W3C Fragments of Cumbrian Life 1876  FOXES


This brings me to the subject of Mountain Fox Hunting, a sport eagerly followed by nearly all the men residing amongst the fells. The fox there is not carefully preserved and cherished as in some parts, to become the chief actor in a favourite sport, but is pursued to destruction as the most mischievous of all vermin - is allowed no law, and shewn as little mercy. The perseverance of his enemies is often wonderful. I have known a fox go to earth in a spot where the mixed rock and gravel rendered the process of unearthing very difficult, if not, as is often the case, altogether impossible. His pursuers worked in relays at this stronghold for more than six and thirty hours, when they reached and despatched him : then they carried the carcase, dangling from a pole, to the nearest public-house, to drink his arval - which means a funeral libation, paid for in such cases by the township where the capture occurs.

The nature of the country renders riding to hounds an impossibility in the central and southern parts of the fell district, and for those accustomed to the facilities, or the merely stimulating difficulties, of a good hunting country, it is not easy to appreciate the pleasures of Mountain Fox Hunting, or the keenness with which it is followed, or the fervour with which it is enjoyed.

Apropos of this subject, I found in the Kendal Mercury, the other day, a report of one of these fell hunts, the writer of which seems equally au fait to their peculiarities, and to the grandiloquent in paragraph making; and as it seems more pat to my purpose than anything I could do myself, I take leave to appropriate it.

"Splendid Fox Chase. - Actuated by an eager desire to recover their late severe beatings, and inspired with the sublime conviction that Dame Fortune, according to her reputed custom, would in due course of events "favour the brave", the Conistone foxhounds had a Kennel meet on Saturday last. Strange though it may apoear, a kennel hunt means nothing else than the top of Conistone Old Man. It was a glorious winter morning, such a one as is not easily forgot. The snow, it is true, was thick on the hills, but withal, sweet, calm, and sunshiny. There is music up the steep breast of the grand "Old Hill", or we would tell of ever-shifting scenery, of fine panoramic views of hills, and fells, and tarns, and lakes, for twenty miles around. Roaring and raving through pass and glen went the echoing cry of hounds and hunters, as a brave old "duffer" scaled the heights above the Copper Mines and over Wetherlam. The snow was evidently too deep in the hills for reynard's pleasure, and he forsook the wild mountains for the beautiful scenery of Tilberthwaite, where banks of ferns, streams deep and still, suggestive of well-fed trout, or swift and bright, making pleasant music over their pebbly courses, abound. After crossing the "beck" at Tilberthwaite, for awhile the scent was indifferent, owing to reynard's wet jacket, but it soon improved, and the hounds, chanting like a "choir of martial monks", pressed him on into Yewdale, where yews yet grow that probably furnished bows for the archers of "lang syne", that made the strings twang in many a hard-contested field. After leaving the rude romantic valley, the hounds and fox had it all to themselves, except now and then an encouraging cheer from farm or cot as they passed swiftly along, for all the hunters were left far behind on the hills above Conistone. On - on, went pursuers and pursued over Holme Fell and Iron Kelld, then swept like a flight of wild birds over the outlaying plains between Pull Scaur and Latterbarrow, making the village of Outgate re-echo, and the grey towers of Wray Castle ring with aerial harmony. For neither brake nor borren did reynard turn aside, but from find to finish pursued a straightforward course, the hounds going all the time without "let or hindrance" at a high pressure speed, rolling forth billows of harmonious music through the echoing hills. In an open field on the shore of Windermere, at Bellgrange, witnessed only by a solitary ploughman, foxey was pulled down. The impetuous cry of the furious pack resounded over the lake in every imaginable gush and trill of melody, which, had it not been heard, would scarcely have seemed possible to be of earthly heritage. Like old soldiers after the battle with their remarkable incidents, it is related that the Conistone hunters, though they none of them saw anything of the hunt but the opening burst in the early morning - are telling in great glee all the "ins and outs" of the chase, and showing "how fields are won".

I was conversing once with a gentleman who had kept a pack of hounds and hunted the High Furness country for very many years, in fact until the approach of age and its infirmities warned him that it was time to give it up. My old friend was a fine specimen of the better class of yeomanry of the district, and could talk as it chanced to suit his company, either in the local dialect or in common English. On the occasion I refer to, he was describing a chase when his pack had raised a fox in the woods of Graythwaite, near the foot of Windermere - ran him directly up the western shore of the lake, past Ambleside, over Kirkstone, into Patterdale, and back over the fells into Rydal, where they ran into him. "And how much of this fine run did you see?" I asked. "Why, we saw the beginning out," was his reply, "we followed as hard as we could on to t' top o' Kirkstone, when we met a man 'at had seen both fox and dogs down in Patterdale." "Well, then," said I, "I always thought it was a joke against you, but I find it's quite true, that you think you've had a fine day's sport if you meet anybody that tells you he has seen the fox." "Confound ye," cried the veteran, "ye're not a bit better nor old Tommy Barron, of Bowness, 'at used to say we mayed crack as we liked about our hunting, an' our shottin, an' fishin, an sic-like, but he never hed any sport at com up to crossing t' watter tull Furness Fells of a het afterneeun, an' 'killin hag-worms." And having got the laugh on his side, the old sportsman was satisfied.

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