W3C The Boxing Day Meet MEMORIES


It was the evening of Christmas Day, presents long since opened lay scattered around the floor, the lid of the dustbin sat precariously on top of the piles of boxes and packaging stuffed into it. The traditional Bond film was just ending with the usual explosions and loud music and the fire burned merrily in the grate, outside it was pitch black illuminated only by the occasional streetlight, a small pool of light in a black world. The sky was full of stars, pinpoints of light, occasionally obscured by a few passing clouds and in the air there were the makings of a frost. The tops of the fells surrounding the village were dusted with a covering of snow, which reflected in the light of the rising moon, just short of full.

Without a word my father and I reached for our coats and after putting them on and buttoning up, stepped out into the darkened world; the Boxing Day Hunt had begun. Unlike that wonderful character of R.S. Surtees, the huntsman James Pigg who put his head out of the house to get a taste of the weather which would make or break the next days hunting, we walked the darkened streets, a familiar circuit, gauging the weather and, once I was old enough, discussing the day ahead. It never ceased (and still does) to amaze me how much my father knew about the location and activity of the fox population in the area around Ambleside. Where he got his information from I never knew, but I suspected the two hours on a Saturday night when he drank in The Unicorn on North Road, occasionally with Anthony Chapman the then Coniston huntsman, helped.

Boxing Day morning dawned, some days bright and clear, others dark, dank, gloomy and wet. After a cooked breakfast we would set off down the hill, along Rydal Road, Stoney Lane and then ascend Loughrigg Fell via Brow Head Farm, our destination would be the top of Ivy Crag before 9 am. Most mornings we would make it, but on one occasion the hounds immediately got onto a fox as soon as they were released; this fox for reasons best known unto itself made for Ivy Crag at a great rate of knots with the hounds in close pursuit. The hunt passed us (and many more) toiling up the old golf links road, passed by Ivy Crag and disappeared (if memory serves) towards Great Langdale where they spent the remainder of the day. This was an unusual experience as normally the day was spent on Loughrigg moving along the ridge between Ivy Crag and the trig point, which marks the true summit. From this vantage point a good view of the valleys beneath can be obtained with the exception of Clappersgate, which due to the lie of the land is out of your line of sight.

As the song says, some days were diamonds, some stones, but all were, in some part, memorable for perhaps a snatch of music drifting upto us on the wind, the flight of a passing sparrow hawk put up from its woodland retreat by the cry of hounds beneath.

On one occasion whilst leaning against a wall underneath Ivy Crag, the hunted fox came up a stream bed towards us, glanced in our direction and jumped the wall not ten feet away, so close that water droplets on its coat were visible.

The afternoon would slip quietly in and as the light began to fail and the valleys beneath fill with darkness, we turned as the horn "blew off" and turned for home and the hot pot and singing in the pub. How else could you end Christmas?

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