W3C After the Fox  FOXES


A South Westmorland Hunting Sketch
(written in 1912)

Up on the moorland, where usually the silence is broken only by bleating sheep, or the solemn warning “Go back, Go back” of the grouse, other sounds are audible this morning.

From the depths of the plantation the huntsman’s voice rings out, encouraging his hounds, horses are jingling their bits; voices are murmuring.

On a heather covered crag, on the edge of the moor, the master stands in characteristic attitude, his right foot on a rock, his knee supporting his right arm. Standing around him are groups of cottagers and farmers, farther away are one or two familiar figures on horseback.

As yet there is no quiver of excitement on the rugged faces, though “that t’ hounds is comin’ doon” is the best news a man can hear during the hunting season. “Theear’s nea need ta don yersel oot i yer hallida cleeathes ta gan huntin i’ this country same as they do down t’ Sooth. If I hed ta don a red jacket an white breeches I’d feel t’ same as a lad mekkin mud pies on a Sunday,” a north country fox hunter was once heard to remark. The followers today have obviously come straight from work, pausing only to grab a stick and some bread and cheese.

The time passes slowly; the huntsman's voice grows fainter, as he goes to the far end of the wood. One by one the men sit down on the dry rocks, and prod the heather thoughtfully with their staves. The horses fidget as the chill wind strikes them, two coupled hounds sit listening, eager and alert. A rabbit creates a diversion by making a hurried exit from its seat, close to where the kennel terriers sit shivering. But rabbits are too common to rouse more than a flicker of interest in Pincher's and Myrtle's doggy minds.

“Nowt ot’ mak. He’s in reet enough. Guie ‘em time.”

Hope is rekindled and furthered by the next statement. “I tracked him inta thor hooals bela t’ yak tree when t’ snaw was liggin a while back.”

“Howd on a bit, he’ll get sneck posset if thae nobbut find him, Ise warrant !"

“Whist,” the word snaps out sharp and imperative, like the crack of a whip and everyone leans forward and listens earnestly.

An enthusiastic whimper from the wood, silence for a few minutes, then a decisive note, whereat the pack draws to the magic spot, and each hound tests for himself the truth of the signal; a joyous burst confirms it, the scent which is the sweetest smell on earth to their noses, is found - the scent of a fox.

A current charged with excitement has passed through the field, each face expresses satisfaction; the horses are pricking their ears and snatching at the reins, the riders are settling themselves for the rush down the rocky allotment, for Down at the corner a red coat has shone.

“Ger away on him! Ger’r’r’ away oh!”

“Gosh, they hev him this time,” there is suppressed rapture in the voice. Silence is completely swallowed by the babel of sounds, stones rattling from the wall as the hounds scramble over, men shouting to them in a perfect frenzy of enthusiasm.

“Ger away, ger away, ger awaaay!” in a tremendous crescendo again and again. “Queer job I nivver sid him com oot, I woe leeakin at t’ lad side o t’ time.”

The hounds are away down the hill, flashing through the dead bracken, past rabbit cropped gorse bushes, over the stream; while somewhere ahead, across those fields or through the woods, reynard fresh as a hawk, is stealthily pursuing his silent line, planning the defeat of the pack as he goes.

The huntsman’s red coat is twinkling in the wake of the pack, the field thunders after him. For the noise country boots make when after the foxhounds closely resembles thunder. Scraping down rocks, splashing through the stream, jump jump, from ant hill to heather knoll they go. Each man shouting encouragement to his favourite hound before his wind gives out. “Ha Com-aar-ade” “Good lad Warrior, way on with him.”

We never realise until we are racing after the pack in full cry the full meaning of those words “the glad sound of the horn and the hound” it is a glad sound the gladness surpasses all understanding.

Meanwhile the field has reached a big wall, with too many bulges and hints of future gaps, not to be attacked with discretion. A spirited ascent, a second poised on top, and a jump to earth, or a careful climb, legs hoisted to the other side to aid in a equally careful descent, are two popular methods of wall climbing. There is a rush of falling stones, and a man is left with his body spanning space. “Lewk oot’ tha’s garn t’ lame thy sel” is the somewhat obvious prediction which greets his position.

One lusty follower is still crying, “Ger away, ger awaaay!” quite oblivious to the fact that the hounds are out of hearing.

Hearts are beginning to thump, and breath not so plentiful as it was at the start. The pace has slowed to a swinging walk or a jog trot down hill. There is a halt occasionally, a few minutes of tense silence when every ear is strained to the utmost, and is rewarded with a faint melody far ahead.

“They’re running still; mekin for t’ girt wood,” and off the field starts again. Another halt ten minutes later and not a sound to be heard save a cock crowing. For five minutes they walk on in watchful silence, then a ploughman is hailed. “What way hev they gone?”

“Reet up t’ fields, t’ first dogs crossed through yon gap, they hunt roond a while, then set off through t’ larl coppice, an’ reet away fer t’ girt wood,” the ploughman bawls.

With breathing eased they set off again, though the number of followers is decreasing. From the top of the next hill they view the pack crossing a rough allotment. They watch them for a while, then a distant “Tally hooa” echoes across the valley, and urges them to a final effort. Somehow, though their hearts are thumping all over their bodies, though every breath becomes noisier and shorter, and the ground seems rougher at every stride they reach the great wood.

“Harksta !” someone pants.

A faint voice sounds from the middle of the wood, “Hoooalad Hoooalad.”

“Holed by gum, come on.”

They plunge into the wood, and after much ducking to avoid boughs, some swearing, and many shouts enquiring the whereabouts of the unknown voice, they come on the pack with an excited woodcutter dancing in its midst, and pointing to where the stern and hind legs of a hound are sticking out of a hole, under a grey lichen-covered rock.

“He’s in theer, I sid him gang in. They were almost on him whar’s t’ tarriers?”

The huntsman hauls the submerged one out of the hole and peers down the subterranean way.

“Cans’ta see out?”

“Nay but I can smell summat,” he says he says as he stands up.

“Put thi handdoon an see if ya can feel out.”

“Here’s t’ tarriers,” and the game little couple join the scene, straining at their leash. Pincher’s lean little body disappears down the hole, the field shows a strong tendency to attempt to do likewise, Myrtle watches in an agony of envy.

“Git back a bit, an gie him a chance t’ bolt,” is the huntsman’s exhortation, and in due time after many repetitions they stand back, though as ready to rush forward as the hounds on the least provocation.

“Git a stick an’ dig doon a bit.”

“Hod thee noise. “T little buggar’s fetchin on him.”

“Thoo’s garn ta wan a new par o’ bellas.”

“Ay Ise a bit blawn.”

“I wish I was a bit lisher.”


A few minutes of seething excitement and the varmint is drawn out, a draggled, snapping edition of the lusty marauder of hen roost. A wringing body, crowding, eager hounds, a taste of blood and the fox is dead. The death note echoes across the woods, shrill and triumphant, while Pincher, with a torn ear, soiled whiskers and gory mouth is the proudest terrier in Westmorland, and rebukes Myrtle’s envious sniffs ruthlessly. Reynard’s carcase, slung across a stick is carried to the nearest inn. There his death is celebrated, and before night many foxes will be killed, and more than one local hunter on his homeward journey will be convinced that a fox can be possessed of more than one brush. For others, the day ends in that glorious sense of complete satisfaction, and a resolve to go foxhunting again, if only to feel existence changed for a few hours into one vibrating throb of joy.

WAFWebsite manager

Unless stated otherwise all images and text on this site are copyright of the owner and may not be reproduced without permission.
 Site created: 20.04.08 © Cumbrian Lad 2008-2017. All rights reserved. Email me