by   David Hancock

In the pursuit of a lurcher with extra stamina, it would be interesting to try the blood of hounds bred for enhanced stamina: trail hounds, hill hounds, Fell hounds, the lighter-built West Country Harrier, the Segugio from Italy or the podencos of the Mediterranean littoral, e.g. Portugal and Greece. They possess the type of anatomy and the hunting instincts to succeed, the packhounds here forming the basis of the trailing desire. One outstanding trail hound called 'Singwell' joined the local Foxhound packs in the winter and proved itself as a dual-purpose hound. Joe Bowman once wrote that: "Hunting of the aniseed and oil drag has been reduced nearly to a science by the fleet-footed hounds, but little doubt is entertained that the average hounds from the five Lakeland foxhound packs are little if any behind the drivers of the bloodless trail in point of speed, whilst in courage and stamina they will probably excel." It is interesting that in these trailhounds an occasional silky coat can crop up in litters, possibly from the surreptitious use of outside blood long ago.

The sport of hound racing has long been highly competitive and a mainly working class pursuit. Speed alone is not enough in these races. Trail hounds race an 8-10 mile course over the most testing country in England and complete it in 25-45 minutes, the time range indicating the different terrain between each course set. Twenty years ago, a superb hound called 'Hartsop Magic' was the star of the trailing circuit. In 1985 she had 32 wins, a year later 26 and another 33 in 1987. Clapham claimed that hounds have been timed to do 15½ miles an hour over a course rising to 1,250 feet in the first mile and a half. The sport's governing body, the Hound Trailing Association, formed as long ago as 1906, can withhold prize money if a particular course is completed too quickly or too slowly. This may well be a shrewd method of reducing the chances of fixing a race.

Hound-racing or trailing came from match-races conducted by MFHs of packs based in the Lake District, out of the same competitive ambitions as those of Smith-Barry and Meynell. Packs like the Blencathra, the Coniston, the Eskdale and Ennerdale, the Melbrake and the Ullswater by their very names give an idea of the country hunted over. The College Valley pack in Northumberland, once alleged to be the fastest pack in Britain, was of Fell type too, as demanded by their hill country. Out of the Fell packs and on to the trails came the fastest air scenters, with hounds from the Patterdale 'foxers' once coming first, second and third at the Grasmere Sports. In his Foxes, Foxhounds and Fox-hunting of 1928 (Heath Cranton Ltd), Richard Clapham, a noted authority on hounds in northern England wrote: "Our fell hounds trace their origin back to the old Talbot tans, while later they acquired a certain infusion of pointer blood. The latter was introduced in order to make hounds carry their heads higher. In a letter to Hounds magazine in 1992, John Mawson wrote from Cumbria to state: “The Hound Trailing Association hounds are descended from the harrier mainly the Brampton Harrier, that were disbanded at the start of the First World War. This line comes from a harrier, a bitch called White Rally and approximately half of today’s trail hounds go back to this bitch. Another line, further back, comes from the Holme Harriers, a dog (hound) called Macduff. His grand dam was by a bloodhound…There has been one or two outcrosses in the last forty years to fell hounds…Today, hounds do not have the opportunity to show their speed, stamina and strength because there are so few trails over thirty–five or forty minutes and therefore nothing to show their true prowess.” He also expressed concern about inbreeding in today’s trail hound, arising in part from that sport’s fanciers not knowing enough about contemporary Harrier packs. But since the early 20th century, a number of out-crossings have occurred.

If lurcher-breeders want a better-scenter, with a long ribcage - carried well back, strongly-padded, hare-footed, sounder feet, great lung power and a greater chance of sustained speed, then the use of Trail Hound blood has much to recommend it. It wouldn't bring in heavier bone, a flaw in many scenthound out-crosses, or wrongly- placed eyes, retaining the desired field of vision. Some French scenthounds resemble our Trailhounds more than they do our hounds of the packs, although the Fell Hound has that same leggy more tucked-up anatomy. It usually depends on their country - where they hunt. But whether in hill country or on the plains, if your country demands sighthounds with great stamina, then the blood of our carefully and purpose-bred Trail Hounds is there to be utilised. A lurcher with Trail Hound blood would be a looker too. A skilled breeder would soon get the heads right and the sprint up; there wouldn't be either the challenge of the long-eared Segugio. There is a wide range of breeding material right under our noses in the UK but are we brave enough to try it?