This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
Perhaps the following letter from the Field with regard to the pace of hounds may not be without interest: "This subject has interested me a good deal during the past twelve months, for the following reasons : We have in this part of the country, as you probably know, a number of 'hound trails,' the most important of which - our dog Derby - takes place at the celebrated Grasmere sports.
"In August, 1894, I purchased a trail hound puppy, aged 14 months, for the purpose of trying my hand at training a hound myself to compete with the knowing ones, and thereby also increase the interest in this really pretty sport, by watching my own hound running among the others. In this way I have seen a good deal of this sport, and remarked the extraordinary speed attained by these hounds over hilly and often very rough ground. The usual time occupied in running one of our trails is from twenty-three to twenty-eight minutes, the line being circular so as to permit of a view, and to enable the finish to take place as near as possible to the start.
"Now when you come to discuss the length of the trail, even with the men who have run it (and who of necessity are intimately acquainted with the ground), they will give you the most varied estimates of the distance covered. You will be told seven, eight, nine, or even ten miles. Only the week before last there was a report of one of our trails in a local paper: 'Distance, nine miles; time, twenty-three minutes.' The time given was correct, but in my opinion the distance was vastly exaggerated. I therefore determined to measure with a chain the course on the fells over which my hound, in company with two or three others (one, Mr. Stanley le Fleming's Rattler, a first prize winner at Grasmere), has been regularly run when exercising.
"The time generally occupied in running this course is twenty-five to twenty-six minutes, and the fastest time in which the leading hound has ever done it is twenty-four minutes and thirty seconds. The distance, when measured with the chain, turned out to be 6 miles 975 yards. This gives a speed of fifteen and a half miles per hour over a pumping course - very different from an ordinary foxhunting country, of course - but with a scent more than breast high.
"The course is certainly hilly, as the following will show : On completing 1 mile 570 yards they have climbed 1250ft.; in the next 1 mile 710 yards they descend 100ft.; during the next 1450 yards they first ascend a further 100ft., and then descend 400ft.; the next mile requires 400ft. to be climbed, when they run a mile on comparatively level ground, and descend the 1250ft. again in the last mile. It is practically all grass, with a few roughish places, and they surmount twenty-one stone walls averaging 5ft. 6in. in height.
"Last June I bought from a midland pack a foxhound bitch by Lord Gal way's Harkaway (89), dam out of Firefly (86), and dam's sire Belvoir Weather-gage, the reason given for parting with her being that she was too fast for the pack. After a good deal of perseverance we got her to run our paraffin and aniseed trail with evident delight, and we then put her into strict training, and ran her with the others. Over the course described above, she never came within three minutes of the other hounds, giving her speed at the rate of fourteen miles an hour.
"As we did not consider her fast enough, I have lent her to my neighbour, the Rev. E. M. Reynolds, master of the Coniston Foxhounds; but the other day, in company with Mr. Chas. H. Wilson, master of the Oxenholme Staghounds, we ran the four trail hounds a measured mile, straight. First of all upwind on the sands, against a very strong head wind. Time occupied, two minutes thirty-two seconds. We then ran them down wind on the grass. Time, two minutes twenty-five seconds. No fences or obstacles of any kind either time."
Foxhounds soon take to hunting game other than their legitimate quarry, more quickly adapting themselves to the change of scent than one would imagine. For years they have hunted the boar and stag in various countries all over the world, and the wolf likewise. Two years ago Mr. F. Lowe took a draft of hounds from various packs over to a friend in Russia. He says :
"During our stay we had a trial with the foxhounds in an inclosed park, to see how they would tackle a wolf. On the first day the new hounds did not at once seem to understand it, but they soon owned the line, and we had a fairly good burst; and, if we had been so minded, could have killed Mr. Wolf. On the second day we had made up our minds to have blood if the foxhounds could break him up, which my host seemed to doubt. I gave them a cheer or two as they began to feather on the line, and away they went in grand style. Fred Payne, of the Fitzwilliam, would have been delighted with the advancement of Rambler's education; and the Atherstone were likewise well represented. The music became a roar, and it was very quickly a case of from scent to view and 'who-whoop!' The pulling to pieces was quite after the English view of the thing; though the quarry was perhaps a bit tougher, and they did not seem to care about making a repast of him."
In addition to his qualifications of speed and nose the foxhound has a peculiar homing faculty, developed to a remarkable extent. Hounds have been known to return to their kennels from remarkable distances. One draft that had been sent from the Holderness into Kent were discontented with their new quarters, and had almost reached their old kennels before their absence from their fresh kennels had been discovered. A Cumberland hound returned from Sussex to its old home, evidently preferring the mountains of its native county to the downs of the southern one.
There is an old huntsman in the English Lake district, Tommy Dobson by name, who runs the Eskdale pack. He is a bobbin turner by trade, but manages to keep a lot of excellent working hounds and terriers together, the farmers and some landowners in that wild district giving him so much a head for the foxes he kills. He hunts on foot, for no horse could follow where he goes. Repeatedly he has long runs; his hounds get lost for a time, but they usually arrive at their kennels the day following the hunt. Dobson is a keen old sportsman, and may be the sole survivor in England of a class of men that can never be replaced. He kills twenty foxes or so in the season, much to the pleasure of the shepherds and farmers in this wildest part of our Lake district, who paid him so much per head from a fund provided for the purpose. Now that Dobson has well passed his three score years and ten, although he still hunts as of yore, ample provision has been made for him when he feels inclined to rest from the perils of the chase.