W3C The Fox Went Straight Up The Steep Fell Side  FOXES


A sheep trod wove its way up the steep fell side, gaining height with an ease unmatched by any route a human could devise. Following it and climbing all the time I skirted small outcrops of rock, crossed a stream full of melt snow water at the best point to do so and finally arrived on the ridge. Stopping to catch my breath, for although the route to a sheep would have been easy this human was very unfit, I gazed at the view in front of me. My horizon was filled with snow covered peaks under a bright blue sky. Warm sunlight bathed the ridge and gave a small crag to my left sharpness normally unseen.

Hounds had gone to god knows where, and had been gone for some time. I’d watched them climb the fell side I now stood on, it had been a beautiful sight as they climbed, in a line, like as someone put it “a hound trail”. Their music had carried down the valley, growing fainter as they crested the ridge and then as they dropped in to the next valley it disappeared altogether, leaving an eerie silence.

Having recovered my breath I walked across the top of the ridge and sat down in the lee of a boulder, got out my binoculars and scanned the valley below me. In the very bottom of the valley lay a lake, on this morning reflecting back the sunlight like some sparkling jewel, to one side a wooded fell side climbed up the steep heights and the old familiar wall running along the top of the wood was easy to see. The road which ran along the lake shore was empty of cars and I inwardly cursed.

At one time car followers were disliked by the ‘fell top’ brigade, there were a variety of reasons given, for example it was claimed that the exhaust fumes would spoil the scent and damage a hound’s nose should the hunt go near the road. This dislike did not stop a ‘fell topper’ using the location of the line of cars to give him an idea of where the hunt was, when he had lost it or gratefully accept a lift at the end of the day. To be honest the dislike was based on jealously. However I digress.

A figure whom I recognised, appeared on the opposite ridge, he stood silhouetted against the skyline and I studied him in the mistaken belief he knew something about the hunt I did not. After a while his demeanour showed him to have as much idea as I had as to the whereabouts of fifteen couple of hounds, in other words none.

I sat in the warm sunlight wondering what to do, no sound carried up to me except the occasional croak of a crow as it flew along the valley beneath me on its never ending patrol. A speck in the distance upon closer inspection proved to be a buzzard riding a thermal give off by the huge crag warmed by the mid morning sunlight. A thought came to me and I focussed the binoculars on the boulder field at the base of the crag some two miles away. At first there was nothing but suddenly a speck of white against the grey background of the rocks; off to one side another fleck of white moving slightly. Realisation dawned, I’d found the hunt, the fox had gone to ground in one of the many dangerous borrans at the base of the vertical crag. I looked closely at the boulder field but there was no sign of any human activity and the behaviour of the hounds suggested the fox was quite deep in the borran and it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to mark its position. Traversing the binoculars to my right I picked up the path which climbs from the valley bottom and made out figures moving swiftly towards the hounds. Soon they were climbing into the boulder field and finally came to a stop around I presume where the fox had entered the borran.

A discussion would be taking place about the best course of action, obviously the huntsman would have the final say, in those days there was no CB radio and usually he was unable to consult with the master. However I could not see a red coat in the group. The group stood around for quite a while and I had decided that they had put a terrier or two into the borran. The hounds by now had more or less totally lost interest and specks of white could be seen on the fell side well away from the crag.

Suddenly the sound of the hunting horn carried up to where I sat, its notes sounding the blowing off, hounds began to move in the direction of the sound and finally I made out a figure dressed in red, standing on a distant fell side. The flecks of white responded to the horn and soon the huntsman and his pack began to climb away from the crag. Returning my gaze to the little group under the crag, I saw them moving up to join the huntsman and hounds, both groups met, paused and began to climb the fell side together, the hounds slightly ahead, spread out in their quest for scent.

It was decision time for me, soon the hounds and figures would be lost to my view, and there was a stark choice between a steep thousand foot climb in the hope I would meet up with them on the top, or the alluring descent and walk down the valley to the pub. For reasons I cannot explain I took the former, and picking up my walking stick set off. At first I moved quickly until the gradient increased and as I slowed an occasional bark carried down to me. Suddenly there was an explosion of music and I looked up to see the entire pack coming down the fell towards me, so close together a towel would have covered them.

A movement below me caught my attention and I turned to see a big fell fox passing below the sheep trod I was on. The fox stopped and looked at me, for a moment our eyes met and then he jogged away, moving purposefully down the fell side until he disappeared behind a small outcrop of rock.

A few minutes later and several hundred yards further up the path another fox came towards me; this one was not jogging but running like hell, for behind and not all that far behind were the hounds. The fox passed not twenty feet from where I stood motionless, there was no eye contact this time, he raced by and disappeared down the slope in the general direction taken by the other fox. I raced after him to look down the hill and was rewarded by the sight of the first fox lying under an outcrop of rock watching the second. As it passed, the first fox got up and went straight up the steep fell side. Hounds by now were passing me and upon reaching the point where the first fox had been, swung onto his drag and followed him up the steep fell side leaving the second to escape.

Now I had heard stories of this happening, never saw it before or again until the end of hunting, but I saw it that day. The first fox seemed to recognise the danger the second was in and to my mind intentionally drew hounds off and onto himself.

And what happened then, you ask? Well the bloody thing went straight back and into the borran and, like the other one which went in earlier that day, was left in peace, and you know something? He deserved it

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