Archive for September 2014

Hunters of the Welsh Hills

An extract from a chapter in Lyn Harber’s new book

Tom Davies
(Dysenni Valley)

I used to follow hounds a lot when I was young, I used to follow Ivor Evans, and the lad before him. They used to come to a local farm in the village, owned by W.J. Lloyd, and I used to go with them. I’d bunk off school to follow the hounds. My father’s brother, he was keen, he always had a couple of hounds and a terrier on the farm and his sheepdogs, they’d hunt the fox. The hounds used to go there, Harry Roberts with the Plas Machynlleth, so that’s where the interest came from.
Ivor had a falling out with the committee over some English hounds, and that’s when I had the job. I was thirty-one when I started in 1967 and I did thirty-six seasons. I was sixty-seven when I finished with them in May 2003.

Tom Davies

Tom Davies
Photo: Jim Meads

The first season I started was a foot and mouth crisis, it didn’t help, we had started but had to stop. We used to take the hounds then every day down to Towyn and walk them up and down the beach, they got used to it and would paddle in the water. We used to go from farm to farm then, the farmer would take you in some sort of transport and you’d stay at that farm for a week or a fortnight, depending on how big the area was. I’ve seen a big difference in the number of foxes around here, there were hardly any about when I first started. In my first season, 1967, I caught forty-seven foxes, by the 98-99 the total had risen to 180. We did get 266 one year.
Fox numbers have risen due to the rapid post war increase in forestation in the area which has provided perfect cover for the foxes, young forestry provided thick cover and once the cover came, the foxes came to. A lot of the places around here that are now big forestrys weren’t planted when I started hunting. The old Welsh Office Agricultural Department paid bounties to Fox Destruction Societies – unique in Wales – for every fox killed. The system was withdrawn in 1979, when the fee was fifty pence for adults and twenty five pence for cubs.
We built a central hunt kennel in 1976. Different people donated for them; some put blocks, some put concrete and an agricultural contractor made the road up there, all the farmers carried stuff from the quarry. This girl, she was an architect, she drew the plans. We had railings from them doing the road down through the quarry, big cages, and they gave us the netting for the yards and everything, great big sheets. It made good kennels. I used to paint it every year, as soon as the season finished.
We used to keep from sixteen to twenty couple, and hunt three days a week. When I went there they had all sorts of hounds, mostly English/Welsh crosses, and some of them were good hounds. I always used to keep two or three old hounds, on an old drag they’d work it out if you left them alone. There was a Welsh bitch in the pack, and I had a bitch off Harry Roberts, so I took them back to one of Harry’s dogs and we had two litters, and we had mostly Welsh for quite a while. I had a hell of a good Fell hound called ‘Sailor’, and his brother ‘Statesman’. They were by a hound called ‘Lifter’, whose sire was North Lonsdale ‘Tippler’ to Dysenni ‘Seren’. I had another, a Welsh bitch called ‘Violet’, she was out of a Plas Machynlleth dog, to of one of the two bitches I took to Harry. There was another good hound called ‘Banker’, he was walked not that far from Harry, and in the summer he would cross the river and go up to Harry’s. He’d be on the phone saying this old dog is here again, come and fetch him. I’m sure he used him once or twice, that’s why he was going up there. Then a local farmer took me to the Lakes one day, I got to know Jimmy Mallett (North Lonsdale Huntsman) and he gave me a dog, Blencathra breeding, called ‘Tippler’. Then I got to know Johnny (Richardson) and he gave me a couple of hounds, a brother and sister, ‘Traveller’ and ‘Tina’. The fell hounds are good but they need one or two Welsh with them, but out on the hill, they shine up there, that’s their country isn’t it. I bred some fell hounds and they got better from there, so that’s how the fell hounds came down here.
Up here it’s like two areas, we’ve got the big forestrys and the open hills – that’s where you get your good hunting. You’ve got the Cader Idris range that goes all the way to Dolgellau. We have around sixty to seventy meets.
We were out one day on Graig-yr-Aderyn (Bird Rock) and the hounds got away on this fox and were hammering him around. There was a shepherd out with us this day, he had a red face and bloody thick glasses, and he always carried a little single barrel with him. The fox was just in front of them, we thought they’re going to catch him in a minute, he went up into some oaks and all of a sudden it all went quiet and the pack came back to me. I thought what the hell’s going on here, they must have caught it or something, so I sent them on again just to try and they came back again. I said let’s go up and have a look, I thought they might have caught him. We went up and on a rock was a great big Billy goat, bloody big horns, and the fox was laid up behind it. Every time the hounds went near he was hammering them, so the shepherd shot the fox.

Gwillym and Tom at the kennels, late ’70s. Gwillym died of a heart attack whilst out hunting

Gwillym and Tom at the kennels, late ’70s. Gwillym died of a heart attack whilst out hunting

Another fox was killing yearlings. We went out one morning and put this fox up and they bloody hammered him. He came down this way, crossed the main road, there was a doctor living down the road there, he ran through the caravan park and into his garage. The doctor shut the garage door and wouldn’t let the hounds on him. Next morning we went up again, up he rose again and a chap shot him, he was a big fox, over twenty pounds, and they said when he was dead, the farmer was kicking him about!
We’ve had some good hounds coming off the rocks, I don’t like seeing hounds coming off. They shouldn’t be in the rocks early in the season, they’re not fit enough, and these foxes know it as well. They go there every time unless you put a gun to stop them. There was one fox, he’d go around the bottom of the rocks, then go straight up the crag, the hounds couldn’t go up after him and out the top he’d go. By the time the hounds had found their way around he was gone, so one day I said to my son Carwyn, I’ve had enough of this bugger, he went up on the top with the gun, we found him, up he went again and Bang!
We had a helicopter out rescuing hounds from Cader Idris, there’s some bad spots there. It was frozen, how the hell they stopped there and not slid off I don’t know. The helicopter came, the mist was down, a policeman and the mountain rescue boys were there and the helicopter took them up, the propellers were blowing the mist away. He took them in, dropped them off down on ropes to pick the hounds up and lifted them down to the bottom, five of them there was, bloody good ones.
Another time we had five hounds stuck on the pass at Bwlch, Tal y Llyn Pass, Dylan walked right around looking for them and could hear them howling. There wasn’t a hell of a lot holding them there, when we went to them some of them came down, they just wouldn’t take that first jump.

13th January, 1994

13th January, 1994

Jack Rasse and Terry Dawson, the boys in the Mountain Centre up here, rescued many a hound off the rocks for us. Jack used to come hunting with me quite lot, anything stuck, you’d just ring and they’d be there, the two of them.
We never had a problem with hounds sheeping, I think only once or twice it happened to us, our hounds were out on the farms and it makes a big difference, they were always amongst sheep running about. It’s a funny thing about these old hounds, a week or two before hunting started, there’d be a few turning up at kennels. We’d take them home and a few days later they’d be back again. ‘Miller’ used to do that, he was by Plas Machynlleth ‘Merry’. You’d take him back home in the summer, and he’d be back in the kennels the next day, if there was nobody in the kennels he’d come to the house, and if there was nobody at home he’d go down to the primary school looking for Dylan and Carwyn.

Joint meet at Gwannas, Dinas Mawddwy, with the Dysenni Valley, David Davies, Eryri and North Lonsdale. March 2003.    Photo: Daily Post (Wales)

Joint meet at Gwannas, Dinas Mawddwy, with the Dysenni Valley, David Davies, Eryri and North Lonsdale. March 2003. Photo: Daily Post (Wales)

I think we’ve had the best years of hunting, it’s changed, foxes have changed, we don’t get the long runs like we used to. We used to get some tremendous long runs when we found foxes down near the coast. When foxes went to earth and the terriers were needed we didn’t have bleeper collars to follow their movements underground. We used to put our heads to the ground and listen for the dogs scratching and barking underground. Now of course the terriers have bleepers which transmit from 15ft below the surface. They’re bringing in technology for everything, I wouldn’t be surprised if the hounds are one day given electronic collars so we can keep track of them across the mountains. There were no CB radio or anything like that, but word got around and the local shepherds knew when a hunt was in the valley and joined in.”