W3C Terriers, Borrans & Terrier Breeders HOUNDS


You will find precious little on this site about terriers and hounds, not because I know little about them, but because they are a minefield to write about. Like football teams they evoke a fierce partisan rivalry dependent on type, etc. Various authors have written much and there are many web sites devoted to the various breeds; they make, on the whole good reading, but many fail to grasp the terrain in which they were used or the reason why. All through my childhood I was told a fell pack was there to kill foxes. If the hounds could not do it on the surface, and if the fox, which had gone to ground, would not bolt then the terrier was expected to kill underground. The name of the game being fox control not sport.

It was always a subject of much fascination to me that when a fox went into a borran after a terrier, or terriers were entered, some follower would disappear as far as he could into the borran entrance, and call for silence which achieved various levels of compliance depending on the whereabouts of the hounds or boredom levels of the onlookers. “It’s marking or fighting,” would report the pair of feet protruding from the hole, or in the big deep borrans, “Can hear nowt”.

Borrans (the word means stone pile) are curious things and Lakeland is full of them, labyrinths of tunnels, drops, crevices and fissures, sometimes as in the case of Broad Howe extending quite a way across the Fellside, and very deep, with many entrances. Every hunt has many of it’s own, but every hunt 'shares' a borran with it’s neighbour, for example Dove Crag and Broad Howe are 'shared' between the Coniston and Ullswater. Some borrans go in a short way and others reputedly through mountains. It was always said that a fox disappearing into the Petts Quarry Borran on the Kirkstone Pass could emerge in Scandale having traversed through Red Screes. I have no knowledge of this ever happening, I just pass on a memory from childhood. Other borrans were very deep indeed. I was always told the one at The Prison, Coniston, went down below the level of Levers Water, as did the one below Pavey Ark in Langdale which went under Stickle Tarn. If the fox went quite deep followers on the surface hadn’t a clue what was going on below, which makes you wonder about some of the stories about underground battles. I’m not contradicting any; I just spent a childhood and my teenage years standing on the surface. Borrans are highly dangerous places, and over the years there have been a number of accidents to huntsmen whilst working on a borran; wandering hounds and followers can easily dislodge a rock or rocks which can fall on those below.

One of the worst of a bad lot is Brossan Rock that looms menacingly above the Kirkstone Pass. “Keep away from that bugger,” my father said, pointing it out, “one wrong move and it will be down on you.” Above the borran are several tons of unstable rock, which meant a fox going to ground deep in the borran could be fairly certain of peace and quiet.

A fox going to ground would be pursued with varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on a variety of factors, including what it had allegedly done, name and history of the borran and enthusiasm of the followers working on a borran, sometimes for considerable periods of time. Some “regimes” were keener on digging than others and one pack had the reputation in the local pubs as having quarrymen and miners as followers, at least for a while.

Towards the Eastern edge of Lakeland where soil holes abound it is even more dangerous and locators were of use pre-ban but the effectiveness in a deep central Lakeland rock borran was more a matter of opinion and experience. Please don’t send me an e-mail telling me yours is of the type used to locate those Chilean Miners last year.

Some writers, for example the much quoted Plummer, who interviewed a great number of terrier men and published The Fell Terrier as a result, are worth a read but I’m never sure who if anyone led him on a bit. It is true some huntsmen had breeding programmes, but on occasion these were halted rather quickly by loss in borrans. The Coniston lost three at once in a borran on one occasion.

In 1934 at Buckbarrow a fox went to ground in a huge borran and four terriers were entered to it - Nip, Tats, Set and Turk. For a while baying was heard, but the earth was impossible to excavate. Ernie Parker the Coniston huntsman of the time, sent the youthful Anthony Chapman back to wait by the earth to recover the terriers, and for seven days Anthony sat by the borran. On the fourth day, Turk crawled out, bitten, exhausted and near death from exposure, but the other terriers were never seen again (Plummer “The Fell Terrier” 1983, p.118).

This meant urgent replacements being sought with little regard to bloodline; a huntsman took whatever he could get in order to carry on. I know from family history that Bowman did on occasion.

My Great Uncle Brait (see elsewhere on this site) had his own blood-line, “nasty, yapping bloody things” said my father (Brait lived in the same house). If I remember correctly Brait even got a mention in Plummer's The Fell Terrier but no interview, as by the time Plummer compiled his interviews Brait was dead, but god knows what he would have told him. He spent a lot of time wandering the fells around Ambleside with his terriers and hounds. One of his exploits made it to the local paper of the time.

Seven Cubs Killed Whilst walking in the neighbourhood of Pett’s Quarry. Kirkstone. On Saturday afternoon, Braithwaite Black met with a surprising experience considering the reputed scarcity of foxes in this neighbourhood. The dog with him hit upon a drag and dashed in the direction of Pett’s breast, where it came upon seven cubs, and before Braithwaite could arrive on the scene, worried the lot of them. The killing of the cubs as Braithwaite philosophically remarked “was a good job for farmers, but a bad one for hunters”.

Lakes Herald 21st April 1905

Perhaps one of the most famous “terrier men” in Lakeland hunting history was Cyril Bray whose blood lines were and still are much sought after. I remember standing with my father and Uncle Geordie (whipper-in at Ullswater) at Rydal Show, along with a group of others including Mr Bray. I don’t recall the year or what the conversation was about but I remember Mr Bray, his name had cropped up from time to time in conversations held on the fell or in our living room and I knew quite a bit about him. As I recall, he never spoke to or even looked at me, a tall slightly stooped man in a tweed jacket, the two things I remember most about him were he was addressed as Mr Bray by everyone. This was unusual because the fell follower of hunting was a true socialist, everyone being equal, even the MFH was addressed by his Christian name but the prefix Mr showed the respect in which even then he was held. The other memory is of his skin, to me it looked as thin as tissue paper; at the time I did not know it but I understand he apparently suffered badly from asthma and diabetes, which went a long way to explaining it, and someone told me he died not too many years after.

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