A nice Xmas present for sportsmen from Ron Black: his “The Mardale Hunt: A History,” a 166-page downloadable electronic text of the history of the oldest, and most famous, of the Lakeland Fell Shepherds’ Meets. This is the kind of simple, hard-bitten North Country hunting associated with John Peel: foot-following foxhounds on the often pretty vertical landscape of the Lakeland Fells.
Hunting in Mardale is a fundamental and immemorial feature of the season.
[T]he shepherds’ meeting at Mardale ” wasn’t founded in’t memory of man.” That the shepherds gave up a week to ‘ raking ‘ the fells and bringing down to the Dun Bull the sheep that were not their own. That though there is a Shepherds’ Guide with all the lug-marks and smit marks of the various flocks in it, it is very seldom referred to, for all the shepherds ken the marks as well as they ken their own bairns. From the time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, a hunt succeeded by a good dinner ushers in the shepherds’ ceremony of ‘ swortn ‘ the sheep; and after the sorting a hound trail and pigeon shooting at clay pigeons affords diversion till daylight fades; then tea is served and the shepherds who determine ‘to remain on spree,’ as they call it, instead of driving their sheep home, make a night of it. I gathered from the old farmers that they thought ‘ nowt ‘ to the hound-trail and pigeon shooting. They wur new-fanglements and mud varra weel be dispensed wid.’
By the early years of the last century, the fame of the Mardale Shepherds Meet had spread and visiting sportsman often attended and participated.
For years the Mardale Meetâ€™s popularity relied on the reputation of Joe Bowman (Hunty or Auld Joe) and his Ullswater Foxhounds. Visitors travelled to the meet from all parts of the country and some the world, they travelled in a variety of ways-â€œRolls-Royces, carriages, horseback and on foot walking over the high mountain passes sometimes in bad weather (snow was not uncommon) and my Great Uncle Brait and Trimmer his hound actually got lost on the tops in bad weather. Trimmer subsequently won his trail. Expensive furs, kid gloves and silver mounted walking sticks mingled at the meet with woollen clothing, hand made walking sticks and fustian jackets. Most people walked and the general view was summed up by Tommy Fishwick who was once heard to say to a friend â€œYan wants nowt wiâ€™ riding as lang as yan legs â€˜ell carry yan.â€
Hinchcliffe quotes that after a good days sport, huntsmen, shepherds, visitors, sheep dogs and terriers (hounds were not admitted) all turn towards the Dun Bull for a meal.
In the evening, a smoking contest took place. Skelton records â€œ the main portion of the pack, cast off in the large dining room and every room in the house filled with overflow meetings-or rather concertsâ€
The big room was the focal point, a tray was sent round and money subscribed for the eveningâ€™s refreshment. Each individual orders his choice of drink and the chairman pays out of the general pool. Toastâ€™s and song follow in quick succession. The chairman selects the singer and everyone is supposed to sing at least one song and there was an element of pride in singing one that had not already been sung that evening. If the song had a good swing or chorus the men got particularly enthusiastic, the shepherds beating the tables with their sticks in time to the tune and the sheep-dogs and terriers howling either in enthusiasm or execration, no man knows which.
One song often sung paid tribute to the renowned local huntsman.
Down at Howtown we met with Joe Bowman at dawn,
The grey hills echoed back the glad sound of his horn,
And the charm of it’s note sent the mist far away
And the fox to his lair at the dawn of the day.
When the fireâ€™s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
Weâ€™ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For weâ€™ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.
Then with steps that were light and with hearts that were gay
To a right smickle spot we all hasten away,
The voice of Joe Bowman, how it rings like a bell
As he cast off his hounds by the side of Swarth Fell.
The shout of the hunters it startled the stag
As the fox came to view on the lofty Brook crag,
â€œTally-Hoâ€ cried Joe Bowman, â€œthe hounds are away,
Oâ€™er the hills let us follow their musical bayâ€.
Master Reynard was anxious his brush for to keep,
So he followed the wind oeâ€™r the high mountain steep,
Past the deep silent tarn to the bright running beck,
Where he hoped by his cunning to give us a check.
Though he took us oeâ€™r Kidsey we held to his track,
For we hunted my lads with the Ullswater Pack
Who caught the fox and effected a kill,
By the silvery stream of the bonny Ramps Gill.
Now his headâ€™s on the crook and the bowl is below,
And weâ€˜re gathered around by the fire’s warming glow,
Our songs they are merry, our choruses high,
As we drink to the hunters who joined in the cry.
When this song is sung at Ullswater, the third verse should be given as follows:
The shout of the hunters it startled the stag,
As the fox came to view on the lofty Brook Crag,
â€œTally-Hoâ€ Weâ€™re away, oâ€™er the rise and the fell,
Joe Bowman, Kit Farrar, Will Milcrest and all.