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I sat in the lee of the big boulder and watched the rainstorm disappear down the valley; signs of its passing were everywhere, small runnels of water ran down the fellside, water dripped off the crag behind me and I was soaked. Oblivious to the rain the huntsman remained out in the open, one foot up on a small boulder, his coat open to the waist. Occasionally he blew a long blast on his horn, in dribs and drabs his pack came back to him save for two hounds on the opposite fell that seemed to be having a hunt of their own. A well dressed man of some girth leaning against a rock put down his binoculars and addressed us in a voice more accustomed to addressing the field from the back of some steed. “Heel way I believe.” This caused some ill-concealed mirth from those of us who knew the secret destination of the hounds and a total blankness on the faces of those who did not - the huntsman, master and whip.
An old lad standing next to me blew a mouthful of smoke and asked, “What’s the joke?”
I looked up at him. ”They go and raid the dustbins back of the Sally (Salutation Hotel) on their way home,” I replied,”been at it a while, they…“ (I indicated the three hunt officials) “…don’t know yet!” The old boy spat on the ground, narrowly missing a beetle which had just emerged from shelter. “No,” he said they wouldn’t be.”
I sat back and watched the mist and low cloud begin to drift down the surrounding fell, it looked like a big storm was on the way but no one showed any sign of moving.
By now the sterns of the two errant hounds had disappeared into the mist and presumably well on their way towards a feed. I sat there watching the oncoming storm and my mind went back to lunchtime.
The sun had just crossed the yardarm when hounds killed above the out-gang track almost at the valley head. Them that do these things had had a hoot and a shout and when the valley had gone quiet again, there was a discussion about what to do next. The consensus opinion was home and we began the descent towards the village, the hounds ahead of us. Suddenly a big fell fox jumped up almost in the middle of the hounds, obviously a sportsman he gave a disdainful flick of his brush and headed like a bat out of hell up the valley and over the top. We toiled along in his wake listening to the hunt climb out over the top and into the next valley, the hounds spread out like a hound trail. I caught a glimpse of the fox as he crossed the ridge, he paused to look back, and again he flicked his tail before dropping into the next valley.
By the time we arrived on the ridgeline it was all over, the fox had dived into probably the worst borran in the area, a labyrinth of tunnels, dead ends and drops. If that was not enough above the entrance was a boulder several tons in weight perched precariously. Over the years the hunt had given best to any fox which had gone in, the place was so dangerous. We arrived at the entrance puffing and blowing to find a young lad who for some time had talked up his terrier, preparing it to enter the borran. “Nay keep it out,” someone said. The young lad looked aggrieved. “Be reet,” he said, “she’s a fighter.” A voice from below the borran carried up to the lad. “If you put thy dog in theer and it gets stuck, we will have to try and dig the bugger out with yon boulder waiting to fall on us, leave it be.“ We were joined by the whip closely followed by the huntsman. The lad put the lead back on his terrier, which I swear breathed a sigh of relief.
We sat watching the oncoming weather, which soon enveloped where we sat, mists swirled and big fluffy flakes of snow drifted by and began to settle. “Time to move,” the old lad said. “Where to?” asked the lad with the terrier. “I’m going home,” was the reply and as one we rose and headed into the storm.