The hollow grinding noise of the main road just meters from where I stood was distracting, but worse was that it dispelled any hope that I was in a natural or ‘wild’ place. This square block of wood was isolated completely by a close-cropped golf course on three sides and the road on the other, it was also a plantation with pine trees scattered vaguely throughout the chestnut and sycamore. On the positive side these trees were part of a local nature reserve bordering a large town, a large pond and mature natural woodland was only a few hundred meters away – meaning that more could be seen in this plantation than first met the eye.
But not today it seemed, Robins skulked in the damp tangles of bramble whistling mournful tunes, Blackbirds nervously ‘chack-chack-chacked’ at me in the hope I would get the message and leave their sodden territory. The ground felt and acted like ice with slushy snow on top – the mud sliding beneath my boots and threatening to upend me if I walked faster than three miles per hour. The sky overhead was a fresh blue, but only a few miles away I could see the malevolent mass of a cumulonimbus, approaching steadily with its payload of drenching precipitation. A pretty wren fluttered across the path in front and buried itself deep in the vegetation; clearly it had no intention of letting me get my binoculars on it. The route was circular so after passing along the northern edge of the wood it twisted back into the trees; as I walked my downward gaze (being careful with my footing on the mud) revealed the distinctive double-crescent shape of a deer spoor.
The deer prints followed the path exactly, they could not have been clearer in the soft, bare ground so I watched as I walked – waiting to see when and if the deer had left the path. Having wandered for a full minute with my eyes on the floor I peered upwards and froze; through the saplings directly in front of me stepping off the path, was a Roe deer. It was a buck because I could see the stumpy velvet growths of new antlers upon its head; it rather resembled a Giraffe with those bumps and swiveling ears. The Roe was looking at me but had not run or frozen, I was completely still so perhaps it was not sure if I was a threat, it confirmed this by starting to graze. These deer, unlike Fallows, are native to this country, its small and lithe form is perfect for sliding between dense woodland; the sleek brown colour of its coat is excellent for blending this silent creature into the leaf-litter.
The buck kept looking at me with quivering ears but remained where it was, a sound distracted it and as it turned its head so did I. Completely unnoticed to my left on the other side of the path were two more Roe deer who were snapping twigs underfoot beneath a large Yew tree. The original buck seemed just as surprised as I was, yet it walked casually away – brandishing its butter-coloured rump in my direction – and turned as if to cross the path further down. I was now anxious to move on because of the failing light and the approaching storm cloud, yet I did not want to end this intimate encounter with notoriously people-wary animals. But move I did, with suitably shocked reactions from all three deer; the original ran pell-mell through the brash and disappeared into the trees like a rabbit into a hat, the others nervously shuffled under the shade of the Yew and kept their eyes fixed on mine.
I chuckled at how much fresher those tracks were than I had supposed, I have had similar sightings of deer before but I can struggle to remember one quite so close and with the deer seemingly unaware that I was a human because I was motionless. I have to blame the deer though for delaying me so that I could not reach the train station before the great cloud emptied its (not insignificant) contents all over me.