Monday, 12 November 2012

Almost eaten by a deer...

I have a dark and autumnal story for you today.  You may not be scared by it, but I can assure you that I definitely was!

I've mentioned Bradgate Park a lot on this blog.  It's a medieval deer park only ten minutes away from my town, with room enough to ramble in peace and quiet.  It's still full of deer; some Roe, a lot of Fallow, and a few of the mighty Red deer, Britain's biggest breed.

On this particular Saturday I'd got all my jobs done but was feeling restless so decided that I would go up to Bradgate for a quick walk.  It was late afternoon, but I judged that I would have about an hour to walk before sunset (5pm now that it's getting into winter) which was better than nothing.

There's one car park that is at the very top of the park, next to a ruined old tower called Old John from which you can see the entire park.  It's my favourite place to start so I headed downhill from there.  Pretty soon I started hearing noises that I'd never encountered before, a kind of roaring, bellowing sound that carried across the bracken.  

From my high vantage point on a rocky outcrop I could look down the long sloping hill and realised that there were two or three herds of deer down there, roaring at each other.  The rutting season (where the male deer fight each other for mates) had just ended and these must be the new herds.  Each herd had at least one massive stag, bellowing across at his neighbour to warn him to keep away.  Clearly they were still feeling territorial so I resolved to give them a wide berth.

A herd at twilight, from a VERY safe distance
I carried on downhill, past a Fallow stag and a couple of hinds who, being smaller and therefore more nervous than the Reds, quickly bounded off, and ended up under a sweet chestnut tree for half an hour, collecting nuts the squirrels had left.  At some point I judged it far enough into twilight that I should be heading back to my car.  I hadn't brought a torch and didn't fancy the uphill trek in the dark.

As I came back up the hill I could see one of the herds from earlier.  They'd drifted onto my intended path a bit but there was a high mound off to my right.  I could skirt round the other side of it and avoid them easily enough.  It would only add ten minutes to the walk so I set off that way.  However as I came round the mound to bear left again, I had the shock of my life.  

The herd had moved.  Barely twenty metres away, tense as bowstrings and staring straight at me, were three very large and very territorial, Red deer stags.  In the dim light maybe they hadn't seen me head behind the hill or heard my deliberately noisy walk, but now they were standing between me and the herd of nearly thirty deer... and apparently I'd taken them by surprise.  Their posture wasn't that of an animal who's just checking something out - they were all dead upright, standing tall and stiff, ready to take action.

Every time I see a Red deer close up their size always awes me and right then I was doubly aware of the antlers as well.  Lots of uncomfortable stories about people who had been chased or kicked or trampled or gored by deer suddenly came to mind.  We tend to imagine deer as gentle creatures but their sheer size alone makes them dangerous if they feel you've cornered and threatened them.  Which apparently I had.
Click to enlarge
Abandoning my route I backed off as quickly as I could.  I'll admit I forgot to keep eye contact, which you are supposed to do, and once I got far enough away to dare turn my back on them I jogged up the hill just to prove to them I was leaving.  

Getting back on track took longer than I'd anticipated, and the last fifteen minutes of my walk back to the car was done in the gloaming - the semi-darkness that comes between twilight and complete night.  There was at least one more herd out there, and probably they'd moved when the first one did, but now I couldn't see them either.  Occasionally I heard them, the roar of the big males.

I sang  as I walked to let them know where I was, although of course they didn't do the same for me.  At one point I turned round to get a better idea of just how dark it was, and suddenly found the second herd.  There was at least as many as in the first, all backlit against the ridge by the fuzzy glow from the nearest town, and all staring at me too.  Every head was up.  I'd gone past them and had been concentrating so hard on where I was going that I hadn't noticed.  I could barely see anything, and made the rest of the walk mostly by guesswork.  Although I was probably too far away for them to feel defensive, after my first encounter it was distinctly unnerving.

I didn't breathe a sigh of relief until I was safely back in the car.  Yikes!

Got the nuts though :D

No comments:

Post a Comment