Rydal Show
© Blencathra Foxhounds

Rydal Show
© Blencathra Foxhounds

Rydal Show
"... ferocious beasts, takes two men to show em..."

Fell walking stick

Hound trailing
Hound Trailing

Ever since its beginnings in 1901 Rydal show has always played a major part in our family’s summer; coming about two weeks after Ambleside Sports, it told us that the new hunting season was not far away. I was first taken to Rydal show over fifty years ago by proud parents anxious to show off their new addition, apparently I cried all afternoon, no doubt caused by being continually prodded and poked by farmers who used this method to assess young stock!

Afterwards as a small child I went with my father, meeting various friends, farmers, huntsmen and other followers for a gossip and discussion about the forthcoming season. Many hunts were re-run on that field, I never spoke, just stood there taking it all in, it was magical. It was round about that time I was introduced to the great Joe Weir (of whom I have written elsewhere), a small powerful man, who shook my hand, a great compliment when you're small and nearly 50 years on I recall every detail.

Time moved on and I began to go to the show on my own. If you follow the beck down from Nook End farm you arrive at the drive where today the hoss boxes park, its only a second's job to duck under the wire fence and you're in, no one ever bothered although a few people saw me do it. Once inside there was plenty to see; if I recall correctly there were two rings for the sheepdog trials which accompany the hound show. I think the Otter hounds came every second year, big hairy things, totally unlike the hounds I was used to.

This ended in 1978. I’m pretty certain for a brief while the Coniston ran an otter hound or a type of, I have a memory of something akin leading a chase across Scandale bottom some time in the 60’s, but don’t worry, if I’m wrong, I get the emails!

One year after saving my meager paper round money for a couple of weeks I went in the main gate and even bought a programme, in some respects a kind of right of passage towards manhood. It felt good to be able to walk around without the fear of ejection which had always been present for the 'sneaking in' years. The afternoon begins with the judging of the Coniston Foxhounds (the local pack) by a huntsman from an adjoining pack, for many followers the first opportunity to see the new entry for next season and see how some of the established hounds have managed over the summer months at walk. Following on from there judging begins of the fell hounds and terriers, competition is fierce and its not uncommon to see a cup of coffee or a programme hurled to the ground followed by a curses and the words “he knar’s nowt” as the judge (and there are some quite impressive names that judge), fails to agree with the followers selection.

Over in a corner of the show field are the Harrier and Beagle contingent, a different type of show altogether with bowlers and white coats and a formality, totally different with to the fell hound show. Some of the fell pack followers never go anywhere near and haven’t done ever! I recall a hardy soul who sneaked over for a look and reported back “ferocious beasts they have, it teks yan man t hod em and t'other t dance about in front of em”. This is at variance to the fell hounds some of whom are shown in the ring by a small child. However it is a very social occasion and large picnics are consumed by smartly dressed groups.

All my life I have carried a walking stick when on the fell, in years past we used to make them, just a basic stick for use on the fell, the process was planned like a military operation, with selection, cutting and shaping etc. all well thought out prior. To my mind there are two kinds of stick, “yan to git hod with” (catch a sheep for example), and “yan to lean on slape grund (one to lean on slippery ground). In all honesty the sticks on show here could not be used for either purpose without the risk of damage to them, but the skill used to make them is evident even to a casual glance and they are a great favorite of mine. The judging of sticks began in 1981 with seven different classes and today seems as popular as ever.

As the years went by I did a couple of jobs at the show, I started by selling programmes and then graduated to parking cars. One very wet day, it was obvious there was going to be problems leaving the field,(the bottom end is low lying and gets wet easily), so in true Lakeland fashion we went to the beer tent leaving chaos behind and roundly were we cursed.

The beer tent situated near the main road has to be worth a visit. In my youth, the toilets were adjacent, and a piece of sacking shielded the 'visitors' from the gaze of passing motorists; this was ok until the 555 bus, a double decker, passed by! The urinal was a v shaped piece of wood which emptied into a trench, today there are port loos. It’s called progress! As the afternoon wore on the singing began and lasted well into the evening, some years we would cycle back after tea and sit outside and listen to the wide variety of songs and singers(!) as each type of hunting made its appearance and the drink “took hod”.

Hound trailing is always a feature of the Show, for years Anthony Chapman (Coniston huntsman), was one of the trail layers. A sack covered in aniseed mixed with parrafin used to be dragged for several miles, depending on the distance required, two men lay the trail, and as one enters the field the hounds are released. I cannot recall the fee involved for laying the trail but I hope its considerable as they cover some ground and a lot of it rough. Last year (2007) due to the Foot and Mouth there was no hound trailing and the drop in attendance was noticeable. Hound trailing is a very old Lakeland sport, its origins lost in the mist of time, but the first recorded Hound Trail was at Grasmere in April 1840. Trails were first run at Rydal in 1913. Over the years our family had a number of trail hounds. My Great Uncle Brait’s Misty Morning being one of the best known ones.

I have not been to every Rydal Show in the last 50 years; probably attended more that I have missed, there have been for me good shows and bad ones but in the end all enjoyable.

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