W3C The Long Ride Home MEMORIES


You would think, well you might not but I certainly did at the time, that a road got easier the number of times you went up and down it. This was certainly true of the highway between Ambleside and The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel at the head of the Langdale Valley. My life had changed quite dramatically with the purchase of a bicycle through money earned by delivering papers six days a week. The world was mine now and no longer did Bill (Birkett) and I have to rush back to the bus stop at the end of a day’s climbing in order for me to get home. Instead of racing down the stony track we sauntered, taking in the views. The said cycle was unlocked, goodbyes said and the leisurely journey home began. Not only was I fitter I was also a wealthier man, with no bus fare to pay either.

However the gradients did not lessen on that road and on the Saturday morning of which I write, somewhere around 1964, I was feeling them. The Kendal and District Otterhounds were meeting at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and I had decided to have a day with them. The weather did not look promising with a low cloud base and mist hanging over the tops, but when you’re young you don’t bother and I cycled along, the wheels whirring and the well-oiled chain staying in place.

Half way up the valley a rain squall hit and I took shelter in the door of a barn until it had gone by, leaving small puddles on the road.

Finally I arrived at the hotel and sought out “Uncle Geordie” (George Black, huntsman 1963–1964) in the hope of a pre-hunt drink and some food. The hoped for glass of whisky came my way and a couple of sandwiches. “Which way are you going?” I asked. Geordie laughed, “Not much choice,“ he replied, “beck begins about a mile further up, we’ll go down yonder.” With that he pointed downstream.

As I recall it was not a well-supported meet and there was considerably more food than spectators despite the arrival of the bus from Ambleside. A couple of cars occupied the space in front of the hotel but that was about it.

I stood there doing my best to make inroads on the plate of sandwiches provided by ‘mine host’ and doing my level best to avoid eye contact with him. Round about that time the Windermere Harriers were kennelled at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel. On our mornings climbing I would walk over and halloa them, getting them a ‘larl’ bit excited, their cries echoed off the surrounding fell, and the visitors were awakened and demanded an early breakfast. One morning as I walked over to the kennels the door of the hotel opened. “I’d like a word,” the proprietor said. He actually said quite a few and he didn’t use the same one twice. As a consequence from then on I tiptoed by the kennel and the hotel guests slept soundly on. Breakfast was served at the normal time and tranquillity was restored to the valley. I cast a sneaky glance in the direction of the proprietor and was rewarded with a big smile and a wink.

The baying of hounds from the back of a nearby van reminded me of the reason for my long cycle ride and I walked over to look. I have always liked otter hounds, big, friendly slobbering dogs and these were anxious to be away. A few minutes later their wish was granted as the ramp of the box was thrown down and a sea of hounds poured into the road. They mingled with the small group of followers casting covetous eyes on the plates of food. Before any damage was done, the Master nodded to “Geordie” who, with a blast on his horn, headed for the beck with his hounds gambolling behind him.

It did not take long to reach the banks of the Great Langdale beck and the hounds poured into the water seeking both sides of the river bank for scent. Slowly we moved downstream, occasionally there was the cry of a hound as it came across the scent of a long departed otter. From time to time Geordie had a little wade in the river and with a smile I remembered the words of my father who, when asked why the meet began so late, replied, “They wait til the watter warms up.”

The bike was an encumbrance and I began to tire of lifting it over the wire fences we encountered; you couldn’t ride it as you would get in front of hounds and no doubt at best get a bollocking and at worst be sent home.

Eventually we arrived below the spoil heaps of Elterwater Quarry and suddenly the air was filled with deep throated music that only an otter hound can make; the hounds joined into a bunch and climbed out of the river and up the spoil heap. There is quite a lot of wooded country around the quarry, coppiced from the days of ore extraction and smelting, and in this wooded area the otter ran around darting here and there, sometimes back tracking, sometimes crossing his track. To be honest it soon became brutally obvious the hounds had not a hope in hell of catching him. This was proven by hounds throwing up their heads shortly afterwards. After some half-hearted attempts to find the scent Geordie blew off.

The hounds were loaded into the van and the ramp shut, I looked at Geordie. “Any room?” I asked, eyeing the ominous looking sky over Megs Ghyll. “Nope,” he replied, “I saw you stuffing yourself at the pub, the ride home will do you good, and by the look of that sky it will be a close run thing between getting home and getting soaked.”

He was right... I won... Ok, I lied!

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