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beneath you. On one occasion hounds were racing with a glorious cry,
apparently near the summit of a mountain which separated us from the dale
beyond. Every moment we expected to see them appear over the wall on the
skyline, whereas in reality they were on the opposite side of the valley
beyond, running through the breast at a high altitude.

Most of the fell country carries a good scent, except sometimes in early
autumn and spring, when the sun dries up the dew quite early in the
morning. Directly the bracken is beaten down by snow and rain, and the
land holds moisture, hounds can work out a drag, and hunt and run with
the best.

Although I have descanted upon the bad weather in the fell country, it
must not be thought that the winter months are wholly given over to mist,
rain, frost and wind. No, there are days when the sun shines brightly on
a white world, and the views from the tops are magnificent. The snow is
damp but not too deep, and hounds drive along as if tied to their fox.
The air is still and clear, enabling one to hear the music at a great
distance, and, with good visibility, hounds can easily be seen threading
their way through the rough ground across the wide dale. Scent is often
very good indeed in damp snow, though at times it may be just the
reverse. “There’s nowt sae queer as scent,” unless perhaps it be a woman.

Apart from hunting, I often think that visitors make a mistake in not
coming to the fells in winter. Grand as the views are in summer, they are
equally fine, if not finer, in winter, when the weather is frosty and

I have already spoken of the impracticability of the fells as a riding
country, for if—

“He who gallops his horse on Blackstone Edge
May chance to find a fall,”

the same horseman would find no chance about it on places like Striding
Edge or St. Sunday Crag in Lakeland.

At any time of the year many of the huge crags on the fells are dangerous
for hounds, and equally so for the too venturesome follower. To mention
but a few, there is the crag overhanging Goat’s Water on Coniston Old
Man, Pavey Ark in Langdale, Dove Crag at the head of Dovedale, Raven Crag
on Holme Fell, and Greenhow End overlooking Deepdale. Most, if not all,
of the places mentioned have been the scenes of accidents to hounds, as
well as thrilling rescues.


Considering the roughness of the fell hunting country as a whole, it is a
matter for surprise that there are not more accidents. Although hardly a
season passes without a contretemps of some kind, losses amongst hounds
of the fell packs through fatal accidents are comparatively rare.

I have previously mentioned the fact that when travelling the fells
unaccompanied by a companion, a sprained ankle may give one a pretty bad
time, and if night is drawing on may lead to having to pass a night on
the open fell. As an example, I may perhaps quote a case which happened
not many seasons ago.

I was standing with a huntsman one winter’s day on Wetherlam. There
was sufficient snow to cover the loose stones and rocks, and make the
latter slippery. The pack was running their fox below us when we espied
Reynard coming in our direction. Uncoupling four hounds he had with him
the huntsman ran in to give these hounds a view, when I saw him stumble
and fall. On reaching him I found he had sprained his ankle very badly
indeed, and in a short time his foot swelled tremendously. With my
assistance he was able to travel some distance downhill, where I finally
left him and went in search of further help. Luckily this was forthcoming
in the shape of some hunters whom I overtook, and aided by them the
wounded man was able to reach a road, where a trap met him and conveyed
him to his home. It was some weeks before he could again hunt hounds,
and had he been alone when the accident happened he might easily have had
a very bad time of it indeed, as the weather was bitterly cold and the
district was an unfrequented one.

We read of people in the Arctic regions going snow-blind, as well as
perishing with cold, but the same things _may_ happen on the fells, if
one does not take reasonable care.

I was once on the top of Fairfield, at the head of the Rydal valley, when
the sun was shining warmly, and the reflected light from the crusted snow
was intense. Having previously experienced the symptoms of snow-blindness
in Canada, I repeated the experience that day, and I verily believe I
should have gone temporarily blind had I not moved away to where the
glare was less acute.

As regards perishing from cold, this may easily happen to a person on
the high tops in winter, should he, through over-exertion, be compelled,
or perhaps I should say, give in to his desire to sit down. A drowsiness
comes over one, and sleep may end in the person being badly frozen, if
nothing worse. I have recollections of a youth who ventured to the top
of Red Screes one winter’s morning on hunting bent, and, being quite
unused to hill climbing, sat down in an exhausted condition. He took some
rousing too, and had he been left to his own devices I very much doubt if
he would have left the hill alive.


Although all such happenings are possible, the use of a little care
and common sense will carry one through a score of seasons in the fell
country without the slightest mishap. One should always remember that the
climatic conditions in winter and early spring are very different on the
high tops from what they are in the country far below in the dales.

I have come down off the top of Fairfield in April, after being white
from head to foot with hoarfrost, into a warm summer atmosphere near
Windermere Lake. People generally look at you in surprise if you tell
them that 2000 feet above the dales the tops are still well within the
grip of winter.

One possible danger that I have so far omitted to mention, is the chance
of being overtaken by darkness on the fell. No matter how well you know
your way down, on a dark night, it is a thankless job striking matches
or peering about with a flashlamp in the rough ground. With a moon and
a clear sky you are safe enough, while there is a novelty about walking
the tops under such conditions. A night spent on the open fell is bound
to be a chilly one, for at a high altitude there is little or no material
to make a fire. Still, if you _should_ be caught in the dark, it is
better to wait for daylight than risk breaking a leg or your neck over
some crag. I have had one or two experiences of struggling down to
civilisation in the dark, and I much prefer to do it when there is at
least some little light to guide me on the proper route.

I remember once crossing the top of Red Screes by moonlight, after hounds
had run their fox to ground at Dod Bields earth in Caiston. It was a
brilliant night, however, and we had not the least difficulty in reaching
the “Traveller’s Rest” inn, at the head of the Kirkstone Pass.

In the foregoing I have perhaps laid rather too great stress upon the
bad weather in the fell country, therefore, I will hasten to add that
the winter climate of the Lakeland dales is exceptionally mild. Two
thousand feet or more, of course, makes a lot of difference in climatic
conditions, and those who do not care to face the exigencies of the high
tops can still see much sport with hounds if they stick to the lower
reaches of the fells.


Sometimes the people in the bottom see a great deal more than those on
top, and, of course, from below one gets a panoramic view of a hunt, with
the entire fell side as the scene of operations. A car, a motor cycle,
or even the humble “push-bike” are extremely useful at times during the
course of a run with the fell hounds. Occasionally, as, for instance, in
the Thirlmere valley, hounds run for a considerable distance parallel
with the main road. At such times a car or a cycle enables you to slip
along in touch with hounds, whereas without it you would be left toiling
in the rear. After some little experience of sport in this wild country,
one soon learns how best to get about, and when to trust to “Shanks’s
pony,” and where to leave a cycle in case it may be needed in a hurry.

A fair number of ladies attend the meets of the fell packs during the
course of a season, and wonderfully well, indeed, do some of them get

When speaking of the Lake District, one naturally thinks of Cumberland
and Westmorland; but Lancashire contains some of the higher fells, such
as Wetherlam and Coniston Old Man. The real boundary of the district is
the range of fells south-east of Windermere, and from there a line drawn
round Coniston, Wastwater, Ennerdale, Crummock and Bassenthwaite Lakes;
continuing over the summits of Skiddaw and Saddleback, southward over
Helvellyn, then swinging left to enclose Ullswater and Haweswater, and so
back to Windermere. The valleys of Kentmere, Long Sleddale and Swindale
are just outside the cordon as drawn above, and so is the Lower Duddon
valley on the south-west, but they and all the country included in the
roughly-drawn circle, contain scenery typical of Lakeland.

The rainfall in the Lake District appears large on paper, from about 50
inches in the outlying parts to 150 in the more central portions. This,
however, does not mean that there is a more or less constant drizzle.
When it rains amongst the fells, it _rains_; a heavy downpour, then clear
weather to follow. In summer, as in the hot weather of 1919, there is
often a drought.

Speaking of rain reminds me of the yarn concerning the coach-driver, who,
when asked by a passenger if they had much rain in the district, replied,
“Why, neay; it donks an’ dozzles and does, an’ ’appen comes a bit o’ a
snifter, but nivver what you’d ca’ a gey gert pell!”

When out with hounds the visitor will come across many of the small
Herdwick sheep scattered about the fells. Before he leaves the district
he will no doubt have come to appreciate them as mutton, than which there
is none better in the country.

It was Jack Sheldon, another well-known coach-driver, who used to
describe the scenery to his passengers, when tooling his team between
Windermere and Keswick. His conversation was something like this: “We are
now crossing Matterdale Moor, where the farmers have a right of grazing
so many sheep by paying a shilling a year to the lord of the manor.
There’s fine grass here and on Helvellyn for the hogs!” A retired butcher
being on the coach one day remarked, “But I don’t see any hogs!” “Well,”
said Jack, “not pigs, but the small sheep you see moving about; they are
a special breed, and very good eating. They are called ‘hogs’ for the
first year, and when they have been shorn they are called ‘twinters,’ and
after losing their second fleece are known as ‘thrunters,’ and that’s
pretty near to ‘grunters,’ but when they’re killed the butcher calls them
‘Helvellyn mutton.’”

The Lake District proper is free of limestone, with the exception of a
narrow strip of what is known as Coniston limestone. As far as hunting
is concerned, this is no loss, for scenting conditions on bare limestone
rock are generally bad, unless the atmosphere is very damp. On the north,
Penrith is the boundary of the limestone, and in the south, Whitbarrow
and Cartmel.

All of the fell country Hunts have some low ground adjoining the fells,
which they visit once or twice during the season. This low ground will
appeal to those who find fell climbing too strenuous.

The Coniston hounds, which hunt the Windermere district, visit the
Winster valley, making their headquarters for the inside of a week
at Strawberry Bank. This low country is rideable, inasmuch as it is
possible to keep in touch with hounds by making use of side-roads,
bridle-tracks, etc. The country consists chiefly of woodlands, with large
heather-covered allotments, merging into grass fields in the valley.
There are plenty of foxes, but sport is never quite at its best until
rain or snow has beaten down the luxuriant growth of bracken, which
flourishes everywhere. Here a mounted man has the advantage over one on
foot, as when hounds run fast it is difficult to keep in touch with them,
and, owing to the woods, quite impossible to see for any distance. I have
enjoyed some very good sport there at different times, though I much
prefer hunting on the open fells.

Many of the dalesmen are extraordinarily keen on hunting, nor does age
appear to daunt them. I know several men over seventy years old who
follow hounds at every opportunity. One keen hunter lived to be over
ninety, and actually climbed to the top of Coniston Old Man on his
ninetieth birthday. It was the immortal Jorrocks’s huntsman, James Pigg,
who said, “Brandy and baccy ’ll gar a man live for iver!” but in the case
of the north-country dalesman I think it is fresh mountain air and lots
of exercise that “keeps the tambourine a rowlin’!”

The various inns throughout the country have harboured many a gathering
of hunters after the death of a fox in their vicinity. It is the custom
in Lakeland to take the carcass of the fox to the nearest inn, where it
is hung from a “crook” in the ceiling of the bar-parlour, for all to see.


Fell hunting engenders a considerable thirst, therefore jugs of beer
are in great demand. A pint or two usually incites some hunter to song,
and soon the house will be echoing to the chorus of “John Peel,” “Joe
Bowman,” or some other local hunting ditty. Gradually the gathering
breaks up, the hunters wending their way towards their respective homes,
and _occasionally_, _en route_, some of them will see more than _one_ fox.

Talking of beer reminds me of the sign which used to grace the famous
“Mortal Man Hotel” in Troutbeck; and read as follows:—

“Oh mortal man that liv’st on bread,
How comes thy nose to be so red?
Thou silly ass, that look’st so pale,
It comes of Sally Birkett’s ale.”

The “Traveller’s Rest,” at the top of the Kirkstone Pass (1476 feet), has
in its time been the scene of many a foxhunting “harvel” or celebration.
An old entry in the visitors’ book ran thus—

“The Sunday traveller on the Kirkstone Pass,
Is bonâ fide and may have his glass:
So, gentle stranger, do not stop to think;
Open your mouth, throw back your head and drink!

“And while reposing ’neath the bleak fell-sides,
As down your throat the nimble liquor glides,
Bless the kind parson[1] who with these rude stones,
Built this ’ere Inn to rest your weary bones.”

[1] The Rev. ⸺ Sewell, formerly Vicar of Troutbeck.

Whilst the fox is our premier beast of chase in Lakeland, the hare is
also hunted, and deer provide sport in the country adjoining the fells.
In the old days, however, there were two other animals, now very rare,
_i.e._ the polecat and the pine-marten, which were a recognised quarry
for hounds.

To-day, as far as I can gather, the polecat, or foumart, is extinct in
Lakeland. The pine-marten, or “sweet mart,” to distinguish it from its
evil-smelling relation, the foumart or “foul mart,” still lingers on some
of the wilder fells.

The pine-marten is a tree dweller by nature, but on the fells it has
its haunt amongst the crags and rocks. Hounds delight in the scent
of a “mart,” and in bygone days some very good runs took place. The
pine-marten, unlike the fox, is very easy to bolt from an earth, owing to
its intense dislike of smoke. Directly the first whiff of burning grass
or bracken reaches it, it at once takes to the open. The last pine-marten
I have seen in the flesh, was a young marten kitten which I was
instrumental in securing in 1915. It became the property of a well-known
lady naturalist, who reared it successfully, and it proved a charming


Although, as far as I am aware, extinct in Lakeland, the polecat is still
fairly plentiful in parts of Wales. A year or two ago I had a very fine
specimen sent to me from there.

In Vyner’s “Notitia Venatica” is an illustration of foxhounds finding a
“marten cat.” One of the hunters is shown up a tree holding some burning
straw or other material on the end of a long stick. The pine-marten is
represented jumping out of the tree into one adjoining. This marten’s
brush is apparently tipped with white, surely a mistake on the part of
the artist who drew the picture, as I have never seen or heard of a
“mart” with such a white tag to its caudal appendage.

It is a great pity there are not more martens in the country. In addition
to being beautiful and interesting creatures, they are the deadly foe of
squirrels, which do much harm to trees in young plantations.

The hunting man who is interested in photography will find endless
opportunities when out with the fell packs of recording incidents of the
chase. It is needless to say that a small light-weight camera should be
selected, anything larger than quarter-plate being too much of a handicap
on steep ground.

To a lover of sport in wild country, foxhunting in the Lake District must
make a strong appeal. In fine or stormy weather the fells have a peculiar
charm of their own, and if we add to the beauties of Nature the mellow
notes of the horn and the cry of hounds echoing amongst the crags, we can
say in the words of the old Roman author—

“And from without the mountain girth,
Whene’er his wandering steps draw near,
The stranger, from whatever earth,
Desires the country of his birth
No more, but yearns to sojourn here.”



“Who—whoop! they have him, they’re round him;
They worry and tear when he’s down;
’Twas a stout hill fox when they found him,
Now ’tis a hundred tatters of brown.”

In John Peel’s time the fell country fox was a distinct variety. Long
in the leg, with a grizzle-grey jacket covering a wiry frame, the
appellation “greyhound” fitted him exactly. As such he was then known,
and the extraordinary long runs which he often provided fully upheld
his reputation as a traveller. In habits, too, he was different from
the present-day representatives of the vulpine race. Wild and shy, he
avoided the haunts of men, and was seldom found lying up anywhere near
human habitations. He and his kind were few in number, compared with the
ample stock to-day, and in consequence each individual fox travelled a
wider beat, and knew more country. It, therefore, naturally followed that
hounds often ran fast and far when piloted by one of these old-fashioned
“greyhound” customers.

By degrees, owing to the importation of foxes for restocking certain
districts adjoining the fells, the true hill fox became infused with this
new blood. The new-comers were a smaller and redder variety, and although
to-day hounds often account for foxes with greyish jackets, the supply as
a whole differs little in appearance from the foxes which are brought to
hand in the shires. It may be safely said that the real old “greyhound”
variety is a thing of the past, only to be seen to-day staring woodenly
from a glass case in the fell-side farmhouses.

Long and lean, the fell fox proper was a much heavier animal than his
relations who have usurped his place. Eighteen pounds was a common
weight, and instances of twenty and twenty-three pounds have been
recorded, but to-day there are more foxes under than over sixteen pounds.
Now and then the fell packs kill an extra heavy fox, and I can vouch for
the weights of at least three foxes which pulled down the scales to the
eighteen-pound mark.

Curiously enough two of these foxes were killed by the Coniston Hounds on
the same day. The date was March 16th, 1913, and the first fox was killed
at High Dale Park, near Coniston, after a good hunt of two and a half
hours. Fox number two was run into on the shore of Coniston Lake, after a
fast hunt, by way of High Bethicar, Brockbarrow, and the Nibthwaite and
Park-a-Moor coverts.

This season, 1919, the same pack killed a big, lean dog fox on November
25th, at Birk Brow in the Winster valley. This fox weighed exactly
eighteen pounds, and was in hard condition. In November, 1912, the
Mellbrake Hounds accounted for a fox of nineteen pounds. They found him
on Low Fell, and ran him, by way of Whinfell, to the river Cocker. The
stream being in flood, the fox retraced his track to Low Fell, where he
went to ground. The terriers bolted him, and he gave a further five-mile
spin before he was run into at Buttermere. On Thursday, January 15th,
1920, the Coniston Foxhounds killed a nineteen-pound dog-fox in the open,
near Blea Tarn, Langdale. This is an exceptionally heavy fox, even for
the fell country.

In his habits, the fell fox differs little from his relations in the
low countries. In the daytime he makes his couch at a high elevation,
often on one of the many heather or bleaberry covered ledges which seam
the face of the crags on the mountain top. Occasionally he may lie at
a lower elevation, amongst the ling on the grouse ground, or in some
straggling covert of larch or oak; but his kind generally prefer to make
their kennel well up the fell-side, where, except for the visit of an
occasional shepherd, they are free from disturbance. When the sun begins
to sink, Reynard leaves his bed, stretches himself, and turns his mask in
the direction of the dales. On the fell proper, there is little for him
to feed on, with the exception of beetles and frogs, and an occasional
carcass in the shape of a defunct sheep. Lower down he can find rabbits,
grouse, and perhaps a pheasant, or, if he be impudent enough, can make
a raid on the farmers’ poultry. Young lamb, too, is an item added to
his, or, perhaps, I should say, her menu in spring, for it is then when
the vixen has cubs, and the latter require constant feeding. In summer
the fells swarm with beetles, and if the excrement of a fox be examined
it will often be found to consist almost entirely of the wing cases and
other hard portions of these insects. Frogs, too, are a favourite food.
I have often found lumps of frog spawn lying on the narrow footpaths
leading to the fell tops, and for a long time I used to wonder how these
lumps got there. I finally arrived at the conclusion that foxes are
responsible for the presence of the spawn. Reynard catches his frog in
some pool or marshy spot, and carries his prey with him as he wends his
way up one of the well-defined “trods.” There he makes a meal of the
frog, but the spawn squeezed out of the creature he dislikes, so leaves
it untouched.

Where he can get rabbits he will seldom go short of food, though little
comes amiss to him if he thinks he can use it for a meal. Like a dog,
he often buries food for future consumption. I was recently talking to a
keeper who found three rabbits buried in the snow. The tale of Reynard’s
doings was plainly told on the white surface. The rabbits had been
feeding in rank grass and rushes, and the fox had easily stalked and
captured them. I have found the following list of furred and feathered
creatures scattered about in and around a fell fox’s earth: Portions of
two leverets, remains of several rabbits, feathers and bones of grouse,
a very young lamb, and the untouched body of a short-eared owl. The only
mark on the owl was a bite in the neck, probably done by the vixen when
she killed the bird. Owl had not apparently suited the cubs’ taste,
otherwise they would soon have pulled it to pieces.

At other earths I have found remains of pheasants and woodcock, with
occasionally bones and feathers of blackgame. Both the dog-fox and the
vixen carry food to the cubs, but the vixen does most of this work.

If an earth is disturbed when the cubs are quite young, the vixen carries
them off one by one to some safer retreat. A breeding earth often becomes
very foul, what with the excrement of the cubs and the rotting portions
of food left lying about. Unless the vixen occasionally shifted her
offspring disease would be liable to attack them. As a rule the vixen
lays down her cubs in some small and comparatively simple earth, often
within reach of other and more extensive rocky retreats. The latter are

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Online LibraryRichard ClaphamFoxhunting on the Lakeland fells → online text (page 2 of 7)