W3C Clag 'n' Crag MEMORIES


A bit of reminiscing, this time from the late 1950s and early 1960s …

The Orange Opera Glasses

God! It was cold, the slope seemed never ending and crunch of boots, on the hard frozen surface was the only sound you could hear. Bright sunshine reflected off the snow and my eyes began to sting. No one had intended to come up here when we had started several hours before. For several days a fox had been raiding local hen houses and had destroyed a good dozen hens. It had been seen lurking in the wood behind on a few occasions and so after several people had telephoned the M.F.H, the hounds had been called in to catch it.

The intention was, or at least hoped, to be a quick chase round the wood followed by a kill, this however had not gone to plan as no one had told the fox who, when roused from his slumber, had gone like a bat out of hell onto the high snow-covered fell with 14 couple of hounds in hot pursuit; we toiled along in their wake climbing steadily up the hard frosty ground and eventually into the snow field. There was precious little sign that hounds had passed that way, the surface of the ground was frozen with the exception of some small ice crystals which, lifted by the recently arrived wind began to sting your face. I have little idea of the temperature that morning but with the wind chill factor it must have been well below freezing. My clothing was woefully inadequate, for the conditions. I was wearing under my old school trousers a pair of pyjamas, I also had on a cheap, thin cotton shirt and an old pullover. A hand me down jacket did little to protect from the increasing wind. The coldest part of me were my feet, the cheap, thin boots did little to warm my feet and the steep climb hadn't help much to.

Below me in the distance I could see much of the lakes spread out before me; Coniston, Windermere, Grasmere and Rydal all shone like jewels in the bright sunlight, way to the south the estuary on the coast was visible and I noticed the tide was out.

Someone took pity on me and handed me a mouthful of coffee from a flask but within minutes we were moving again. Finally we reached the top of the ridge which separated the two valleys. From this vantage point we could look down into the next valley. Someone had given me a pair of opera glasses recently, I remember them well, the case was orange, I ask you, bloody orange, but when you are 10 years old you don't care! I took out my new acquisitions and began scouring the fellside beneath. "See out?" my dad asked. To my total surprise the hounds suddenly appeared in my field of view. "Running right handed just above yon white farmhouse," I proudly replied. This was confirmed by someone who had a proper pair of binoculars. "What are we going to do?" I asked well knowing the answer. "We'll sit tight," said my father "and see which way they go." Long periods of my childhood were spent "sitting tight" usually to no avail, perhaps the foxes were different in those days, happy to travel miles over the bleak fellside in the hope of food or a mate. I don't know, what I do know is that they hardly ever came back! We spent hours sheltering behind walls, in woodland, under and on top of crags waiting, on one occasion a lady caught the bus to Hawkshead, did her weeks shopping and returned to find we hadn't moved. One woman caught a horse, groomed, tacked up and went for a long ride; on her return we were still in the field waiting. I felt a touch of jealousy for the well warmed up horse; I was frozen in the biting wind. Occasionally our patience would be rewarded, with a sometimes screaming hunt returning, on one occasion the fox almost knocked me over as it took the wall. These days more than made up for the long fruitless waits.

Finally, when there was no more gossip to exchange, stories to be told and work to be discussed someone or my father would say, "This is good to nowt, I'm off yam or t' pub, what we missed ll' be in t' Gazette next Friday." With that our little group would rise to their feet, and after much stamping to restore circulation take the homeward track. The funny thing about it was that we always seemed to land at home for 4pm which is when the wrestling and its commentator Kent Walton was on ITV.


A low mist hung over the valley, but once you had climbed onto the heights above you were greeted by blue sky and bright sunlight which illuminated the surrounding peaks in a golden glow. I don't know the name of this phenomenon, but it was magical. Below and unseen, hounds were following an old 'drag' where during the night a fox had been 'peedling' about before making his way to the high ground to sleep away the day ahead.

As the sun finally burnt off the obscuring mist, hounds arrived in the boulder field at the base of the big crag at the valley head. Slowly they worked their way up the rocky slope until they were almost below the crag when a sudden 'crash of music' denoted the un-kennel of the fox on the heights above. The fox who until that point had been comfortably ensconced on a bed of bilberries took off, leaping and climbing up the crag face from ledge to ledge, it was truly amazing to watch. Initially a couple of hounds attempted to follow his lead, but the sheer difficulty of the ascent defeated them and they returned to the crag base and followed their comrades up the steep ground alongside the cliff towards the top.

A "halloo" from the highest point of the crag signified the arrival of the fox prior to his imminent departure for the next valley. The climb up the side of the crag was so steep that the hounds had little breath left to 'give mouth' but upon cresting the summit they more than made up for it and their music filled the valley, echoing from the surrounding crags as they struck the line.

Within minutes all went quiet as the hunt disappeared over the top and out of sight into the next valley; with a sigh I found myself a rock to rest my back against and sat down in the bright warm sunlight to wait.

The morning wore on, and I was joined by several other followers, the hunt did not return, but a break in the fell side lower down the valley afforded a glance at the road which wound its way up the next valley, beside the swift flowing river. Parked up on this road were several vehicles and much was the speculation as to the leisure activity of their occupants. One school of thought had it that the vehicles belonged to walkers whilst another swore a dark coloured van belonged to a local follower of the hounds. Whatever their ownership they did not move and it was decided the fox had gone to ground in an earth nearby.

Suddenly and quite unexpectedly the sound of hounds in full cry came to us and a short while later a keen eyed follower spotted hounds coming back over the summit ridge into our valley, running close together and sounding as if they were 'viewing' the pursued fox. Then somebody beside me spotted the fox climbing down the crag face earlier that morning it had ascended. Obviously the crag was the place of its birth as it displayed a familiarity with the steep crag face unlikely in one without prior knowledge. It was unsurprising that based on their prior experience no hound followed the fox's descent route, instead taking the route down beside the crag. Halfway down however, the fox made an error of judgement and, missing its footing fell down the crag to the bottom, landing with some force in the rocks below, to no surprise it did not move, and soon after a follower arriving at the scene gave a "halloo" which indicated the end.

It was not the end one expected, but as a farmer standing beside me eloquently put it, "That's one less of the buggers to worry about."


It was a cold, frosty hunting morning; inside my bedroom window ice had formed on the window panes during the long cold night just gone. My toes searched the hot water bottle at my feet in the hope of warmth only to be disappointed. In the kitchen my mother was making the cooked breakfast we always had on a morning when we were out with the hounds. I got up.

Half an hour later we were climbing the hill outside the house towards the fell, our breath came out in huge plumes and already cheeks were beginning to glow, my commando soled boots occasionally slipped on the icy surface. My dad stopped and reached into his pocket, he took out a white paper bag. "Here," he said, "have a bit of Clag'em, it'll warm you up." "Will it?" I asked, taking the largest piece I could find. "Thanks." It came as no surprise to me that a while later I was as cold as I had been. Once again I had been conned.

As a child I was gullible, god, was I gullible? Father: "Nettles don't sting this year." I reached for one. "Argh!" Father: "Ooppss," or, "If you suck a pebble, you won't be thirsty." Much sucking later: "Dad, I need a drink." And so it went on. This 'myth' about Clag'em was begun by Great Uncle Brait and apparently handed down but I had better explain about the stuff. By the time of my childhood Mammy Douglas was gone but the sweetshop in Church Street now under new management still sold it.

Mammy Dugdale was famous for Clag'em in the 1920s and 30s and perhaps even earlier. Her shop was in Church Street, she was fat and not too clean apparently, so she always looked old. Her shop was small and dark and she sold sweets and tobacco, but Clag'em was her speciality. It was a pulled mint sweet cooked in her kitchen in what looked like a cauldron on an old black range. It was then put on a nail and pulled and pulled until cold then made into a spiral and chopped with a little toffee hammer. Her secret ingredient, it was said, was the spitting on her hands to pull the warm mixture. Two generations of children lost their milk teeth chewing Clag'em. It was as hard as hell. She did give the recipe to someone else when she retired, but apparently it was never the same, I think it missed the spit.

A poem was composed in "Clag'ems" honour. The Tizzy Wizzy was a joke thing supposedly seen by the Lake when the men were coming home drunk.

Clag 'em

A marble slab of Langdale slate
Nice soft sugar from't Market Place
Fresh butter too from't self same spot,
But peppermint's best from't Kendal shop
A brand new nail from Hawkshead way'
And a bit of summat that makes it pay
Bought on't way from Bowness Bay
Where't Tizzy Wizzy used to play.
Soft water fresh from Scandal Beck
Will then mix in along with't rest.
To make it - ah - that's kept in't head
But hand it down before you're dead.
So here's best wishes go ahead
And make this tried and well loved spread,
T'will bring to mind days past and gone'
When Mary's Lane felt not so long
And't Clag'em smell just lured you on.
Of sledding time down Kirkstone Hill
With Mabel, Harry, Vera and Jim.
Fine hunting days when Brait* called out
"Put bit in't pocket to keep cold out"
And tearing'! pinny on't dog kennel door
Through letting out Tipple to lick't Clag'em oft floor
Of old Father Dover over t' wall
Thinking we'd taken his apples and all
Till asking us to open't mouth
A piece of Clag'em just popped out.
A caning just for being late
Through listening oft lads singing their grace
And chewing some Clag'em on't way to church
For reaching top notes there's nothing to touch.
This rhein and rhyme could fill a book of things
Which happened in one's youth
And oft will raise an inward laugh
When country roads have to be tramped
Still sucking Clag'em to keep't cold out.

* Brait is my great uncle, Braithwaite Black.

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