By: Dr E.W. Gordon
It’s Saturday afternoon, which is unfortunate since this place is a favourite with dog walkers and I really want the place to myself. I get my biggest buzz from immersing myself in solitude. I love to be the only person on a desolate moor or be the thing that disturbs the rooks on a summer’s dawn. I want mine to be the only eyes that gaze upon a scene to know that I’m the view’s only witness. But more importantly it’s the lack of disturbance I crave. Usually I’ll be out at dawn but alas you seize your opportunities when they arise.
When I’m out walking in this way (or as I’ve termed it generally ‘wildernessing’ for that is what I always endeavour to do. Escape to the wilderness. No matter how penned in a place may feel it’s still more wild than you can ever imagine), it’s just a case of tuning in. Sometimes it can take an age to engage your senses, other times you can shut your eyes for a second and bang! a distant shriek has the hairs on your neck stood like sentries. Today there was so much interference but even so it wasn’t long before I had picked out five or six prominent runs through the hedges and fences, there were no hairs or tracks but clear signs of activity. Looking across the valley to the eastern slope I can see lines almost like the lines on a page. My first thought are rabbits, the entire slope is pock marked with a vast network of rabbit holes. Gut instincts are usually not far off but as I gaze deeply in to the scene I notice that right at the top, over the fence, the first foot of the field’s contents is significantly (and neatly) cropped shorter than the rest, could this be the tell tale sign of the deer I know to be present? Back on the bridleway where I’m stood, the whole scene is bristling with life though. Pheasant feathers are strewn across the path, sure signs our old friend Mr Fox is prevalent in these parts. I’m flanked to the left by a distinctly man made copse of pine trees with a few beech trees scattered amongst them, the young pretenders muscling for light. Nothing seems to be happening. I can see the nests of several large birds most likely rooks. But other than that the place is oddly inactive. In stark contrast the hedgerow which flanks my right is simply teeming with song birds: blue tits, chaffinches, great tits, the occasional robin, flocks of starlings, blackbirds and what I suspect, though I only got fleeting glimpses in the deepest undergrowth, were wrens. The little wren always makes me smile. In latin it is called troglodytes troglodytes, or cave dweller. Whenever I see one I always wonder, are there some caves nearby? I continue onwards, moving further away from what you would define as the main route through. I walk slowly, steadily and silent, my eyes are everywhere at once. I’m not concerning myself with any one tangible thing. I’m simply scanning for movement. There is a natural rhythm in our world and once you zone in it’s amazing how much you can see. You don’t just look with your eyes, it’s a full body, holistic experience. Branches move at a pace inline with the breeze, the direction of which I can feel on my cheeks, my straggly hair also gives an indication of its strength. Once you are in tune with the air movements it’s easier to remove dead information, and start seeing the patterns. I’m no chameleon, however I can see more than just in front. With my ears I can see almost 360 degrees instantly. A shuffle in the leaves behind me turns my head, the breeze was down, but my hairs were up, something is watching me, but what? I’m scanning systematically. I view like I read in long, sweeping strokes across the page picking out the details but there is nothing, there are a few oddly stationary question marks which transpire to be really rather dull tree stumps. But I know it’s there, I just have to play the game. I try not looking directly; purposely engaging my periphery but still no light is shed. I take a big obvious step forwards lifting my arms to see what I spook and there it is, a small white tailed bunny rabbit goes dashing down the track. The hobbit in me thinks “supper” but it’s only a brief notion, I’m in his world now and I have my supply of pesky rabbits from a local allotment if I want to fill my pot. Throughout my little meander (it’s hardly a walk. I travel often no faster than a snail and trace such a winding and circuitous path along a seemingly straight route), I’ve been hoping to see a deer or two. I know they’re there, I’ve seen the hoof marks, the hollow hairs, I know they’re there, patience is a virtue or so they say. I continue onwards, soon the path veers steeply through a couple of fields planted with next years harvest, you can see acre after acre of bland arable farmland. I’ll be heading back in to dog walker world soon and I’ve resigned myself to a nice walk home, after all there is always the clouds, clouds don’t get spooked by dogs. I hear a shout in the distance, someone behind me in the dell I’d been occupying for the last couple of hours has lost their dog. “Chester… Chester…” came the shout. I stopped to look around, always a little paranoid some rabid beast is going to seize my throat and devour my bones. Something had clearly excited him as he burst forth across the fields towards the hedgerows and the small copse. I’m torn between my usual disdain for man’s inability to keep a dog on a lead, and curiosity: what’s got him so excited? As I watch him course down the track there they are. With huge springing leaps and bounds and a pace which can only be described as “panic stricken run for your life”, out of the bushes, up the hill, desperately aiming for the sweet relief the cover of the undergrowth offers, were five roe deer. They had been hiding perfectly seemingly mere metres away from me! Maybe being a dog walker isn’t such a bad thing after all?