W3C The 'Real' Story of Charmer HOUNDS

Memorial to Charmer
© P.Sharkey


Charmer's Grave

If you take the track up to Dow Crag from the Walna Scar road you will pass a weathered piece of stone, well covered in moss. If you look hard enough you will see the name ‘Charmer’. In death he achieved fame greater than the hunt he was a part of. Besides being known to the hunting fraternity he was further immortalised by Wainright who drew the stone in his book The Southern Fells.

The story was initially recorded in the local paper and is reproduced below.

Crag-Fast Thrilling Experience

CONISTON FOXHOUNDS - This week George Chapman and the Coniston Foxhounds have been hunting in the Coniston neighbourhood, and on Tuesday and Wednesday had a thrilling experience. In running their fox through Dow Crags on Tuesday afternoon, seven of the hounds became crag fast in a very difficult place and things looked very black against them being rescued. Three men, however, were let down the face of the crag with ropes, and each hound was separately roped and hauled into safety. The difficult and dangerous task was accomplished by the following afternoon.

Lakes Herald 24th March 1911

Another Promising Hound Dashed To Death

CONISTON FOXHOUNDS - As was recorded in last week’s issue, the above hounds had a thrilling experience on Dow Crags at Coniston, seven of them being crag fast and not rescued for about 24 hours. Unfortunately one of the hounds, the promising young bitch Charmer, appeared to have stolen back on a fresh hunt, and got crag fast in the same place. But this was not discovered till later. On Sunday she was heard howling, and a rescue party tried to reach her, but before they could get there Charmer had fallen down the crag and was dashed to death.

Lakes Herald 31st March 1911

And that became the accepted story until an article came to light from a journal of 1919. I reproduce the article in its entirety as it gives the reader a taste of mountaineering in the lakes at the time.

By J P Rogers

When the mist is low down on the hills, the comparative stranger to Dow Crags, making his way there, may have difficulty is sticking to the trail. Especially is this true just where the trail winds below the Powder Magazine on the west flank of the Old Man.

Once off the trail, the stranger is nearly sure to follow the line of least resistance, until he comes to the escarpment running across the valley and forming the natural dam for Goats Water. This he will skirt until he can hear Torvor Beck running beneath his feet (the stream from Goats Water runs below the surface for its first few hundred feet) then he will continue along its course.

Just about here, he may observe, despite the limiting effect on his vision, of the mist, a long roughly rectangular stone, stuck endways in the earth, and on closer examination he will find on the stone a roughly cut inscription “CHARMER 1911".

Presuming he is possessed of a fairly lively imagination, and that from his own experience, either climbing, walking, or fox-hunting in the fells, exciting incidents are recalled by even more insignificant landmarks than this, he will naturally wonder what this stone indicates.

As he wanders along he may recall the yarns told on the last occasion when a number of the fraternity were gathered together and the conditions were propitious.

“. . . the blizzard caught us with full force on the ridge just at dark . . . eyelids on the windward side froze together . . . we got in about 10 o’clock dead beat, togs all frozen stiff.”

“Twice that week-end we had to find our way off Dow Crags in the dark . . . . . yes, we struck matches . . . . . got in about midnight.

“He fell 100 feet and the rope held . . . . . . . a miracle you say? So we thought . . . he walked about two weeks later.”

“With the belay a 100 feet away on his left . . . there he was clinging to the rock with his left hand, small footholds too, while with his right hand he held the full grown sheep by a back leg, head downwards in space. . . . . yes, we expected him to have to let go . . . oh! no, the sheep, not the rock . . . about 170 to 200 feet sheer was the drop.”

“Just as the last man of our party cleared the top pitch, from high up on the right wall of the gully fell a mass of rocks . . . the other party took cover, not that there was much to take . . . not a touch . . . we were far more scared . . . yes, there was a girl in party . . . not a bit . . . said she thought of stopping one of the pieces with her hand, as it hummed past.”

“That new climb you recommended nearly did us in . . . as the leader came off and swung pendulum-wise across the face, the big belay started to move . . . George actually held it . . . a strong man? you bet . . . until the leader regained what shelter there was below . . . no one touched . . . not again thanks.”

With his curiosity aroused, and anticipating hearing an account of some “hairy” experience our friend may ask one of the men who frequent the district, its meaning. If he should ask the right man, he will hear something like this: -

“You see ‘Charmer’ was a foxhound, one of the Coniston Pack, reared at High Yewdale Farm and sister to ‘Chanter’ (now also gone) reared at the Old Hall Farm. On March the 23rd, 1911 the Coniston Pack were hunting in the district and the fox took refuge in Dow Crags – the foxes about here have a habit of doing that – and the hounds followed in.

Several of the hounds including ‘Charmer’ became ‘cragfast’ and had to be rescued by the followers of the hunt.

Hunting was resumed and later in the day when the pack were being taken down to the temporary kennels in Coniston, ‘Charmer’ was missing. No anxiety was felt as it was thought the hound had gone to pay a visit to her home-farm.

Early on the following Sunday morning, a shepherd, looking over sheep on the slopes of the Old Man, heard a hound baying on Dow Crags, and later in the day carried the news down to the village. A rescue party was immediately formed amongst the quarrymen, who know where to lay hands on the necessary ropes, chains, etc., and a start was made from the village.

Now you’ll remember Parker, T.H.G. of that ilk, now a Captain R.E.? Yes, that’s the man. He had been the round of the climbing crowd in Barrow, trying to persuade some one to accompany him climbing, and having failed, that morning took train to Torvor, alone. From there he made his way to Goats Water, where he heard the hound baying. Having located Charmer (she was on the upper traverse of the Gordon and Craig route “A” Buttress) he determined to rescue her, and set off up the scree to the foot of the Crags.

Being a climber, and not having taken part in any similar work, he did not know the danger of a single-handed attempt (or if he did, accepted it), or that, where possible, it is policy to approach from above – on account of alarming or exciting the animal.

‘Charmer’ had evidently seen him approaching up the scree as she became greatly excited and commenced frisking about on her ledge.

This was disastrous, because just as P. arrived about the foot of Great Gully poor ‘Charmer’ missed her footing on the ledge, turned a couple of somersaults in the air and landed almost at P’s. feet – dead.

Yes, old P. was upset – he is rather keen on dogs. He told me the neck and one canine tooth only were broken.

P. went on his way and when the dalesmen arrived on the scene, there was nothing to do but bury her, and they had no idea P. had been there before them. That is her grave stone you saw, put there by the dalesmen.

Now, a few days afterwards appeared a paragraph in the Manchester Guardian headed ‘Suicide of a hound in Lakeland’ and which stated the hound, driven desperate by hunger and thirst had jumped from the crag – but you don’t find dogs doing that sort of thing – it’s not natural.

What took her into the Crag the second time?

She was what the dalesmen calls a “reet savage ‘un”, which means that when hunting she was as keen as mustard on the scent and out for blood (fox’s) so she may have gone back on the old trail. Those dalesmen with whom I have discussed the matter are certain she put up another fox and ran it into the Crag on her own.”

  WAFWebsite manager

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