A View from Wales
James Barclay asked me to contribute an article about Hunting a pack of Welsh hounds, taking into account the particular traits and differences to a modern English pack of hounds. Though born and bred in the Principality, I have spent most of my career hunting either a mixed or English pack, however from childhood, hunting behind my father Glyn Powell, I have had lots of experience with Welsh hounds and my present position as Joint Master and huntsman of the Brecon & Talybont, where we have a predominantly pure Welsh pack, will hopefully enable me to give a true and practical view of Welsh hounds and their abilities.
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Perhaps I should introduce myself (for the benefit of the readers who have not heard of me.)
My name is Mark Powell and I have just started my third decade as a professional in Hunt Service, although I grew up in kennels with my father who was also in the same profession before he returned to Wales to farm and where we kennelled hounds. A hard taskmaster who didn’t suffer fools gladly, (I no doubt have inherited these genes or so I am told) I from my early teens worked in kennels, whipped in and on occasion hunted hounds. I consider myself lucky to have had such a background and a good teacher; even now I start to realise the little things that were implanted in my brain (without my knowledge) enable me to do things instinctively .
I then went to the East Kent to whip in to that wonderful professional Richard Blakeney, a top class hound man who also taught me so much. After a few seasons I returned to Wales to the Monmouthshire where my father had taken the Mastership. As his kennel huntsman, I had the chance to become involved with the breeding policy and introduced more Welsh blood (crossing English bitches to Welsh doghounds) to improve the hunting, and improve it did. After two seasons my father retired due to ill health and I stayed on as huntsman for a further six seasons achieving record tallies on three occasions, which is important in this part of the World.
I was then offered a position in the USA and having a spirit for adventure I crossed the Atlantic to the Iroquois Hunt in Kentucky, before moving north across the border into Canada to hunt the Toronto & North York hounds for thirteen happy seasons. The TNYH was a first rate hunt with a top class pack of English hounds. They were considered to be one of the best packs in North America, both in the show ring and hunting field, where I produced many champions and the top scoring hound in the American MFHA centenary series of performance trials. (No mean feat to take an English hound to Georgia, the hotbed of hard running crossbred hounds.)
A family bereavement meant my wife was desperate to be near family so we had to return to Wales where I was lucky enough to secure the position as Huntsman to the Brecon & Talybont, after one season, I was also invited to join the Mastership and I am starting my third season in probably one of the best countries in Wales .
Well, enough about my background and forrard on to the issue at hand, hunting a pack of Welsh hounds. At our Brecon Kennels, we have twenty couple of Welsh hounds, four and a half couple of English and one and a half couple of English/American crossbred hounds from Midland lines. Part of the legacy of the kennels is that there must be at least four couple of English hounds in kennel, a tradition maintained to this day.
I thought that I might firstly take a look at the common misconceptions that surround some folks opinion of the Welsh foxhound.
Slow, common, unruly, and a sulking babbler!
Nothing could be further from the truth!
As with all types of hound, there will be individuals who might fit into some or even all of these categories, but generally speaking they hunt like demons and are very athletic, with a nose that can take a cold line across some of the worst types of foiled ground and a voice that can wake the dead! If you are fortunate enough to listen to a good pack of Welsh hounds coming in off the hill into a dingle or valley, with the sound echoing as they drive on, it is, in my opinion, the closest you will get to hearing the “bells of heaven!”
Slow and common. As with all packs, there will be some hounds that are more common than the rest but generally they are surprisingly athletic and we need to be considering some of the terrain that they have to hunt. I have never seen hounds jump wire better than Welsh hounds and will always remember watching the Sennybridge Farmers during that wonderful huntsman “Cochyn” Price’s first tenure. The whole pack screamed down a dingle and every hound flew the fence on a bank without touching a strand of wire. It was an amazing sight to see. This ability to clear wire and gates without touching them is reputed to be inherited from the old Glog lines, which were very influential in the development of the English Foxhound. The Sennybridge are decended from the Pantscallog, which origionally came from Mr. Rees’s Bwllfa breeding. These were made up from many Glog lines after they disbanded.
Welsh hounds, have to cope with some of the steepest terrain and had not only to produce good hunting, but as also as the hunts were mostly made up of farmers, it was important for them to account for their foxes, to keep a good balance of numbers in the country. This is something that some people fail to understand. Farmers need to protect their livelihood, but do not decimate the fox population; true country people and sportsmen. I believe that the ability to hunt on some of these roughest of mountains, with success, comes from the fact that ‘most’ Welsh hounds have tremendous shoulders and they can really stretch out going either uphill or down dale. Power to pull from the front, is to me as important as pushing from the rear. Sometimes when you see a pack of pure Welsh hounds perhaps curled up around their huntsman at a meet, it is hard to imagine that these hounds can be so agile, but they certainly are both fast and athletic. When the late Johnnie Richardson came down to Builth Wells, either to judge or as a spectator, I can remember him saying somewhat tongue in cheek, that he did like a Welsh hound and he thought that “ they could walk a fox to death in fine style”. I believe that he was told when watching a Welsh pack run “not bloody walking now, are they Johnnie! “
Sulky Babblers. Again somewhat misleading. Some welsh hounds can certainly appear to be sulky , but they do have a delicate nature and you cannot be too hard on them; they will not take it, but when you build a real rapport with them , they will love you forever and respond suitably. You may want to compare them to a good woman, treat them well, be fair and consistent and you will have a friend for life. (Most huntsmen who have had any success, usually have a wonderful woman supporting them, I know that I do.)
They are often referred to as babblers, either because they have the ability to take a cold line where others are unable to do so, or because they are sometimes reluctant to leave a cold line. This again is usually due to the lack of help both at home and in the field. Sometimes you cannot get to hound to move it on because of terrain, but most are biddable and if a hound dwells too much, as with most breeds, perhaps it should be moved on.
I feel that the greatest challenge that we face today is both maintaining and expanding the gene pool. There have been wonderful breeders of Welsh hounds in the past, but it is now our turn to take up the slack and continue the work of our forefathers who have provided us with this wonderful legacy.
There are lots of Welsh packs both good and bad, but the best are absolutely thrilling to watch. So given the chance perhaps you should try to visit and see a good Welsh pack in action.