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Swarthfell Rocks

[ Roud 1578 ; Mudcat 4344 ; trad.]

Mike, Lal and Norma Waterson sang Swarthfell Rocks in 1975 on the Watersons’ album For Pence and Spicy Ale. A live recording from the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal in 1982 was released in 2004 on their 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

On the surface this sounds like a local Ullswater song. Frank Kidson heard a lady sing it at a Windermere festival, and he contributed it to the Folk Song Journal ([Vol. 2,] No. 9) where the Watersons found it. In fact, like many hunting songs, it has turned up in other places with other place-names. Sharp and Baring-Gould found three or four sets of it in Somerset and Devon. They called it The Duke’s Hunt, with some reason, for the song has grown out of an earlier ballad, printed about 1660, concerning a pack of hounds owned by the repulsive George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham (containing the Dido, Bendigo chorus that turns up in several hunting songs). Watersons have craftily brought the Duke’s name into their version, though it wasn’t there when the Windermere lady sang it.

Paul and Linda Adams sang Swarthfell Rocks in 1978 on their Fellside album Among the Old Familiar Mountains. They noted:

Foxhunting is a very emotive subject, but in the fell country it provides a most active oral folk tradition which propagates annually. There are many fine songs and we have included three here. We have been about three years getting round to this song. It is a very fine hunting song although you do not hear it sung any more, which is a shame. The words are from Songs of the Fell Packs. The tune is based on the one collected from Miss A. Bownass of Windermere in 1903, with one ore two changes. It shares a similar verse with The Noble Duke of Buckingham’s Hounds which our friend Brian Dewhurst sings to the same tune. The Noble Duke also crops up in another local hunting song, The Noble Foxhunting (Dido, Bendigo). ‘Swarthfell Rocks’ has its location around Patterdale and Pooley Bridge.

Danny Spooner sang Swarthfell Rocks in 2011 on his CD The Fox, The Hare and the Poacher’s Fate.


The Watersons sing Swarthfell Rocks

It were early one morning when I rose from my bed
I’ve heard, “Hark, hark away my boys!” so clearly,
𝄆 And so I drew me a little nearer for to see who was there
That were going out fox hunting so early. 𝄇

There were nine gentlemen and the Duke of Buckingham,
And they each of them set out upon the trial
𝄆 To see the hounds run in the North, where they have great fame and worth,
And the most of them set out with no denial. 𝄇

It were at Swarthfell Rocks where we laid on our hounds,
Not thinking the tops there being likely.
𝄆 Now an huntsman long I’ve been but the likes I’ve never seen,
We unkenneled bold Reynard so early. 𝄇

Henry Wilkinson cried “Hark, hark away, my boys!”
Joe Clark, our foot sportsman, soon heard him.
𝄆 Richard Moundsey cried, “Oddzounds! you mun’ couple up your hounds,
For this day you never will come near him.” 𝄇

They come through Howtown moor, being late in the hour,
It were sometimes one hound and sometimes t’other.
𝄆 It were hard to be expressed which of them ran him the best
For they each ran abreast close together. 𝄇

There were Tippler and Towler and Fairmaid and Jolly,
There were Countess and Blossom and Fury.
𝄆 There were several other hounds ran close within his bounds,
But these were the hounds that ran near him. 𝄇

They come through Hallin Hag, their course being strong,
I’m sure there was little ease in it.
𝄆 But our hounds they ran him well and they turned him in again
And he took Sharrow Woods for his cover. 𝄇

Then Reynard being weary and seeking for shelter,
His way was to take the straight over.
𝄆 But our hounds they ran amain and they laid him in again
And there they destroyed him for ever. 𝄇

Old Lilter followed him, and never more was seen
Which caused our great sportsmen to murmur.
That a finer little hound never ran above the ground,
He was the bonniest little hound in the number.
Aye a finer little hound never ran above the ground,
He was the bonniest little hound in the number.

So now to conclude, and to finish my song,
This gallant fox hunt it is all over.
𝄆 It’s the forty-second fox that’s been slain on Swarthfell Rocks,
So that puts an end to my story. 𝄇

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed by Garry Gillard (but he said he must have had some help from someone—perhaps Steve Willis). James Eagle corrected some mishearings that became clear when he compared them to the version printed in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society No. 9, Vol. 2 (which can also be found in the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: Swarthfell Rocks).