Now I’m not one to boast but I reckon I must have just about the best living room in the entire world. It stretches out from Mortehoe in the west across to Porlock in the east; then all the way down to Wiveliscombe and Umberleigh (Let’s forget Barnstable, shall we – I don’t like Barnstable). It’s a room full of priceless treasures in countless hidden alcoves, crooks and crannies. And I’m now sitting in my best, most comfortable armchair with a view that’s just to die for.
I’m settled in a rock indentation at the top of the Valley of Rocks outcrop. I think it might be called ‘The Cheesewring; and it is quite simply ‘me-shaped’. I can look left and down onto Lee and Woody Bay. But to the right, the sky above Lynmouth and Porlock is now glowing with crimson flares as the sun rises over the Bristol Channel and the raven-black, precipitous cliffs at Countisbury Head. But, soon the landscape and seascape will give way from greyscale to their true sunlit colour spectrum; so I think now’s the time to quietly snook away.
I head down the Abbey Road, aiming to cut through Jake’s farm. I have a purpose and anyway Jake and I have a sort of understanding. He knows I’d never touch his livestock. I know he’s glimpsed me as he ruminates, scrutinising his sheep while sucking on a pipe that smells of old barley. But he makes no fuss as I glide into the scrub at the field’s edge and we both go about our business.
I’m heading for Herne Farm on the far side of Heddon Valley and The Cleave. Now, by contrast, the farmer here is a complete and utter moron. You see, every year he breeds shed loads of pheasants. And then, each year, just when they’re about big enough to eat (and you’re really not going to believe this), the idiot goes and leaves the enclosure gates open so they all escape. Hundreds of the little beggars; all among the woods, over the fields, even all over the roads. Honestly, this time of the year, the roads look like the backyard of Holsworthy abattoir. There are so many errant pheasants lurching and wobbling around that he has to bring all his mates in with their guns to dispatch them. Honestly; such a waste. So, I’m obviously off in that direction to do my bit to help them out. A sense of duty and community spirit is so important in the rural community; don’t you agree?
But today, something is wrong. I’m by the Abbey entrance and I’m looking up at one of Jake’s flock in a small field that slopes steeply down to the lower road. These sheep are not happy. I can smell their fear. I can see them shuffling, wanting to move in some direction of safety. But they don’t know where the danger is, so they bumble about nervously, not wanting to show their fear, yet unable to stop. Believe me, I am an expert on these things. I can’t see the danger myself, but I do see the consequence. Three ravaged carcases of full-grown ewes. There’s a small white van in a lane and I can smell humans; two I think. They smell of bacterial sweat, they smell of congealed blood; they smell of a certain nervousness. They are lifting a fourth carcass into the back of their van and smoking tiny cigarettes that don’t smell of old barley, but something horribly bitter and sour.
But there’s another smell. Fox? No. Wolf? Wrong country (I think). Its odour is so canine and I can smell its excitement. I watch, knowing downwind I’m safe from detection. Suddenly, it breaks cover, moving like the wind. It’s bigger than a fox, much bigger. It’s brown and white. It’s a dog. An Alsatian and it’s locked onto its target; a large Texel and it’s less than half a furlong away. The ewe sees it and explodes away. But I can sense its resignation; she knows her battle is lost. ‘Rover’ has the field’s slope and gravity on its side. He’ll be on it in seconds. I’m well over a furlong away and have to run along the slope rather than down it. But then Alsatians can’t accelerate to fifty miles per hour from a standing start in under two seconds. Within a few short seconds, and, just as the dog is about to thrust his open mouth into the haunches of the woolly old girl, I, in turn, do a much more professional job on him (though I say so myself ). Both my out-clawed paws lock onto his loins on each side while my fangs go straight for his windpipe. We roll down the hill in a deadly embrace. He’s lifeless of course by the second somersault, which is a lot quicker than the execution he was about to undertake.
I perform a perfectly profession butchery job on the animal by the fields lower boundary aware that those two humans are watching. When I look up at them, they slam closed the van’s backdoors and drive off, I think, rather quickly. I’ve nearly finished with the dog carcass and decide to drag the remains into the deep scrubland by the cliff edge. I may return to it later.
I smell a familiar, comforting odour of burning old barley. There, leaning on the field gate, is Jake. I don’t know how long he’s been watching, but when he sees me look up, he nudges his cap peak upwards with an upright finger and then points his finger at me in what I take to be a gesture of gratitude. Meanwhile, his other hand is extracting a mobile phone from his dungarees. So, I head off to help out that idiot farmer with his pheasant problem.
As I cut through Heddon Valley I can hear one of those wailing siren things that emanate from some cars. Curious, I climb to the crest of the Cleave and, sure enough, just by the Hunters Inn is the car responsible for the racket. It has a series of very bright, and quite frankly, terrifying flashing blue lights on its roof. It’s stopped in front of the white van, blocking its way. Two humans, in uniform are opening the back doors to the van.
Now, about those pheasants……
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