Book Extracts

An extract from The Ullswater Foxhounds, Part Two, by Ron Black

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This is the second book of a proposed sequence of three, telling the story (or a part of) of The Ullswater Foxhounds. I have received no help from the pack or committee in writing it for the simple reason I did not ask. Basically the book is a collection of reports of hunts and other “doings” but each report is in its own way unique being a window in to a world now long gone.

* * *

We left home well before dawn that morning, taking the track that led past the Coniston kennels but today was not a day of following them, this was a day with the Ullswater Foxhounds; dawn saw us on the slopes of High Pike. I remember as we climbed the light becoming brighter, illuminating the fell tops and then slowly moving down the fell side to throw its light on the valley floor.

The wall on our left led to the top of High Pike and continued its slow ascent towards the summit of Dove Crag, five long miles from Ambleside. A few minutes and we were there, sitting down on the pile of stones that mark the summit; it wasn’t a bad morning weather wise but there was a cold wind blowing which made you not want to linger.

Leaving the summit we struck off to the right, looking for the rocks that mark the large drop that is the top of the crag itself. From here you can look down the valley of Deepdale to the Kirkstone road as it twists and turns on its descent towards Patterdale.

Finding a sheltered spot just above the drop we settled down to wait and watch; on the road below a line of cars began to arrive and park. The hounds were released into the woods above Brotherswater Lake and began to work through the fell side on Hartsop above How towards the fell head, occasionally the cry of Joe Wear and the crack of his whip carried up on the increasingly strong wind to where we sat a thousand feet above.

My dad reached in his pocket and took out the flask. This flask was quite old and had been a good friend. Five days each week it accompanied my father to work and at the weekend we took it with us when we went on the hill, in summer it provided a cold drink and in winter a warm one.

“Here,” said dad as he passed it to me. I took it and opened it, pouring a small cup of coffee into the top, which came with it. Replacing the stopper I put the flask down on a tussock of grass and returned my attention to the hunt below. Suddenly the damn thing began to roll, gradually gaining speed and before either of us could do anything it disappeared over the crag and out of sight.

Now my father was a genial man, in all my years I cannot recall him ever once using a four-letter word in my presence, but he knew others and he gave full range to his vocabulary in my direction.

“You daft bugger,” he raged. I will not continue, you probably get the picture.

It wasn’t a good day at all, my ears stung for ages after and the hounds found and went to Helvellyn in totally the opposite direction to where we sat. The flask was easily replaced but it was never the same again; for a few days I swear he went through the grieving process so attached was he to the bloody thing.

From then on I never poured another drink whilst on the fell and it became something of a joke, but there again coffee always tastes better when somebody else makes it and better still when somebody else carries the flask.

This is my all abiding memory of Dove Crag (to me it is called Dovey). I have walked over it, run over it and climbed on it, hunted on it and watched terrier work in the big dangerous borran at the base; I know it well and it features high in the hunting history of the Coniston and Ullswater fell packs.

No photograph really does it justice, the sheer scale of the place, coupled with the overhang of the face. I recall a day’s climbing on the face, and was hardly in balance all day. Another memory is of sitting on one of the borrans whilst the terriers did their work when a rock came off the face, falling down the boulder field in a shower of sparks. The quiet huntsman made a command decision (no CB radios in those days), and we dropped in to the Brotherswater Inn and spent the remainder of the afternoon in the bar, followed by the long walk home over Caison Pass in the dark, the night air filled with the sound of hunting songs, no doubt putting the fear of god into any lurking fox.

Recently I sat in the car at the bottom of the Kirkstone Pass with my lad, we looked up at Dovey and I told him the stories of crag fast hounds, terriers which had strayed onto the face and fallen, great Uncle Brait being lowered from the top on an old hemp quarry rope to rescue a couple of hounds in the 1930s, epic digs to free trapped terriers and the part it plays in our family history.

“Trouble is,” I said, “no photo does credit to the steepness of the face, it’s only when you get under it. I don’t really know how to accurately describe it.”

He thought for a moment. “How about ‘sod off in stone’?” he said.
Ron Black, January 2014


George whipped-in to Joe Bowman for a couple of years until Bowman’s first retirement in 1911, when George then became huntsman. A modest man, a good walker and hound man.

In his first season his total was forty six foxes accounted for including seven in two meets and nine in a fortnight. One day while drawing a fox on Wolf Crag he narrowly escaped a large rock fall but sustained strained muscles in his leg and ruptured blood vessels which laid him up for some time. Braithwaite ‘Brait’ Wilson the whip hunted hounds in his absence.

On another occasion while checking his sheep, he picked up a dead mole thinking it had been poisoned and best removed. He then put his fingers to his lips to whistle his sheepdog and collapsed shortly after.

It was lucky for George another man was with him who got him to the local doctor, who as quickly as he could administerd emetics to expel the ingested poison.

In 1915 George went to war and Joe Bowman resumed duties as huntsman. George returned safely from the war but did not resume his career with the pack.

On Monday in Longsleddale these hounds had a long run. G. Salkeld, huntsman, cast off up Stogdale Bank and on to Buckbarrow, where a fox was unkennelled. It crossed Brown Howe Bottom and climbed out by Settle Earth to Brown Cragg, where he was cheered by Joe Gregg. At this place another fox was unkennelled. Hounds divided, about a dozen following number one fox taking up the top for Harter Fell, turning in by Nan Bield Pass, over Ill Bell to the top of high street, through Hayesdale Head, on to the head of Troutbeck valley. It turned here to the Kentmere side and took down the top for Ill Bell, where he went to ground. B. Wilson, J. Fishwick and R. Nicholson, being close at hand, entered terriers, and the fox was bolted. He took through the breast above the quarries under Ravensbarrow, down to Hart Rigg and into the yard where he was rolled over. When lifted, he proved to be a fine dog fox.
Westmorland Gazette 7th March 1914

On Saturday the meet was at Side Farm, for Place Fell. The morning was fine and a good number of hunters assembled, among them being Messers A. Metcalf-Gibson, Ravenstonedale, E. Nelson, Gatesgarth, Buttermere, J. B. Philipson, Joe and Jon Wilkinson and Miss Nellie Milecrest. Salkeld threw off at quarry Bank, and on reaching Birk Fell a line was struck which led through Birk Fell Slack and on to Long Crag, where no doubt the fox had been disturbed. The course was across the beck at Scale How Force, over Sandwick Dod, into Boardale. Turning right, the hunt continued up the valley by way of Hollin How Ghyll, to Foul Earth above Boardale farm. The fox was here tally-hoed by Messers. Gibson, Wilkinson and Scott. The hunt had now become very fast, and hounds were on good terms with their game, which they forced out to the top, over Hart Crag, on Place Fell, through Blowick Moss, and back to Birk Fell, the fox making straight for the noted stronghold—Birk Fell Earth. On arriving there he found Joe Wilkinson and Jim Wilson on guard, so he travelled on. Being hard pressed he took refuge amongst some large stones further away. This being an open place, terriers soon effected a bolt, and after a sharp spin above the lake, he was finally run into on reaching Silver Bay. When lifted, the carcase proved to be that of a fine dog fox. This made the third kill in the open for the week.

On Monday, hounds met at Glencoin, and struck a line which led up Linkindale, over past Sheffield Pike and on to Greenside Crag above the lead mines, where the fox was unkennelled. The route taken was up the top of Sticks Pass and the Raise, then descended and crossed by Keppel Cove climbed Catchedicam and up Swirral Edge to the top of Helvellyn. The fox descended by the path leading to Grasmere, and went through Wythburn to the head of Thirlmere Lake. Climbing to the fell again near the Nag’s Head Inn, hounds received a rather severe check by coming in contact with some sheep, and when trying to pick up the game, roused another fox, but in the meantime a portion of the pack had taken the first fox and the others the fresh one.

Following the old run fox, it took up by Mines Ghyll to near the top of Helvellyn, then down Brown cove to Thirlspot, and down S. John’s Vale to Wanthwaite Crag, where he “binked”. And when the huntsman and hunters arrived they found the hounds trying to dislodge their game but in vain. A. Nelson and T. Mills climbed the crag and drove him from his hiding place. Taking along the breast again above Thirlspot, the fox was forced to ground. G. Salkeld was soon there with the terriers, but reynard refused to bolt. He was drawn alive by Joe Allinson and again set at liberty. Before getting far he was rolled over in the open in the presence of most of the hunters. No 2 fox, followed by eight hounds, took across the head of Wythburn onto the Armboth side of the dale, but again returned past the Straining Well and down to the main road near the Nag’s Head Hotel, was finally run into, the brush being lifted by a young lady who was cycling past, and B. Wilson (whip) being soon up. –FUSEDALE
[i]Westmorland Gazette 14th March 1914[/i]

On Thursday, the meet was at Gowbarrow Hall, always a favourite meeting place and where generally a good hunt is obtained. Among those present were Messrs W. H. Marshall master. Mr. and Mrs. G. Spring Rice, Messers A. and D. Metcalf-Gibson, Ravenstonedale, H. A. Davidson, Patterdale, and the usual local hunters.

The huntsman cast off in New Planting, which was drawn blank, but on reaching Cooksty Brow, on Swinburn Park, a cold drag was struck leading over the fell into Collier Hagg, and there the fox was marked to ground. The terriers soon effected a bolt, and the course went down the wood towards Yew Crag. Near the new plantation the fox again went to earth, this time refusing to leave its hiding place, and it was drawn alive by H. Swinburn and set at liberty. After making another attempt to reach Yew Crag and failing, the fox was bowled over in the presence of most of the hunters. Being early in the day, it was agreed to try for another, and in the Riddings, a second fox was unkennelled in view of most of the hunters. After leaping the wall into Gowbarrow Fell, reynard went above Snake Planting, past Aira Force and Lyulph’s Tower, and on to Yew Crag. Here hounds were running exceedingly fast and pressing their game hard. They forced the fox up Collier Hagg to near the Shooting House, then over Gowbarrow Fell by way of Aira Crag. Swinging left-handed at the top the fox returned to Yew Crag, then along the breast by Hind Crag, above Lyulph’s Tower, and a little above Aira Force was compelled to seek cover in a rabbit hole. This time without the aid of terriers the fox bolted, but it was seen not to be the run one. However reynard darted away with the hound in full cry. This chase, although not long was like a hound trail, there never being a check from start to finish. After climbing a little up the hill, the hunt went past Hind Crag and through the breast, but before reaching Yew Crag the fox went down to the road at the lake side, then up through Yew Crag and before reaching Collier Hagg was overtaken, and lifted by B. Wilson. It was agreed to ascertain if the second run fox was still in the hole and have another run, and to the surprise of the hunters, reynard was still resting after his sharp spin. A bolt was soon effected, but before going far, the fox was bowled over and dispatched. This made eight kills in the last five meets, and all in the open and 51 so far this season. –FUSEDALE
Westmorland Gazette 21st March 1914

The Mardale Shepherds’ Meeting was held on Saturday. The Ullswater foxhounds were loosed at Goosemire. Mardale Waters, Naddle Forest and Thornthwaite were tried without success. The pack was then taken over into Swindale by way of Bewbarrow Crag. A faint line was taken up before reaching Mosedale beck, and the game was marked on a bink in Black Bells. Here the fox was unkennelled, and it took its pursuers down Steel Rigg towards Swindale Head, where it passed through the garth adjoining the house. The game kept down the valley and crossed the beck at the Parsonage Steps. Being hard pressed by the whole pack, the fox went to earth in Gowder Crag. Salkeld was soon up and the terriers affected a bolt. The hounds prevented the fox climbing out of the valley. The hunt was then along the meadows, where hounds were quickly gaining ground. The fox crossed the beck near Truss Gap, and was run into by the pack in the churchyard. The game proved to be an old vixen, weighing14lbs. The huntsman and Mr. Metcalf-Gibson were the first in at the kill.
28th November 1914

Then came World War I which was to change the world forever; hunting continued.

In the years leading up to the war the then German Kaiser Wilhelm the Second visited Lakeland on a number of occasions from 1895 onward staying with The Earl of Lowther and touring the district as well as cruising on Lake Ullswater. For one of his visits the Raven had her decks painted yellow and was used as a Royal Yacht. The Raven still sails Ullswater today.

There is a story that on one of his ascents of the Kirkstone Pass in the early 1900s, Bowman (who had a fox holed in one of the Dove Crag borrans) looked down and upon seeing the procession was reputed to say, “I’d like to strangle yon fella and bury him among these rocks.” Perhaps he had a premonition about the coming war.

The Kaiser also shot deer in the nearby Martindale Deer Forest and a large bungalow was constructed for him and his entourage in the 1880s. This same bungalow is available today as a holiday let. On one occasion, the Kaiser and his retinue travelled over the Kirkstone Pass, the horses being well lathered on arrival at their destination, apparently. My grandfather and two of my great uncles went to see him pass by. One of my great uncles told me the tale ending with the words, “but we never thowt (thought) we’d be fighting the bugger”. Beatrix Potter also watched the procession and recorded the following entry in her diary.

Tuesday August 15th 1895. We consumed three whole hours waiting to see the Emperor, not very well worth it. I had seen him in London. I think he is stouter. I was not particularly excited. I think it is disgraceful to drive fine horses like that. First came a messenger riding a good roan belonging to Bowness, which we could hear snorting before they came in sight, man and horse both dead-beat. He reported the Emperor would be up in ten minutes, but it was twenty.

The procession consisted of a mounted policeman with a drawn sword in a state approaching apoplexy, the red coats of the Quorn Hunt, four or five of Lord Lonsdale’s carriages, several hires and spare horses straggling after them. There were two horses with an outside rider to each carriage, splendid chestnut thoroughbreds floundering along and clinking their shoes.

They were not going fast when we saw them, having come all the way from Patterdale without even stopping at Kirkstone to water the horses, to the indignation of mine host, and an assembly of three or four hundred who had reckoned on this act of mercy. I think his majesty deserved an accident and rather wonder he didn’t have one considering the smallness of the little Tiger sitting on the box to work the break.

The liveries were blue and yellow and the carriages much yellow singularly ugly low tub. With a leather top to shut up sideways. The Emperor, Lord Lonsdale and two ladies in the first, Lady Dudley etc in the second.

There was a considerable crowd and very small flags. German ones bad to get at short notice, but plenty of tricolours. Lord Lonsdale is red headed and has a harum-scarum reputation, but according to Mr Edmondson, less “stupid” than his predecessor whom he had seen “Beastly droonk” in the road on a Sunday morning.

Ullswater. Master (from 1910) W. H. Marshall. Huntsman G. Salkeld. 13 couple of hounds. Hunting three days a week.

Ullswater. As the previous season. However, “February 1916 pro-duced a 20lb fox of silver grey at Nethermost Pike, a species nearly extinct these days”. (Skelton, 1921)

ULLSWATER FOXHOUNDS–these hounds hunted on Wednesday and Friday last week, and hunters and hounds were entertained by Mr W. Farrer.

Wednesday morning opened very foggy, and it was 11 o'clock before Salkeld threw off his hounds above ...? Ghyll. On reaching little Buckbarrow game broke cover. The fox climbed out on to the top and after being away sometime returned to Great Buckbarrow Earth. This stronghold was well guarded, and the fox doubled back, “binking” in the face of the crag above. After almost all means had been unsuccessfully used to dislodge reynard, a fearless hunter ascended the crag, and after some time succeeded in driving the fox from his hiding place. The fox leapt from shelf to shelf in a marvellous manner, and it was one of the finest crag hunters had ever seen in the district. After a little time fox disappeared, and a “halloo” from the top of the crag told of reynard’s departure. Hounds were not long in getting round the crag, and could be heard going in full cry.

Taking down Black Knots, the hunt continued through Brown Bottoms, across the end of the valley, climbed Steel Pike Crag and on to Settle Earth in another stronghold. Here the fox went to ground but fortunately not in the strong part. The fox refused to bolt and was dispatched by terriers.

Friday morning was again foggy, but cleared by the time of loosing, and a good number of hunters attended the meet. The huntsman cast off his hounds at Stock Dale Beck and soon struck a line leading on to Ghylford Spout, and there the Fox was unkennelled. The course was up the head of the Valley, then down to Scott crag a continuation of Buckbarrow. Hounds close behind draw their game very fast through the high ground, and under Little Buckbarrow the Fox went to Earth. Salkeld was soon at the place and in a few minutes the Fox bolted. However before going far the Fox was rolled over by Crowner, the brush being lifted by C. G. Wilson. The huntsman crossed the valley to Goat Scar where a fox was soon on foot, and after a nice run down the Dale it returned and holed at Little Earth. As the terriers were unable to dislodge him the fox had to be left. A messenger brought the news that a Fox had been seen to enter Buckbarrow Crag. Mr. R. Rogerson again offered to climb the crag, but before getting far the fox could be seen creeping through amongst the heather and blackberries which grow in the south end of the crag. Reynard was “hallooed” as he left the crag and hounds were soon on his track. Before reaching the top of the fell, the dogs could be seen going to the left, and this continued for some way towards Mardale, then again to the right through Mosedale, over Harrop Pike and into Forest Hall Fell. Owing to the mossy nature of the ground, which contained a good deal of moisture, scenting was good and the hunt very fast.

After crossing High House Fell and Bannerdale Head, the fox returned to Sleddale, and above Little Buckbarrow went to earth. This being an open place Crowner, as well as the terriers, soon dispatched the Fox, thus making the fifth kill in the first six meets of the season.
Westmorland Gazette 23rd October 1915

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