Richard Clapham.

Foxhunting on the Lakeland fells online

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a long start with this fox, and crossed the Kirkstone road not far
behind him. The fox made straight up the steep side of Dod End, when it
suddenly dawned on us that the hound was fast gaining. In a very short
time he overhauled his fox, and I expected to see the latter rolled
over. Instead, the fox whirled round and “set” the hound, and there they
stood, fangs bared, grinning at each other. I was watching the scene
through field-glasses, and not till the remainder of the pack arrived on
the scene did Reynard make a bolt for liberty. They turned him in very
quickly, however, and rolled him over close to the road. It is only fair
to add that this fox was slightly mangy, which probably accounted for his
not being able to get clear. I have his mask on the wall now, and never
saw one armed with bigger fangs.

Railways are seldom a danger to the fell hounds, though occasionally
the latter run foul of them. On March 9th, 1911, the Blencathra Hounds
were running their fox between the metals of the Cockermouth, Keswick
and Penrith Railway. Neither fox nor hounds noticed the approach of a
passenger train on its way to West Cumberland. Luckily, however, the
engine-driver managed to bring the train to a standstill, when the
fox was only a few yards from the engine. A few minutes later hounds
accounted for their fox close to Bassenthwaite Lake.

A rather amusing incident occurred on one occasion at Wythburn, near
the head of Thirlmere Lake. Two of the Blencathra hounds got well away
with their fox, and were not caught by the rest of the pack until after
they had rolled him over in the fields bordering the Lake. A zealous
youth, instead of leaving the fox for the pack to run up to, ran in,
and thinking Reynard was dead, picked him up. He quickly dropped the
supposedly defunct carcass, however, when two rows of remarkably sharp
white teeth met in his hand.

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: ROUGH GOING NEAR DOVE CRAG.]

Nothing stops a really keen fell hunter from enjoying the sport he loves
best. I know at least two men with wooden legs who regularly follow
hounds, and would shame many a sound person when it comes to travelling
on the hills.

There is a story concerning two hunters who used to follow hounds
above Dockray. I believe one of them was a relation of Joe Bowman, the
well-known huntsman of the Ullswater. Anyway, this ancestor of Joe’s was
deaf and dumb, while his friend and hunting partner was blind.

The latter’s stock saying to his mate, when hounds were out, was, “Thou
mun lissen, an’ I’ll leak (look).”

That big foxes are not altogether confined to the fell country is
attested to in Frank Gillard’s “Reminiscences.” Gillard mentions a big,
mangy dog-fox which the Belvoir Hounds killed at Aswarby. Had this fox
been in good condition he would have weighed over eighteen pounds; as it
was he turned the scale at seventeen and a half pounds.

Apropos of the famous “Dun Bull” inn, in Mardale, mentioned in a previous
chapter in connection with the shepherds’ “Victory Meet,” is the
following yarn.

The Ullswater had a good hunt in Longsleddale, eventually running their
fox to ground in Mardale. A terrier was put in, and the fox bolted,
affording another scurry before he was killed.

At the finish of the hunt a youth approached Mr. Farrer, of Howtown, the
owner of the terrier, “Lucky Jim,” which had bolted the fox; and the
following conversation ensued:

Youth: “Did your Jim worry the fox?”

Mr. F.: “No, my lad, he bolted.”

Youth: “Ay, an’ thou’ll bolt summat when thoo gits to t’ Dunny (Dun
Bull).”

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: GEORGE CHAPMAN, THE HUNTSMAN, WITH
FOX, AFTER A KILL IN GREENBURN.]

[Illustration: BLENCATHRA FOXHOUNDS: ERNEST PARKER, THE WHIPPER-IN.]

That a promising day may finish in gloom, the following experience will
prove. In the last week of October, 1910, the Coniston Hounds found a fox
at Pinch Crags, in Scandale. After a short but fast hunt, they rolled him
over in the open. The day being still young, hounds were taken to High
Pike, where a second fox was soon unkennelled. After a fast hunt this fox
took refuge on the face of Dove Crag, dropping from ledge to ledge, with
three hounds, Crafty, Rally and Ringwood in pursuit. Eventually the fox,
in attempting to cross an impassable ghyll, owing to pressure from the
young hound, Crafty, slipped and fell several hundred feet, and met its
death on the rocks far below. Unfortunately, the hound shared the same
fate, whilst Rally and Ringwood became hopelessly crag-fast on one of
the numerous ledges. A rope and willing assistants were brought from the
quarry on Red Screes, and eventually the hounds were rescued from their
precarious position. It was an exciting adventure, and one which, thank
goodness, does not often happen.

It was a coincidence that another fell pack, the Eskdale and Ennerdale,
should have got some of their hounds crag-fast on Scawfell during the
same week. Charmer, one of the best hounds in the pack, was found lying
dead at the foot of the crags, and another hound, Melody, was badly
injured. Ropes were secured at Wastdale Head, and J. Gaspard, a French
guide, with two others, roped themselves together, and went 180 feet down
the crag face. They rescued the remaining hounds, despite a continuous
downpour of rain and severe cold.

Occasionally a fox ends his life in one of the many lakes scattered about
the fell country. On New Year’s day, 1912, the Mellbrake Hounds got on
to a fox which had stolen away near Foulsyke. They had a screaming hunt,
towards the end of which hounds raced through the shrubbery at Loweswater
Hall, and forward across the Lamplugh road to the lake. At the edge of
the water one of the hounds “clicked” the fox, but could not hold him,
Reynard plunged in, but sank when a few yards out from shore.

On one occasion the Blencathra Hounds ran a fox from Wanthwaite Crag to
Grasmere village, where he “benked” on the window-sill of a cottage.
A woman rushed out of the latter, armed with a broom, and forbade
either huntsman or hounds to enter the garden, which was well fenced
in. Eventually, however, she was persuaded, and after fair law had been
allowed the fox, the hunt continued.

At another time a certain pack ran a fox into a crag where it “benked”
in rather a difficult place. Hounds could not get to it, so a man was
lowered in on a rope. He succeeded in shifting Reynard “out of that,” and
away went hounds in hot pursuit. Oblivious to all else but the hunt, the
men on the top utterly forgot their mate dangling in mid-air below them,
and not until his frantic yells reached their ears did they set about the
business of hauling him up.

It is not often one has the chance of seeing the finish of a hunt from a
motor-car, but on one occasion I remember doing so. Hounds were running
hard on Gummershow, overlooking the lower end of Windermere Lake. I was
heading towards the lake when a friend’s car overtook me. Jumping in, we
careered down a side-lane, and turned sharp into the main road, just as
hounds forced their fox across it, and killed him near the lake shore.

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

On one occasion the Windermere Harriers brought a fox to hand at
Blakerigg at the head of the Easedale valley. Anthony Chapman, now
landlord of the famous “Mortal Man” hotel in Troutbeck, was huntsman at
the time, and that day the only follower was one Isaac Thompson. The
carcass of the fox was laid upon a flat rock when Anthony turned to his
friend and exclaimed, “Why, Isaac, we’ve never halloed!”

To kill a fox without a death halloa was a sad omission, so a combined
who-whoop rent the air, and awoke the echoes amongst the crags. In fact,
it did more than that, it brought the supposedly dead fox to life, and
sent him helter-skelter down the rough fell breast in a final dash for
liberty. Hounds viewed him and flew in hot pursuit, and after a smart
burst, rolled him over in the bottom near the tarn. To this day Anthony
delights to tell the tale of the fox which was “killed twice over.”

On another occasion the same pack had a good run, which ended with a
check near a gateway in a lane. After casting round with no result, a boy
suddenly appeared on the scene, and exclaimed:

“What are you laiting?” (looking for).

“I’se laiting a fox!” replied Anthony.

“What, So-and-so (giving the name) has it tied up i’ t’ barn,” said the
youth.

On making investigation, sure enough there was the fox tied up with a
collar and chain in one of the farm buildings.

The party responsible for the deed was a local of the “not quite sharp”
persuasion, who had arrived at the gateway just as hounds ran into their
fox; and had rescued the latter little or nothing the worse.

Anthony, determined to let hounds have their reward, bought the fox from
its captor, and after giving it due law, the pack was laid on. Having
received his money, the “not quite sharp” gentleman mounted a near-by
wall and commenced to stone the huntsman for all he was worth. Anthony,
to escape this fusillade, hurriedly departed in the wake of his hounds,
the latter rolling their fox over in the open, after a sharp scurry.

The “twice killed fox” yarn reminds me of another incident that happened
some years ago.

Hounds ran their fox to ground, and after a pitched battle with the
terriers, Reynard’s carcass was secured and withdrawn. The body was
placed on a rock out of reach of the pack, whilst the field held a heated
discussion as to which of the nearest inns should be honoured with their
presence for the “harvel,” or celebration.

After some haggling, the momentous question was settled, and a move was
made, when it was discovered that the fox had disappeared. Reynard had
revived sufficiently to get up and slink away, and though hounds were
laid on, they never caught him, for he got to ground in a place where it
was utterly impossible to reach him.

In November, 1919, the Blencathra Hounds, after a good hunt above St.
John’s-in-the-Vale, put their fox to ground in a narrow fissure of rock
near the summit of Wanthwaite. A terrier was put in, and after a pitched
battle, the dog accounted for the fox, but refused to leave the carcass.
Darkness was coming on, so huntsman and field had reluctantly to leave
the spot in order to make the difficult descent to the dale. Next morning
the huntsman and whipper-in returned to the place, and found the carcass
of the fox, with the terrier lying dead beside it, outside the “borran.”
The fox had inflicted severe, if not fatal, injuries on the game little
dog, and the latter, having dragged the body of his foe from underground,
had still refused to leave it, and had so perished from exposure during a
bitterly cold night.

I was out one day when the Coniston Hounds ran a fox to ground near Dod
Bields, in Caiston. A terrier was put in, and after a stiff fight, the
fox was accounted for underground. Several hours’ hard work failed to
secure the carcass, so as daylight had given place to moonlight, we made
our way across the summit of Red Screes, and so down to the “Traveller’s
Rest” at the head of the Kirkstone Pass. Next day several willing hunters
returned to the place, and after much labour, unearthed not _one_ dead
fox, but _two_. Both foxes were jammed up close to the end of a narrow
tunnel, and it was supposed that the one in the rear had been smothered
to death.

On another occasion in the Troutbeck valley, hounds ran a fox to ground
in a drain. A terrier was put in, and the fox bolted, giving hounds
a very fast spin straight downhill. They practically never broke
view, and rolled him over directly. Whilst the field were occupied in
watching them, a second fox, which proved to be the hunted one, made his
appearance from the drain, and going off rather stiffly, got to ground in
a quarry “rubbish heap,” from which it was impossible to dislodge him.

Foxes will often lie extraordinarily close in long heather. I was out
one day with the Ullswater, and we tried a lot of country without a sign
of a drag or a line of any sort. Eventually we tried a heather-covered
allotment between Kentmere and Troutbeck. Still there was no sign of
a fox, and the field was beginning to get rather discouraged, when
suddenly, right in the middle of hounds, a fox sprang out of the heather.
How he ever escaped is a mystery, but get clear he did, giving a straight
away hunt by way of Rainsbarrow and the head of the Kentmere valley,
where hounds “laid him in,” and finally rolled him over at the edge of
Kentmere reservoir, after a screaming thirty minutes’ hunt, without the
semblance of a check from start to finish.

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: HOUNDS AND THEIR HUNTSMAN IN THE
SCANDALE VALLEY.]

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: AFTER A KILL NEAR CONISTON.]

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: AFTER A KILL IN WOUNDALE.]

[Illustration: CONISTON FOXHOUNDS: AFTER A KILL ON NAB SCAR, RYDAL.]

In a previous chapter I have mentioned the fact that occasionally some
fell hound hunts, and finally kills or runs his fox to ground “on his
own.” I remember the Ullswater Hounds threw off on one occasion at the
quarry above Troutbeck Park, on the steep side of Ill Bell. Hounds struck
a line which took them over the summit of the fell into the Kentmere
valley. I was talking to Joe Bowman the huntsman, when we heard a single
hound running very fast in our direction. It proved to be one of the
lady members of the pack, a very fast bitch, and she was driving her
fox at a tremendous pace. In a short time she ran him to ground on the
Tongue, where Reynard crept in beneath a huge boulder on the fell side.
A terrier was put in, and immediately got to the fox, but without tools
it was impossible to reach them. Some quarrymen eventually came across
with the necessary articles, including a fuse, and a charge of powder.
It was found necessary to crack the boulder with the powder, after which
the broken rock was removed, and terrier and fox were drawn out, fast
locked together, from a very narrow and wet earth-hole. It was almost
impossible to distinguish between them, so plastered were they with wet
mud. The terrier was pried loose and the fox thrown down, when rather to
our surprise he got on to his legs and made a bid for liberty. His race
was soon run, however, as the bitch and some young hounds the huntsman
had with him, soon rolled him over. The terrier which had been nearly
smothered in the earth, died the day after, despite all that could be
done for it.

In December, 1919, the Coniston Hounds had a very fast hunt from a covert
above Staveley village. Hounds finally drove their fox to the head of the
Longsleddale valley, where it “benked” on a ledge on Goatscar. It had
been a late find, and when the huntsman arrived on the scene, darkness
was fast drawing in. The fox was at last made to vacate his dangerous
resting-place, and he scrambled down a precipitous chimney on the face
of the towering crag. Then ensued a wild and exciting scene, such as can
only be experienced on the fells. The chimney was a dangerous place for
hounds, with a fox dodging his way through them. Twice they had hold of
him, but he wrenched free, and got clear at the chimney’s foot, where
he soon outdistanced them across the rough scree-bed. One of the hounds
fell a matter of fifty feet, but beyond being temporarily shaken appeared
little the worse, and quickly resumed the chase. Snow was lying thickly
on the tops, and it was just sufficiently light to see the fox climbing
out for the summit of the crag again, where he ran through the roughest
of the ground near the fell head, and finally disappeared on the wide top
of Harter Fell. Hounds followed him, and we saw them no more that night.

Many such incidents occur during the course of a season on the fells, and
it is surprising that so few accidents happen, considering the dangerous
nature of the country.

“Then here’s to all hunters, how merrily we’ll sing,
Then here’s to the hounds, which make the valleys ring;
Then here’s to John Peel, for he was our king,
When he cried Tally-ho! in the morning.”

THE END

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