W3C The Vocal Huntsman MEMORIES


The quiet click of the latch on the fell head gate caused a nearby sheep to look up from its grazing and seeing no threat it quickly resumed its endless cropping. Stepping onto the fell proper I looked around; there had been heavy dew in the night evident by the droplets of moisture clinging to a patch of rushes and glistening like diamonds in the rays of the weak winter sun. It would be before 9 am, the advertised time of the loose from the pub on the roadside a mile and a good several hundred feet below. The sunlight reflected off the cars parked up in the car park and others lining the road. There was no sound, other than the wind coming in from my right. Turning, I leaned on the gate and looked back down the valley; even with the aid of binoculars I could see I had it all to myself, although high above on the ridge I thought I saw figures moving among the rocks of a notorious borran. I turned my attention back to the pub and was rewarded by the sight of the huntsman, whip and mine host standing on the doorstep surrounded by the pack.

I gazed up the remainder of the valley wondering where to go and sit quietly to watch the hunt. My eyes and binoculars were drawn to a movement near a deep rocky ghyll away to my right.

A fell fox in hard condition could be seen slipping quietly away, heading for the next valley where he thought he would get some peace and quiet away from the hounds; what he didn't know was another fell pack was having a week's hunting in the adjoining valley! This had come about because when the fixtures were planned ale had been involved and no one had realised until too late.

The fox disappeared into the ghyll and I moved the glasses to the top and was rewarded a couple of minutes later with the sight of him emerging. He paused, glanced back and with a swish of his tail dropped out of view into the next valley.

The other hunt had spent the previous week in their valley, hunting four days. The fox population had been well exercised with a couple in the category of "the sick, the lame and the lazy" taken out plus two more who were just unlucky. In actual fact more or less the entire fox population having had enough had decamped en-masse for places unknown. Today was Saturday at the end of the week's visit and the big crowd, many of whom had contributed to the "Huntsman's cap", were expecting sport.

The morning had worn on and the pack and followers had wandered hither and thither finding nothing. The vocal encouragement of the huntsman echoed back from the crags growing in volume until the hunt secretary was heard to say, "I'd rather hear a little more of the hounds and less of ........ (the huntsman)," as another "Try on" echoed on the wind.

As we saw some lines ago the fox disappeared into the next valley and out of my sight and hearing. What happened next I learned later in the pub. The fox was seen by a shepherd as it slipped into the valley, the resulting "halloa" had attracted the hounds to the fox and within a few minutes they had hit the line and a screaming hunt ensued. According to the shepherd the fox had turned and "gone back ower to thy side with a rocket up its arse", and the full weight of the pack close behind.

Initially I heard and saw nothing due to the bulk of the fell, but then I heard, quietly at first but increasing in volume, hounds running and I looked back up the valley and was rewarded with the sight of the other pack cresting the ridge and coming my way, the fox not far ahead. The hunt in "my valley" hadn't been doing too well either but the cry of the incoming hounds drew the attention of the pack who joined them and about 40 hounds were now chasing the flagging fox.

It was over in a flash and somebody began to halloa, the sound carried down to where I stood and high above me the dispersing hounds confirmed what I already knew.

Apparently in the pub afterwards the followers of the packs could not agree whose hound caught the fox so they claimed half each and with honour satisfied walked home as the morning was settling in over the eastern fells.

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