W3C Lost Foxes 2  FOXES



Is this a greyhound fox?

More On The Greyhound Fox

"Fierce as a tiger, and long as a hay-band, and with an amiable cast of features very like the Chancellor of the Exchequer," is very bad to kill 'top o' t' ground,' and still worse when he gets into a burn (borran)."

Jackson Gillbanks 1870

Material reproduced on this thread is reproduced directly from the source used. Any assumption that the fox concerned is of the greyhound type other than where stated, is mine and mine alone.


On 25th November 1809 a fox was caught after a hard run of three hours by the Haydon Hunt, it was stuffed and mounted in a case by followers of the hunt to record the event (see photograph). Is this an example of a “greyhound fox”?

Fell foxes a century or more ago were much more wary than the foxes of today who see so many walkers on the hills the whole year round. After the first World War large areas of land on the lower fell sides were planted with extensive areas of conifers, many foxes moved from the high ground to seek shelter in the warmer woodland.

In the late nineteenth century the rangy native foxes were described as being‘big, long on the leg, lean, greyer in colour and very fit’. They were christened ‘greyhound’ foxes and often weighed in excess of 20lbs and could measure up to 5ft from tip of nose to tip of tail. Many a dog fox tipped the scale at 19lbs in the 1800s and early 1900s. Ordinarily an average red-dog fox weighs about 15lbs and slightly less for vixens. Even today Lakeland foxes can be bigger than the average low ground fox. Records are patchy but these fine specimens were found high up on the fells and said to more resemble a small wolf. An excerpt taken from a very old newspaper dated November 1st 1844 describes a hunt:

"On Wednesday week a fine greyhound fox was started from his hiding place on the mountain Dodd, near Keswick, and after a gallant run of about one hour, by the hounds belonging to Mr. Crozier, of Riddings, the wily animal fell a prey to his pursuers in Skiddaw Forest, where he had in vain sought shelter from his implacable enemies."

It appears at times there were few foxes on the high fell as this extract from the memory of “Fusedale” written in March 1910 shows. He is writing about a hunt with the Bald Howe pack prior to their amalgamation with the Patterdale Foxhounds in 1873. This piece shows the scarcity of foxes on that day at least.

“I remember Joe Dawson, myself, and two or three others leaving Howtown one fine morning to loose at Dale Head, Martindale. After trying Beda we went to Heck and Buck Crags, in Bannerdale, over Rest Dod to Rampskin Head, over High Street, by way of Fox Bields, to Thresthwaite Mouth. There we struck our first line, but little could be made of it, so we tried through Thornthwaite Crag to Park Quarries in the Vale of Troutbeck, over Ill Bell to Rainsbarrow in Kentmere, back by Longmire End to Nan Beild, through Blea Water Crags, over Longstile to Riggindale and ended without a find at Kidsty Pike. There we left our Martindale friends and went to Mardale to hunt the following day.”

Westmorland Gazette 26th March 1910

The distance covered by a fell fox in the course of one night is quite astounding as the following report shows.

Once the same pack (The Coniston) took a line by Rydal Park wall and carried it over High Pike up to Hart Crag and down the ridge on the other side into Hartsop, unkennelling in Low Wood on the hillside above Brothers Water. Another time they found a drag in Skelghyll Woods above Dove’s Nest, persevering with it up the whole length of the Troutbeck valley and out at the top over Threshthwaite Mouth. About a mile on the other side of the wall the fox got up, escaping after a short but very exciting chase into the fastness of Broad Howe. The distance covered by these hounds must be little less than ten miles, enough perhaps to constitute a record.

From “Fox Hunting in The Fells” by the Rev E. M. Reynolds M.F.H., Published in The Lake Counties by W.G. Collingwood 1902

The Saddleback, or more properly the Blencathra range, has no cover for a fox except the rocks, a little ling, and a few juniper bushes among the heather. The base of Skiddaw, including the Dodd and the Barfe, is best covered with larch and whins. The Castlerigg, Borrowdale, and Armboth Fells have good covers of oak and hazel, but the fox prefers keeping to the rocks rather than the woods, and they generally drag up to him rather than chase him.

Saddle and Sirloin by The Druid 1870

Once unkennelled these foxes could run a considerable distance, here are two newspaper reports of hunts, the first of 100 miles and the second of 50 miles, the use of an Ordinance Survey map will give a better understanding of the distance and terrain involved.

The Coniston Subscription hounds threw off on Holme Fell, about two miles from Coniston. Only seventeen dogs were uncoupled, all however, of the right sort, and in condition to run for a man’s life. They quickly hit on a drag, and “Reynard” no doubt hearing them, stole away, and so got, it is conjectured, three quarter of an hour’s start before they dragged up to his resting-place. They then settled on a line of scent, at a rattling pace around the fell to the Yew-trees, and across the country to The Tarns, near Hawkshead. He had been going upwind for this three to four miles, and turned back over High Cross, past the Lake residence of Mr. Marshall, and on to Yewdale Crag. The ascent is long, steep, and one of the roughest amongst the northern fells, from the great quantity of loose stones on the sides of the hill. When out on top , it is probable Reynard thought he would bid a final adieu to his pursuers. He proceeded right on end over a long tract of moor and hill to near Black-Hall, the highest house in Seathwaite. Here he made a round and steered back to Tilberthwaite mines, above Coniston, turned again and boldly ascended Tilberthwaite High Fell, which he crossed, and over a long tract of country to Wrynose, a steep mountain pass well known to tourists between Eskdale and Langdale. On Wrynose he laid down amongst some furze, and a second glorious unkennel took place. The hunt had continued without a check, for fully thirty miles over some of the roughest hilly country of the north, and went on at a great pace by Red-tarn to the foot of Bowfell, with one or two exceptions, the highest mountain in England. All the hardy footmen of Coniston were “tailed off”. Reynard fearlessly ascended the mighty hill and crossed some little distance from the summit, then by the Stake at the head of Langdale and into Borrowdale. A few shepherds from Langdale followed and were joined by some Borrowdale men. After a round, the gallant fox took Butterlikeld High-fell and all were “tailed off” again.

Then by Esk Hause over Scafell, upwards of 3000 feet above the sea, to Wasdale Head. This dale with Mosedale-bottom is a flat of between four or five hundred acres, surrounded on three sides by the highest hills, Scafell, Lingmell, Kirkfell and Great Gable. They made several rounds on the hillsides, and three dogs got crag fast on Scafell. The chase had lasted for six hours and it was getting dark. Again the gallant fox faced the hills over Sty Head, some twelve miles of fearful ground to go over. The chase was, however, not near over. Leaving Wastdale the hounds were heard through Copeland Forest, Gillerthwaite, and to Ennerdale Lake. They ran clear round the lake. It was night, and the residents on its borders could not join, but listened with pleasure and surprise to the cry of the dogs awakening the echoes of the hills. About nine o’clock, the inhabitants of the secluded dale of Wastdale, about retiring to rest, were startled by the cry of the hounds coming in from Ennerdale. They could of course make nothing out by following them, but judged by the still cheerful cry of the hounds that they went through the valley and headed away by the long mountainous pass of Sty Head for Borrowdale. On such a calm night the deep tone of the foxhound was heard amongst the hills at a great distance. The Ritsons and others listened delighted awhile, till their practiced ears were greeted three different times with the sharp savage bark of the dogs, a sure indication that they were viewing. There was no further sound heard. Perfect stillness reigned over hill and valley. Next day some of the dogs wandered into Wastdale, bit about the face and bloody, showing that the death fight had taken place between them and the stoutest fox remembered in the north. A young man named Burns and the Ritsons the day following recovered the crag-fast dogs by lowering the former down the rocks with ropes.

None, but those accustomed to rescue sheep would have attempted such a hazardous feat as to be swung down the rocks to a narrow ledge and from the dizzy height several hundred feet of clear space beneath. The huntsman arrived next day at Wastdale, and all the dogs were got together except one. This, worn out, and nearly dead, did not arrive at Coniston til the end of the week. This small pack, hardly ever over twenty has long been famed for speed, stoutness and acute nose. Twelve years ago they killed twenty-eight foxes in twenty-nine consecutive unkennel. We much doubt if any other pack in the kingdom has done the same, and what other dogs could have run the chase we have attempted to describe-certainly not less than 100 miles across a terrific country, with only a single check in Wastdale for eight or ten minutes.

On Wednesday morning the sportsmen and hounds (The Coniston) again turned out in search of a fox, and soon found one in Storrs allotment. Reynard soon bolted after hearing the voices of the challenging dogs, and shifted his quarters in double quick time, to make south for Fox hole Bank in Crosthwaite. He then shaped his course westward to pay Mr. Birkett, of Birkett House, a visit, but being hard pushed, he ran to Rosthwaite, thence north to Merslake, where the hunters viewed him, and afterwards by Low Lindeth, Birthwaite, and down to Calgarth Farm. The fox then turned back by Troutbeck Bridge, Elleray, and Holehird unto Borrans, on the borders of Hugill. Here he turned north and made for the head of Kentmere park, thence by Froswick, Blue Ghyll, and round by Thresthwaite Mouth to Red Screes, above Kirkstone Tavern. Here he turned back over Cowdale Fell, and to Kentmere High-street. Being here hard pushed by the staunce dogs, he crossed Blea-Water Crag at the head of Mardale, and made through Martindale Forest to Angle Tarn, one of the numerous feeders of Ullswater. Here he was forced to give up and yield to his numerous pursuers, after a continuous chase of above five hours and a run at a moderate estimate of fifty miles. Mr. John Gelderd of Patterdale, who was near the place where the finale of this gallant hunt took place, immediately after the fox was killed cut off one of his ears which he fastened round the neck of a hound with a memorandum, stating when and where poor reynard gave his last squeak. This is one of the most splendid runs within the memory of anyone in this neighbourhood, and will be long remembered by the gallant Nimrod’s who participated in it.

Westmorland Gazette 16th January 1847

(John Gelderd was Master of the Patterdale foxhounds and also had his own pack of beagles; he was the nephew of Anthony Gaskarth who founded the Coniston hounds in 1825.)

In the early years of the twentieth century lowland foxes greatly increased in number and subsequently there was a further influx as banished incomers arrived in the fells in search of fresh territory. The foxes of today have very different habits to those a century ago.

As fox numbers greatly increased, they seemed more reluctant to leave the valley in which they were found, rarely running the great distances recorded by huntsman of times past. There are several records of foxes being chased for most of the day round a large wood or block of forestry without making any attempt to leave it. In fact I have memories of days spent in the plantations above Hawkshead huddled against a wall out of the biting wind and rain showers when exactly this happened. It reached the point where we stopped going to any meet with likelihood of this happening. "We’ll go with the Ulswatter tomorrow," said my father at dinner time. "Cunistan, are at Hawkshead, "be running round in the forestry all day, see nowt."

“Chappie” in his book Hark Forrard, says that foxes (the “newer sort”) seemed to like the forestry and “cubbed” on the surface, as it was sheltered, warm and dry and there could be a large number of foxes in a small area.

Even so there were occasional accounts for many years; ordinarily the average red-dog fox weighs about 15lbs and slightly less for vixens. Still today Lakeland foxes can be bigger than the average low ground fox. Records are sketchy but there are reports of foxes being killed that were much larger than average and it was not unusual to still find foxes weighing over 20lbs.

Tuesday, being a general holiday amongst the apprentices of Ambleside, it was arranged to give them the opportunity of a hunt, of which a great many availed themselves, Skelghyll Woods being the fixture at 7 am.
Unmistakeable evidence was given of Reynard’s wanderings on Wansfell Pike, by the excellent drag which was taken to the Hundreds Pastures, and over Kirkstone and Troutbeck road, through Herd Wood, into Swine Close, over the river Troutbeck to Park Tongue, to opposite Park Quarries, where they descended and crossed as if going for Hill Bell but turning left pointed for Broad How. The twisting and turnings about of Reynard in all directions put the hounds almost at their wits end almost, before they could with confidence work the end to Blue Ghyll and over Hill Bell to Kentmere side, where the game was awakened from his slumber, to risk a run for his dear life. Taking a straight course down the hill, he crossed the end of Kentmere Reservoir, the hounds taking to the water like otter hounds. Cleaver threw himself forward up the hill, hit on the line on the road leading to Nan Bield Pass, all the hounds seemed to be laying themselves on for a chase, Harter Fell and Sleddale appearing to be their point. But making a turn, they came for Kentmere Tongue and through that fastness. The fox pushed forward for Rainsbarrow, to the summit of which he almost ascended, but turning to the right he took through the Cragg and the Screes, over Hill Bell to Blue Ghyll Foot, no doubt thinking to benefit himself by running the dry shingle, and rough ground. He then betook himself out to the top of Froswick, and to Thornthwaite Monument and down Threshett, as though for Caudle Moor, but meeting with opposition from many wandering hunters; he turned and sought refuge in Broad how, but alas, he was once more frustrated in his wily designs by the faithful watchers stationed there, who tally-ho’d him back by Black Borran to Threshett Cragg, where, feeling himself worn out he tried a benk; but short was his rest. The hounds running yet strong, forced him out and viewed him to Raven Cragg in Low Hartsop, wherein he crept to save himself from his relentless pursuers. But the time was of short duration before Jim arrived with a new enemy, Twig, the famous terrier, who forthwith commenced battle, which lasted twenty minuites, when, with assistance, Jim crept in and drew Reynard out, amidst loud cheers. When scaled at Joe Brownrigg’s, Kirkstone Foot, he drew 18lbs and measured four feet in length, being the largest fox killed in the Lake District for many years. Amongst the hunters were Mr. J. Rigg, Mr. J. Logan, Low Wood, and the master, Mr, Reynolds.

Westmorland Gazette 10th November 1883

The following story illustrates not only the size of Lakeland foxes but gives an insight into hunting politics of the time.

On Saturday, the 12th inst, the Eskdale pack met at the homestead of that well-known foxhunter, Mr. W. Woodend, of Nook End, Ambleside, under the charge of Anthony Chapman, “Tommy” having gone over to Eskdale for some hounds which had been left behind. Going through the High Pike breast they hit upon a drag, and took it through, underneath Dove Cragg, and by Lon Cragg end, through the Houndshope Cove over Hart Cragg, to Fairfield. Going down the top towards Rydal, they unkennelled him in Stone Cove. Driving him out, by the top of Fairfield, they took him in by Caugha Pike, sown to the shilloe beds to Grisedale Tarn. Leaving Willy Wife’s Moor on the left, they went over the top of Dolly Wagon Pike, and turned in towards Wythburn, along the fell above the mines to Long Cragg, then by Helvellyn Cove, Swirrel Edge to Bleaberry Edge in Grisedale, where he went to ground, after a run of nearly two hours duration. Messrs. W. Wood, sen T. Jackson, G. Hogarth, Anthony Chapman, and his son Tom were speedily on the spot, and the terriers were put into the borran. They began marking him immediately, but he refused to bolt, and after a severe fight, the terriers killed him. “Anthony” went to Braesteads Farm, about a mile distant for help. Returning with Mr. Leek, and the necessary tools, operations were at once commenced, and carried on til dusk, three terriers being left in overnight. The hunters then adjourned to Mr. Leek’s, where both hunters and hounds were most hospitably entertained, Anthony and the hounds remaining all night. Work was resumed in the morning, and continued during the day. The terriers were got out about two o’clock in the afternoon. Grip and Crag were severely mauled about the head, and Pitcher the head and forelegs, and it is feared he will loose the sight of one eye. Work was continued until 6 pm, when it was decided owing to the great depth of the borran, to give up trying to recover the body of the fox, which from the nature of the injuries to the terriers, must have been above the average weight.

Kendal and County News 19th April 1890

There must have been some problem with acceptance of the conclusion of the hunt as the following appears in the next week's issue.

The fact that these hounds having killed underneath Striding Edge on Saturday 12 th inst, as reported in our last being doubted in some quarters, Anthony Chapman accompanied by Messrs. H. Dugdale, J. Townson, E. Forsyth, William Woodend, D. Hodgson, T. Fox and G. Fleming who walked “Pincher” the terrier so badly bitten about whose recovery there is some doubt, met in the early part of the week and carried the necessary tools over Grisedale Pass to Bleaberry Crag to try to recover the dead fox. Upon reaching the place, Dugdale’s terrier “Whisky” began marking almost immediately and continued to do so until the fox was got out by “Anthony” about half past twelve after three hours hard work. He proved to be a fine dog fox of eighteen and a half pounds weight after being dead a week, so that when living he must have been considerably over twenty pounds. This is the third fox killed by these hounds during their visit to Ambleside and neighbourhood.

Kendal and County News 26th April 1890

The biggest fox killed by Joe Bowman was in 1923. It weighed 24lbs and measured 54 inches from the tip of his nose to the end of his brush. He also recorded a 20lb silver-grey fox having been killed on Nethermost Pike in February 1916 along with the comment that'it was of a species nearly extinct nowadays’.

In 1934 the Ullswater hounds accounted for another, which was said to be one of the ‘greyhound’ foxes. In the 1960s a huge fox was killed by Joe Wear, which apparently was entered in the Guinness Book of Records at that time as being the largest fox to be officially recorded.

The Coniston pack killed a fox in 1929 described as being‘an old dog fox weighing 24lbs’and another in January 1946 at Nibthwaite, which weighed 20lbs. They had previously accounted for a vixen weighing 17.5lbs in the Cartmell Fell area the year before.

Also in 1946 the Blencathra caught a dog fox weighing 20lbs. Anthony Chapman killed another large fox in the Coniston country in January 1957. It weighed 21lbs and could well have been a throwback to the old greyhound foxes.

THE LUNESDALE- After meeting at Howgill last Thursday hounds put up a fox at Bleasefell and raced it down to Carlingill before bolting it from a borran and rolling over a fine dog fox. On Saturday, from Dent, another big fellow of over 20lbs was killed in Barbon Manor after traversing Dent and Leck Fells. TALISMAN

Westmorland Gazette 20th March 1948

Even as late as 1980 it was reported that Maurice Bell with his Wensleydale pack hunting on the edge of the Lunesdale country had caught a fox weighing 23lbs.

An interesting piece from The Glasgow Herald concerning the Eglinton Hounds.

Returning to lower country, the hounds were drawing a little strip of woodland near the hamlet of Auchmillian when a big grey fox was seen to slip quietly away. He must have been a moorland fox for he at once set his mask for the Auchmannoch Moors with the pack in full cry and the horses going hard to live with them. So from wood to wood the hunt went on til breaking from the long coverts that stripe the stubble lands at Auchenbrain, hounds were leading on up the long slopes at Meadowhead when huntsman and whips galloped to their heads and stopped them as they got near the fringe of the red moorlands across which loomed up the bare remote hill of Distincthorn. KNOCKJARDE

Glasgow Herald 24th November 1955

And finally from a Hunting Forum November 2010:

Whilst dung spreading last week, I saw a fox looking for worms, thought nothing of it, looked like an ordinary fox until it turned away. Head and top of its back (down the spine) were the normal red colour, but sides and brush were steel gray.

Perhaps from time to time the old genes make an appearance who can say.

Reynard appears to have been originally divided into three distinct sorts, the greyhound, the bulldog, and the cur-fox. The first is the wildest, stoutest, and fleetest, and is found in wild and mountainous districts. It is the indigenous species, and the best; hard to find, harder still to kill. Though now fast becoming extinct, he frequently leads the hounds many a mile up-hill and down dale, from dawn till dusk, ere his funeral chime is rung..............
The French fox has a long narrow head, rather long in the leg, and is not so bright in colour as our English fox. Russian foxes are blacker than ours, and shaggy in coat. Canadian foxes are very like ours. German foxes are grey in muzzle, more bluff and bullhead. Holland foxes are lengthy, with ears like donkeys, and thick brushes. So with all this variety of foreigners, which of course get intermixed, it is difficult to say what description of animal we really have now, and well might an eminent M.F.H. exclaim, that foxes are sadly changed now, and that there are few stout and straight foxes to be found."

Horn And Hound in Wales and some adjoining Counties, Edwin Wathen Price. Pub. Daniel Owen and Company, Limited. Undated but believed to be 1895. pp 45-46

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