Hunting and following hounds on the fell was at best difficult, with the weather ever changing and then there was the terrain, with steep grassy slopes which caused you to gasp with the effort of getting oxygen into your lungs and a chest which felt like it would explode, the calves of your legs screaming for rest, wet boggy ground where you could quite easily go “ower t boot tops“, occasional rivers to cross, and finally the places one encountered known as “steep drops and bad spots”. Although there are dozens of places on the Lakeland fells which qualify for this title, the following are some of most famous. I have at some point or other been on them all, sometimes following hounds sometimes not. These are some of my memories ...
Please do not be silly and use this as any kind of guide to these places! It isn’t, there are proper guide books or trained guides if you feel the need. Don’t go up, have an accident and blame me!! I only “whet” your appetite!!
At the bottom of the page are some selected videos from You Tube - but please note that I don't appear in any of them!!
The hounds had “found" in Easedale above Grasmere and after a fast hunt has ended up marking at the borran below the huge cliff in Langdale known as “Pavey Ark”. We arrived just as the terriers were being put in; as usual hounds were taken well back and the waiting began. This borran is quite a bad one, well known as a refuge for hunted foxes. In the mid 1930s my Great Uncle Brait had himself a little adventure with some trapped terriers, but that story is for another day.
After a while the fox emerged, glanced around and took off, back towards Sergeant Man, at 2414 feet not the largest fell in the area but a big one all the same, with the hounds in hot pursuit. Soon they all disappeared from view, their music fading. We moved further along the boulder field to keep the hunt in view - suddenly the “music” increased
“Turned t bugger” somebody said,” its garn thru t top o Pavey, better git up theer.” We were now faced with three options, the first two were gullies, the North and Easy Gully respectively. So called by, I think, Wainwright, they lead onto the summit plateau. Basically both a slog onto the top, one on loose scree, the other a path of sorts (well it was in the early 1970s, today it’s as wide as the Motorway).
The third option was Jack’s Rake, a 225 yard long climb diagonally across the crag face, with an ascent of 400 feet. The Rake brings you out near the top of Pavey Ark.
I left the rock I had been standing on fruitlessly scanning the fell side in the forlorn hope that the fox would turn and come back and made for the start of the Rake.
“Don’t like heights,“ my companion said, “se tha on top,” and made off for the nearest gully. I began to climb.
The first recorded ascent of Jack's Rake was by Richard Pendlebury in the 1850’s; this marked the beginning of rock climbing in Great Langdale, following behind the developing sport centred in Wasdale. It’s very probable that shepherds had used it for several hundred years prior to Pendlebury but no record remains. I suspect the men who quarried the Neolithic Axe heads used it as they scrambled around the cliff searching for suitable sites from which to quarry the axe heads. The vein of slate used by them begins on Pavey Ark and continues almost to Scafell Pike.
For me the difficult bit on the Rake comes about 30 yards in, with a climb up a steep rock groove. A couple of years before I'd been “cragfast” (stuck) there for a good hour one afternoon in the snow, trying to climb the Rake alone without a rope, after a day spent wandering around the Langdale Pikes covered in snow, which crunched under your boot, and hardly left a print to mark your progress. Icicles hung from the crags and the air was cold and sharp as you inhaled. There was a blue sky overhead with weak muted sunlight, insufficient to melt the snow to any great degree.
With this day in mind I continued climbing. Basically the Rake is a collection of ascending grooves and after rain these collect water running off the crag above and funnel it towards the ground. The exposure is not as great as you might think as a comforting parapet of rock accompanies you on the left as you ascend the steeper parts; however the water running down was not making it any easier, as my rubber soled boots were slipping from time to time, and the walking stick in my hand an encumbrance I could well have done without.
I climbed on, passing the start of several of the routes Bill and I had climbed a couple of years earlier. Soon the Rake eased off and I reached the pinnacle which marked the top. Turning to the right, it took only a couple of minutes to reach the pile of stones which mark the highest point. There was no sign of my friends from below.
Looking across, I could see the hounds running towards Sergeant Man, flecks of white against the grass slopes now past their best, occasional snatches of music drifted in my direction. My friends from down below appeared, jackets undone and shirts open to the waist, sweat dripping from their faces. I was amazed at how quickly they had come up the gulley.
“Missed out?” one of them asked. “Just running through that larl ghyll, to the right of the top.“ I pointed in the direction of Sergeant Mann. “Hod on a minute, before you sit down.” I licked my finger and held it up. “What the bluddy hell are you doing?” someone asked. "Checking the wind,” I replied, ”want to smell clear mountain air not thy sweaty bodies!”
They sat down. “Bet you move before we do.”
“Why’s that? “I asked.
“Tell him, Jack.”
“Cause your sitting in a big pile of sheep shit!” Jack said, smiling.
To be continued ...