This article about a fox hunting was written by my late grandfather, Leslie Baker who spent his childhood years in Wales.
My grandfather loved nature and was always taking me for walks when I was younger, up and around Bathampton rocks and the surrounding hills near Bath, England, which will always be fond memories for me and quality time spent with him. This article gives a unique insight into what it must have been like around 80 years ago to have grown up in this period. So here is my grandfather’s account of ‘The Most Remarkable Fox In Welsh History.’
The Most Remarkable Fox In Welsh History
Fox hunting is a volatile subject these days, but in my younger days (I am speaking of the 1920s) there was only one solution to the problem, as far as Welsh sheep farmers were concerned, and that was organised hunting of the most cunning of wild creatures. It was understandably so, as in the lambing season they had grim reminders of what the fox was capable of doing to the lambs, so then it was a necessity and not a sport, for this alone Reynard was branded a ruthless killer.
How we looked forward to these seasonal hunts as children, horses prancing, hounds baying the shouts of men, and all this made up the atmosphere or vigour that contributed to the fox hunting scene. The village echoed with the sound of hounds, horses’ hooves and local dogs barking in protest at this intrusion.
The place where all this happened used to be in a remote area in our younger days called the Afan Valley, which was approximately 8 miles long, flanked by mountains and ideal sheep country. They came from all parts of Glamorgan to make up the numbers for this hunt. Farmers and professional men all united in this common purpose of hunting this predator, and they were well prepared for this as they brought with them the finest pack of hounds in Wales, known as the Tynewydd Pack, bred exclusively for fox hunting . . . an elite set of hounds indeed. Tynewydd by the way is situated at the head of the Rhondda Valley, being a mining village close to Treherbert, so these hounds were well acquainted with this mountainous terrain.
When they came to our part of the valley, they were made welcome at the Abercregan Hotel, as this was an ideal place, as it contained a large yard at the rear where horses and hounds could be left in comparative safety.
Whilst the hounds were rested in preparation for the off, the huntsmen refreshed themselves and no doubt span tales about their exploits and about ‘the one that got away’, a tale loved by fishermen and the crux of this story. This story is precisely about one that did just that, but as the hunt has not yet started yet, we will have to wait for this particular fox and the fishy ending to this unusual story.
While all this was taking place behind closed doors, us kids waited, listening to the hounds baying . . . all that talent and energy, bolted up, so to speak, especially those inside the Hotel.
Nevertheless it was obvious to us that this was something worth waiting for, after all, apart from this, our only treat was the visit of a steamroller to the village along with a water cart. This may seem old fashioned today, but the end product was more effective than that of today. I can picture that steamroller now snorting and pushing clouds of steam up into the air, brassed, shining and bringing to the village all that was best in steam, including the sooty, smiling face of the driver of this machine. After rolling the tarmacadam, the water cart was an added attraction, sprinkling the road surface, water hissing on the hot surface and providing us with a lovely fresh smell. All this was intriguing to our young minds, but the huntsmen were coming out now and looking very pleased with themselves. They opened the doors of the yard, examined their riding equipment, mounted their horses and took great pains to be well groomed. Then the hounds poured out and waited for their master.
Once more we admired the colour provided for us, huntsmen with their black caps and scarlet coats, the beautiful colours of the hounds and the black and brown of the horses that were groomed to perfection.
Our attention was now drawn to the lead huntsman, who was a commanding figure of a man, about 6 ft 3 ins and well built, and if left to our imaginations running riot, we pictured him as the man who had led the Charge of the Light Brigade. However, on a more down-to-earth note, our special fox was sleeping away, probably dreaming of Welsh mutton whilst all this was going on. Most of us have heard those lines from that well known hunting song, ‘John Peel . . . for the sound of his horn woke me from my bed’. So when at last the huntsman gave a mighty blast on his horn, which was his privilege to do, he not only startled the horses, hounds and the kids, but he woke up this particular fox, as he was ready for them.
With that blast the hunt was on, and we followed them so far, but then it was ‘Tally Ho’, and they were gone. That afternoon in February, they were to take on the most cunning fox in the Afan Valley.
After flushing him out, he made straight for the Glenavon bottom level, and disappeared into this labyrinth of mine workings with the hounds in full cry that went in after him. Here then was a panic situation created by this clever fox. When the huntsmen arrived at the entrance of the level a few moments later, the man in charge remarked, “We’ve lost them for sure, as they will never find their way out of that maze of tunnelling.” However, there was among them the right man at the right time who came up with an idea (who probably had some kippers for breakfast, supplying him with the inspiration . . . they say fish for brains) . While the rest Â were anxiously waiting for this exclusive pack to come out, he very promptly got hold of a pair of kippers and hung them up at the mouth of the mine.
As the fresh air went in by this way, so did that aroma of kippers, and it was not long before the hounds appeared at the entrance, guided by that smell, much to the delight of the huntsmen, as they were too valuable a pack to risk sending down again. Off they went to another part of the valley. There is no doubt that given time the hounds would have found the fox. Out the cunning creature came, in his own good time, little knowing that he was now a celebrity, as famous as the pack of hounds that had chased him. He must be the most famous fox in Wales, being the only one of his kind to be saved by a pair of Scotch kippers . . . which brings some truth to the saying, ‘There’s more than one way of killing a pig’, there’s also more than one way of saving a fox’s life.