W3C "Ista garn t' watch t' cubs?"  FOXES


A hot summer’s afternoon - I sat on the house steps pulling on my fell boots. A long walk lay ahead of me perhaps for nothing. I was going to the fells to (I hoped) watch a litter of cubs at play.

As I climbed the tarmac road towards the fell path, an old lad from the houses up the hill was coming down. "Ista garn t' watch t' cubs,” he asked, "or hasta giten a woman up theer?" “Bluddy hell,” I thought, “how does he know?” My new friendship had only begun the previous night and that was in Windermere 6 miles away! I grinned at him and he descended the hill towards his borran - the front bar of the Unicorn pub! "Tek care mind, them borrans are bad spots to git hurt," were his parting words. He was right of course - turn an ankle or have a stone move when you stood on it and you could be in serious trouble pretty smartish, especially on your own.

In the sixties almost everyone knew each other in Ambleside and news travelled fast—on occasions home before I was! I was surprised one time upon arriving home after fighting with someone to find my mother knew more about it than I did, thanks to the local grapevine!

The track climbed between the two walls, rough and stony on the old quarry road, past the old working face and the dressing floor. I stopped for a drink at Nickle Syke and to fill my water bottle. It was a hot afternoon and getting hotter, the air was still and even the insects were out of the sun.

After the quarry the path flattens out a bit and soon you arrive at Sweden Bridge, an old clapper bridge (a bridge held up by its own weight on the span). I have no idea how old it is, but apparently it was used by the trains of packhorses (Lakeland fell ponies) that journeyed from valley to valley carrying goods and news hundreds of years ago.

I paused for a blow and looked up the valley. To my left the bulk of Low and High Pike with the borran of Brock Crag and its landslip in the foreground, a place that has featured in Coniston Foxhounds history for well over a hundred years, a known haunt of foxes and a bad spot to work on. To my right the mass of Red Screes and the piece of ground known locally as Rough Sides loomed. At the top of the valley a small crag known as Little Hart Crag which may be a clue to its past - perhaps a shelter for deer? Two buzzards slowly circled in a thermal over Rough Sides, climbing lazily on the hot summer afternoon.

Moving off again I followed the walled track for about a mile or so before I reached my destination, a gate with some pine trees nearby. I climbed the gate and settled down with my back to the fell wall. This was the most important bit, getting the wind right and making sure all was quiet. I knew that there were cubs in the borran, I’d seen them a couple of weeks before and the old dog fox a few days ago.

I scanned the fell side with my field glasses, no real need I knew it so well but just wanted to see what was about and would give me away as I began to move to above the borran. To my right a raven began to call. I waited for him to go and off he went happy he had told the neighbourhood I was there.

Wait a while for things to settle and then off, moving slowly trying not to get on the skyline or on top of the crag where I could be seen, keeping the wind in my face, making sure I didn't dislodge a stone. As a lad I’d be roundly cursed for doing that - but today there was only me.

After a while I’m in position, as comfortable as I could get, looking down on the borran entrance, and the wait began. The afternoon hung long, everywhere was still and time dragged by.

After a while dark clouds began to drift across the summit of High Pike to my right and soon after the first drops of rain began to bounce off the rocks beside me. The cloud thickened and a rumble of thunder came from the middle distance. It was surprising how quickly following the onset of the rain the temperature began to drop.

No point in hiding now, time to get off the hill. Stupidly I had no waterproof. As I dropped down to the track the rain got heavier and upon arriving at Sweden Bridge I was soaked to the skin. Flashes of lightning flickered overhead and the crash of thunder was almost deafening, rain bouncing off the hard ground and little rivulets of water forming on the track.

Still a good mile to go to get home and part of it through woodland - I quickened my pace. The lightning was still overhead and the crash of thunder immediately behind the lightning. As you descend the track the Sweden beck descends to the right of the path in the bottom. Since the time I had walked past on the way up the level of water had risen quite dramatically as the rain ran off the parched ground into the beck, colouring the water with the earth carried down. The sound of the torrent was quite noticeable as I hurried down the track.

As I arrived home the storm was moving off down over Windermere Lake and I paused to watch it go. It was certainly not the day I had intended, but there would be others ... and there were.

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