Gully

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Let me tell you about a place I know. For a start, it looks like nothing special; perhaps seventy acres of rough ground which lies in a gully between good hill pasture and rough granite scree. To the east is a mess of gorse and scots pine trees. To the west is rank heather, shot through with rowan trees. The heart of it’s a bog, thick with asphodel and orchids. I pass through this place on foot two or three times a month. And every time I pass through, I see something extraordinary.

I hardly noticed at first. I spent half an hour watching a roe doe delivering her kid, and I thought “well that’s something you don’t see every day”. Then I saw a vixen carrying her cubs in a shuttle run between holes in the bracken, and I thought “well fancy that”. It was some time before I made the connection. I began to add up the dots and realised that the place where I saw the cuckoo lay an egg was also the same place where I found a badger carrying bales of cut grass home to line her sett.

And then I didn’t want to jinx it by saying anything aloud. Because it’s also where I saw a curlew killed and carried home by a peregrine; a jay peeled by a goshawk. I watched ring ousels fighting and a stoat killing an adder, all in the same shallow gully. And did I mention that this place is where I once saw a hoopoe; and a colony of glow-worms?

I came down through the gully this evening, and I paused for a moment to peer through my binoculars. I’ve come to expect the extraordinary in this place, and somehow my eye was intuitively drawn to a patch of rough grass and birch scrub beyond it. I don’t know why I lingered upon it, but the birse rose on my neck to realise that I was gazing right down upon two adult wild boar; humped and staring back at me in the broad daylight.

The punch landed; a beat past. Then with inimitable porcine style, they turned and made off. Pigs do not gallop or sprint; nor do they scamper or bound. Pigs travel, and they do so at a jostling, tireless jog. And as they ran, high sided and dark as a pirate’s sail, a tumult of piglets ran by them; ochre and striped in the rushes. I laughed aloud to see them go; the tall boxy ears of the leading sows; the comic despair of the last piglet as it tried to keep up with the team. I recalled similar encounters in the forests of Croatia, Sweden, France and Serbia; that wild-eyed evasion; that top-heavy lurch.

Wild boar are a fact of life in Galloway now. I welcome them with open arms, and it’s a delight to know that the rougher hills are being rootled by stiff, hairy snouts. But these animals are shy to the point of paranoia. Despite having seen plenty of evidence of their passing, I have only seen boar “in the flesh” once before in this country, and that on the edge of darkness in a stuffy woodland glade. To find them backlit by the setting sun, coursing through rough country like natives? Well I think that trusty old gully will have to work quite hard to top it.

 

 

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