As I walked the eager lurcher past the cattle enclosure, I stopped to take a photo of some of the new born calves. The mothers stepped forward aggressively at the sight of the leggy hound, instinct kicking in to protect their young. I didn’t loiter. No point in stressing the beasts. We crossed the greensward and a trio of peacocks scuttled away at our approach. One jumped up onto a wall and protested our intrusion, as vocal a guardian as any goose. The dog slipped a sly look at me and I said ‘leave!’, for I could see the murderous intention in that glimpse. He followed me obediently across the drive and into the wood. We stalked the plantation, not for the deer that browse there but because of the grey squirrels that feed here too. The commotion of rooks beyond the conifers caught my ear and I stood quietly in cover, the dog beside me. A broad sweep of wings saw the buzzard alight inside the wood, unaware that we were there. Wrens and great tits fussed in protest at the raptors presence but the old bird was just seeking refuge from his nagging black assailants. The dog stepped forward, his nose drawn to some badger scat and the buzzard lifted and soared back out into the open field. Immediately, the ugly chorus of rook-song began again and I stepped out to watch him escorted Eastward by a squadron of nagging corvids. Though it’s nowhere near nesting time, he had strayed too close to the rookery.
I chose the path across the high margin to Scots Wood. I drew down my bob-cap, turned up my collar and as I left the sanctuary of the trees, that wind slapped my face like an angry woman. The hares disappointed me in their absence. The cutting Easterly had obviously put them to the hollows, the old marl-pits that dot the woods here. During the crossing, the rooks turned their attention to the hunter and his hound, chastising us from high in the cold blue sky. At the entrance to Scots Wood I paused to let my eyes adjust to the gloom and the slice of the wind stopped as I stepped into the tree-line. There is an air to this wood that speaks of misdeed and murder. A gloomy place, haven to hare and roe and squirrel. The old poult pens have fallen into disrepair and tell a tale of a wood well stocked some years ago when gamekeepers trod here. Now, there is just myself and the deer stalker. I wonder if he imagines, too, the ghosts of the old Norfolk poachers wandering here? Snatching a hen pheasant or snaring a rabbit to feed the family or pay for their ale?
We walked on, putting a squirrel in the bag here and there as we went but scattering the legion of woodpigeons that sought shelter here from the cold. The path took us past the badger setts and old Dylan (my lurcher) surveyed their mass destruction, trembling. Ancient trees are leaning dangerously, their roots undermined by the black and white trolls. Plastic sapling guards littered the escarpment like pick-a-sticks and I noted that the diggings had now crossed the path I trod towards the West side of the wood. One day, I fear, this whole wood will collapse into an underworld ruled by Old Brock. It is sad to witness and can’t be stopped within legal resource.
Descending toward the water meadows, I watched three roe browsing out on the winter barley. A buck in velvet, a doe and a tall kid. They sensed the dog and I up in the wood and sprinted away across the field toward the Garden Wood. Later, in that small wood, I was to experience one of the most privileged displays of animal courage it has ever been my pleasure to witness. Deep within the Garden Wood, I had just dropped a grey squirrel and Dylan had run out to retrieve it, bringing it back to my feet. This had spooked the roe, who had (unbeknown to me) been lying close by. The kid ran out between the yew boles in front of us, saw the dog and froze. I whispered to the lurcher to ‘drop’ and he did. Then the buck ran in to stand alongside the petrified youngster. They stood just fifteen yards from us. The doe ran out and nudged the kid, putting it to flight. She followed it while the buck stood there. By now, I was having to talk loudly to my dog to ‘stay’. The lurcher was confused and felt threatened. The buck then ran to one side, turned and ran back the other way. Almost challenging the long-dog to chase. The dog stayed steadfast at yet another ‘stay!’ call. The buck turned away and went after it’s kin. Some sixty yards along the wood, the doe and kid stood waiting. I watched as the three sets of white rumps headed for the brook and the meadow beyond. For me, a terrific encounter. For the dog, confusion and conflict. I praised him for his obedience and thought I’d best put an extra helping of squirrel in his bowl tonight.
© Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, January 2015