In Fallow’s Footsteps | by Jeni Bell

I was momentarily held hostage. A thick tangle of brambles, undergrowth and overhanging branches grasped relentlessly to my clothes and hair like velcro. Any attempt to use brute force or sharp sudden tugs just prolonged my capture.

If it wasn’t for the steady hum of the A354 to Blandford or the discarded old, burnt out car dumped carelessly and reclaimed by the undergrowth, then I could be forgiven for thinking that I was lost deep in a great wilderness.

But I wasn’t lost.

I know this patch well; the overgrown pathways teeming with greenery, the abandoned badger sett where I found my first perfect badger skull – white and gleaming amidst clods of sticky grey mud. I know the trees with the best forks to nestle in allowing for better views of songbirds flitting through dense leaf cover. It has brought me glimpses of foxes scurrying for cover and even the white ringtail of a Hen Harrier floating effortlessly across my sightline towards adjoining farmer’s fields.

This patch is part of the popular Martin Down nature reserve based on the Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire borders, cared for by Natural England. It attracts a whole host of outdoor enthusiasts; birdwatchers, walkers, moth marvellers, butterfly beholders, and flora fanatics – they all flock there to explore. But they don’t usually head across the A354 to the somewhat bleak seeming scrubland that skirts the woodland and farmland beyond. An unexpected treasury of wilderness next to a layby filled with HGV drivers scoffing on a greasy burger or a bacon bap.

I was over-coming my captor. As my fingers worked methodically through the puzzle of blackthorn that had worked its way deep into my hair my concentration was broken.

Crack.

Then silence.

There it was again; cracking, crunching and rustling followed by another pause. It was picking its way through the leaf litter, easing its self through the thicket and stopping every so often. I had the suspicion it could see me, but I couldn’t see it, whatever it was. From the building of the noise and the numerous rustles I could establish that there was more than one of them. A whole herd of forest dwellers.

I had finally detangled myself from the needy brush but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see through the sea of green and grey in front of me. The hawthorns and elders weaved together acting as a perfect screen between myself and whatever secret the undergrowth was hiding.

Free now to follow the movement, I skulked along the vague track ahead of me, listening out for the muffled patter of feet through mud and watching the movement of disturbed leaves that shivered along the side me like a chill down a spine.

Every so often I would catch patches of colour in the space between the trees, cream, fawn, brown and black. Something had spooked them, and more than likely I was to blame – it wasn’t a particularly graceful or quiet scene as I dislodged myself from the brambles earlier!

They were moving at speed now, there were no more pauses in the movement, no long waits while they tested the air expectantly for messages. They were rushing, with no care for snags from thorns or scratches from brambles, the sound of rushing air mixing with the crunch of leaves under delicate feet, heading straight towards me.

With a crescendo they sprang out from the undergrowth. In to the clearing in front of me crashed a mighty herd of fallow deer. I have seen fallow here before, so I wasn’t surprised by their presence, but I was surprised by the number. I lost count after twenty. The mass of bodies moving like waves on the sea, consistent and mesmerising. Always changing colour.

This herd wasn’t just the traditional fawn colouring, with white Bambi spots that fade in the winter, but a mix. White does, lacking in pigment but making up for it with an ethereal presence, were interspersed in the herd alongside the darker melanistic creatures. Shadows and light moving, tumbling over one another.

A flash of antlers caught my eye, palmate and cream coloured attached to a magnificent stag. He was black in colour, rich and glossy like caviar. King of the wild wastelands of Martin Down.

My wild place had held me hostage because it wanted to show me something. To tease me with a glimpse of this king and his ghostly herd. A message.

It wanted to tell me that the wild places are closer than you think. They aren’t just arctic tundra’s and barren deserts. They are here amidst the bustling roads, burnt out cars and weather rotted sofas. Where the bracken grows so thick that it bites and scratches.

This is where the wild things are; where fallow’s footsteps fall.

About the Entry

  • Blogger name | Jeni Bell
  • Site name | Seeking Wild Sights
  • Site URLhttps://www.seekingwildsights.co.uk/
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  • Why should someone visit your site? The U.K has an abundance of wildlife and wild places, often is places that you don’t always expect. Myself, my other half and our slightly neurotic dog packed in our day jobs and our home to live in a van full time and go in search of all things wild here in the U.K. We’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic wildlife encounters, such as seeing a mink and a minke whale at the same time! Our site is the place to head to if you’re interested in seeking out all things wild in the U.K. It’s closer than you think!
  • Entry Number | 50

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