Dating back to the 18th century, Hound Trailing is one of Cumbria’s oldest and most popular pastimes with meetings taking place up and down the Lakeland countryside.
It’s origin can be traced to disputes between local farmers claiming to have the fastest pack of hounds and in turn drag hunting was formed allowing farmers to race their hounds over designated trails in order to discover who had the fastest packs. The sport of Hound Trailing was born.
Over the years Hound Trailing gained popularity within the local Lakeland communities, and in 1906 the governing body, the Hound Trailing Association (HTA) was formed under the direction of Robert Jefferson, a Whitehaven man. Since then the sport has grown under the Association’s guidance and at present has more than five hundred members.
Racing takes place over moorland, fields and fells, with the hounds following a trail made of a mixture of paraffin and aniseed. Two individuals affectionately known as ‘Trailers’ are responsible for laying the trail with both carrying ‘rags’ to the halfway point and then walking away from each other, one towards the start and one towards the finish. The trail is laid!
There are over 40 trail locations covering all areas of the Lake District National Park with both pups and senior hounds racing over 5 & 10 mile distances respectively.
These distances can be easily completed in times around the 30 minute mark which is staggering when you consider the terrain & conditions all navigated while in the midst of hunting the scent! Special!
The Hound Trailing season begins in April and spans 7-months of the year ending in October.
On race day, Hounds can be entered up until ten minutes before the start of each trail and are slipped at a given signal from the appointed starter. At popular venues there may be fifty or sixty runners in any one race! At the finishing tape, the judge awards places and prize money to the first six hounds and he/she has the help of ‘catchers’ who ensure each of the placed runners are given a correct ‘ticket’.
The hound collecting the most number of 1st place tickets over the course of the season is named the ‘Champion’ a title that does not come lightly in a sport that is highly competitive. Unlike horse racing where handicaps (weight) are used to level the field, no such restrictions are applied in hound trailing, making for a competitive sport whereby the most talented and athletic rise to the top. Due to this the average meeting consists of three or four trails for various classes of hound ranging in levels of ability.
Bookmakers are also an important part of hound trailing and are always present with substantial wagers often placed on the outcome of each race.
The hounds, known as ‘Trail Hounds’ are descendants of fox hounds, especially bred for their speed and stamina along with their ability to navigate the undulating fell side terrains. To watch the hounds navigate the trail is both majestic and beautiful which leaves many people watching for the first time in awe!
All Hounds are registered with the Hound Trailing Association with each given a Registration Number (or ear number as it is known within the sport).
The breeding season begins on New Years Day and all pups born that year will make their debuts the following April. Puppies born in January and February tend to be the most sought after as they begin their training at about the age of six months and by the end of the year they are racing on practice trails against other pups in readiness for the new campaign.
As a pack animal, the hounds are extremely affectionate boasting loving temperaments with many retired hounds making exceptional family pets.
Hound Trailing is a wonderful Lakeland pastime that has a real community feel, one which we are keen to share with friends both old and new. Spectators are always made welcome at trail venues with owners willing to answer questions about the sport to anybody who will listen!
Furthermore, Hound Trailing relies on the generosity of local farmers who give leave for hounds to run across their land and each season thousands of pounds is raised for local charities.
Next time you are passing through the Lake District be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the hounds on the fell and your ears pinned back to hear the call of the owners. Come on! Let’s go trailing!