with Horse and Hound

Ron Black

black.ron.portrait

Going Home

black.ron.portraitCumbrian foot hunter Ron Black, a purist.“I am a native Lakelander,” writes Ron Black, “with roots going back to 1700, the fourth generation to follow hounds, with ancestors who stood on the cold tops at dawn, moved the heavy Lakeland stone to free trapped terriers, and also carried the horn on occasions. Hunting will not come back in the foreseeable future, perhaps not at all, but for three hundred years hunting and the church were the central thread to many communities. This is a part of the story.”

Ron Black has been a regular contributor to Foxhunting Life with his stories of hunting in the rugged fells of England’s Lake District. Foot hunting—the only pure way to hunt, Ron insists. And this, he also insists, is his farewell story.

I sat in the lee of the big boulder and watched the rainstorm disappear down the valley. Signs of its passing were everywhere. Small runnels of water ran down the fell side, water dripped off the crag behind me, and I was soaked. Oblivious to the rain, the huntsman remained out in the open, one foot up on a small boulder, his coat open to the waist.

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A Christmas Hunt in the Cumbrian Fells

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The path wound its way up the fell side, twisting and turning as it sought the line of least resistance in its quest for the ridge and finally the trig point that marked the actual summit. Several hundred feet below the track and above the valley where the track began, a buzzard circled on a thermal originating from the big crag.

The path like the crag had over the centuries seen many things, Stone Age man had used the track to get to the veins of slate on an adjoining fell. Viking and Roman feet had followed the track to and from the nearby coast. Long pony trains carried produce over the track to the coast and its sea port. Finally, endless hordes of garishly dressed tourists added to the general erosion of the track. It began in the valley bottom, passed through an area of bog, soon left it behind, and that is where the erosion started. The higher up the fell, the thinner the soil, the greater the erosion. At the time all these thoughts passed me by, but looking back I can ascend the track from start to finish in my mind’s eye. I remember it so well because on one Christmas holiday morning, I saw a hunt which will long remain in my memory.

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The Lad and The Huntsman

What follows is the author’s Introduction to his forthcoming book, Chappie: color cover, black and white illustrations, about 6 x 8-1/4 inches, $45.00 USD (price includes postage), release date August, 2016. Fifty copies will be printed; half are already pre-sold. Click for purchase instructions.

anthony chapmanChappie, painting by Wilk, reproduced with permission

One morning in the early 1960s, a young lad took a day off school to go hunting; he had planned it down to the smallest detail. Hounds were meeting in the Troutbeck valley at 9:30, but that was on the other side of the 1601-foot-high fell known as Wansfell Pike. As usual he left home about 8:15 am but instead of heading for the playground near the church to meet his mates and play football, he turned left at the Salutation Hotel and took the road for Wansfell.

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Further Adventures of Jack and Pete

 fell hunting.backintheday.ron hill siteFoot hunting in the Cumbrian fells / photo courtesy of Ron Black

Further adventures of our old friends Jack and Pete in Cumbria, a majestic landscape populated by some who might see themselves as the only true purists of our sport. We hope mounted foxhunters won’t take too much offense at this story. A little will be well justified, though!

With the benefit of hindsight and a few drinks, there was a certain inevitability about the whole affair. It began innocuously enough, with Jack sitting in the pub telling us that a friend had invited him out for a day with hounds. “Wot pack?” said Pete, muscling in on the conversation.

Jack named a mounted pack some miles down the motorway. Pete took it all in and thought for a moment. “They ride,” he announced. “Not getting me on a hoss, smelly bloody things.”

Jack sighed. “We can follow in the Land Rover,” he said. “They will give us a guide.”

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The Lathom Remount Depot of World War I

The horror of the First World War is much on the minds of our English sporting friends this summer as the world marks the hundredth anniversary of that conflict. Foxhunters there are especially moved in remembering the terrible toll taken on the world’s equine population in numbers unequaled before or since. Ron Black in Cumbria, England—a frequent contributor to Foxhunting Life—has published a ninety-seven-page collection of research, memoir, and poetry (Will Ogilvie included!) about the horses and mules that served, which he has made available to FHL readers via download. When the supply of British horses and mules was exhausted, animals were shipped from the United States, Canada, and Australia. Ron tells the story of how they were purchased, crossed the ocean, trained, moved overland to battle, and what happened to the survivors. Click to download The Lathom Remount Depot of World War I by Ron Black. The download is free, but Ron asks downloaders to make a small donation to any equine charity. Posted September 1, 2014... This content is for subscribers only.Log In Join Now
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Pete Waxes Philosophical about Hunting

petes stories.blackFoxhunting Life readers may not recognize their old friend, Pete, in this story. We generally find him drunk, misguided, and irresponsible. On this timely subject, however, the author allows him a sober and a somber moment.

 

Pete settled himself in the chair, took a pull from his pint, wiped the froth from his mouth and belched. Outside the pub it was pitch black and a wind drove hail against the windows, but inside a fire burned in the hearth and its warmth filled the room.

“Job’s buggered,” he said. “Hunting isn’t coming back.”

I looked at him. “Bonner, Barney, and the Countryside Alliance to name but a few would disagree,” I said.

Pete took another pull on his pint and sat considering. Finally he spoke.

“What would happen if it did?” he asked. “T’ hunt monitors will go back to being sabs. Never be like it was in our day.”

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Beatrix Potter: From Peter Rabbit to Foxhunting

beatrix potter1The Troutbeck Valley runs into the fells to the North East out of Windermere, through the seventeenth century village of Troutbeck. The road which runs through the valley rises dramatically toward the Kirkstone Pass and its famous Inn, rebuilt in the 1830s by Sewell the local priest.

As you climb the pass there is a superb view to the right of the head of the valley and the piece of land known as the Tongue (old Norse tunga or table land between two valleys) that joins Hird Ghyll on one side and Hag Ghyll on the other.

At the base of the tongue are the picturesque white farmhouse and outbuildings of Troutbeck Park Farm. In 1923 Beatrix Potter purchased the farm, the deeds containing twenty five separately described parcels of land running to 1875 acres for which she paid £8000. The farm was conveyed to her on 28th August 1923 making her one of the largest landowners in the English Lake District.

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The Fell Foxes of Dove Crag

dove crag 1Dove Crag in the rugged Lake District of Cumbria, England

A sheep trod wove its way up the steep fell side, gaining height with an ease unmatched by any route a human could devise. Following it and climbing all the time I skirted small outcrops of rock, crossed a stream full of melt-snow water at the best point to do so, and finally arrived on the ridge. Stopping to catch my breath, for although the route to a sheep would have been easy this human was very unfit, I gazed at the view in front of me. My horizon was filled with snow covered peaks under a bright blue sky. Warm sunlight bathed the ridge and gave a small crag to my left a sharpness normally unseen.

The Coniston foxhounds had disappeared to god knows where, and had been gone for some time. I’d watched them climb the fell side I now stood on. It had been a beautiful sight as they climbed, in a line, like as someone put it “a hound trail.” Their music had carried down the valley, growing fainter as they crested the ridge and then as they dropped into the next valley it disappeared altogether, leaving an eerie silence.

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Hale-Bopp and the Foxhounds

hale-boppThe inhabitants of the Lake District, home to the venerable foxhunting foot packs of Cumbria, have always been superstitious, their lives governed by beliefs and ritual to prevent bad luck. There were many beliefs, but the one I remember best is that in Wasdale a mother did not wash a baby’s arms until it was six months old. This, it was believed, would stop the child growing up to be a thief. As time passed, superstition of events and the cause of happenings became less, or did it?

On July 23, 1995, Alan Hale in New Mexico and Thomas Bopp in Arizona discovered, independently, an unusually bright comet outside of Jupiter’s orbit.

Now the approach of this comet in 1997, which became easily visible to the naked eye in the night sky, did not register on the radar of Pete who only saw stars after closing time, and would never dream of looking to the heavens anyway on his way home from the pub up the streetlight-less road. As the comet neared the sun it became brighter still in the night sky, and the talk in the billiard room was of nothing else. Even hunting took second place.

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They Used to Sit Up All Night on the Borrans

broad howe borranBroad Howe Borran, Cumbria, UK“They used to sit up all night on the borrans,” I said, taking a pull on my pint. Pete eyed me skeptically.

“Why?” he asked.

“To stop the bloody fox from getting in,” I said. “Don’t do it now, though.”

Pete thought for a while, always a dangerous procedure.

“Different kind of fox,” I said. “That was in the days of the old greyhound type.”

To be honest I don’t really know why the hunters of old went up the night prior to sit all night on the borran waiting til dawn to stop the hunted fox from getting in safely, but it is a well documented fact that they did.

“We could do that,” said Pete.

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