W3C A Flock of Swans MEMORIES


The mist hung just over the tree tops on the islands in the middle of the lake like a shroud and a light rain fell, it had not been like that the previous evening, when, on my run after work I had dropped onto Rydal Terrace from Loughrigg summit and made my way in the twilight down the track which leads to the village of Rydal. As I ran along the lake shore a family of whooper swans landed on the still surface of the lake from out of the rapidly darkening northern sky, having flown through the mountains via the gap of Dunmail Raise. It was autumn and the best guess would be that they had stopped to rest on their migration south. I knew I would be walking this track in the opposite direction in a few hours on my way to the meet at the Wyke Woods above Grasmere but did not expect to see them again, but there they were, heads bobbing in the pre take off ritual. Suddenly they were off down the lake, running at first on the water before climbing into the murky sky, the sound of their wing beat carried to me in the stillness of the dawn long after they were out of sight.

I loved the Wyke hunt, the sound of hounds echoing through the wood was magical, if you got up early enough and climbed onto Silver How (the mountain looking down on the wood) you had a hell of a view of proceedings and were ideally placed if the hunt should head for the Langdales although not if things went wrong and the hunt went in the direction of Ambleside! There were always foxes in the Wyke the place was "wick" with 'em as my father would say and a run was almost guaranteed, it took all the skill of the huntsman (the legendary Anthony Chapman) sometimes to keep the weight of the pack on one fox and occasionally he failed and there were hunts everywhere as two or three hounds ran a fox, "Chappie's" cries echoing through the wood.

It was in the "Wyke" in the late 1960's that I first came across people who thought hunting was wrong, not the camouflage, balaclava brigade of later years, but a young couple who were genuinely upset by the bolt they saw and could not understand the fact that the fox was a proven lamb killer and was deserving of its fate.

One morning I sat high above the wood and the open fell above it and watched a hunted fox through the binoculars for a good fifteen minutes, dodging and weaving, stopping to listen and when able look back, it ran along a wall top for quite a way and then jumped a good distance from the wall top to one side and when hounds arrived at that point they had a massive check. I suppose over the almost 50 years of watching foxes both in the closed and hunting season I must have spent in total hundreds of hours, but that morning was by far the best, made even better by the fact that the people sat with me saw nothing because I watched and kept quiet as to what I was watching.

The morning of which I write was as it turned out rather a disappointment, the wood held foxes sure enough and without much difficulty hounds unkennelled one, which promptly returned across the fells to Borrowdale some miles away with the pack in hot pursuit not to be seen again that day, but it wasn't a bad day all things considered, I'd seen the swans, was lucky enough to see the fox unkennelled and the start of the subsequent chase, to me, that it was a pretty good day.

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