Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘deer

Paradise Valley

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I’ve lived in Sutton Poyntz for six months now. A mile to the south is the sea. A mile to the east is Osmington and half a mile to the north but up a very steep hill is the “top of my mountain”. Walking my dogs around this wonderful area has fulfilled every dream that I dared hope for when I first arrived.

The Mysteries Of the East

The Mysteries Of the East

We have perhaps half a dozen standard walks that we’ve learned, each one of which can be varied with diversions, extensions or shortcuts. Usually we walk for about and hour and a half. The one delight that is always there is a succession of dramatic and quite beautiful views. I never tire of these wonderful vistas across the valley, to the sea, the Isle of Portland and beyond.

I believe that being able to see some distance is fundamentally good for your psyche. Even in the midst of our ghastly capital city on the 12th floor of a vile 1970s tower block there was some consolation to be gained from

Go West Young Man

Go West Young Man

the view. In Paradise Valley the views move me every day as they change and develop with the seasons. Quite why just looking can make me well up and seems to touch my soul, I do not know but it fascinates me that the dogs will do the same thing. We reach the peak of a hill or come round a corner and they will stand on a wall or look over a hedge – and just look.

After one false start, spring is here. In the great national blizzard we got off lightly with merely an inch or so. A fortnight later though and we had our own intense Dorset storm and we woke up to four inches and twelve hours without power.

Taking In The View

Taking In The View

Another fortnight on and the daffodils and crocuses are out. There is already some intensity in the warmth of the sun and all around gardeners are beginning to dig and to sow, to dream of runner beans and strawberries. Up on the hill they were burning the gorse. Quite why I’m not sure. Then this week they brought in a formidable machine which seemed to crawl up and down the sides of the mountain completely demolishing the gorse bushes  and leaving an apparently smooth and fresh sward of pasture.

This required immediate investigation and so the dogs and I struck out for the top. Up closer we discovered a compact bulldozer on caterpillar tracks with a vicious flail mounted on front. The driver told me that it weighs bulldozer-workingsix tons and guiding it across the slope sometimes it would slip andbulldozer slide and nearly give him a heart attack. He explained that the gorse needs to be cut back simply to keep it under control. He’s a braver man than me. Perhaps he doesn’t know that others deliberately throw themselves off the mountain underneath paragliders.

So in a deepening wamth, for the first time since winter took hold, I find time to sit. With the absence of movement, without having to worry about negotiating the hills and the fields, with time just to sit and contemplate, the valley bursts into life. It’s like sitting in a huge and magnificent amphitheatre but there’s not just the single focus of a sport or contest. Every single part of the valley throbs with activity. A family of deer watch the dogs in trepidation.carla-watches-deer1 Countless beautiful, big, brown buzzards soar and swoop. A pair of kestrels hover over the gorse bushes. The biggest rabbit warren I have ever seen, a city full of bunnies, teems with bobbing white tails. The trees are developing that slightly misty look as millions of buds begin to swell and fill. The insect population is burgeoning and heading towards a total that must surely be in the billions, surely exceeding even the number of humans across the whole of our world.

Paradise Valley is blossoming and as it blooms with it will come ever more intense beauty and experience. This, surely, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I live right here. For me it truly is paradise.

kestrels1

Walking The Dog 11

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The lights on Portland are warming up orange in the distance. Everywhere there’s a gunmetal grey murk with a few billowing black threats. It is cold, chilling cold and the wind is biting and penetrating.  This is the very nub of dusk and here we are back on the beach after a break of over a week.

It’s been a tough week, travelling everywhere, bad news about my Dad, a disastrous episode with my car.  Saturday morning in the valley was a welcome relief.  The ground was very very wet but the sun shone strong and as we hit the toughest part of the trek up the mountain a ginger blur up the near-vertical slope, the dogs in pursuit, the healthiest, most muscly fox I’ve ever seen.  And on top, two bobbing, weaving white backsides of deer escaping towards Dorchester.

I’m in the little red Citroen loan car from The Cartshed, generously offered as “you’re welcome to put your dogs in there” and I knew I had an appropriate stick stored in the garden.  Now I’m slipping and sliding down the grass bank to the beach while Capone and Carla tumble, fight and slither through the shingle to the water.

At high tide a three foot windblown chop is breaking 20 yards out but the undertow is ready to pull Capone capwav2right back under the next one.  Once, twice, three times he is wiped out, thumped in the face and chest with icy white water.  He ploughs on like a Chieftan tank, shaken but not stirred and reaches the stick at the very crest.

Around he comes, half drowned, half propelled by another wave, he disappears underneath a crashing cauldron of surf and then he’s back, Carla already grabbing the stick from him.  His fierce but playful growl penetrates all of nature’s noise.  They scamper away up the beach carrying the stick together and turn to the most satisfying tussle and chew while I give them a few moments to rest.

Carla is no fool and although I throw her a little twig while Capone is busy she frolicks into the shallowest surf but thinks better of it and turns back.  It’s much more fun to wait for Capone to go in, do the work and intercept him on the way back.

Man Of The Match - Andy Powell

Man Of The Match - Andy Powell

What more perfect end to a day when Wales have almost beaten the South Africans in Cardiff and shown enormous promise, invention and the usual courage.

In these conditions I have to be careful how much I push him because he would try and try, keep going back, ignoring the cold and the shortness of breath and the sucking, churning, remorseless waves.  He tackles the surf like a second row forward and nothing stands in his way.capwav11

He wants nothing more than another chance.  He would die for me in that seething, heaving water.

This connection with my animals, my countryside, my sea, my sky, my wind is my salvation.  When we understand what matters, who matters, whatever happens, then contentment comes a little easier.

Life makes a little more sense.

capwav32

Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08