W3C The Opening Meet     HUNTS

 

As summer slowly moved towards autumn, thoughts turned to the new season's hunting. The hound shows were behind us now and the days were shortening, but the bracken still stood, a thick mantle of green, slowly turning to brown, covering much of the fell side and many of the "intak" fields. We had ceased quietly manoeuvering ourselves above the borrans to spend the long afternoons and occasional summer evenings watching the cubs at play in the warm sunshine. The weekend walks began to get longer as we attempted to regain fitness lost over the close season.

This is the 1960s when hunting was a little bit different in the fells to how it was in the later years. Having no transport we were totally dependant upon walking to the meet, perhaps several miles over the fell, and then getting onto the tops before the hounds "lowsed" below us - this would enable us to follow the hunt. It seemed in those days that many foxes ran a lot further than today, or perhaps it’s just my memory, and I often wonder about the amount of in-breeding in foxes nowadays. Sadly no one since McDonald in the 1970s has done any research work on fell foxes. The delights of the "chip shop fox" and the adjacent pub being preferable to getting cold and wet in the fells ... however I digress.

The meets as I recall would initially start at 9.30 am but would move to 9 am as the clocks went back. Public Transport in the fells in the 1960s was abysmal, and few had transport so the usual way to get to the meet was to walk, or perhaps on the odd occasion get a lift in somebody’s van or Land Rover.

Every couple of years my father would briefly become a tourist attraction as he went through the ritual of breaking in his new fell boots. Made I think by Tickle Otway of Ambleside, the ritual involved wading up and down the Stock Beck which flows through Ambleside.

I would sit on the wall above the beck and watch. Soon a small crowd of tourists would gather, my father taking no notice, but occasionally, especially as I got older, my comments would evoke the threat of damage to my ear when he came out of the beck. It was a belief held at the time that boots needed to be moulded to your feet and the best way to do that was to soak them whilst worn. Once they had been soaked they were dried and covered heavily with dubbin to keep the water out, a contradiction really.

In days gone by everyone wore nailed boots, today they are very hard to get hold of. It is said that they were on occasion greased with horse fat when no other type of grease was available, which no doubt endeared the wearer to the household especially of an evening as it was applied by the fire. I once heard a story of how a huntsman in country strange to the hounds used to grease his boots in bacon fat so the hounds if lost might strike the line and return to him!!

Finally hunting would begin, about the beginning of October with various meets. These served various purposes, the first being to introduce young hounds to "hunting", thin the cub population and finally scatter the foxes in the area hunted (at least for a few days!).

Hunting was a little different then. There were no CB radios (thank God!) you relied on your knowledge, what you could see or glean from fellow hunters and sometimes the occasional sound of hounds.

There were few car followers and these were roundly cursed by the "fell toppers” who claimed that the cars' exhaust fumes would somehow damage the hounds noses, thus making them unable to smell the line; also the cars would “baulk” or turn the fox. All these views became unimportant of course when they had lost the hunt and then used the location of the "car hunters" to re-direct them! Should a “fell topper” get far behind and drop down to the road, my recollection is that if a lift were offered it was never refused!

Most of the Opening Meets of my childhood as I recall were at Nook End farm near the kennels, although later Mr. G Gregory took over as MFH and they were held at Braeside, I think.

Anthony Chapman (Coniston Huntsman) was a great encourager of young people to follow hounds, a man who always had time for you and made you feel important, answering the most stupid of questions even when the hunting was getting exciting. On one occasion they had a big effort to encourage children to the opening meet. The success of this venture could be seen by the little procession of families making their way to Nook End Farm where the meet was to be held.

At the farm gate we / they were met by a guy called Lanty Langhorn with a rum bottle. "Drink, Tom?" he asked my father. Dad didn't drink much and declined. A chap small in stature Lanty looked down on me. He now took on the role of protector of morals of the Ambleside youth. "Lad’s too young,” he said, "I'll have it for him!" and shot round the back of the hound box. There were many children that morning and Lanty exuded a warm glow by the time the hounds arrived!

There was always a good turnout of followers in those days; many people had terriers that seemed to spend the time getting into trouble and being roundly cursed. The cap was passed and soon became quite full with notes and silver. My father once commented after eyeing the throng that “you could build a house with all the different trades present”.

To many followers it was a major social occasion and boots were cleaned and ties worn. It was said that a couple of the farm lads made their yearly visit to the bath prior! Brylcream was all the rage at the time and much in evidence, although many wore caps.

One of my acquaintances, of whom it was once said, “The last time water touched him was when the midwife bathed him!“ used to go, although his immediate circle of friends was rather low!

When the hounds came they mingled with the folk, greeting people who had walked them during the summer and trying for biscuits. Chappie, the huntsman, and Dennis (Barrow), the whipper-in, chatted to followers around the yard. Amongst the followers, friendships were renewed, some business deals done and gossip exchanged, whisky and rum flavoured coffee was dished out (unless you were a child!!!!) and an air of expectancy hung over the farmyard.

Finally Chappie blew his horn, collected his hounds together and made for the gate ... the new season had begun.

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