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A low cloud base hung over the top of the crag, masking it from view. From this cloud a gentle light rain fell, insidiously, the type you don’t notice as it seeps through your clothing until you are soaked to the skin. The overhang of the crag under which I sat went some way to give a degree of protection from the rain but it was not total and my clothing was gradually losing the battle to keep me dry. A few feet below and to my right the sound of metal on rock denoted another boulder would soon be joining several more which had already been rolled down the steep boulder field below the borran.
It had been all so different last week; I’d left home just after lunch and walked up the Scandal valley up onto Little Hart Crag, from there I’d contoured in until I arrived above the series of borrans which lie in the boulder field under Dove Crag. I’d got myself comfortable in among the rocks, taken out the binoculars and settled down to wait. The afternoon wore on and the sun began to lower in the cloudless blue sky, shadows began to lengthen and the temperature began to fall. I was all for giving up and starting the long walk home, when a movement in the rocks some distance below caught my attention. The fox stood up and lazily stretched, after a shake and a good look around, it descended the boulder field and crossing the dilapidated wall at its base in a leap and disappeared into the bracken beds beside the stream flowing down towards the valley some thousand feet below.
“That bugger was up to no good,” said my father over a rather late dinner that evening. ”Did you look around the borran?” I took a mouthful of tea, and swallowed, “No kept away,” I said. “Fox dropped in-bank towards Deepdale Hall, I heard they have been losing lambs.”
And this was how I came to renew my family’s acquaintance with the Ullswater Foxhounds that morning; we go back over a hundred years, starting with Great Uncle Braithwaite “Brait” Black who hunted and drank with Bowman, starting around 1906; moving on to the 1950s George “Geordie” was whipper-in to the great Joe Wear for some 15 or more seasons and then my father and I.
The story of the Ullswater Foxhounds formation and early years was covered by Skelton in his Reminiscences of Joe Bowman written in 1921. Whilst this book does not seek to compete with probably the greatest factual book ever written on foxhunting in the English Lake District it perhaps, with the usage of newspaper and other reports written at the time, adds to the story.
Ron Black, March 2013
The fox has always caused hardship to Lakeland farmers, a visit to either the poultry pen or lambing field could cause financial difficulty to a farmer operating at a subsistence level, which in those days many did. The introduction of wire netting in the mid 1800s helped the farmer to a point but did not stop predations of poultry; as can be seen a fox could be “put up” at any time.
The following is the story of a dog in the year 17791:
A farmer of the Duke of Norfolk's in Patterdale went out one Saturday afternoon a-shepherding. His dog followed him, and unkennelled a fox. This was about 2 p.m., and the farmer being busy did not join in the sport. The dog did not return home that evening, nor was he heard of until next day when, as the people were coming out of Patterdale Church, the dog was just passing it with the fox about forty yards in front of him. The fox got half a mile further when he ran into a garden, and laid him-self down under a gooseberry tree. The dog was so fatigued that he lay down beside him without venturing to snatch him, but the owner of the garden with a pitchfork killed poor reynard. The farmer afterwards heard that the dog and the fox had been at Rydal, on the Saturday evening at Wythburn, and Legberthwaite on the Sunday morning. The run must have lasted twenty hours, which, at ten miles an hour, would be two hundred miles. But they must have covered many more miles, for when seen at different places the dog was never far behind. When they passed St. Patrick's Church it is said that the whole congregation—the parson, men, women, and children—joined in the sport.
When the dog grew old he never ran with the other hounds after a fox was unkennelled, but took a road of his own, was generally in at the death, and had often killed the fox before the other dogs came up. The owner of the dog was one Anthony Thompson.
In the main, although not always, the foxes concerned were the now extinct breed known as ‘greyhound’. Bigger than the fox of today, they had a good knowledge of the terrain for miles around. ‘Fusedale’ writing of them in 1910, comments:
Foxes then were more of the greyhound type, and as a rule real flyers; no one knew to twenty or thirty miles where the chase would finish. I well remember Tom Parker un-kennelling a fox at Swarthfell, which took right away over High Street, down Kentmere, and was run into on the open at Staveley, near Kendal. Joe Dawson once roused one at Yew Crag, on Gowbarrow Fell, which went through by Sparket, Newton Moss, Maiden Hill and was killed at Memmerby. That was when the famous hound Champion was at his best. He was black with a short tail, he returned home the following day, bringing a note tied around his neck telling of the result of the chase. These are only two out of many stories of long runs I could mention.
In 1870 the ‘greyhound’ fox was described thus:
Fierce as a tiger, and long as a hay-band, and with an amiable cast of features very like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is very bad to kill ‘top o' t' ground’, and still worse when he gets into a burn (borran).
Jackson Gillbanks 1870
The ‘greyhound’ had a ferocity, unmatched by the foxes hunted pre-ban (2005). One ‘greyhound’ in Kentmere was reputed to have turned and fought with the lead hounds on occasion (Skelton 1921). Most farms kept a couple of hounds to attempt to deliver retribution to these marauding foxes, although there appear to have been organised packs also.
Thirteen foxes have been killed, since the 23rd of April last, by the Long Sleddal hounds, and eight others, since the first of April, by Mr Mounsey’s hounds of Patterdale Hall.
Lancaster Gazette 1st August 1812
This county has been more infested with foxes lately, than ever was known by the oldest inhabitants. Within the last three months 8 have been killed by a pack belonging to a gentleman in Patterdale, and 13 by the Long Sleddle hounds. The farmers complain heavily against the shameful practice of bringing those noxious animals into the county and turning them loose, to the great injury of their livestock, particularly of lambs, the destruction of which at the beginning of the season is very great.
WA & KC 1st August 1812
Later on came The Patterdale Hounds.
The Patterdale Hounds were most of the time kennelled at Grassthwaite Howe, the present kennels, and had different masters. John Gelderd was one of the first, and the dogs were at that time known as the Gelderd hounds, John Grisdale, John Walton, and the late William Marshall all having their terms. They also had several huntsmen, there being Daniel Pattinson (better known as Dan Patty), W. Rewcastle, who hunted them for something like two years. John Pearson and Birkett Dixon also hunted them for a little time.
The hounds appear to have hunted both fox and hare as the following accounts show.
ANNUAL HUNT AT WINSTER - The annual hunt came off at Mr. Wood’s, the Bay Horse, here on the 4th instant. Mr. Geldert of Patterdale’s hounds were procured for the occasion. The weather was anything but favourable, being hard frost, which gave the hare ample means of escape by foiling her pursuers. The gathering of the hunters was numerous, which was also favourable to poor puss, as their notion of hunting oft baffle the skill of the huntsman, who got so much excited at an old cobbler, that to horsewhip him for his interference was thought necessary, but being too fleet for the huntsman he escaped the stroke of his whip. However the hunt still continued through the day, til nightfall, without being able to kill, but the hunters were satisfied with a many strong contests in their field sports, and adjourned to partake of Mr. Wood’s best cheer—ample justice being done to roast beef and plum pudding. Old hunting tales were listened to with admiration, and hunting songs were numerous at this merry making. Mr. L. Denny, the Mayor, having discharged his duties faithfully, was highly complimented for his past years’ service, he having kept the highways clear of stray cattle and pigs (by deputy) but not without recourse to the use of the pinfold. There were three candidates for the civic chair. A poll took place, when the honour fell upon Benson Taylor, cordwainer who was duly elected as mayor of Winster for the ensuing year.
Lancaster Gazette 13th December 1851
A FOX ON ULLSWATER LAKE - A few days ago the famous pack of foxhounds belonging to Mr. Gelderd of Patterdale, raised a fox on the fells near Ullswater, but did not kill. However the “chang” of the hounds aroused another fox, which made off in a contrary direction to the sound, to the lake near Hallisteads, into which it plunged and swam across to near Howtown Bay, the width of the lake at that place being fully a mile. – Carlisle Patriot.
The Morning Post 9th March 1853
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