Ahhh, it’s that time of year again! As soon as the wet-stone, turned-earth scent of autumn arrives I begin my vigil. I always get up early; it’s a childhood habit that never truly waned, apart from a few of those grumbly teenage years, and even then my favourite time of day was the before and after of a clear sunrise, and now, years later, I’m up whilst all the sensible people are still asleep, and waiting. Waiting because late summer and early autumn are our Deer days, as much apart of our yearly round as the blackberries and beech mast, the misty mornings, elderberries and ripening apples. There is expectancy in the air and a shift in the tides.
Our deer herd is a remnant of the Domesday herd that roamed the ancient woodland that covered the Horton Estate. A thin, continuos thread from a feudal lord’s right to hunt across land that is still named after the woodland it sprang from. The Hollins – a forest dominated by holly, evergreen and safe, and like it’s deer herd, tough enough to endure the thousand years of settlement that have sculpted its outlines but not eradicated it entirely. Not the Holly that covers the hillside or the deer trods.
I sit in my orchard, with the shallow valley just beyond the tree line filling with early morning mist, and hear the crack of the stags colliding as they fight for the right to mate, hear their bellows, and wonder how many others have sat where I am, apples ripening above them, their feet soaked with dew and holding their breath as the Deer Days begin again and the wheel turns once more.