A Day on the Lune

author James Roslin-Williams

Bank Holiday Monday, so it's Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale at 10.30, as always. A good field is leaning on the Stanley Park wall, looking at the hounds. Not as many as were out the last meet before the Kaiser's war, when there were over two hundred followers still present to see the find and hunt in Otter Pot, 10 miles upstream from the meet, after a long drag from Underley. That must have been a tough day for the hounds, but the photos indicate that the water wasn't quite as high as it is today. Must have been rain in the fells: it's huntable, but it will be hard work, drawing upstream through some testing terrain.

The hounds are looking fit, well recovered from last week's exertions, a long drag up onto the fells up the rocky Roeburn on the Wednesday, followed by 3 hours swimming the deep water at Melling Island on Saturday. Most of them are just lolling dosily in a heap besides the huntsman, but Ramble has sat herself a little apart and is booming her voice at slow regular intervals, as she always does. Despite her age, she is still active and up to her work, thanks to her sound and solid conformation. The puppies are pushing and shoving for a pat from those two children with the terriers, James & Anne R-W; at a crowded meet like this you realise the need for the Otterhound's equable temperament.

Two notes on the horn, and off they go. Disciplined animation behind the huntsman, who walks them down to the base of the Bridge, and casts them across to try the flat rocks opposite. Not much point really, but it provides a bit of a spectacle for the old and bold followers on the bridge, who won't be attempting the long upstream trek. So they draw down under Stanley Bridge, and then back again. It settles the hounds, and gives everybody a good chance to see their favourites in action, and to discuss the pack individually.

Under the meet, and round the park bend. Cast them across to where the little stream comes in: some interest, Ramble is feathering, but cannot speak, so on to try the island. Here there is a definite line across the top; Regent and Royal run it both ways, concentrating hard among a big gang of lads come down for a swim. Again it's good to be able to rely on their temperament; the lads are making a lot of noise, but no hound gets bothered by it. Make good right round the island, and then draw on past the sycamore where the dentist's terrier bolted the otter. Which just goes to show that you have to try every tree; there are lots of other sycamores like it. So we have hounds on both banks, checking and probing.

Getting to Underley, the cover thickens, and the flat meadowsides give way to a more rocky shoreline. Without need for an instruction, the older hounds swim out to check the outcrop in the middle of the river; definitely a strong touch, with vigorous feathering by several of them. Look how their large flexible feet help them to haul themselves up onto the outcrop; Manton slipped back, but then he's rather narrow in front, and straight in the shoulder. These things matter, but he's made it second time. See massive Regent; although he is very robust, he's still got flexibility: reaching down from a higher level of rock to scent below the level of his feet, probably a spraint down there on the point of the rock beside the water. Yes, it was; he lists his head and lets go with his lovely voice, first hound to speak today, thanks to his reach of neck. Try on, try on.

Casterton Beck and the dreaded Casterton Rocks. Hounds are keen, with a strong touch at the beck mouth, and start to haul themselves up the steep rocky cliff towards the caves. They are lead by Foamy, a slight, agile, crossbred Welshhound with short coupling, and small feet. Not a good combination for this sort of place; she slips and falls a good 15 feet, but seems alright. Meanwhile the heavy brigade is getting there; plenty of reach and angulation see them safely up, and even the huntsman is scrambling up too, although his neck does not help him counterpoise and balance as theirs does.

Luckily there is no mark in the caves. It looks as if the otter left and came down in the stream, as the only drag was at the beck mouth, and there was none up over the rocks, as there would have been if he had climbed up beside the waterfall as the hounds did. So try back down to the main river; necks and shoulders very useful here, down beside the waterfall.

And immediately into the Underley Woods, to another set of demands on the hounds; deep swimming, across and across the quite strong currents to try all the possible roots and tangles of fallen trees lodged in the gorge between the cliffs. But there is plenty of drag now, and they need little encouragement, just some help and direction to make sure they do not miss out any smittle shops in their eagerness. The Huntsman cannot get to them here, but despite the strength of the drag they will handle to his voice alone, and it is all made good, on past the wild raspberries where J & A R-W seem to have come to a bit of a halt with the terriers, up to Underley Bridge.

Relief, relief, the root above the bridge is blank. It is a notoriously impossible place, and with a big field like this it would be a shame to leave our otter in a place where there cannot be any sort of hunt. So on we go, past Mansergh Hall. It is easy walking for the field here, level hay meadows, but the hounds are below the meadow level, checking both banks, crossing and recrossing the current. These are all named salmon pools, with a fast run-in at the top, and often rocky ledges swept by the current, which is where the fish like to lie; these have all to be examined for drag, and it is lovely to see how the hounds cast themselves across and then savour the drag when they get there. Lovely work for the level footed spectators to appreciate, but all a physical effort for the hounds.

The Barbon Beck comes in at the top of Parson's Dub, and there is a tricky drain there, but the drag goes on, up past Fleshbeck and round the corner to the Rocks between Rainbow and Kingfisher dubs. But there is only a touch here, not a line up the rocks, and that is the end of it. Contrary to expectation, he hasn't gone on towards Bainsbank. So try back, and check every root: did we miss one because the line of the drag pulled us on past it? Check both ends of the backwater at Fleshbeck. No line, so draw on. Hang on, where are Regent and Royal? They haven't come back out onto the main river. Try in again; it is a dense jungle of washed up logs and debris, intertwined with brambles and briars. Slight hounds like Spitfire and Magic, and that Welsh thing Foamy, will cope well here.

But no need, the clouds reverberate, as Regent and Royal both open at once. The pack plunges onto the land to get to them, the horn doubles and the welkin rings. A powerful wave comes down the backwater, followed by a rising chain of bubbles. Gone away, into the main Lune. And here come the hounds, led by Regent and Ramble, lifting their heads to hurl their cry at the tree tops above them and then putting their noses back to the water again for another fix of that magnetic scent. See how their ears fold and fall back, without letting the water in. Foamy shook her head then as she spoke; she lacks the benefit of the proper ear fold.

Out onto the Lune, and straight across to the ash tree root opposite; of course the current pulls them sideways a bit so the last part of the swim is directly upstream to the root. Magic is easily overtaken by her litter brother Manton here; with his extra length of leg he can wade here where she must swim. Ramble, sensible old lady, who got carried well down, hops out onto the bank to catch up, getting there just in time to roar in the chorus that puts the otter away again. Downstream, of course, in all this fresh water, but with a cracking good scent because of it. Thank heavens, he has passed the Barbon Beck and the drain.

Down into Parson's Dub they go. Poor slight little Spitfire got rather hurled about by the current at the top, and gave a short yelp; probably an underwater rock. Really in this sort of water she is too light. But she is going on with the others. Young Forester and Foreman are taking it on down the centre of the pool, with Dasher close behind, but Royal has turned and is heading back towards the clump of trees. The young hounds are on the wash, but, somehow, I never understood how, the old hounds can tell that the otter has turned, even though the scent continues to flow down.

Back up again, a long haul up to Fleshbeck again, twenty steady minutes swimming against the stream. This gives their quarry plenty of lead, and so he has landed, and now it is a land hunt. The tug boat power that had to come from broad backs and loins, and from strong second thighs for the upstream swim, now gives way to galloping, not a flat out sprint, but a determined long-striding lope through the jungles, over logs and rocks, up and down banks and gullies, using their backs and their reach, and all the while getting their noses down to the scent. Proper Otterhound action required here. Two circuits of the woodland and then back into the Lune close behind their quarry, who sets off straight upstream, porpoising through the surface as he goes, up Kingfisher, flat out up Rainbow Dub, with the pack swimming in full cry ever further behind him, the young hounds showing well, but Manton starting to fade. His long legs help him a lot, but slab sidedness and his narrow front reduce his power in a swim. Melody was swept down a bit as they hit the bend; her gay stern reduces her steering, but they all power on, round the long bend of Mansergh Holme, and across the pool to mark at the Bainsbank drain.

Where we will leave him. Too late to start that degree of terrier work, so those two children have had their arm sockets destroyed for nothing today, and anyway we have had a cracking hunt, the river is rising, and the hounds have been physically stretched for 6 hours. It is a good job their conformations are mostly pretty well up to their work.