W3C The Mayor's Hunt MEMORIES


Ahead, the track steepened and disappeared into the mist, a heavy rain fell from the sky and small streams of water ran down the fell- side. Off to my right a mountain stream had burst its banks, boots squelched on the sodden turf. The sound of rain falling on waterproof clothing was almost deafening. I stopped to adjust the hood of my jacket to prevent the trickle of water that was running down my back. Taking the opportunity I glanced at my watch. It was well past 9 am. “Bugger, late again."

It was one of those mornings when you awake to the sound of rain hammering against the window panes. Laying in the darkness you convince yourself it will stop in a few minutes, so you turn over and go back to sleep. Some while later you wake again to find it hasn’t stopped, if anything it is heavier and you agreed to meet the lads to go over the fell to the Mayor’s Hunt in the next valley.

It had been a good night. There had been a good turnout at the mayor making ceremony although the choice of “mayor” was not universally approved, but as somebody said, quoting from years past, “Any silly bugger can do it.” In this case more than apt! Drink had flowed, songs sung and hunts re-run and I for one had got to bed much the worse for drink, walking home in the dark a good five miles. Now here I was not many hours later, hung-over, with a stinking headache, climbing this unforgiving fell. When I arrived rather late at the agreed rendezvous it came as no surprise to find they had gone and traces of their passing could be seen by footprints in the mud and the holes left by a walking stick on the track before me.

The mist thickened the higher I climbed up the fell until just below the summit the visibility was down to about fifteen feet, it hung like a shroud everything was still except for the sound of the rain on my waterproofs. In the distance I suddenly heard the cry of hounds running, only faintly as the ridge above me blocked most of the sound but running they were. I stopped to listen and to my surprise a fox emerged out of the clag trotting down the path towards me. There was only a couple of feet between us when he noticed me, so close in fact that I could see droplets of water on his coat. He stopped for a few seconds to stare at me before deciding I was no threat, he trotted around me and disappeared down the fell side.

Clearly it was not the hunted fox; when hounds are in a valley there is usually a mass exodus of the local fox population either to the other end or into the next valley. Not all do, I know, but a fair proportion avail them of the opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the hunt.

I reached the summit and crossed the stile in the wall pausing to shelter in its lee, the rain continued to fall literally in stair rods and pools of water had formed in the depressions on the top of the fell, the rocks glistened in the rain and water ran down the stones in the wall. All was quiet, the hounds had gone. “What to do now”? I wondered as the rain got even heavier, driven by the wind. The lee of the wall offered some protection from the weather but I couldn’t sit and wait for the rain to stop, the hunt seemed to be running up the valley towards the high fell, and goodness only knows how bad it would be up there, however if I followed the wall for a while and then struck off, after crossing a “wet” area I’d hit the Kirkstone Pass road from Troutbeck about a place seeped in hunting history called Woundle Gate.

I followed the wall grateful for the protection it offered, before long I came to a place which has a small place in our family history. It is a place, where, some years before I had left the binoculars. Curiously enough it had been another Mayor's Hunt but with totally different weather, fine and clear. We had gone up and down the fell most of the day until finally we stopped by the wall. I’d taken the binoculars out for a look around when suddenly the fox passed close to where we leaned against the wall. In the rush that followed I had left the bloody things on the wall and when we reached home was dispatched back to get them, a good eight mile round trip in fading light. I moved on and began to descend the sodden fellside in the thick mist, my boots squelched with every step and cold water chilled my feet as on a couple of occasions I went over my boot tops in a puddle. Before long I arrived at the wall which runs beside the road ascending the pass from the Troutbeck side, despite the thick mist I'd arrived exactly where I wanted to be, although I'm sure a good slice of luck was involved. I climbed the wall and dropped onto the road.

There was a line of cars and Land Rovers parked, wipers going and engines running and one hardy soul on a quad bike. I tapped on the window of the last car in the line, the window opened and a face looked out.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“Not a lot,“ replied the face, “fox crossed about half an hour ago, and be going in for Broad Howe.”

I gazed into the mist. This was bad news. Broad How borran is in actual fact a series of tunnels and holes running for a good distance along the fellside, up towards the valley head.

“Has he not blown 'em off?” I asked, “weather will be a lot worse up there.”

The face thought for a moment. “Not yet” he replied. The rain continued to fall perhaps not quite as heavily but I was too wet to notice.

I plodded up the road past the line of vehicles. Almost at the end of the line was an old Land Rover with a canvas back, the engine coughed and spluttered and fumes belched from the exhaust; it was Jack. Striding up I tapped on the window which opened a good six inches emitting a cloud of hot air, diesel smells and pipe smoke.

“Wet morning,” I began stating the obvious.

“Not in here,” replied Jack puffing on his pipe, “if anything it’s getting a bit too warm.”

I looked at him as a big raindrop dripped off my nose.

“Don’t suppose you might like to share it?” I asked.

He studied me for a few seconds. “Nope,” he said, “you're soaked and I’m taking the wife to Kendal in a short while and for some reason she always gets dressed up. My life would be hell if she got wet and dirty.” He paused. "But you can get in the back with the tools and don’t pinch anything; you still have my drill you borrowed weeks ago!”

Just as I climbed in the Land Rover the sound of a horn blowing hounds off carried down on the wind. Jack looked through the window between cab and back.

“I suppose you want me to drop you off at the pub?” he asked crashing the Land Rover into gear.

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