This particular morning my digging mate at the time, Pete, and myself set off to run the terriers through this wood. The wood is pretty rough to walk through, as there is an outcrop of rock which runs through the top. Dropping down, it has boulders and brambles, and below that a pit railway, but luckily not used too much. I wouldn’t have bothered normally but the local shoot had been plagued by foxes from the wood and I felt obliged to have a look as they got me a lot of digging permission on some other shoots. The shoot had tried to get permission from the council to have a fox drive through the wood, but failed, so they had asked me to see what I could do. The terriers I had decided to take were Tess and Ben. They were half brother and sister. Their great grand sire on the male side was Wally Wyles’ Kipper and on the female side, was Patterdale cross Russell. I was lucky enough to see Kipper working when I was invited to a badger dig in the sixties and was very impressed with this little dog. He was the reason I changed from Bedlington to Lakey-Patterdale – not that my Bedlingtons ever let me down, but I liked the look of these dogs better.
Anyway, to get back to the story, I decided that Pete would walk along the footpath at the top of the rocks and I would work the dogs through the boulders at the bottom. It was too rough to keep them on couplings, so I had to let them run loose. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred yards when I saw a flash of red and the dogs were away. The fox hadn’t gone more than fifty yards before it disappeared into a crack in the rocks. When I shouted to Pete, he had missed it due to an outcrop of rock below him. As we both arrived at the entrance to where the dogs had gone in, we could hear them baying and the rocks falling about. It sounded as if the fox was on a ledge and the dogs couldn’t reach it. Both dogs could kill a fox single handed, so I knew it was well out of reach. After about an hour, we heard a change in the baying and I knew the fox was on the move; a few seconds later and we could hear them worrying it.
After a while, we heard them making their way back towards us, then about six or eight yards in, they stopped and when I called them, they started whining. An hour later I knew they must be in a chamber and couldn’t get out. After surveying the situation, we both knew that a hammer and bar was of no use as it was solid rock on both sides of the crack. The only other way I knew, was to blast them out. So while I left Pete at the rocks, I went to the local pit to see the manager and to his credit he sent two shot firers to see what they could do. On arrival back at the rocks, Pete said the dogs were still whining when called. When the shot firers saw the situation, they said they were very sorry but there wasn’t a lot they could do, as it wanted drilling equipment to get them out and there would be a lot of red tape and probably days to organise it. The only option now was to ring the Fell and Moorland, of which I was a member. Jack Smith was the area rep’ at the time – I think it was just before Dave Ramsden took over.
Two years previous to this Jack and I had a few words due to me digging a badger out on some so called permissions that he said he had and I didn’t know how the land lay between us. Anyway, after a few phone calls, I managed to get hold of Jack and we arranged to meet early the next morning. In the mean time, Pete and I stopped with the dogs till about midnight before deciding to go home to get some sleep. I left my jacket at the entrance, in case they managed to get out, for I knew they would lay on it till I came back, as they had done so before.
When I got home, I phoned Phil Ward to give us a hand the next day. Phil was an old digging pal; and of which the Russell side of my dogs had come from. The next morning, we all met at a road lay-by. Phil brought along his brother Colin and his mate. When Jack arrived with Dave, we made our way to where the dogs were trapped. Jack never mentioned the badger digging episode, so I left it at that.
After reviewing all the options, we all agreed that blasting was the only way to rescue them. Jack said to do what we had to do, and the Fell and Moorland would pay the bill, but the club couldn’t get involved due to us not having permission. After Jack and Dave departed, I left a couple of lads to keep an eye on things, then Colin, Phil and I left to start ringing round but with it being Sunday morning, the few firms there were, were shut. Eventually, after ringing a few contacts, we managed to get a phone number, and to cut a long story short, this chap, who I will call Bill, said he would do the job. Bill said we would need a compressor and air line long enough to reach from the track, up under the railway lines to where the dogs were trapped. Again luck was on our side, as I knew a farmer with a compressor and enough air line for what we wanted. He also lent us a couple of good lamps and he said he’d bring the compressor down the wood for us with his tractor.
By this time, it was getting dark, so I asked Bill if he wanted to leave it till morning, but as he had brought all his equipment, he said, “let’s get it done!” When we got the air lines rigged up, we drilled three holes about three foot deep to one side of the crack, to which he planted three charges, enough to shatter the rock. We all got well clear out of the way and when the dust had cleared, we took it in turns to pick and bar the rock out of the way. After a few hours we had managed to get quite a few yards in but still we were quite a way from the dogs, as we shone the torch down the crack, we could just see the top of their heads.
The only thing Bill said we could do now was to drill and shatter the rock in front of them and hope it didn’t blow in on them. When we were ready, I pushed some sacks down the crack with a long branch to try and deaden the sound and stop any small rocks flying in on them.
After all the dust had cleared again, Bill said that that was about all he could do for us. By this time, I think he was getting a bit worried, so I suggested one of the lads help him with his equipment back to his car. I thanked him very much for all his help, for not many people would have come out at the weekend and without having permission.
Once again we started picking and clearing the rock away, slowly, but surely, we were getting nearer the dogs, and when we had reached the sacks, I knew we were going to get them out. By now the hole was just big enough for one person to get in and pass the remaining rocks back. First Tess was pulled out, then Ben, all the lads cheered. Neither of them looked too bad, considering their ordeal. Tess soon got over it, but Ben didn’t like any loud noises for a long while after!
A few days after, it was put in the paper. ‘Dogs saved by mystery explosion. South Yorkshire police were at the scene today, probing an explosion, which helped free two trapped dogs. The dogs were trapped in a railway embankment, in Anston Stones Wood near South Anston, at the weekend. Attempts to free the dogs failed, so the rescuers used drilling equipment and explosives to save the animals yesterday. But the police, RSPCA and the British Rail knew nothing about the blast.’
A police spokesman said they were making further enquires. It’s still a mystery how the paper found out about it.
In that year’s edition of the Fell and Moorland Year Book, it read that two terriers had entered an unused set. When I challenged Jack about it, he said he hadn’t done the write up and Dave had done it. But when I asked Dave at the next meeting, he didn’t know anything about it, so you must all come to your own conclusions. Two weeks later, I was only about two or three fields away from the previous rescue, when this chap came up and asked to what I was doing. I told him I had permission from the shoot and was just checking a few sets. He said that was okay but that I had to be careful, as he came from the bungalow up the lane, and a couple of weeks ago, he and his wife were asleep in bed, when they heard a loud rumbling and it nearly shook the radiators off the wall. Needless to say, I made a hasty retreat!