Two weeks ago, I missed the chance to take a nice roe yearling off the Chayne. Walking over the mossy banks at the back of the hill, we were spotted by vigilant eyes, and before we could do anything, two white bottoms bounced down over the dyke and into the forestry blocks. There aren’t many opportunities to take roe deer on the Chayne. There is so little cover on the farm that the only available animals are visitors from the neighbouring land, and they will only pass through at dawn and dusk. Formulating a new plan of attack, I ventured up to the hill this morning, determined not to be outdone again.
It was a mixed dawn, with showers and beams of sunlight alternating as I set out on to the moor. At one moment it seemed as if the sun was about to appear over the distant Solway, but then it changed its mind and disappeared behind a low bank of threatening cloud. I disturbed an enormous number of curlews as I moved through the heather, and they swept over the rushes ahead of me, bubbling and whining in the fresh breeze. Curlews have a long history in Galloway, and they were once widely despised as being “the Devil’s bird”. Legend has it that when the seventeenth century puritan martyrs were holding their secret prayer meetings up in the hills, calling curlews often gave away their locations to the government troops. Bloody encounters took place across the region as mounted dragoons fired muskets at the panicking rebels, and for many years afterwards, godly folk would spit when they heard the curlew call. For my part, I think it is one of the finest and most beautiful sounds on earth.
Stopping every few yards to scan the moor for foxes, I noticed on my watch that I was taking too long to reach the interception point. The day was growing brighter every second, and when I reached the brow of the hill and looked down to scan the likely spots, I noticed two familiar shapes walking slowly towards the wood. I was too late. They were eight hundred yards away from me and less than thirty from the boundary, and even as I ran down a gully and along the foot of a choked ditch towards them, I knew that there was no way I could catch them. Sure enough, the doe and her yearling bounced over the dyke and vanished into the thick trees. Sitting down in a low gully, I had a smoke and watched the shadows shrink behind the hills around distant Edinburgh.
Having resigned myself to failure, I walked the boundary fence where the deer had passed, hoping for a chance at a fox or a crow. As I reached the bottom corner of the farm, something rustled in the grass ahead. A dark, hen sized bird ducked its head down and ran beneath the bottom boughs of the forestry strip. It was gone so quickly that it could well have been a really dark cock pheasant, but there is an outside chance that today I saw my first black grouse on the farm.