We were due to meet in the village pub but the farmer whose land we would be hunting passed away suddenly and as is usual, out of respect for a popular man, a grand old supporter of the hunt, the venue was changed to a place far away at the opposite end of our country; a meet on wild, old mountain land where buzzard, raven and red kite soar in the skies; land where I didn’t expect to be able to follow for long once the horses and hounds left the roads and tracks. We had a gun meet there six weeks earlier and I didn’t have high hopes for this mounted meet for, to say the least, it hasn’t been my favourite place over the years. But it all changed at this meet, it turned into a great day and had started when Steve Jones had phoned to say he was coming over as his own pack were on a trip up to the Lakes for the weekend. So I knew that whatever happened we would enjoy the day for it’s never dull when Steve’s there. I found that out in the seasons when he did the terriers with me some years back when his great dog Tim and his tough old Des were in their prime and at their best, not forgetting his top class lurcher Bud, as outstanding a terrierman’s lurcher as any digger could ask for. We had some good hunting and digging and a lot of laughs.
We started off at a forest patch which had been a sure find over the years but the ‘Midnight Cowboys’ had taken their toll for the last few seasons. It’s not too difficult to reap a grim harvest in these hills with night sights and a few carcasses left about in suitable places to make it even easier for the marksmen. I almost said sportsmen by mistake! Anyway, the trail had been laid earlier and though it’s good stuff it doesn’t excite the hounds too much and soon loses its potency and they sauntered along on it. They ain’t stupid, they know the difference! And when they happen to cross the real deal, a strong scent of a real live fox, then their song rings out clear and true and the hearts of the true hunter comes alive. A Welsh hound is a stubborn old bugger, he has a mind of his own and even if he knew, deep in his hairy old Celtic heart that he should return to his huntsman, he ain’t going to do it! Thank the Lord for that!!
We watched from some high ground as they raced away into the grey of the day with their cry fading into the distance and we wondered how we were going to get after them, was there some way to get around in the direction they were headed. It’s often best to wait awhile just to see what will happen and to get some news over the CBs for the small mounted field were keeping up with them after going up the side of the mountain opposite us. We couldn’t follow. There was a steep quad bike path in the right direction but it was just grass and the weather had been very wet. It would be too steep, too slippery and soft for the trucks though it looked very tempting. We drove as close to it as we could, through a couple of streams, along flooded rough tracks, past a long derelict farm workers’ house until we were there below it. I wondered about the people who long ago had lived in this remote place. They must have been tough, resilient people of some character to live what must have been a hard life.
And the message over the air waves was that foxy had gone to ground. It was a hell of a long way to walk, it would take ages. I knew I would soon be left behind. But the slope in front of us was very tempting. Pipey was in the first truck with me second and Jonesey behind and Pipe found it hard to resist. Give it a go. That’s what 4×4’s are for. Away he went with TC alongside to open the gates if he reached the top and we waited to see him slide away off the track to end up wherever the gradient might then take him. He just flew up there like a tank and our two trucks soon followed behind him until we came to the top and bounced across the rugged bare mountain to where we could look over the adjoining valley and see a welcome sight on the far side, hounds marking to ground in a good patch of gorse. The horses were lined up looking across and we were soon there with them where it was obvious that the vans would go no further due to fences and a dry stone wall. No matter, we only had to cross a wide patch of white grass to get to the mark on the opposite side where the good young bitch Trudy worked well and bolted a fox with half a tail. He came from the earth like a rocket.
Across a narrow bare expanse of mountain into another dense patch of gorse, he just managed to get there ahead of the hounds where he made good use of the tight cover to go out at the top and away across the mountain with a decent start on the hounds. You ain’t got foxy until you have him and that was the last we saw of him that day for the hounds left us all struggling along behind. Though the huntsman quickly followed on foot they were soon out of sight and sound and by the time the mounted field caught up with him there was no trace of the pack. No stragglers to give a clue to the direction, the mountain had swallowed fox and hounds and all we could do was get ourselves back to the trucks and head the long way around by road to try to stay in touch.
It was late afternoon before the bedraggled hounds were located and no one could tell whether foxy had been caught or had lived to run another day. It is certain that they had hunted long and hard and covered many miles and we would never see a bob tail fox again that season. All the action for us had been packed into less than an hour but it had still been a memorable day and the change of venue had shown that there was plenty of hunting to be had there for a mounted field and a hard running pack. Depending upon whether foxy would cause them to deviate from the laid scent of course!
A few weeks later we were at a huge forest on top of a remote mountain and the guns accounted for two as the day went on. It was not the best of days. The weather was wet and windy and bitterly cold and there weren’t that many foxes to be had. Hard work for the hounds with little to show for their efforts. To work such a place to best advantage it needs to be flooded with hounds and guns and that just isn’t possible so it’s a case of doing as best as can and usually that turns out pretty well. As the day wore on the hounds left the forest and worked along the face of the mountain heading for the valley below. Maybe there were more foxes using the shelter along the course of the river.
A fox rose just below the crest of the mountain and instead of heading up to the forest as they usually do, away he went, down into the valley with the hounds on his case and the guns still on the hill. He headed along the river bank and then doubled back and went in to ground at a big old place which was new to me. We don’t often hunt that area and the followers who were familiar with the area said that the bury was not the best of places to be late on in the day. Pipe let young Trudy take a look and soon we had a mark out in the field at eight feet. Digging started and soon stopped. It was roots all the way, thick and thin, more work for the saw than the spade. It didn’t look very promising. And then two shots rang out and hounds were charging towards the river. Foxy had bolted, taken a shot and been accounted for in the river.
But it was out of our sight and we didn’t know exactly what had happened for the hounds were heading up along the river in full cry. We thought that the bolted fox had gone away but they had risen another as the followers soon found out when they came to the carcass on the river bank.
It was dark by then and this fresh fox crossed the river and headed up the side of the opposite mountain and all we could do was back fill the dig and get around after them. When we reached the road where they had last been seen we found that the huntsman was up on the mountain after his hounds and a bit later we could hear them coming back in our direction. Soon they sounded as if they were marking to ground, directly above us. Two or three seasons back we had a mark up there but it was too far and too steep for me, I could never have kept up with the diggers. It sounded as if they were in the same place so I stayed at my truck while Pipey set off with Trudy.
After a while I realised they were closer than I had thought. They were not at the mark I had assumed, they were much closer. I could have reached that. But it was too late by then, I thought it would be all over quickly. But it was a harder dig than expected and took longer; I was still on the road having a cup of tea. Perhaps it was for the best, I had climbed about enough for one day. Pipey and Trudy did the job, a young bitch working well and surely with a good future ahead of her. By the time the hounds were boxed and the terrier and tools back in the vans it was 7.30p.m. and the end of what had been a long day. As far as we were concerned all the action had been packed into the last great three hours and that is often how it turns out. A day might have been a bit boring with little to be seen or heard for the terriers but it doesn’t take much to then transform it into something very worthwhile. Good digging to a good dog. All a terrierman needs.