The Red Deer: A Beautifully Camouflaged Beast
My peripheral vision picks up on a flurry of activity to my left. I turn to glimpse the pale, mottled underside of a buzzard as it swerves abruptly, yet with supreme grace and control, deep into the interior of a birch tree’s crown.
A dozen crows are hot on its tail; but rather than follow the raptor into the heart of the tree, they patiently take up position on the outermost branches.
A minute or two passes by when, suddenly, the buzzard emerges from the birch’s autumnal bullion, her wings held aspread and entirely motionless as her aerodynamic form glides with enchanting fluidity across a small tract of pastureland, her corvid companions following closely behind.
To my right, bobbing up and down in cadence with the choppiness of Ullswater’s surface is a congregation of tufted ducks. In the shallows, mallards linger, and on the shoreline black-headed gulls huddle in great numbers.
Every now and again, a gull takes briefly to the air as if to stretch its legs, or in its case wings. A gentle riding of the wind performed with admirable ease just several metres high and covering only a short stretch of shoreline seems to suffice before the bird re-amalgamates with the whiteness that is its flock.
Following the Ullswater Way, I continue along the eastern side of the lake, gazing as I go into an other-worldly distance, a distance filled with clag and phantasmical fells, their shapes and outlines only vaguely visible.
Before long, the path leads me away from the lakeside, taking me, instead, through fields backdropped by Bonscale Pike. Past oaks and ash trees I merrily hike, the latter loaded with ripe samaras waiting to be dispersed by the wind, the former bedecking the ground with their countless, mature acorns.
I wander past the hamlet of Howtown and then between Hallin Fell and Steel Knotts, fells which, earlier, were partially shrouded by mist. Now, however, the fog has lifted and sunshine seeps through cracks in the clouds to caress a landscape afire with an autumnal palette of toffees, caramels, oranges and lemons.
I swiftly ascend the nearby Beda Fell where, at long last, I hear what I came all this way for. A deep, reverberative roar radiates from the adjacent valley, and then another, and another.
I veer off from the beaten path on Beda Fell’s crest, the rich bellows of the resident red deer stags now determining my every move.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I soon find myself navigating across vertiginous slopes until, out of nowhere, a whole harem made up of half-a-dozen hinds materialises fifty or so metres below me. I stop stock-still, but it is too late; they have seen me.
A stag lifts his antlered head, his neck thick and shaggy, his shoulders broad and burly. His fur is as rufous as the bracken that surrounds him; a beautifully camouflaged beast, he is.
After a moment of hesitation on his part and a moment of awe on mine, he and his hinds trot off down the valley.