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Foxhunting on the Lakeland fells online

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this season, 1919-20, so that foxes from the hills may have taken
advantage of the unusual quietude of haunts near the dales. The increase
on the high ground has led also to foxes putting in an appearance in
country some distance from the fells, where they have not been seen for
many years.

The war was a handicap to sport on the fells, just as it affected hunting
in the Shires and elsewhere. The shortage of horses was not, of course,
felt, but with so many followers away at the front, huntsmen of the
fell packs were obliged to work practically single-handed. A number of
experienced hunters scattered about the fell tops are a great help to a
huntsman, and the want of them is quickly felt. Now, however, all the
fell packs are in full swing again, and prospects for the future appear

“See, there he creeps along; his brush he drags
And sweeps the mire impure; from his wide jaws
His tongue unmoistened hangs; symptoms too sure
Of sudden death.”



“He’s strong and he’s straight, lads, his tongue like a bell,
And the stout heart that’s in him, lads, tongue cannot tell,
For to breast the steep hill-sides, where faint hearts must fail,
And to sweep the wide moors in the teeth of the gale.”

The hunting man from the Shires, on paying his initial visit to one or
other of the fell packs, will no doubt be struck by the very different
appearance of these hounds from those to which he has been accustomed.

For many years past Masters of hounds have bred for an exclusive type,
as represented by the Peterborough standard. Unfortunately there are
comparatively few hunting countries to which hounds of this exclusive
type are exactly suited, yet, for various reasons, mainly financial, the
majority of packs are composed of hounds very close to the standard.

A pack of hounds is got together with the object of showing sport and
killing foxes. Throughout Great Britain the character of the individual
hunting countries differs considerably. From the Hampshire downs and the
vale country of the Shires, we progress northward through varying types
of country, until we reach the fells of Cumberland and Westmorland, which
comprise some of the wildest and roughest ground in England.

Any one who has had much experience of riding to hounds in different
countries knows that the type of horse suited, let us say to Cumberland,
would be entirely out of place in Warwickshire, which is fairly
representative of a sound grass country. Now a horse ridden by a man who
means to see sport and be with hounds must cross the same line of country
taken by the latter. If, therefore, to enable him to do this with ease to
himself and his rider the horse should be of the correct type, is it not
equally necessary, in fact more so, for the hounds to be of a type most
suited to the requirements of their particular country?

I think those Masters who set utility in advance of fashion where their
hounds are concerned, will agree with me when I express the opinion
that a deviation in type from the Peterborough standard, in order to
improve the sport-showing qualities of a pack, should enhance rather than
militate against their financial value.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the reverse is the case. As an example, I will
take a hound from each of three very different countries, _i.e._ the
Warwickshire, the Radnorshire, and the Blencathra.

The Warwickshire hound is of the fashionable type, and we will suppose
his show value, in competition on the flags, is 100 points. The
Radnorshire hound under the same conditions will be judged at say, 50
points, while the Blencathra hound cannot be allowed more than 25 points.

The financial value of these hounds would show an equally remarkable
difference. If we credit the Warwickshire winner as worth 90 guineas, the
Radnorshire hound will fetch perhaps 20 guineas, while the Blencathra
representative we can set down for a sum of 3 guineas.

Examining their utility value in the same way, the Warwickshire hound may
take the field four days a fortnight. He may continue to run up till his
fifth or sixth season. The Radnorshire hound can, if required, do his
five days a fortnight, and will probably be a runner-up until his seventh
season. The Blencathra hound will come out three, if not four, days _per
week_, and he has been known to do even more than this, whilst he will
continue to run up till his ninth or tenth season, barring accidents
amongst the crags.

The above comparisons tend to show how little real encouragement is held
out to a modern Master of hounds to breed for utility and sport instead
of exclusive type and consequent financial value.

The hound required to successfully cope with the exigencies of the fell
country of Cumberland and Westmorland should conform to the following

Light in frame, and particularly well let-down and developed in hind
quarters. Hare-footed, as opposed to the round cat-foot of the standard
type. Good neck, shoulders and loin, long in pastern, and ribs carried
well back. A good nose, plenty of tongue, and last, but by no means
least, pace.

Owing to financial considerations, the fell packs are small, therefore
individual hounds have to take the field much oftener than those
composing the fashionable packs. They are kept, too, under less
artificial conditions, and in consequence are quite able to run up for
many seasons, and are seldom sick or sorry.

Although on the fells there is plenty of ground where hounds can race on
a good scenting day, the majority of it consists of steep slopes, rock
and loose shale, in addition to huge crags and cliffs. The fences consist
of big stone walls.

[Illustration: “CRACKER.” Late of the Coniston pack. A big hound of the
fell type.]

[Illustration: “MISCHIEF.” Late of the Coniston pack. A bitch of the fell

A hound of the exclusive type is absolutely unsuited to such a country,
for the following reasons: His weight is against him, as well as his
short, straight pasterns, and round cat-feet. Jumping from a height, or
running downhill on rough ground, his pasterns, owing to lack of spring,
fail to minimise jar and concussion; no matter how good his shoulders
may be. His round, over-developed, and practically malformed feet, are of
little help to him either for crossing rough ground, or for gripping the
latter when climbing crags and steep slopes. He is usually, too, lacking
in tongue, and is not fond of working out a cold drag.

In addition, his height is against him when it comes to quick turning and
running on steep ground.

A fell hound should stand under, rather than over, 22½ inches.

I know many people consider a big hound more suited to jumping high
stone walls than a little one, but in practice it has been proved that
the small hound crosses them with greater ease. To jump properly a hound
should be short-coupled, compact in build, and have his ribs carried
well back. You find this to more perfection in a small hound than a big
one. The short-coupled hound can get his hind legs much further under
his body, and, in consequence, clears an obstacle with far less strain.
Jumping off a wall, too, the light-built hound experiences less jar on
landing. At the end of a long day, the light-built hounds of a pack
will show less signs of fatigue than those of greater weight, and will
return to kennels with their sterns gaily carried. Weight increases leg
weariness, and shortens the length of a hound’s utility in the field.
Until the craze for show competition has run its course, both hounds
and gun-dogs will suffer from it. Working ability should be the main
object of the man who breeds for sport, and if he crosses workers with
workers, Nature will see to it that beauty and good looks suited to the
particular type will eventually accompany that ability. It is much better
to do this than allow the beauty standard, or perhaps I had better say
the humanly-conceived type of beauty, to take preference of working

One of the most important points about a hound is his feet. Without sound
feet he is severely handicapped from the very beginning. Many hounds of
the exclusive type are so handicapped, their feet being nothing less than
malformed. Owing to the shortening and cramping up of the feet, and the
knuckling over at the knee, a hound of this type is useless for work in
rough country.

On the fells, where hounds are bred for work and not for show, the
natural or hare-foot is universal. Possessed of a lengthy surface, weight
is evenly distributed along the latter, while wear and tear on the foot
is properly taken up. Such a foot gets a firm grip on rocks, and offers
a smooth surface to the ground on steep descents. If to such a foot we
add a long, sloping pastern, jar and concussion will be brought to a
minimum, particularly if the shoulders are also good. Concussion acts
through the nervous system on the brain, and, therefore, the working life
of a hound is quickly shortened, should he be improperly constructed
as regards his feet. In most kennels, the dew-claws are removed from
the puppies when the latter are quite young. The fell hounds, however,
retain this claw, and it is properly developed. Far from being a useless
appendage, as many people imagine, the dew-claw is of assistance to a
hound in surmounting slippery rocks, where he has to pull himself up.
It also acts as a preventative to slipping on the ledges of the crags.
Was there no use for this claw it would not develop as it does on a fell
hound, and on examination it will be found to be worn on the underside of
the nail, proof positive that it does its share of work.

I have already mentioned the fact that there are portions of the fell
country where hounds can get up a tremendous pace, and so severely press
their fox at some period of a run. If the forearm of a hound is properly
put together, not only will the several parts help to minimise jar and
concussion, but they will give the hound an increased capacity for speed.
If the humerus or bone of the upper arm is nearly in a straight line with
the ulna and radius, the pace of the hound will be much greater than if
the humerus inclines at a sharper angle.

What is commonly known as a “loaded shoulder” is the result of the
humerus inclining to a nearly horizontal position, forming an obtuse
angle between itself and the scapula or shoulder blade.

The angles formed by the scapula, humerus, and radius are filled with
muscle and tissue, which act detrimentally to the forward movement of the
leg, the result of which means loss of pace.

In the same way with regard to the hind leg, the longer the femur the
lower the hock, and the greater the speed. The more obtuse the angle
between the femur and tibia, the more power is there to bring the hind
legs well under the body, as well as to throw them back.



To sum up the desired qualities in a fell hound, we have light frame,
light bone, good neck and shoulders (these can’t be too good), good ribs,
loins and thighs, and last, but not least, sound feet of the hare type.
Given a good nose and a capacity for throwing his tongue, such a hound
will work out a cold drag, and then, after unkennelling his fox, will
drive ahead at a tremendous pace. I have often heard it stated that pace
is not compatible with nose, but I think any one who has had a season or
two with one of the fell packs will be in a position to easily refute
such statements. Hardly a season passes without some individual hound
of one or other of the fell packs finding, hunting, and killing a fox
“on his own.” No single hound could do that in a country like the fells
unless he possessed nose, pace, drive and courage in a marked degree.

The majority of the fell hounds are light-coloured; some of them
practically white. This is a decided advantage on the hills, where it
is impossible to keep in close touch with them. A light-coloured hound
can be seen at a great distance against a background of heather or dark
rock. Next to nose, however, music is most important. Even if you cannot
see hounds, yet can hear them plainly, you know what to do, and which
direction to take.

Hunting on the fells necessitates practising the “let ’em alone
principle,” for throughout the majority of runs hounds do all their own
work unaided by their huntsman. Thus they learn perseverance, which
enables them to carry on when scenting conditions are not of the best.

Harking back for a moment to the subject of hound conformation, I
have always been surprised that judges at the shows appear to set
little or no store by the shape of a hound’s hind feet. Even with the
ultra-fashionable type the hind feet are more or less as Nature formed
them, and they stand wear and tear without showing signs of breaking up.

Now, this is a perfect refutation of the idea that the over-developed
round cat-foot is the best and most desirable. Surely when a hound
standing on four feet turns the front ones in, and knuckles over at
the knee, at the same time showing general inability in those feet to
withstand hard wear, yet suffers from no ill effects in the hind feet,
one would imagine that a judge with a modicum of common sense would
see the futility in continuing to breed hounds with fore feet of the
fashionable type. No, fashion prescribes such feet, and though when you
wish to sell them fashionable hounds fetch big prices, their upkeep as a
pack costs you ten times the amount that it would for a pack possessing
sound natural feet of the hare or semi-hare type.

Whilst there are one or two countries where the cat-footed hound can
travel with comparative comfort to himself, there are many more where he
very soon becomes lame, and ceases to be a really useful member of the

The Master who is really fond of hound work, and wishes to show sport,
naturally breeds hounds suited to his particular country; that is, if
his financial resources are equal to the strain. Should he by ill luck
experience severe losses in his kennel, he will find great difficulty in
procuring fresh hounds suited to his needs, for probably all the hounds
available are of Peterborough type.

Again, should he wish to sell his pack, despite the fact that the hounds
are perfect in their work, they will fetch comparatively little, as they
are not up to the fashionable standard in looks.

All this could be avoided if the show standard was considered from the
point of view of the suitability of the hound to its particular country.
Masters could then afford to breed hounds with this object, knowing that
when they wished to get rid of them they would fetch a sum commensurate
with their working ability.

It has often been stated that hounds require blood to keep them keen and
up to the mark. Now, I think there are few hounds keener than those which
hunt the fells, yet they seldom, if ever, break up their foxes in the
accepted sense of the word. Now and then I have seen hounds break up and
eat the greater portion of their fox, but, as a rule, they are content
to kill it and leave it at that. American-bred hounds never get blood,
yet they hunt season after season as keenly as English hounds which are
“blooded up to the eyes.” During a long sojourn in Canada, I met and
corresponded with a good many keen hunting men, quite a few of whom had
imported English hounds to that country and the States. Much of the
hunting country out there is very rough, and hounds are hunted on foot,
or ridden to by nicking in and making for likely points. All the American
foxhunters I got in touch with were emphatic in their denunciation of
the Peterborough type of hound, yet they had imported fell hounds, which
exactly suited their requirements, and crossed well with the native-bred

It is curious, but, nevertheless true, that in England when a low-country
pack run their fox to the hills they often lose him, but let the fell
hounds force their fox off the fells down to the low ground and they
generally kill him. The fell hounds, accustomed to do most of their
work on more or less precipitous ground, no doubt feel as if they were
having a day off, as it were, when they descend to the level of the
dales, whereas it is the other way round with the hounds of the lowland
packs. In summer the fell hounds go out to walk at the farmhouses and
other places in the dales, and are brought back to kennels in the
hunting season. Although a pack of fell hounds can hunt and kill a
fox in any description of country, which is more than can be said for
the fashionable sort, “hounds for countries” should be the breeders’
motto. Hounds could be quite as easily judged on this principle at the
shows as they are now, by always keeping in mind the ideal of working


In every country there are men able to judge a collection of hounds from
the view-point of real utility in that country, and as there are many
countries in which the same type, or practically the same type, is
suitable, there should be no difficulty in securing proper awards.

Fell hounds are, owing to the roughness of their country, far more liable
to accidents than hounds which hunt the low ground. Considering the
dangerous nature of their work, it is really surprising how comparatively
few serious accidents occur. A severe loss through distemper or other
causes is more to be feared, as it takes time and patience to fill the
gaps thus made in the pack. All the fell packs are small, and seldom, if
ever, have hounds to spare, and few outside packs possess hounds of a
type in the least suited to the country; so the fell-country Master has
to rely on hounds of his own breeding. There is one temptation to which
fell hounds are more liable to fall than low-country hounds, _i.e._ sheep
worrying. It may be a wild, windy day, and hounds are on a catchy scent,
and eager to be pushing on. No one is near them, and perhaps a young
hound happens to view a solitary Herdwick sheep scurrying off. He gives
chase, pulls down the sheep, and his example may be followed by several
others. When this happens the huntsman is reluctantly forced to put down
the culprits, no matter how short of hounds he may be at the time.

Although, luckily, such a contretemps as the above seldom happens, it is
always _liable_ to happen with certain young hounds. Death is the only
cure for a hound which takes a liking to mutton on the hoof, for he can
never be thoroughly trusted afterwards.

In judging the appearance of a hound from a utility view-point, many
people are apt to pay much more attention to the fore limbs than the
hind. This is a great mistake, for pace, freedom of action, and power to
overcome obstacles, such as high stone walls, are much more dependent on
the hind limbs than the fore. The power which enables a hound to spring
up a high bank, or heave himself on to the top of a wall, is entirely
developed from the hind quarters, and, as I have already mentioned, the
small, compact hound that can get his hocks well under him is much better
fitted for jumping than the big hound. In judging the hind quarters,
particular attention should be given to the muscular development of the
second thigh as well as to the same development of the inside of the leg.
A tendency towards “cow hocks,” _i.e._ a deviation from the straight
line between the hock and ground, should be condemned. A “cow-hocked”
hound lifts his hind quarters higher than he should at each stride when
travelling fast, the reason being a want of flexion due to shortened
tendons inside. In other words, the more acute the angle between the foot
and the stifle joint the shorter are the tendons that work the feet. This
means reduced spring in the latter, and a consequent loss of propulsive

To return for a moment to the fore limbs. I have said that if the
humerus or bone of the upper arm is nearly in a straight line with the
ulna and radius, the pace of the hound will be much greater than if the
humerus inclines at a sharper angle, or, in other words, lies in a more
horizontal position. Whilst this formation ensures a lengthier stride,
and consequent increase in pace, it also tends to increase shock, or jar
and concussion. This jar is communicated to the hound’s head through the
top of the scapula or shoulder blade. In order to reduce this jar to a
minimum the scapula should lie well back, in an oblique position. The
scapula or shoulder blade connects with the dorsal vertebræ, or bones
of the back, and it can be easily understood that the further from the
head this point of connection is the less jar will be communicated to the
hound’s brain.

Having mentioned some of the more important parts of a fell hound’s
anatomy, we may turn to his nose, or scenting power. The latter is _the_
most important quality in a fell hound, for no matter how well-built he
is, without nose his utility is nil. I have heard it said by people who
should have known better, that pace and nose are incompatible. A very
short experience of sport with the fell packs will enable any one to
refute such a foolish statement. To press a fox in the rough fell country
hounds must have pace, drive, and courage to an unusual degree. The
records of foxes killed in any one season will testify to their qualities
in the above respect, while their powers of owning a stale drag leave
no doubt concerning their noses. The reason why the fell hounds possess
great scenting power is because of the way they are bred, and also owing
to the fact that they do practically all their work unaided, and thus
become persevering and absolutely self-reliant. This leads to a high
development, through constant use, of the powers with which they are
naturally endowed.

It is commonly understood that the fashionable hounds in the Shires are
second to none for pace. Whilst they may be fast, I doubt very much
if they can equal, let alone surpass, the fell hounds for speed. The
moorland hounds in Yorkshire are of the same type as our fell hounds,
and sportsmen in the “county of broad acres” are quite as keen on hound
trails as are the men of the Lake country.

A little story from Yorkshire, concerning the speed of hounds, may,
therefore, be worth repeating.

On one occasion, Bobbie Dawson, huntsman to the Billsdale, went to a
fixture of the Sinnington pack, taking with him one of his own hill
hounds, by name, “Minister.” After trying for some time, hounds failed
to find a fox, so Bobbie took “Minister” to a little covert, where the
hound found a fox, coursed it and killed it in the open. Jack Parker, the
Sinnington huntsman, was rather annoyed at this, and when Bobbie Dawson
said, “Mun we kill another?” he replied, “Aye, if you can?”

Bobbie, therefore, made off to another covert, where “Minister” again
found a fox, and ran him well ahead of the Sinnington hounds, finally
rolling him over like his predecessor. The Sinnington broke him up, as
“Minister,” being a hill hound, would not touch him after he was dead.

This took place in the low country, and shows what a hill hound can do
when he finds himself on more or less level “going.”

I have heard it said that the fell hounds would be beaten by hounds from
the Shires in an enclosed country, but I should feel pretty safe with my
money on a fell pack, if ever such a trial took place.

In order to get the best out of hounds, their feeding and conditioning
should receive very special attention. It is the superior condition of
the hounds that enables them to press their fox at some period of a run,
and by doing so, eventually bring him to hand. Both scenting power and
eyesight may be damaged in a hound solely through injudicious feeding. A
great deal too much “slop” is fed to hounds in some kennels, the result
being that hounds in their eagerness to feed, shove their muzzles well
into the liquid, and not only get irritating matter up their nostrils,
but splash their eyes into the bargain. The nostrils are extremely
tender, and anything lodging in them tends to set up irritation and
inflammation, with the result that the animal cannot use its nose to the
best advantage in the field. In the same way, particles of irritating
matter reach the eyes, the latter, as in humans, being most susceptible
to anything of such a nature. Fed with solid food early the day before
hunting, hounds should be fit to run their best on arrival at the meet.

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Online LibraryRichard ClaphamFoxhunting on the Lakeland fells → online text (page 4 of 7)