It does not matter what the gathering is, agricultural show, sheep dog trial, or athletic sports, it is not complete without its hound trail. From the mining villages of Furness, from Ulverston, from Cleator, from Whitehaven, as well as from the mountain homes of Borrowdale, Sawrey, Ambleside, Threlkeld, and Grasmere, the dogs in their dog clothes and leashes may be seen heading to the trail ground at early dawn, and may hear the music of their discontent from somewhere in the crowded field long hours before the man with the aniseed drag has come back from his unsavoury laying of scent upon the neighbouring fellside breast. (pp. 153-154)
But if the breeders and trainers of trail dogs may be found in the littoral of Cumberland and Westmoreland, the races must be run on such ground as will give fair view to the spectators, and thus it comes to pass that the sport is essentially a Lake District sport. Nowhere can it be seen to greater advantage than from the Vale of Grasmere or the heights of Applethwaite Fell about the Troutbeck Valley. (p. 154)
A few years ago many of the neighbouring gentry kept dogs; now it would seem that they are the possession for the most part of working men, who give a great deal of their time in training of the hounds to speed, and very jealously watch the strain and keep the pedigree of the dogs unbroken. (p. 154)
The hounds are foxhounds such as the mountain packs are composed of, low-bodied and light-bodied creatures that, compared with the weight and size of the Midland foxhounds, appear to be small, but they are dogs of wonderful staying power and wonderful feet, a mass of muscle with marvellous cat-like capacity to negotiate the huge stone dykes or walls that run up the breast of the fells, and divide pasture from pasture in the dale. (pp. 154-155)
They are to all intents the racehorses of the peasantry, and just as the gentry seem to think that a racehorse is impossible unless money is on it, so the working men of Westmoreland and Cumberland seem to think that a hound trail is no hound trail worth the name unless the odds are offered and taken freely; weeks before the Grasmere Sports or the Troutbeck Shepherd Dog Trials, the excitement in cottage homes far and near as to the favourite is great. And great is the disaster and blank is the dismay if the favourite fails to win. “Aw, So-and-so’s dog is tied to win, I suppose, to-day, there’s a great deal o’ money on him,” is the kind of remark that is passed round in confidential circles on the morning of the race. Of all kinds are the methods by which the dogs are fettled up and prepared for the great occasion. There is a rule that no trainer shall take his dog over the course or the supposed course, and no trainer is seen to do this; but if a full moon favours the time of the match, and a man take a moonlight walk with a dog in a leash, it is just possible that his walk may in a singular way coincide with the track which he believes the man with the aniseed drag will take on the day of the race. (p. 155)
There is in addition to most careful feeding a great deal of exercise and toilsome and tedious training over drag line done by the owners of these miniature mountain racehorses, and on the day of the trail various are the finishing touches to be given to the racers by way of improving their breathing or adding to their courage. (pp. 155-156)
But here we are at the Grasmere Sports, and suddenly above the music of the band and the shouting of the 9,000 spectators round the great ring is heard the baying or almost frenzied yelling of a pack of hounds. The fact is that the old huntsman, Anthony Chapman, has just come in across the narrow bridge over the Rotha beck with the aniseed drag in his hands from his long eight miles’ tramp along the breast of the great amphitheatre of mountain ground that circles all the vale. (p. 156)….
Their owners or trainers have stripped them, have rubbed their chests and chafed their legs, and are in line waiting for the starter’s signal. It is given, and like a flash of white light the whole of the twenty-six dogs has swept from the ring over the bridge and away across the valley, over walls, more like birds than beasts in their flight, and are seen again on the breast of Buthar side. Now half-hid by the bracken, now visible like a bracelet of pearls, now appearing like a low-flying string of black and white winged creatures, they pass from crag to crag, from fold to fold of the hill-flanks, and vanish like a dream. (pp. 156-157)….
The air is filled with shrill whistlings, the owners of the hounds have each their own dog’s call, and their eyes, accustomed not only to sight of their hounds, but to the peculiar way of running of them, can tell at a distance incredible just what the dogs are about and what are the chances of a place at the final run in. (pp. 157-158)….
It had been an easy win too. ‘Mountain’ and ‘Gambler’ were not in it as far as the race home from Chapel Green was concerned. Whether knowledge of the ground had to do with this I cannot say. Thirty-five minutes and forty-seven and four-fifths of a second was not a long time for such an eight miles of rough fellside ground to be traversed in; but Cracker was ‘sair deun,’ and as I watched its heaving ribs I wondered at the courage and endurance of the dog, whose limbs to-night, notwithstanding all care and all chafing, would possibly be as stiff as if they had been made of cast iron. I have asked how soon a hound recovers the elasticity of its muscles after such a trail, and have been told that in two to three days it is fit for another race. Marvellous as is the pluck of the dog that will thus run itself to the stiffness of iron, the thing that strikes one as more wonderful still is the keenness of scent that allows the dog to fly unerringly upon the trail, and though the wind be blowing the scent for forty yards or more, to follow the line without question and without fault. (pp. 158-159)
(Months at the Lakes, pp. 153-159)