by   David Hancock

Not surprisingly, I have never seen a gazehound advertised for sale but I do see expensive books which use the word gazehound as a synonym for sighthound. I don't believe this is accurate, but persuading sportsmen and writers that this is so, rather like trying to break the inaccurate blurring of molossers with mastiffs, is going to be difficult. So many 'authorities' in so many books record these matters as accepted fact. In his valuable book The Dog in Health and Disease of 1867, the celebrated Stonehenge records: "THE GAZEHOUND - This breed is now lost, and it is very difficult to ascertain in what respects it differed from the greyhound." I don't believe the great man got that right. It is not justifiable to refer to this type as a breed; the sighthound has never been a breed. The word 'gaze' itself had a slightly different meaning in the past, meaning to fix one's eyes on an object, not merely look. 

In his Of English Dogs of 1576, the much-quoted Dr Caius, wrote on the gazehound, which he listed separately from the Greyhound, although he himself was neither an  expert on dogs nor a sportsman. He recorded: "Horsemen use them more than footmen, in the intent that they might provoke their horses to a swift gallop...and that they might accustom their horse to leap over hedges and ditches, without stop or stumble..." He described their modus operandi as that of "never ceaseth until he hath wearied the beast to death." Both these quotes hardly represent an account of a sighthound at work. It is a good description of par force hunting, in which medieval huntsmen rode hard, rather as in steeple-chasing, after hounds which hunted by sight and scent. Bewick in his History of Quadrupeds of 1790 drew on Caius's words, listing the gazehound, as well as, separately, types like the Greyhound, the Highland Greyhound and the Irish Greyhound. The arbitrary decision to place the hound breeds into just two categories, scent and sight, overlooked hounds that utilized scent to locate prey then pursued it by sight using sheer speed, thereby ignoring par force hounds, both gazehounds and running mastiffs.

Following scent at great pace calls for special qualities, the nose of the scenthound and the speed and stamina of the sighthound. The pursuit at great pace of air-scent rather than the slower seeking of ground-scent deserves specialisation. In Britain we may have favoured the specialists, but in the Trail Hounds of the north, we have the modern examples of the true gazehound, a combination of scent and sighthound, a true par force hound. As an increasingly urban society regards quarry hounds with a critical eye, hound-trailing, or hound racing as some prefer to call it, may provide an alternative outlet for redundant packhounds across Britain. The skills are not the same but it is one way of saving superb canine athletes from extinction. Walking in the Lake District is testing enough; racing over demanding country for mile after mile at high speed calls for remarkable staying-power, superb muscular condition, astounding determination, highly effective hearts and lungs, keen noses and more than efficient feet. These hounds are superlative middle-distance runners being used as steeple-chasers over long distance courses; quite outstanding sporting dogs.

Superbly fit and skilfully-bred, these hounds are much-loved pets too. Now justifying recognition as a distinct breed, they have been honed by performance rather than breeder-whim, emerging as sound unexaggerated functional animals yet still most attractive, as well as being genetically healthy and temperamentally sound. Those used to seeing soft-muscled over-weight exhibits in our KC-licensed show rings would regard these sleek superbly-conditioned hard-muscled hounds as being either skinny or underfed, such is the contemporary misappreciation of dog and dog-care. Hounds in exemplary condition for sports such as hunting, racing or coursing display the tuck-up, show of rib, svelte physique and pronounced muscle-tone which might lead some ignoramuses to report their owners to the RSPCA--and nowadays this body would probably find cause to investigate!

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. The 'Reminiscences of Joe Bowman and the Ullswater Foxhounds' of 1921 made this observation: "The development of the sport of hound trailing has spread the interest in the sport over a much wider area, and the rivalry between the northern and southern sections of the country is now very great. The north are claiming to produce a faster hound, a claim which was put to a practical test over an end-away trail from Wythburn to Ambleside. It justified the old opinion, "each hound to his own country" - the fell hounds to the scree, rock and bracken, and those trained in open country to the easier going ground."

The legendary Joe Bowman stated that Lord Lonsdale set the seal of popularity with his annual Lowther Castle trail, with an attractive meeting also at the Grisedale Hall trail near Hawkshead, where 'there is about a mile of straight. Here a splendid finish can be seen, when the scent is where it ought to be--breast high.' This illustrates the main difference between ground-scent hounds like Bloodhounds, with their extreme persistence, nose to the ground style and placing of accurate precise tracking before pace, and the air-scent hounds, the gazehounds, different from sighthounds, with their high heads, high pace and great drive. The steeplechase of the par force hunt using airscent hounds was long preferred in continental Europe. In Britain, 'hunting cunning' or the painstaking unravelling of ground-scent eventually prevailed. This decided the development, or extinction, of our packs of hounds.   

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', 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." He pointed out that white predominated in the Fell Hound's coat so that the hounds could be better seen by their foot followers. The infusion of Pointer blood to ensure a high head carriage may have had the added value of ensuring sound feet; sportsmen in South Africa and South America valued such an infusion because of this latter benefit.

Clapham described the Fell Hound in these words: "The general impression afforded by a fell hound is a complete antithesis of that provided by a hound of Peterborough type (i.e. standard hound-show type, DH). Instead of size, weight and power, we have lightness, activity, and pace, coupled with wonderful stamina..."  In his 'Hounds of the World', Buchanan-Jardine described the Fell Hound as around 23" in height, with long, sloping shoulders, an elegant neck and a long lean head, usually with a slightly pointed muzzle. This reminds me of the French hound breed the Poitevin, which displays a similar head. Buchanan-Jardine interestingly observes in his book that "the foxhounds of the Cumberland Fells, no doubt owe the most to the old 'Chien blanc'..." i.e. the famous royal white hounds of France, which originated in a white hound given to Louis XI by the squire of Poitou, where the breed of Poitevin comes from.

The trail hound may have been founded on Fell Hound blood but since then has developed separately into its own distinctive type. In 1919 the blood of the Windemere Harrier 'Cracker' was introduced; in 1922 Lancashire Harrier blood was used and again, to greater effect, six years later when a Harrier sire 'Beware' was utilized, to produce a litter which subsequently proved dominant in the trail hound dynasty. (Trail hunts were held in the country covered by the Holcombe Hunt and the then Rochdale Harriers.) In the mid-20s a Pointer-Harrier cross, the bitch 'Gravity', was introduced and helped to found today's bloodlines. In the 1950s a Greyhound-Irish Setter cross was tried; then a West Country Harrier was tried (from the Dart Vale) and in 1962 a couple of Kerry Beagles also tried but none of these outsiders proved impressive in breeding terms.

It would be interesting to try a Saluki lurcher, bred for enhanced stamina, a Rampur Hound from India, the lighter-built American Foxhound, the Segugio from Italy or the podencos of the Mediterranean littoral, e.g. Portugal and Ibiza, as trail hounds. They possess the type of anatomy and the hunting instincts to succeed, the latter 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."

The sport of hound racing has long been highly competitive and a mainly working class pursuit. An early star, and first hound to win a hundred prizes, was 'Rattler', trained by an Ambleside cobbler but sadly poisoned, allegedly by a rival trainer. 'Rattler' had a son, 'Ruler', which was clever enough to run with the other hounds, without trailing its own line, then sprint in to triumph as an accomplished finisher. In contrast one of the fastest early hounds, a bitch called 'Ruby' was a poor finisher, often overtaken when in sight of the finishing line. 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.

This is a two hundred year old country sport, which I very much hope will survive, with the sustained support of local farmers and landowners, another two hundred. The morally vain can find little to criticize in this quite admirable canine activity. The hounds taking part however are still hounds; one once finished the course with a rabbit in its mouth and the ambitious outcross to a so-called Russian retriever produced a hound that preferred mutton to the thrill of the race! It is a well-regulated sport too and, with land being taken out of agricultural use and hunting with dogs under threat, one to be considered more widely than the Lakes.

The sporting dog is under unprecedented threat; there is a greater need now to safeguard our precious remaining breeds than ever before. The quarry hounds could disappear unless a function for them is found. Packs overseas may snap them up--as the renowned Dumfriesshire pack has been - for their prowess was acknowledged throughout the sporting world. But these are native British hounds, so very much part of our sporting heritage. We would be extremely foolish to leave their future development to foreign fanciers - or, even worse, politicians! Hound-racing, using gazehounds, may not suit those looking to admire the work of a pack or please mounted followers. But which do we prefer? Hound trailing...or nothing?