without a
light ; so Mr. Froude Bellew volunteered to ride
down to a cottage and borrow a lantern, but the old
woman did not know him, and, as he had no money
with him, declined the loan of a candle, though she
eventually consented on his leaving his hunting-knife
•as a pledge for its safe return.

There are few places where the habits of the deer
can be observed better than at Haddon, and it is
here that successive harbourers, from Jem Blackmore,
the elder, to Fred Goss, have studied their calling,
some of them learning much from old Jack Wensley,
the woodman at Hartford, who has lived among the
deer and studied them all his life.

Some years ago there was a stag in Haddon lame in
the stifle joint, sometimes it affected him, sometimes


he appeared to go quite sound. During hind
hunting he was seen, in company with five other stags,
to cross from Wynne Corner towards Haddon Farm,
but he could not get over the big bank, and fell back,
whereupon two of the stags came back and, crossing
their antlers behind him, shoved him up on to the
bank, and the herd all went away together. It was
at Haddon, too, that a sta.g, hard pressed by the
hounds, found a fresh deer lying in the heather, and
tried to turn him out, a liberty which the latter
resented, and the two engaged in mortal combat till
the hounds were almost on them.







" Here's to the horse,

And his rider, too, of course."

Whyte- Melville.

There was at one time an idea very prevalent that
it was necessary to have a local bred horse, and lo
ride him in some special way in order to see the big
runs on Exmoor. Both ideas are utter fallacies ; a
good horse and a good rider will find their way into
the first flight on Exmoor as surely as they will do so
in any other country, and a bad rider will be left
behind, whether on a good horse or a bad one, in just
the same way as elsewhere. This is very far from
saying that the local rider who understands the game,
and knows the moor, and is used to riding over the
class of rough ground to be met with on Exmoor^
has not an immense advantage over a stranger, but
the stranger, if a real horseman, will be the first to
see this and act accordingly.

To take the case of horses first — it has frequently
been said that one must have an animal that has run
on the moor and knows a bog when it sees one. A
glance at the animals which run on the moor is


sufficient to tell anyone that for a middle-weight to
hope to be with the present pack in even a moderate
gallop would be absurd. The pure bred Exmoor
pony is probably the most marvellous animal of his
inches in existence, and we have all seen small
animals of twelve hands and less, carrying weights
up to even fourteen stone, scrambling up and down
steep places with apparent ease, and galloping over
rough ground at an astonishing pace, but this has
always been when hounds have been dodging about
among the hills from covert to covert ; when hounds
run really fast for any length of time over the open
moor, an Exmoor pony, if burdened with more than
a feather-weight, is bound to be left behind.

The real value of the Exmoor pony is as a stock
to breed from, and a well shaped horse, about fifteen
hands to fifteen two, with three strains of thorough-
bred and one strain Exmoor pony, will gallop and
stay against anything in the world, with a moderate
weight. If you are fortunate enough to find one
which, to the Exmoor pony and the thoroughbred
adds a strain of the old Devonshire pack-horse — now,
alas ! almost extinct — you may ask it to carry a welter-
weight at any sort of pace, over any sort of ground,
and you will not be disappointed ; but horses so bred
are very few and far between, and the lucky owners
are not easily tempted to part with them. There are
a considerable number of sm.all, smart horses bred
in the district from the farmers' mares, many, if not
most, of which contain a strong infusion of pony


blood. The heavy Shire blood has hardly infected
the hill districts at present, and the Suffolk is
absolutely unknown. The working stock on most of
the hill farms are small, short legged, strong backed,
quick moving horses, which can both trot and gallop.
A heavy, slow moving horse is quite useless on a
farm, half the acreage of which is as steep as the
side of a house, and on many of which the sled is
still in use for carrying crops. These horses are
habitually ridden over the moors and wide commons
shepherding, and are quite used to doing a day's
hunting when required. The writer remembers seeing
Sam Webber, of Brightworthy, and his son leading
the field for the last three miles of a big gallop on
the horses they had unhitched from the cart in
which they were carrying corn when hounds came in

This class of mare is a very useful basis to breed
from when crossed with suitable thoroughbred sires.
For many years there has been in the district an
abundance of good blood, such as Tomahawk, First
Flight, Half and Half, Messager, Progress, who was
own brother to the celebrated mare Florence, and was
the sire of innumerable polo ponies ; Button Park,
'^Allow Me, Upset, The Cob, Orme's Head, The Ghost,
Grand National, and others too numerous to mention.
There are, it must be admitted, considerable numbers
of useful staghunters bred in the district, and the best
of them are, beyond a doubt, the very best mounts for
a medium weight to ride, but the supply is nothing


approaching to the demand. The Devon and
Somerset hunt four days a week, and the field
averages two hundred to two hundred and fifty, and
is sometimes as many as four hundred, besides which
Sir John Amory's and Mr. Stanley's staghounds, and
several packs of foxhounds and harriers hunt the
district. In the height of the season there cannot be
far short of eight hundred hunters and ponies standing
in the neighbourhood, a number far beyond the power
of the district to produce.

The visitor must, therefore, rest content with
getting a suitable kind of horse, and the question is,
what kind is suitable? This is mainly a question of
weight. There being no jumping, size is not required
for a light or medium weight ; what are essential are
blood, a good back and loins, and a good shoulder,
the latter being in the nature of a luxury. Without
a strong back and loins you cannot possibly get up
a hill, but you can get down a hill with a very indifferent
shoulder and some risk of a fall. A good polo pony
is a first-rate mount for a feather-weight, and probably
the best description of the sort of mount for a light-
weight would be an animal which would make a
first-rate polo pony were it two inches smaller. Big
horses are not as a rule desirable, as they are not so
handy in steep places and along narrow paths ; most
big horses seem to have enough to do to carry
themselves up a steep hill, without being burdened
with a rider. It is, however, fair to say that we
seldom see a good big one with these hounds. We


see plenty of first-class light-weight horses, but a
high-class heavy-weight horse is rare, and cannot be
expected from the dealers who let out for hire. No
dealer could afford to give the price for a really
first-rate fifteen stone horse and let him out at two
guineas a day.

What really good big horses can do was shown by
men like the late Mr. Granville Somerset, and, above
all, Mr. Bissett, who could gallop when required over
the moor against any man, in spite of his weight of
twenty stone, but he gave immense prices for his
horses. Mr. Froude Hancock, who is bad to beat,
however fast hounds run, is an example of what
comparatively small horses, chosen with consummate
judgment and in the very pink of condition, are
capable of under a welter-weight when ridden with
judgment and knowledge. When all is said and
done, the only indispensable quality is " blood " ;
the better it is and the more of it the better.

Many a good performer both on the flat and
across country has proved itself a safe and pleasant
mount with the staghounds. That well-known
sprinter. Little Red Rat, is as much at home on
the wet ground on the North Forest as on Newmarket
iHeath, and shows himself as capable of skating and
sliding down a rocky path, with a river at the bottom,
as he is of standing like a rock on the Limekilns to
allow his owner to watch an important trial of

Next to blood the most essential thing is condition.


No horse that is not perfectly In condition can stand
the work with the Devon and Somerset. To the real
hunting man who takes an interest in his stables no
work of warning is needful. But a great many
strangers bring their horses down under the impres-
sion that it is " only stag hunting," not real work,
and a nice easy preparation for the fox-hunting
season. Filled legs, curbs, and sore backs are the
inevitable result. No stud-groom who has not had
experience of the hunting on Exmoor ever takes it
seriously, added to which they hate getting a horse
fit in the summer, when they consider they are
entitled to an easy time. Muscles and sinews not
properly hardened up are sure to be the worse for
wear after being pushed along up hill and over deep
ground, and long galloping when the stomach is
burdened with internal fat is an undue strain both on
heart and wind. A back not rendered saddle hard
by continued work is certain to become galled
simply by the friction and pressure of the saddle on
a long day in hot weather, in addition to which a
horse only half in condition is sure to develop humour,
which will work out where the skin is weakened by
pressure and friction.

Dressings of tannin and alum and such like
contrivances have been tried and are of some use,
but nothing on earth will prevent a soft horse getting
a sore back if he gets a really hard day's hunting in
hot weather.

This is not the place to discourse on the means of


getting a horse into condition, but a few hints drawn
from many years' experience may be useful. Always
see that a groom when exercising two horses has
saddles on both and rides them alternately. If a
horse is intended for a lady to hunt it should be
exercised and ridden in a side-saddle. A side-saddle
is bigger than a man's and the sight of a lady's horse
sore all round the edge of the saddle and sound in
the middle, due solely to the want of this precaution,
is not uncommon.

It is a good thing to keep the saddle off a horse
the day after hunting, and have its necessary
exercise done in hand, as it gives the skin a chance
to recover itself from any slight irritation which may
exist even though not apparent. With a linen-lined

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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 21 of 22)