W3C Aspects of Fell Hunting 8 HOUNDS


In the late 1980s Chris Ogilvie then of the Coniston Foxhounds wrote a series of articles for Hounds Magazine entitled “Aspects of Fell Hunting”. Almost 30 years have gone by and thanks to the kindness and generosity of Michael Sager I have the full set with permission to use them. Chris has also given his permission.

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One of the attractions of fell-hunting is that it is essentially a participant sport. Through its very nature, the huntsman cannot always be up with his hounds, and at various stages throughout the day, followers can fill the gap and help hounds on their way. The acceptable level of vocal assistance varies slightly from pack to pack, but throughout the fells contributions from the field will always be more welcome than among the more formal demonstrations of venery by the mounted packs.

It's no good coming fell-hunting if you feel sorry for the fox. Of course we all respect his wiles and stamina, but the atmosphere and excitement spring from everyone rooting for a successful conclusion, and if any follower can go home thinking that he has been instrumental in Reynard’s demise, he can consider his day well spent. People follow hounds for a wide variety of reasons, every one of them, in my opinion, as good as another. Some claim that their sole interest is to watch hounds work, in which case the worse the scent, the better they must enjoy it. Easy people to please indeed, one might think, and yet many of them never go near a pack of beagles, still less drag hounds, so there must be something about trying to outwit a predator that has a special appeal quite apart from simple hound-work. Many farmers genuinely believe that time spent killing foxes is time well spent, and indeed days with the hounds have long been considered part of a Lakeland shepherd's perks.

Some like nothing better than to stretch their legs on a straight-necked marathon, others prefer an afternoon's digging. The challenge of keeping in touch, fresh air, exercise, or just viewing the scenery are all good reasons for an early breakfast and taking to the hills. For retired people, especially, it's a chance to escape from domestic chores and have a crack with their chums on the roadside. Some of the lads are only there for the beer, and why not? They are all on our side. Perhaps the one thing that rankles is using hunting as an excuse to exercise the dog, and many farmers share this view. The opening meet for some reason is more like an open-air Crufts than a foxhunt. It is not so bad if they are quiet and on a lead, but as a general rule, hounds hate dogs and so do I.

As for airing your voice, fell huntsmen will be only too pleased for your help if the moment is right, and these occasions will usually be threefold: to help hounds forward, to ask for information, and to pass it on. If you have had a frustrating week at work and want to let rip, well, have a go, as long as it doesn't upset the hounds. In the fells we shout rather than blow gone away, and if you are perched on the skyline when hounds unkennel their fox, most huntsmen won't mind if you want to add to the chorus. Hounds are in full cry and can't hear you anyway: it's merely part of the ritual. Another useful moment is when the leading hounds have disappeared into dead ground and the tail-enders can't hear them. If you then find yourself between the two, you are well placed to hark them together. If you start shouting when you are not between them, and hounds still can't hear their mates, what are they supposed to think? Or do?

Remember also that jumping up and down and shouting 'Hoogitaway' neither magically improves scent nor makes hounds go faster, but on the contrary is more likely to speed up the fox or even baulk his scent altogether.

Often enough you will find yourself up with hounds at a check. Stand clear and let them puzzle it out: when success or failure depends on their utmost concentration, the last thing they want is some goon to lift their heads at the crucial moment. By all means try to cast them if they are genuinely at a standstill, but bear in mind that an experienced hound has forgotten more about foxhunting than you or I will ever know, and They have probably made all the likely casts themselves. You just have to use your head and appraise each situation as it arises.

If your intentions are true, most fell huntsmen will be fairly tolerant, and you will be spared the nuclear explosions that emanate from Masters in more fashionable countries. At other times, a good strong voice is useful to convey information, in a fairly standardised code. If you are in a valley bottom and the advance guard is poised on the ridge, "What- wa-a-ay?" should attract his attention. A faint answer on the wind is often discernible as the name of a familiar crag or borran. Even the disappointing "Don't kno-o-ow!" can help you in a process of elimination. Anthony Chapman used to have a favourite anecdote of shouting off fellside to a farmer in his yard below: 'Whaddayakno-o-ow?" Back came the faint reply: 'the Ki-i-ing's dead!" and a little further on Anthony was able to impart this news to some astonished followers.

Egging hounds on at a distant earth can help keep them together until you arrive, and at the same time let the rest of the field know what has happened. "Come this way" usually means that the hunt has reached a definitive stage, either a kill, or to ground, or total failure. Other cries of "In below ya", "Owert' top", or (manna from Heaven), "Coming back in" speak for themselves, not to mention the triumphant "Holed" (hoaled, hualed, hoiled, depending on which dale you are in). I suspect that visitors from mounted packs find our enthusiasm at running a fox to ground rather childish, but let me assure them that after a lean week it is a sign that at least something has gone right.

Holloaing is a much-used device in fell-hunting, and though the circumstances aren't always very sporting, the fact that the fox is vermin seems to lend it respectability. With mounted packs a holloa is a thin reedy call to let the huntsman know you have seen the hunted fox, and he can then at his discretion bring hounds forward or carry on regardless. In the fells it is more usually an ungodly heuch to bring the hounds themselves forward to the scene of action, and with a little thought and planning can be devastatingly effective.

Basically, holloaing is a means of:

1. letting the huntsman know you have seen the fox;
2. helping hounds get nearer the hunted fox;
3. letting the field know they have killed; and
4. preventing an accident in dire emergency.

Thoughtless and ill-timed holloaing can wreck a whole day's work, but to everyone's credit I think there is less bad holloaing now than there was twenty-five years ago. Possibly the motor-car and five-day week mean that more people hunt more often. It was the misplaced zeal of occasional hunters on high days and holidays that caused the most grief. I have added a simple list of Do's and Don'ts which will be self-evident to experienced followers but may be of interest to any youngsters just starting.

One of the most common mistakes in the fells is to holloa hounds across the line of a fox in the hopes that they will strike it like a dotted line. When hounds reach the line, they invariably turn to where the scent is coming from, i.e. into the wind. As most disturbed foxes are travelling downwind, the ensuing debacle is as infuriating as it is predictable, and by the time the huntsman has run in to sort them out, the true line has long since evaporated. I am indebted to the late Sir Peter Farquar for a very clear exposition of this in (shhh) Horse and Hound. It is also important to holloa where you first saw the fox, and then you can help hounds when they come. If you holloa where you last saw it and hounds strike the line heelway, what can you do but look for a suitable stone to crawl under?

Whatever else fell-huntsmen are famous for, it is certainly not horn-blowing, and you are more likely to hear anything from klaxons to flatulent misfires than the silvery twang that mounted huntsmen bring to such concert perfection. The horn is little used in the fells for the actual hunting of hounds, in some cases only to move off at the meet and to gather hounds in at night. I try to give approximately orthodox renderings of moving off, riot, changing direction, kill, and going home, but as I draw breath after blowing for Home people still ask me what I'm going to do next. ‘Gone away’, 'Doubling', ‘Gone to ground’ and so on are usually replaced by vocal calls, idiolectic to each huntsman and pack.

And what of the dreaded CB? I suppose to be consistent with my remarks on the bleeper I should be a whole-hearted supporter of it, but I have to confess that I can't raise the same enthusiasm. With one or two packs, CBs seem to have taken over as a means of following hounds, which is deplorable. Others, to their credit, will have nothing to do with them. Our roads are busy for twelve months of the year, so for insurance reasons we insist that the huntsman should be in radio contact with at least one motorised official, and human nature being what it is, we sometimes use them to catch up when we're lost. If it's any satisfaction to the detractors of the CB, I find it clumsy and uncomfortable. Only last week I dropped in 2000'because someone was shouting "Chapel Pike!" There were no hounds to be seen, and all the sheep were undisturbed, but never having heard of Chapel Pike, I was intrigued to learn more. As I drew nigh, the words became clearer: "Channel Five".

DO holloa:
1. If hounds are still drawing, and you are in good earshot of huntsman and hounds.
2. If hounds are still dragging, and you are sure you have seen the fox they are on.
3. If hounds have genuinely lost the line, and you are sure you have seen the hunted fox.
4. Exactly where you first saw the fox.
5. If you are right up at a kill.

DON'T holloa:
1. If hounds are running.
2. Any other fox but the hunted one.
3. Anywhere else but where you saw the fox.
4. To bring hounds across the line of a fox.
5. By proxy, i.e. if you haven't seen the fox yourself.
6. A kill at a distance.
7. If the huntsman is blowing his horn.
8. At a bolt unless the huntsman requires it.

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