What is the best memory of your 2017 holidays?
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Review of "What is the best memory of your 2017 holidays?"
With accepted product proposals now as rare as the giant panda and the black-footed ferret, I may add some photos to some earlier reviews, hope you don't mind if some recycled reviews appear...
Mrs M and I love Galloway, the south-west corner of Scotland, and holiday there every two or three years. We prefer the flexibility and greater privacy of self-catering to hotel or guest house accommodation, and this year we revisited a cottage just outside the market town of Castle Douglas. The cottage itself was the setting for our greatest abiding memory of the holiday.
Bear with me if you will, as this is crucial! We chose this cottage because, for us, it offered the best of both worlds. I’m not well up on definitions, but I’d describe the place where we stayed as a hamlet. In my book, a hamlet is a micro-village that has a maximum of one shop (probably a newsagent/general store/Post Office) and perhaps one pub. The hamlet where we stayed, Ringanwhey, is one such location, with a few farms and cottages but not a single shop or pub to be seen. Red kites (fairly recently re-introduced) fly over the fields nearby and over the cottage.For us it’s the best of both worlds because although it has a quiet and slightly remote feel to it, it’s only a few minutes’ drive from Castle Douglas, so finding somewhere to eat or buy in food is no problem.
Hare today, gone tomorrowMrs M shares my love of wildlife, and whilst we’d both be hard-pressed to name a favourite British mammal, the hare is high up our list, whether the mountain hare (which like the stoat grows a pale grey coat in northern regions in winter for camouflage) or the more widespread brown hare.
Hares are elusive creatures and hard for naturalists to study closely, because they don’t den. Rabbits have warrens, cosy underground den-and-burrow systems to shelter from the worst of the weather; hares hunker down above ground come rain, snow, frost or gale.I explained to Mrs M that relatively little is known about them compared to other British mammals, and largely for that very reason. With no fixed territory, individual animals are very difficult to study. My ever-dry wit (or warped sense of humour, if you prefer) led me to quip, “Hence the saying – ‘hare today, gone tomorrow’”. It produced the usual response – a sigh and the response “very funny”, said in a tone of voice that indicated that actually she didn’t find it especially amusing. It was the same response I received a few years ago in Northumberland when the owner of a semi-heavy horse told us that it was due to give birth. Later Mrs M said that she hoped it wouldn’t keep us awake if it did. I insisted that it was unlikely. When asked how I could be so sure, I replied (because it has a HOARSE voice!”
Magic momentsThe hare’s elusiveness made our abiding memory the more special.
On our first night Mrs M looked across the lane that passed directly in front of the cottage, and into the field beyond it. “Is that a hare’s ears sticking up in the grass?” Despite her excitement, she whispered instinctively, as if the animal’s remarkable hearing would somehow pick up her voice, despite the distance and despite our being indoors.The binoculars proved that she was right. The object certainly was a pair of ears. They switched direction from time to time, ever alert yet oblivious to us. They had the black tips that distinguish them from those of a rabbit.
We tried to be patient as we each took a turn with the binoculars.Above the long grass we could just make out the head, the eyes paler than those of a rabbit. It was feeding. It made its distinctive lolloping gait a yard or two, its long back legs making it seem more ungainly than a rabbit. To our amazement, another head and pair of black-tipped ears approached it. The two animals sat up and sniffed each other, then the newcomer returned in the same direction it had come from.
We were spellbound. We don’t often see a single hare, and if we do it is usually a fleeting glimpse. We reckon to see two hares together is unusual, apart from in spring when they become as “mad” as the proverbial March hare, boxing and running in their courtship. Seeing only part of the animal made the sight the more enticing, as we silently willed it out of the cover of the long grass and into plainer view.More was to come, though.
A couple of evenings later, as darkness began to descend at around ten o’clock (this was in June!), we glanced out of the window. There was “our” hare on the clipped grass verge on the other side of the lane, just a few yards from the window. It nibbled on the vegetation for a few minutes, and lolloped casually though with a little ungainliness a few yards. About ten minutes later, it made its unhurried way along the verge and out of sight.We were treated to the same sight on two other evenings and one morning (I’m an early waker, and if I’m wide awake and unlikely to drift off to sleep again, I usually get up, provided that it’s at least 5.30 a.m.)
I tried to capture the moment with my camera, but the poor light, and the glass of the window, were against me.It was magical, though. A mysterious and truly wild animal had been within five or six yards. It had been oblivious. It had allowed us to watch it, without the cover of long grass, for five or ten entrancing moments. Who knows where it headed to through the day? We did see a depression in the grass of the field, which may well have been its “form” – or one of them. Who knows how far it ranged in a month? Where would it lie in wind and torrential rain? Who knows when it would sire or give birth to young? (Despite being creatures of the open, they seem able to breed almost at any time of the year).
And we’d seen the creature at close quarters, relaxed and at ease, for several minutes. And we’d seen it in its magnificence, in plain, uncluttered view. We'd even admired, without binoculars, its penetrating, hazel eyes.I have a book by the former naturalist, writer and television presenter Phil Drabble. He successfully reared no end of orphaned mammals and birds; baby hares always defeated him. Despite his best efforts, experience, and adaptations to his tried-and-trusted methods and milk formulae, the creatures seemed to thrive at first, then fade and die. Who knows why? How remarkable that an animal so hardy (rabbits, which are part of the same “family”, are notoriously susceptible to wet weather) could be so fragile in other respects.
The spell cast by this hare was almost broken – but not quite – by images on our television screens from years ago of attempts to boycott the hare coursing of the Waterloo Cup, where a pair of greyhounds were released close to a fleeing hare. Many got away, but the screams of an over-run animal as a pair of dogs literally tore it apart (to the approval of the gathered crowd) are imprinted on my brain and will forever remain.This coursing of hares has thankfully been banned. For now. The government seems inclined to reverse much of the anti-hunting legislation (which admittedly is full of loopholes anyway).
But, whatever happens, we fell under the spell of this beautiful, mystical creature in those moments.
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