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Full text of "Wild England of today and the wild life in it"

WILD ENGLAND OF TO-DAY 




Eagle's Nest. By LANCELOT SHEEU. 



WILD ENGLAND 
OF TO-DAY 

AND THE WILD LIFE IN IT 



BY 



C. J. \CORNISH 

Author of "Life at the Zoo" 



With Illustrations 

fro?n Drawings by Lancelot Speed 
and from Photographs 



NEW YORK 
MACMILLAN & CO. 

66 FIFTH AVENUE 

1895 




CD 



TO 

LADY WANTAGE 

THIS BOOK, DESCRIPTIVE IN PART OF THE BERKSHIRE DOWNS, 
IS DEDICATED 

BY 

THE AUTHOR 



PREFACE 

THE wild places described in the following chapters 
are so different ranging from the Southern Cliffs to 
the Yorkshire Fen, as to suggest the question how 
their wild character and the wild life in them has been 
so generally preserved ? 

Some, such as the Culver Cliffs, are in a measure 
self-protected. Some, like Abbotsbury Swannery or 
Blenheim Lake, are choice spots, which only pass from 
the possession of one great proprietor to another, and 
are preserved without change ; others, like Christchurch 
Harbour and the southern estuaries, have natural fea- 
tures so attractive that rare birds never forsake them, 
in spite of disturbance. The Down country round 
"The Great White Horse" was always thinly 
peopled, and the change from arable to pasture has 
further reduced its human inhabitants. The Yorkshire 
fen is kept quiet by want of roads and deep rivers 
uncrossed by bridges. Other places described, such as 



viii PREFACE 

the ancient meadows and Hampshire streams, are not 
wild in the sense of being removed from the homes of 
men, but convenience, or a sense of propriety, has 
kept them as they were. Most of these conditions are 
likely to last. But the " pine and heather country/' 
and that round the lovely " Surrey ponds," will before 
long be in the hands of the builder, from the Bay of 
Bournemouth to Ascot Heath. It is worth while 
remembering that in this district Wolmer Forest is 
still Crown property, and might, if the New Forest Acts 
were extended to it, be preserved for ever " open and 
wild." Swinley Forest, and other royal forests in the 
south, might be similarly retained as " reserves " or 
natural parks, and the finest sea-cliffs which have no 
commercial value might be purchased and included in 
the protected area. 

The greater number of the papers included in this 
book appeared in their first form in The Spectator, to 
the editors of which paper the author owes his best 
thanks for their encouragement, and also for permission 
to print them in their present extended form. Other 
chapters have been added, and many of the original 
papers re-written in greater detail. They are now 
presented in their natural order, grouped together as 



PREFACE ix 

they deal with larger or smaller areas of wild England 
of the same type. For much minute and original 
observation of the wild life of the White Horse 
country I have to thank my brother, the Rev. J. G. 
Cornish of Lockinge, whose notes on the wild life of 
the Berkshire downs, and of other parts of England, 
have been constantly at my service. The greater part 
of the paper on Abbotsbury Swannery is also written 
from his notes. 

C. J. CORNISH. 

Orford House, Chiswick Mall, 
May 29, 1895. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS. 

SEA-FOWL AND SAMPHIRE I 

THE CLIFFS AT SUNRISE 9 

SEA-FOWL AND THE STORM 17 

THE FROZEN SHORE 25 

LAND WON FROM THE SEA. 

BRADING HARBOUR ... 32 

SOUTHERN ESTUARIES. 

SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH .. 41 

THE LAST OF THE OSPREYS 51 

POOLE HARBOUR 60 

THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 67 

THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY. 

IN PRAISE OF PINE-WOODS ... ... ... ... 76 

SELBORNE AND WOLMER FOREST 83 

SURREY SCENES. 

THE SURREY PONDS ... ... ... ... ... QO 

TROUT-BREEDING ... ... ... ... ... 97 



x ii CONTENTS 

SURREY SCENES (continued} PAGE 

THE NIGHTINGALE VALLEY IO 4 

THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK ... ... HI 

THE DEER IN RICHMOND PARK n8 

FAWNS IN THE " FENCE-MONTHS " 124 

HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS. 

WINTRY WATERS ... ... * 3 

MAY-FLIES IN MARCH ... ... J 37 

THE WOODLANDS IN MAY ... ... 144 

THE BUDS AND BLOSSOM OF TREES ... ... 150 

ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE. 

THE LOST FALCON ... I5 6 

THE PEEWIT'S HOME ... 166 

MARCH DAYS ON THE DOWNS ... ..: 173 

"KITING" ON THE DOWNS 179 

WILD RABBIT FARMING ... ... ... ... ... 187 

BIRDS IN THE FROST FOG ... ... ... ... 195 

ENGLISH ANIMALS IN SNOW ... ... ... ... 2O2 

RUSTIC NATURALISTS ... ... ... ... ... 269 

IN THE ISIS VALLEY. 

THE ISIS IN JUNE ... ... ... ... ... 217 

WILD-FOWL IN SANCTUARY ... ... ... ... 224 

IN HIGH SUFFOLK. 

SUNDOWN IN SHOTLEY WOOD ... 231 

ANCIENT MEADOWS '., 238 

SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW ... 246 



CONTENTS xiii 

PAGE 

SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS. 

A WHIT-MONDAY FISHING ... 257 

THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 266 

CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 275 

THE YORKSHIRE FEN ... 282 

DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE ... ... ... ... 293 

IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 300 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

EAGLE'S NEST ... Frontispiece 

SEA-GULL'S NEST To face page 6 

DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE 1 8 

SWAN'S NEST, BRADING HARBOUR 38 

SALMON-FISHING AT CHRISTCHURCH ... 46 

THE OSPREY'S HOME, LOCH-AU-EILAN ... 56 

FLIGHT OF SEA-BIRDS 64 

SWANS AT ABBOTSBURY ... ... ... 70 

THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK '.'..,' 114 

DEER IN RICHMOND PARK 122 

THE FROZEN THAMES 132 

PEEWIT'S NEST .... 170 

GRASS-BURNING ON THE DOWNS ... ... ,, 176 

KITING ON THE DOWNS ,, 1 86 

KINGFISHER ... ... ... ... ... ,, 222 

TAKING CORMORANT'S EGGS . 282 



WILD ENGLAND OF TO-DAY 



THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

SEA-FOWL AND SAMPHIRE 

THERE are still a few patches of the earth's surface 
left in England to which no " Access to Mountains 
Bill " or funicular railway will give admission ; where 
Nature calls to man to keep his distance, and peremp- 
torily forbids him even to set foot. Such, at least, is 
the warning, as we read it, written on the Southern 
Cliffs by the sheep-track that shrinks back from the 
scalloped edging of the brow, and the treacherous tide 
that prowls for ever at their feet, and piles round them 
the rotten debris of ocean death and land's decay. Yet 
the attraction of these great cliffs to the imagination 
and curiosity is as strong as the repulsion which sense 
dictates. When the air is still, we may sit by the verge 
and look over, while the white gulls swing out and 
float beneath ; gazing, as it were, on some inverted 

world, where blue sea takes the place of blue sky, and 

B 



2 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

birds are flying in the air below us. Or we may 
clamber down the face to some midway ledge, with cliff 
and sea beneath, and cliff and sky above, and sit level 
with the sea-fowl as they fly and float, and fancy 
ourselves in the cloud-city of revolted birds, that starved 
ungrateful gods by intercepting the sacrifices on their 
way from earth to heaven. Or, greatly daring, we may 
watch the temper of the tide, when the cliff 

" Sets his bones 

To bask i' the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet 
For the ripple to run over in its mirth ; 
Listening the while, where on the heap of stones 
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet." 

But neither from its summit nor its feet, nor even from 
some jutting midway crag, can all the secret places of 
the cliff be seen ; and if the stranger desires to become 
familiar with the whole surface of the precipice, and 
learn the ways of its inhabitants, he must be content to 
gaze only on the forbidden land, and approach it, like 
good Ulysses, in his boat, over the wine-dark sea. 
Then, if he choose the hour aright, he may be in time 
to watch the sea-fowl depart for their long day's fishing, 
or their return to their sleeping-places in the inacces- 
sible faces of the crag. But it is not every one who 
cares to face the discomfort of rising before daybreak, 
and of a long and chilly row along the shore, while the 
morning wind blows in cold and clammy from the sea. 
It is better to lie off the rocks on a summer evening 

" Between the sun and moon along the shore," 
and watch the darkening cliffs, and the gulls and 



SEA-FOWL AND SAMPHIRE 3 

cormorants flying in to roost, and mark the ravens and 
the peregrine falcon that still haunt the crag, to their 
resting-places among the seams and wrinkles of its face. 
The lofty precipices of Culver Cliffs, in the south- 
east corner of the Isle of Wight, are still the breeding- 
place of the last two birds, and the first visit made by 
the writer to the spot had for its object to ascertain 
whether either, or both, had recently nested there. As 
long ago as the days of Queen Elizabeth, the falcons 
from these cliffs were famous, and they are said to have 
nested in the same eyries till the present day. The 
fishermen off the Foreland had just loaded up their 
boats with the lobster- and prawn-pots, five dozen in a 
boat, to shoot at the turn of the tide, and it was not 
without difficulty that a black-eyed, brown-legged 
fisher-lad was obtained to aid in managing the boat 
among the currents and rocks which the falling tide 
would soon disclose. Like most " longshore " fisher- 
men, who look on the sea-fowl and rabbits in the cliffs 
as part of their yearly harvest equally with the produce 
of the sea, he was well acquainted with the habits of 
the birds, and soon confirmed the existence of the 
ravens. A coastguardsman had caught a young one 
newly flown from the nest a few weeks before, which 
ate so much that he had resolved to sell it cheap when 
he returned from his cruise with the mobilized fleet. 
After we had rowed quickly across the bay which 
separates the low land from the long line of Culver 
Cliffs, the first face of the precipice opened out, a 
square-topped buttress of chalk, incurved and over- 



4 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

hanging, with waving lines of flints running from top 
to bottom. For fifty feet above the water the cliff 
was covered with pale, sulphur-coloured lichen, and the 
surface was so smooth and hard as to afford no foothold 
even to the birds, except to the sand-martins, which, 
abandoning the burrowing habits of their race, had 
made themselves nests of chalk-pellets, like those built 
by house-martins beneath the eaves. The beams of the 
setting sun streamed over the top of the precipice, and 
against the light the tiny martins were visible, like 
gnats against the evening sky f The next wall of the 
cliff was hardly more favourable to the birds. A few 
gulls were sitting on a knife-like edge of chalk, which 
juts into the sea at its extremity, and the first cor- 
morant launched itself heavily into the air, and flew out 
to sea. But as we approached the third and least 
accessible angle of the precipice, the cries and calls of 
the birds could be heard, and cormorants and gulls 
came flying round to see who were the disturbers of 
their evening quiet. At the extreme angle of the rock, 
the sea has bored two deep black holes in the chalk, 
and in one of these the body of the last of the Culver 
cragsmen was found some years ago, where the sea had 
washed it. At this point the cliff is, perhaps, more 
impressive than at any other, rising sheer, white, and 
lofty, untenanted by birds, and unmarked even by the 
creeping samphire. Beyond the " nostrils," as the black 
holes are called, the surface of the chalk alters, and is 
marked with long, horizontal lines and ledges of grass 
and samphire, and crowded with the old and young 



SEA-FOWL AND SAMPHIRE 5 

sea-fowl, which have made it their home for centuries. 
The long, black, snaky heads and necks of the cor- 
morants lined the highest shelves, and sea-gulls sat 
quietly in groups and lines, like white doves against the 
short, green turf. Lower down, the beds of samphire 
hung in gentle curves one below the other, like the 
" festooned blinds " now so common ; and among the 
wreaths sat the white and shining sea-fowl. The cor- 
morants soon took wing, and flew croaking in wedges 
and lines out to sea ; but the gulls were tamer and less 
inclined to move, though the whole colony raised their 
voices in loud protest against our intrusion. Amid the ' 
clamour and barking of the gulls, another sound was 
heard, like hundreds of kittens mewing; and this, we 
found, came from the young gulls on the lower ledges. 
The greyish-brown of the young birds makes them 
almost invisible against the grey chalk, which is, in 
this part of the cliff, of a darker colour than elsewhere ; 
and it was not until the anxiety of a pair of parent 
gulls on one of the lowest ledges attracted our atten- 
tion, that we discerned the young birds daintily walking 
along the shelf to a point of greater safety. The 
ravens had this year made their eyrie not in the chalk 
crag, but in the red sandstone under " Red Cliff 
Battery," nearer Sandown. The cliff is there so 
precipitous, that it would be possible to drop a pebble 
from the hand on to the beach beneath, which may 
account for the safe up-bringing of the young ravens. 
The nest no longer held the young ; but one of the 
brood, apparently the sole survivor now that the pro- 



6 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

tection of the Red Cliff had been abandoned, was 
sitting, apparently half-asleep, on a ledge of chalk 
about 100 ft. above the sea. It is not often that the 
chance comes of watching a wild raven at close quar- 
ters. It sat quietly in a sort of niche in the chalk, 
its head and beak in a line with the body, until our 
movements caused it to look back over its shoulder. 
Still it did not move. A gull then walked round the 
corner of the cliff, and black and white met face to 
face. The great size of the raven was then shown, as 
each bird sat looking at the other. Like most of the 
crow-tribe, the raven seems very drowsy in the late 
evening, and disinclined to move. When at last the 
bird became uneasy, it walked along a kind of covered 
way cut in the chalk, out on to a grassy slope, then 
poised, and swung flapping out over the sea, with 
loud, hoarse croaks. There it was joined by the two 
old birds, and all three went through those curious 
aerial gymnastics which ravens delight in, tumbling and 
taking "headers" in the air, like tumbler-pigeons. 
Otherwise, the flight of the raven is more like that of a 
gigantic jackdaw than of a rook or carrion-crow. But 
its voice and great size easily distinguish it from all 
other birds. 

Where the broken rocks lay piled highest at the foot 
of the crag, we landed on one to gather samphire, and 
then turned our eyes from the dazzle of the chalk 
to the dark, translucent water at its foot. We were 
floating high above a luxuriant sea-garden, full of a 
rich and tangled growth of sea-ferns and sea-mosses, 



SEA-FOWL AND SAMPHIRE 7 

yet not so tangled but that each plant could be dis- 
tinguished from its fellow when the eye became accus- 
tomed to the sea change suffered by the light in " the 
waves' intenser day. 1 ' Our samphire-gatherer, after 
ascending to a point from which his form was hardly 
discernible amongst the giant fragments of rock, cast 
a great armful of pale-green aromatic cliff-herbs into 
the boat samphire, and sea-poppy, and wild mignon- 
ette. Of these, the samphire is the strangest, with its 
thick, fleshy leaves like ice-plant, its salt and pungent 
scent and taste, and pale, uncanny-looking flower. To 
gather it in any quantity, it would be necessary to scale 
the most dangerous parts of the cliff, and it was while 
seeking this and sea-fowls' eggs that the cragsman was 
usually engaged, whose death we have mentioned. It 
was his practice to go alone on his perilous expeditions, 
and the exact manner of his death will never be known. 
It is more usual for two or three rock-climbers to work 
together. A crowbar is planted in the turf above, and 
two ropes are used. One goes round the body, and 
the other is held in the hand ; the first is warped round 
the crowbar, so as to be let out at pleasure ; the second 
is fixed to it by a noose, and when the cragsman wishes 
to reascend, he shakes this second rope as a signal, and 
the men on the top of the cliff haul at the waist-rope, 
while he assists by climbing up the second, hand-over- 
hand. The greatest risk is run when the climber 
throws off his waist-rope, and clambers along the 
shelving ledges of slippery turf which seam the cliff, 
where the least slip is fatal. 



8 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

As the glow of sunset faded behind the cliffs, and 
the moon rose over the sea, the last flocks of cormorants 
came in from the channel, like rooks returning to roost. 
Then, as we set the boat's head homewards, a peregrine 
falcon darted from the cliff, and with rapid beats of the 
wing made a half-circle over the sea, returning to the 
crag in Jess than two-thirds of the time taken by a 
flock of cormorants which took the same course. We 
did not see the falcon's mate, or the young, as in the 
case of the raven. But they are said to have haunted 
the crag during the spring, and there is little doubt 
that the peregrine, like the raven, has never deserted 
the eyrie, which it has held for at least three centuries, 
in the chalk precipices of Culver Cliffs. 



THE CLIFFS AT SUNRISE 

(WHITECLIFF BAY) 

SEEN from the verge of the southern cliffs, the rise 
of the summer sun presents a picture in curious con- 
trast to the low and angry dawns of winter days, with 
their lines of red and tumbled cloud over tossing 
breakers, or the gradual and mysterious effects of 
sunrise in the forest, where the forms and masses of 
trees and woods are minute by minute separated from 
the clinging mists and vapours, as mere white light 
gives place to golden beams. The beauty of the 
summer sunrise over the sea is of the calm and silvery 
sort. There is no mystery of form to be disclosed on 
the quiet surface ; the floating vapours are uniform 
and without visible outline, the sky as a rule cloudless, 
and merely receptive of the light. Thus while in the 
deep harbour valley which runs inland behind the cliffs, 
level masses of white mist are rolling and eddying like 
steam in a pot, and the trees around it appear as if 
fringing the margin of a lake, over which the black 
cormorants are flying high as if to avoid the fumes of 
some hidden Avernus, the aspect of the sea is like a 



io THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

level bath of quicksilver, veiled with pale-grey exhala- 
tions, similar in tone, but without reflected light, which 
appears only in the broad and shining track which runs 
from the shore across to the horizon and the sun. 
Only on the sea-level the south-east wind and tide 
seem to revolve the mass of water in an immense 
dimpled and revolving eddy, which has for one margin 
the whole semi-circle of the bay. The horizon, even 
where the sea whitens under the sun, is indistinct, and 
the division of water and vapour undiscoverable by a 
landsman's eye. Backed by the cornfields and bounded 
by the sea, the narrow line of clifF-face and beach enjoy 
at this hour a quiet and repose which seems for the 
time to allay the mistrust and fear of man of the 
wildest of the sea-fowl and land-birds which haunt the 
cliffs and precipices of the shore. Just after sunrise, in 
Whitecliff Bay, which, with its adjacent precipices of 
the Culver Cliffs, corresponds at the eastern angle of 
the Isle of Wight to Alum Bay and Freshwater Cliffs 
on the west, the writer found the ravens sitting on the 
juts of a sand-cliff, and almost as tame as the jackdaws, 
whom they had driven from the warm ledge on which 
they take their morning sun-bath. Except for the 
ravens there seemed not to be a living creature in the 
bay, though from beyond the chalk crag to the right, 
where the high cliffs face the south, the croak of the 
cormorants, and the screams and laughter of the gulls, 
rose above the measured suck and surge of the flowing 
tide among the shingle. The sand and clay-cliffs were 
full of small land-birds ; pert, blackheaded stonechats 



THE CLIFFS AT SUNRISE n 

were flitting from spray to spray on the furze-banks ; 
butcher-birds and wheatears hovered in the cliff ; and, 
strange to say, a large flock of sparrows had flown 
down from the cornfields in which they had been 
stealing wheat since daybreak, and were drinking and 
washing, with an immense amount of loud and vulgar 
conversation, where a stream of sweet water broke out 
at the foot of the cliffs, and trickled down through the 
sand to the sea. To descend the steep path of yellow 
clay it was necessary to doff boots and walk in " stock- 
ing feet " ; for the boot-soles, drenched with dew, 
slipped on the clay as if on a surface of oiled and 
polished metal. The quiet bay was scored and furrowed 
by the violence of a great thunderstorm which had 
flooded towns and fields in the last week of August. 
A mass of water had collected in the hollow of a narrow 
valley above, and poured like a bursting reservoir over 
the cliff, cutting a channel 10 ft. deep and 30 ft. wide 
through 'the shingle banks, and laying bare the rocks 
and boulders buried deep below. The shingle was 
cleared away as if by hand, and pure water was still 
running over the smooth grey beds of shale below. 
Beyond the channel the shingle was spread fan- 
wise for a space of 60 yards, abutting on the sand 
beyond. On this sand, for many yards above the 
salt margin of the breakers, the surface was covered 
with neat round pits, the size of a penny. They 
were filled with water, and in the centre of each 
was a small round channel sunk, probably the shaft 
leading to the shell-mouth of a buried razor-fish. 



12 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

Two or three isolated rocks, covered with green and 
brown sea- weeds " sea-ferns " would be the more 
appropriate name for the beautiful submarine fronds 
lay in succession between high- and low-water mark ; 
and between these the sand was marked in regular lines 
with crab-tracks, following, in the main, beaten paths, 
like rabbit-tracks on the snow. It is difficult to dis- 
tinguish how many lines of footprints a crab leaves. 
It has eight small legs and two large ones, which last 
it usually carries in the air, though when not frightened 
it also uses them in walking. Consequently a crab- 
track looks as if a small wheel, with a number of spikes 
and projections, had been rolled over the sand from 
rock to rock. Most of these shallow-water crabs are 
" King-crabs," marked on the back with the distinct 
outline in profile of a royal crown, with the jewels 
studding the edges of the arches, exactly as it appears 
in the water-mark on official paper. Though useless 
for food, they are caught in numbers by the fishermen 
as bait for their prawn-pots. The monster crabs which 
are seen in rows on the slabs of the London fish-shops 
never live near the shore, but lurk in the seaweed 
jungles among the submerged rocks out at sea. The 
puzzle is how they ever get into the crab-pots, for in 
the largest of these, which are made in certain fixed 
sizes by the fishermen themselves, according to ancient 
and established tradition, the aperture at the top is only 
nine inches wide. Probably the big crabs, when they 
see any bait which looks and smells particularly nice, 
creep into the pots sideways. 



THE CLIFFS AT SUNRISE 13 

The sea-fowl colony round the corner of the chalk 
precipice had a sentinel gull watching the bay, to give 
notice of any stranger approaching the point beyond 
which the chalk precipices rise to face the sun. This 
solitary white gull, flying at a great height above the 
down, kept up an incessant clamour, which, without 
causing the groups which were basking on the rocks to 
leave their stations, made them uneasy and alert. The 
Culver Cliff, like that on the opposite side of the island, 
might well be named "Sun Corner." The heat and 
light reflected from the 400 ft. of perpendicular white 
wall fill the atmosphere with warmth and brightness. 
All the birds were taking a quiet sun-bath, either on 
the cliff or on the flat rocks below. Rock-pigeons 
were sitting crooning to each other on a jutting ledge, 
and a colony of cormorants were basking on a ridge of 
turf which sloped back like a green roof from the 
perpendicular cliff. Best of all, a pair of peregrine 
falcons were quietly sitting not 300 ft. from the foot 
of the crag, their black-and-white breasts, and dark- 
blue wings and tails, even the eye and head, distinctly 
visible with the glass as they faced the sun. They 
were in no hurry to leave ; but after a few minutes 
the pair launched themselves from the cliff and flew 
with lightning speed round a projecting corner of the 
rocks to some more secluded part of the precipice. A 
whole family of ravens, six in number, were perched in 
a grave and contemplative line on another part of the 
precipice. The two old birds were watching a young 
cormorant, which was sitting on a flat rock below them, 



i 4 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

and receiving from time to time supplies of fish from 
the parent birds, which were diving near the shore. A 
larger fish than usual was brought by the birds, and 
laid upon the rock at the feet of the young one, which, 
having well breakfasted, was apparently unable to 
swallow any more, and sat looking at the fish as if 
contemplating how long it would take to get up 
enough appetite to eat it. The ravens also saw the 
fish, and at once flew down on to the rock. Their 
method of robbery was, no doubt, in accordance with 
some unwritten law of the cliff colony ; but unlike 
that which most birds adopt when they are dealing 
with a weaker, and, as in this case, quite defenceless 
neighbour. It would have been easy to make a dash 
at the fish, and fly off with it at once. But for some 
reason they did not choose to do so. The ravens, after 
a short croaking conversation, sidled up on one side of 
the cormorant, until all three birds were in a line, their 
shoulders touching. The ravens then proceeded to 
edge down upon the cormorant, gradually shoving it 
away from the fish, and towards the edge of the rock, 
all in a very gentle, friendly manner, with no appear- 
ance of force. The cormorant then shuffled in front 
of its fish, and turning round, set its sloping back 
towards the ravens, who found that as they pushed the 
bird, they only upset it on to the coveted morsel, on 
which it lay sprawling. As this did not answer, the 
ravens separated, and sat one on each side of the 
cormorant ; one then gave it a push, while the other 
neatly picked up the fish, and both flew off with it to 



THE CLIFFS AT SUNRISE 15 

their own full-grown brood on the cliff. The probable 
explanation of this complicated manoeuvre is that the 
ravens were quite aware that if frightened the cormorant 
would pick up the fish and dive with it out of their 
reach. Hence they adopted the trick constantly 
practised by watch-snatchers in town, in which one 
hustles the victim, while the other seizes his property. 
On the opposite corner of the island, by the Fresh- 
water precipices, the rock-fowl are more numerous and 
of more kinds than those which haunt the Culver Cliffs. 
Only, if the visitor would see them all he must keep 
early hours, and be in his boat under the cliffs before 
daybreak. Long before sunrise, the gulls are awake, 
and uttering a hundred quaint calls and cries, laughing 
like children, mewing like kittens, whistling and 
whispering, screaming and crying, though no human 
footstep has trodden on the sand since last night's tide 
smoothed and pressed it, and bordered the damp edge 
of the sea-garden with curving wreaths of weed. 

There are few better places for watching the sea-fowl 
than the cliffs of Freshwater. Not where the chalk 
presents its strongest face to the sea ; for there the 
sheer crag denies a foothold not only to the birds, but 
even to the creeping samphire. But when the sun 
rises from the sea and flushes the more broken parts 
of the cliff, they may be seen in hundreds ; rows of 
puffins in neat white waistcoats and black coats, like 
well-drilled City waiters ; black solemn cormorants ; 
guillemots and razor-bills ; and long-winged, graceful 
gulls. As the red disc leaves the water, the gulls 



X 6 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

stream out over the sea, barking and whining like 
packs of hounds, to see if the herring-shoals have come 
in during the night ; and the cormorants " Isle of 
Wight parsons," as the sailors call them launch them- 
selves heavily from the lower rocks, and fly low along 
the shore in > shaped wedges. Only the puffins stay 
to gossip and wag their heads, and talk about the 
young rabbits they stole yesterday, and the agreeable 
change which they make in a fish diet. Presently, if 
no herring-shoals are in sight, the gulls come sailing 
back ; the young ones first in their dusky feathers, and 
their grey-and-white parents later, some to line the 
rocks, while others settle on the water, and float like a 
fleet of yachts at anchor, and watch their visitor. If 
he be still and quiet, they will even alight near him on 
the sand, and trip daintily along where the waves 
break, stopping every now and then to examine the 
rolls of seaweed for dead crabs and fish. But these 
serve only to " deceive the stomach," as Mr. Stanley's 
phrase is. A gull's appetite needs more liberal diet, 
and the whole flock rise joyfully as an old white 
herring-gull flies in from the sea and screams to the 
hungry crowd. " Herrings ! " he shouts, as plainly as 
may be. "Herrings! Hurrah!" the pack answer; 
and the air is full of white wings hurrying off to the 
distant shoal. 



SEA-FOWL AND THE STORM 

(BEMBRIDGE LEDGE) 

THE great frost with which the year 1895 p ene( i 
was preceded, about the beginning of January, by 
cyclonic gales of quite unusual violence. One of these 
sprang up so suddenly on the night of January 10, that 
the seaports received only three hours' warning, and 
the sea-fowl, who are often reputed the best weather- 
prophets, were caught by the storm with no warning 
at all. The wind struck the southern coast at mid- 
night, and blew for forty-eight hours with a steady 
roar like the sound of machinery in a mill. As the 
day broke over the sea, where the long reef of Bern- 
bridge Ledge juts out at the north-east corner of the 
Isle of Wight, the whole stretch of waters seemed in 
motion towards the shore ; the gale had mastered 
current and tide, and subdued all the minor conflict 
and welter of the narrow sea. As far as the sight 
could carry, the whole surface of the Channel was 
piled up in parallel lines of white-topped waves, 
hurrying fast and close, line after line, and breaking 
with a front of miles upon the shingle line. The 



jg THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

swiftness and uniformity of the onset of the sea on 
a dead lee-shore in such a gale detracts something from 
the grandeur of the sight. But the coasting brigs and 
schooners forced ashore, seem almost to melt before 
the waves, and even the true sea-fowl, whose home is 
on the great waters, are starved and drowned, or driven 
inland until the tempest lulls. 

For some days before the gale, while the frost lasted, 
the number of home-bred wild-ducks, as well as the 
true sea-ducks which winter in the Channel, had been 
increased by arrivals from the North. During the day 
these were seen swimming in little bands and companies 
beneath the tall precipices which broke the force of 
the north wind, or resting and sleeping just beyond the 
breakers. The sea-ducks and cormorants, which feed 
by day, were diving and fishing while the others slept, 
sometimes rising to the surface in the middle of the 
resting flocks, or taking long low flights from one 
feeding-ground to another. At dusk the sea was 
deserted by the birds, the cormorants flying heavily 
into roost in the chalk precipices, while the ducks, 
awake and hungry, took their nightly flight inland, 
rushing high in dusky lines over the heads of the 
fishermen lurking along the clifF with their long duck- 
guns, whose flash and roar were the nightly signal of 
the moving of the fowl. Those that stayed after dawn 
in the preserved inland waters had for some days paid 
a heavy toll to the gun. But so far, though the land- 
birds were pinched, and crowding to the houses and 
farm-buildings, the greater number of the sea-fowl had 



SEA-FOWL AND THE STORM 19 

suffered in no way from the wintry weather, and the 
ravens, which, according to tradition, always chooSe the 
site for their nest on New Year's Day, were playing 
and croaking in solemn gambols in the air, and evidently 
enjoying the annual renewal of their courtship, which 
is the pleasant custom of birds which pair for life. A 
few hours of storm broke up this sociable company. 
Even before dawn, the screams and calls of gulls flying 
round the houses and buildings had given warning that 
something had happened to disturb the usual order of 
life upon the shore ; and as the darkness gave place 
to uncertain light, their white forms were visible dimly 
drifting and circling among the trees, or soaring almost 
motionless against the steady current of the gale. 
These gulls were all of the smaller and weaker kinds, 
mostly black-headed gulls, in wniter plumage ; the 
larger sorts had not yet succumbed to the force of the 
gale, but were flying high and steadily in noisy packs 
along the line of shore. On the edge of the cliffs, 
the sustained strength and violence of the wind was 
hardly less evident to the human spectator standing on 
the verge, than to the fowl which were struggling to 
maintain their usual place in the air between the 
summit and the sea. The gale still maintained its 
steady mechanical pressure, without gust or flaw, and 
the larger gulls were giving an exhibition of their 
powers of flight. A pair of the great black-backed 
gulls were the only fowl which still seemed able to 
disregard in a measure the force of the wind. They 
still maintained a place well out at sea, flying low 



2O 



THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 



with powerful beats of the wing, half-hidden by 
smoking mist, where the gale cut the crests of the 
waves and drove them on in clouds of greyish spray. 
Their course was at right-angles to the direction of 
the gale, and when its steady impulse drifted them 
shorewards, the big birds set their faces to the blast, 
and worked their way out to sea by sheer force of 
wing and muscle. The herring-gulls had abandoned 
the effort to keep the sea, but had not yet been driven 
from the shore. Unlike the black-headed gulls, whose 
habit is to nest inland, and who readily leave the 
coast for the fields whenever the supply of food is 
likely to be more abundant on the ploughlands than 
on the coast, the herring-gulls are true sea-fowl, 
nesting on the cliffs, and getting their living by fishing 
or picking up the sea-refuse on the beach ; if driven 
inland, they are more often than not lost and bewil- 
dered, and being well aware of the danger they run 
if once they lose sight of the sea, their fight against 
the gale is strengthened by something more than the 
common reluctance of birds to leave their own familiar 
haunt. Unable to cruise over the water like the great 
black-backed gulls, and unwilling to drift inland, they 
held their place and maintained it throughout the 
day by the use of the power of soaring, or floating 
like kites against the wind. With wings extended and 
motionless, they floated edgeways to the gale, which 
gradually lifted them higher, and drove them towards 
the land. When carried backwards to a point above 
the edge of the cliff, they allowed themselves to fall 



SEA-FOWL AND THE STORM 21 

downwards, and then, once more spreading their 
wings, soared up forwards and seawards with the 
impulse gained by their descent. All day long this 
manoeuvre was repeated ; and when night fell, they 
still held their places midway between cliff and sea. 
The wild ducks and cormorants, which have no such 
powers of sustained poise in flight, though the former 
excel in what M. Marey has distinguished as the 
vol rame-, or use of the beating wing, were in far 
different case. The inconvenience of this limited 
knowledge of the possible uses of the wing in creatures 
so intelligent as wild-ducks, was very obvious, and 
suggested the question why it is that though they 
have apparently discovered for themselves the exact 
distance and order of arrangement in which birds make 
best progress when flying in company for wild-ducks 
not only adopt the wedge-shaped formation when 
flying together, but also preserve the distances between 
the files with the regularity of drilled soldiers they 
have never acquired the art of " sailing " against the 
wind like sea-gulls, or even herons and pelicans. 

Exhausted with the constant tossing out at sea, the 
ducks crowded to the edge of a long reef or ledge of 
rocks, and for a time rode uneasily just outside the 
breakers. But the rush of the tide soon drowned the 
rocks, and turned the ledge into a white and tumbling 
lake of foam. Then the ducks shifted once more out 
to sea, rising uneasily, and flying from place to place, 
like flocks of starlings. A pair or two of brent geese, 
looking as black and heavy as cormorants against the 



22 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

toppling waves, seemed determined to ride out the gale. 
But the constant rushing seas, which wrenched from 
their moorings and flung on shore even the fishing- 
boats anchored within the reef of rocks, soon wore out 
the strength of the ducks. Company after company 
rose and skimmed swiftly up and down, seeking some 
smoother and more sheltered spot, and finding none, 
turned their backs to the wind, and rising high and 
fast, abandoned the effort to keep the sea, and flew 
with extraordinary speed high over the cliffs. In half- 
an-hour after the rising of the first flock, every duck 
had left the salt-water, and flown in to face the dangers 
of the sheltered waters inland. The storm had beaten 
them. 

As night fell the snow came. Carried on the gale, 
it rushed on in level lines, as if blown from a gun. 
The shore was silent and deserted. The nightly flight 
of fowl from the sea inland was suspended, and the 
only bird by the cliffs was a solitary owl, flitting in the 
dusk along the shore. Next morning the gale fell, 
and as the tide ebbed, we saw upon the beach some 
natural records of the forces before which the sea-fowl 
had retired. All the ridges of shingle had been cut 
away, and the beach relaid in an even and regular slope 
from the cliffs to the edge of the surge, brown and 
smooth, like bolted bran. The waves were thick with 
sea-weed torn fresh from the deeply submerged rocks. 
It lay in long wavy lines, wet and glistening, like the 
patterns on watered silk ; brown oar-weed, with roots 
all crusted with pink sea-wet ; green feathery sea-moss, 



SEA-FOWL AND THE STORM 23 

and bright orange star-weed, and thin ribbons of a 
delicate sea-plant, so pale that it seemed to have grown 
in dark sea-caves, beyond the reach of sunlight. Mixed 
with the weed were bunches of orange eggs of sea^ 
creatures, while jointed roots of mares'-tail washed from 
the clay cliff, and one or two big spiny-backed " sea- 
mice," as a fisherman called the big sea-slugs which are 
now and again washed up by the storms. 

Beyond the bay, round the point, and under the 
chalk precipices, the storm had cleared away the deep 
beds of rotting sea-weed which usually lie there, and 
scoured and cleaned every rock by the batter of the 
large chalk boulders which are here rattled in the 
surge. 

The evening after the gale we lay till dark beneath 
the crag, and watched the demeanour of the birds after 
the lull of the storm. Apparently they spent the 
whole day in fishing, in order to make up for their 
fast during the storm. Not a single cormorant and 
very few gulls were visible until it was dusk, though 
the peregrine falcons were flitting from point to point 
on the cliff face, and clinging to projecting lumps of 
chalk. When the cormorants did come in they flew in 
very low and heavily, like enormous bats coming out 
of the gloom in which the sky was only distinguished 
by a line of dull red glow from the dark uneasy sea. 
One of our party, who had done great things among 
the ducks in the harbour the evening before, was 
anxious to shoot a cormorant and make " scart soup," 
which is declared by some who have tried it to be as 



24 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

good as hare soup. But though the birds seemed 
within shot they failed to be bagged, and it is probable 
that their great size is often not taken into account by 
those who think them well within range. The flash 
of the guns and the eddying flight of the cormorants 
as they came swinging round the cliffs in the semi- 
darkness, with the screams of the gulls, made a wild 
and picturesque " good-night " to the big precipice, as 
the tide crept on to its foot with fast lessening waves. 



2 5 



THE FROZEN SHORE 

(FRESHWATER CLIFFS) 

IN the winter storms the sea-fowl ascend the rivers 
inland, and the land-birds seek the coast. In this, each 
kind acts according to knowledge : the sea-fowl, because 
they are truly birds of the sea, seeking their home on 
the deep and their living on the great waters, which are 
then too troubled and tempestuous to yield either food 
or shelter ; and the land-birds because they know that 
along the tide-way the salt-water kills the frost. 
Twice daily the mellow tide advances to undo the work 
of the encroaching frost, which has followed the ebb 
over shingle, sand, and rocks. Rivers are not the sole 
avenues by which the sweet waters reach the sea. 
Thousands of little land-springs, invisible in the 
summer droughts, trickle from the cliffs, oozing and 
dripping on to the fringe of boulders and large shingle 
which lies furthest from the sea, and meander down in 
channels cut between the sands till lost in the pools left 
by the ebb. Icicles soon form on the bents and 
brambles which overhang the channels where the rills 
leave the base of the cliff, and a film of white and 



2 6 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

rotten ice covers the sweet waters hour by hour as they 
trickle through the drying sand. In all other respects 
the shore remains unchanged, except for the greater 
symmetry and order worked by winter storms. The 
waves are the rakes and sieves and rollers which the 
sea sets to work to arrange the gravel-walks and borders 
of the great public garden which surrounds the island. 
They work, as Frank Buckland showed, on a uniform 
plan, and the storm, far from leaving confusion and 
disorder on the fringe of ocean, is merely an effort of 
Nature to work " overtime " and get things straight in 
a hurry. Doubtless many of the more fragile ornaments 
are broken in the process ; but the order of the strand 
is never so perfect as when seen in the bright, calm 
weather which follows a December gale. The onward 
rush of the breakers carries the shingle with it in what 
would seem the reverse of the natural process. The 
largest and heaviest boulders, and the light and floating 
sea-weed are carried furthest, to the very base of the 
cliff, and are there sorted and piled, the boulders below, 
and the sea-weed above them in large level banks which 
steam and swelter in the winter sun. Next to this, in 
long escalloped bays, lies the pebble-bank. This, 
again, is lined by the shingle-layers, which are fringed 
in turn by the finest debris of the storm, the siftings 
and dust of the sea-wash, a yard of which will give 
delight for hours to the eye, and days of discovery with 
the microscope. Beyond this lies the finest layer of all 
the irreducible and innumerable sands. The sea- 
siftings are the strangest medley in little of the com- 



THE FROZEN SHORE 27 

ponents of the ocean fringe. In them are scraps and 
fronds of sea- weed and oar- weed, some ground to powder 
like coffee, others minute but undefaced fragments of 
the plant ; with these pounded morsels of what once 
were planks of ships, green scales from copper sheathing, 
tiny beads of broken glass, dust of quartz and cornelian, 
globules of chalk and coal-dust, green threads of sea- 
grass and fibres of matting, myriads of tiny and most 
exquisite shells no larger than a pin's head, fragments 
of nacre from the larger shells, and white bruised limbs 
and skeletons of infant crabs done to death in the surge. 
The destruction of life among these small Crustacea 
must be enormous. Yet few land-birds come to feed 
upon their bodies, except the carrion-crows and the 
rock-pipets, which are almost as native to the shore as 
the sandpipers and dunlins themselves. Beyond the 
sea-line, winter makes no disturbance in vegetable or 
animal life. The long sea-grass floats as green and 
luxuriant as ever in the shallow pools inside the rock- 
ledges, and the only sign that winter reigns is the flocks 
of brent-geese, which are pulling the grass and rolling 
it into neat packets before swallowing it, on the edge 
furthest from the shore. This grass seems to be the 
sole winter food of the brent, as it was of the swans at 
Abbotsbury, until, in 1881, the lifting of the ice in 
which it was embedded in the fresh-water of the 
" Fleet " carried the whole crop out to sea, and left the 
birds either to die of starvation or to take unwillingly 
to a new diet of grain. The geese and the wild-ducks 
from the north crowd the estuaries and harbours during 



28 THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

the winter months, but the cliffs are silent and deserted, 
except by the cormorants and roosting sea-gulls. The 
puffins, the most numerous and amusing of the cliff 
tribes, have flown away to the Mediterranean, and the 
dizzy ledges of the cliffs on which the " sea-parrots " 
screamed and jostled and brought up their families 
during the spring are silent and deserted. On the last 
day but one of the old year there was not a sea-bird on 
the line of chalk precipices which runs out from Fresh- 
water Gate to Sun Corner, near the Needles. The 
gulls were all away at the sprat and herring fishery, and 
the guillemots and razor-bills were out at sea, and 
would not return before night. Yet the day was one 
to tempt the fowl to leave the water and bask on the 
warm face of these southern cliffs. The summit of the 
down rose 600 feet above the water, clear of all 
clouds and frost-fog, into the light of the winter sun, 
which was shining in a broad lane of silver across the 
grey sea, and covered the face of the long line of 
bastions of chalk with a steamy haze. Flocks of star- 
lings were feeding on the fine turf which clothes the 
down, and a brace of partridges rose from the verge of 
the cliff beyond the beacon. A pair of ravens were the 
only tenants of the awful precipice, which falls sheer 
down to the sea at this point. They soared level with 
the summit, one bird just above the other, in flight so 
evenly matched and uniform, that their movements 
seemed guided by a single will. Sometimes the bird 
above would even touch its mate, and the pair fall 
toppling down a hundred feet croaking loudly. After 



THE FROZEN SHORE 29 

playing and soaring for half-an-hour, they flew out 
over Alum Bay and round by the Needles, perhaps to 
seek a site for a nest, which the ravens are said always 
to choose on New Year's Day. Beyond the beacon lies 
the still more awful precipice of Sun Corner. The 
cliff there is not perpendicular, but overhanging, and 
the voice of the gently heaving sea climbs so slowly to 
the summit, that it seems as if the sound of the breaker 
that the eye can see would be wholly lost on its way to 
reach the ear. On the highest point is an upright 
pinnacle of chalk, connected with the main line of the 
cliff by a narrow ridge, on which a man might sit 
astride. On the summit of the pinnacle, a peregrine 
falcon was quietly basking, looking inland, with its 
back to the sea and the sun. The bird was so tame, 
that it was possible to approach it and notice the 
colour of its plumage with the aid of the glasses. It 
was a young bird ; and it may be hoped that for once 
the nest has escaped the hands of the cliff-climbers, 
who rob it annually. Ten years before, according to 
a record of a visit to these cliffs which the writer 
possesses, a peregrine was sitting on the same pinnacle, 
and was next day trapped by a fisherman. Further 
to the east, where the coast is lower, and long stretches 
of sand and rocks are exposed at low-water, the shore 
was covered with birds, each kind strictly limiting its 
feeding-ground to a particular belt of shore. Nearest 
the cliffs was a bank of sea-weed, covered by a flock 
of chattering foraging starlings. Next this a strip of 
dry sand, cut up by black malodorous streams which 



3 o THE SOUTHERN CLIFFS 

oozed from the decaying sea-weed bed. On this a flock 
of crows and rooks were busily digging for food. 
Beyond lay a zone of wet sand, on which a flock of 
small black-headed gulls were daintily tripping up and 
down on the margin where the ripples rolled slowly in. 
Lastly, in a shallow lagoon, a few big herring-gulls 
were standing quietly up to their breasts in water, 
some even sleeping with their heads half-covered by 
their wing. An old fisherman was anxious to sell 
some lobsters which he had in a pot among the rocks, 
and we followed him across the slippery ledges to 
where the pot and the lobsters lay. The creatures 
- never described as " fish " in the Isle of Wight 
were alive, and as smart as a Lancer, in full uniform 
of blue and gold. Their backs were deep blue-black, 
and their tails mottled with two brilliant shades of 
Prussian blue. Their smaller legs were mottled to 
match their tails, but the two big claws were faced 
with brown and pink. The antennas were pink also ; 
but all the under parts of the body and tail were pearl- 
coloured, and the joints of their armour-plates edged 
with golden fringe. How to carry live and irritable 
lobsters without a basket was a difficult problem, 
but the two corners of a pocket-handkerchief tied in 
slip-knots made a safe means of transport. The pot 
looked like a prawn-pot which it was and we 
inquired of the man whether he had any prawns. 
"Yes," he said "one a beauty ; " and taking off his 
cap he exhibited an enormous live prawn sitting inside ! 
There is almost nothing which a sailor will not carry 



THE FROZEN SHORE 31 

in his cap ; pipes, tobacco, string, fishing-hooks, and 
bait, are all accommodated there, perhaps because he 
rarely indulges in trousers-pockets. A man-of-war's- 
man has no pockets at all, and disposes of what 
surplus property he cannot carry in his cap, inside the 
loose front of his sailor's shirt, a habit which sticks 
to him after he leaves the service. " And do you ever 
put a lobster in your cap ? " we inquired. " No, sir," 
he replied ; " if I haven't anywheres else, I puts 'em 
in my buzzum." 



LAND WON FROM THE SEA 



BRAD1NG HARBOUR 

AMONG the many problems left by the smash of the 
" Liberator " Companies, that of the present and future 
management of the reclaimed lands at Brading, in the 
Isle of Wight, is the most complicated, though perhaps 
not the least hopeful. The nature of the appeal made 
by this wild scheme in the first instance to the daring 
speculators who, seventeen years ago, embarked the 
resources of the company in an enterprise of which not 
only the practical difficulty, but the financial worthless- 
ness, had already been proved by actual experiment, 
as early as the reign of James I., will probably remain 
among the unknown factors of commercial failure. 
The belief in the possibility of getting "Something 
for nothing," due to the notion that land won from 
the sea is a kind of treasure-trove, may have quieted 
the first misgivings of shareholders. But the fact that 
Sir Hugh Myddelton, the engineer of the New River, 
though " a crafty fox and subtle citizen," as Sir John 
Oglander noted, had ultimately failed, not only to 
maintain his reclamation of Brading Haven, but to 
make it pay while the dam lasted, was well known in 



BRAD ING HARBOUR 33 

the history of engineering ; and though the mechanical 
difficulties might be overcome by modern machinery, 
the nature of the harbour bottom for the growth or 
non-growth of crops and grasses could hardly have 
changed. Briefly, the past history of the Brading 
reclamation was as follows. In 1620, Sir Hugh 
Myddelton dammed the mouth of the river Yar, at 
Bembridge, opposite Spithead, and on the seven hun- 
dred acres of land so reclaimed he " tried all experi- 
ments in it ; he sowed wheat, barley, oats, cabbage-seed, 
and last of all rape-seed, which proved best ; but all 
the others came to nothing. The nature of the 
ground, after it was inned, was not answerable to 
what was expected, for almost the moiety of it next 
to the sea was a light, running sand, and of little 
worth. The inconvenience was in it, that the sea 
brought so much sand and ooze and sea-weed that 
choked up the passage for the water to go out, inso- 
much that I am of opinion," writes Sir John Oglander 
in his manuscript, " that if the sea had not broke 
there would have been no current for the water to 
go out, so that in time it would have laid to the sea, 
or else the sea would have drowned the whole country. 
Therefore, in my opinion, it is not good meddling 
with a haven so near the main ocean." 

This experiment had cost in all 7000, when the 
sea broke in ten years later, and Sir Hugh Myddelton's 
fields once more became harbour bottom, and cockles 
and winkles once more grew where his meagre crops 
of oats and' rape had struggled for existence. Some 



3 4 LAND WON FROM THE SEA 

years later an offer was made to repair the dam for 
4400, but this fell through. No one thought it 
worth while to spend the money, though small arms 
and creeks of the harbour were from time to time 
banked off and reclaimed by adjacent landowners. 
The attempt which had baffled Sir Hugh Myddelton 
was suddenly revived by the Liberator Directors seven- 
teen years ago. The sea was banked out, almost on 
the lines of Sir Hugh Myddelton's dam ; a straight 
channel, of double the size necessary for the mere drainage 
of the higher levels, cut for the passage of the river 
and the holding of its waters during high-tide, when 
the sluices are automatically closed ; and a railway and 
quay were added, with a hotel at Bembridge. Solid 
and costly as their embankment was, the sea broke in, 
steam-engines and machinery were toppled from the 
dykes and buried in the mud, workmen were drowned, 
and the whole enterprise was within an ace of becoming 
a little Panama. But at last the sea was beaten, 643 
acres of weltering mud were left above water, and the 
reclamation, such as it is, is probably won for ever. 
But at what a cost ! Four hundred and twenty 
thousand pounds are debited to the Brading reclama- 
tion, of which last sum we may assume that 100,000 
were expended on the railway, quay, and buildings, 
leaving 320,000 as the price of six hundred and 
forty-three acres of sea-bottom. 

As reclamation of mud-flats and foreshores has 
lately been much advocated as a means of providing 
" work and wages," and of adding to the resources of 



BRADING HARBOUR 35 

the country, the present state and probable future of 
the land won from the sea at Brading is a matter of 
some interest, omitting all considerations of the original 
cost. We may concede at once that, from the pictur- 
esque point of view, the reclaimed harbour is a great 
improvement on the ancient mud-flats. It has added 
to the Isle of Wight what seems a piece of Holland, 
covered with green pasture and grazing cattle. This 
area is as much withdrawn from the intrusion of man 
as the old lagoon ; for as on the mud-flats there were 
no roads, no rights-of-way, and no footpaths, so the 
reclamation is a roadless district, secured absolutely 
to the use of the occupiers, and incidentally to the 
wild-fowl which swarm by its shallow pools and 
drains. The broad embanked river runs straight 
through the centre, and divides into two the level 
which lies like a green sea between the ring of sur- 
rounding hills and the harbour-bank. In this river, 
the waters of the ancient reclamations higher up the 
valley collect during high-water, when the pressure 
from the sea automatically shuts the sluices, and pour 
out during low-tide, when the pressure of the sea is 
removed, through the iron gates, near which lie, with 
the grooves still sound and sharply cut, parts of the 
sluices made for Sir Hugh Myddelton of English 
oak in the year 1621. The general shape of the 
reclamation is an oval, with one of the smaller ends 
facing the sea, and the other abutting on ancient dams 
near Brading, two miles higher up the valley. The 
whole of this has been converted into firm, dry land ; 



36 LAND WON FROM THE SEA 

neither is its quality so inferior as Sir Hugh Myddel- 
ton judged. Possibly the improvement in the seven- 
teen years during which the old sea-bottom has been 
exposed to sun and rain, has been proportionately more 
rapid than in the ten in which it was exposed to the 
air after 1620. Then half the area was described as 
consisting of " light, running sand of little worth," 
though the upper portion promised to become valuable 
pasture. Those advocates of reclamation of land from 
the sea, who propose to " leave it to Nature " when 
the sea has once been barred out, can see at Brading 
and Bembridge what it is exactly that Nature does, 
and how far art can help to make old sea-bottom into 
pasture for cattle, and even into a playground for men 
and women, in seventeen years. It must be remem- 
bered that in this case Nature has been hurried, and 
made to do her work before her time. Left to itself, 
the harbour would have silted up in the course of 
centuries, and the pastures would have grown of them- 
selves, on land already covered with the alluvial mould. 
As it is, the sea was swept from the land, which had 
to take its chance as it was, mud, sand, shingle, or 
cockle-beds, just as they came. There was not even 
an earthworm on the whole six hundred acres to move 
the soil and help the rain to wash the salt out of it. 
The wonder is not that the change has taken place 
so slowly, but that the change from a soil supporting 
marine vegetable growth in one set of conditions, to 
a soil largely covered with grass, clover, and trefoil, 
has matured so quickly. What was once the head of 



BRADING HARBOUR 37 

the bay is now good pasture covered with cattle, and 
letting at 30^. an acre there are one hundred and 
fifty acres of this good ground. Nature has already 
prepared it in part for it was mud-flat, washed from 
the valley above and still preserves in contour, though 
covered with grass, the creeks and " fleets " in which 
the tide rose and fell. All round the fringes of the 
flat, where it joins the old shore, the earthworms have 
descended and made a border of fair soil. On one 
side sewage has been run into the hungrier soil ; and 
there, on a natural level, the true use and place of 
such experiments is seen. Three crops of grass a year 
are cut from ground which otherwise would not fetch 
more than $s. an acre a hint, perhaps, for the dis- 
posal of some of the London "effluent." There 
remains a portion of dead, sour greensand on which 
no herbage grows, though the advance of soil and 
grass may be noted, like the gradual spread of lichen 
on a tree. Each patch of rushes, each weed and 
plantain, gathers a little soil round its roots or leaves, 
and the oasis spreads until all is joined and made one 
with the better ground. A cattle farm and nursery 
garden occupy the centre of the sea-weed curve. The 
farm is already surrounded by rich grasses, clover, and 
sweet herbage, and the garden is a wonder of fertility. 
Not only vegetables, but roses, chrysanthemums, car- 
nations, lavender, and other garden flowers are there 
reared in profusion ; and in the present month masses 
of mauve veronica are in blossom. In walking over 
what is now good pasture, the evidences of the recent 



38 LAND WON FROM THE SEA 

nature of all this agricultural fertility crop up on every 
side. Where the turf lies in knolls and hillocks, the 
sea-shells may still be seen lying bleached or purple 
among the roots of the grass, and what would be taken 
for snail-shells elsewhere are found to be little clusters 
of the periwinkles and mussels for which Brading 
Haven was once famous. But perhaps the greatest 
success in the conversion of the old harbour to daily 
use is the present condition of the " light, running 
sand " near the sea. This sand must have a stratum 
of clay beneath it, for groves of poplar trees planted 
on it are now in vigorous growth. But for some 
years the land lay barely covered with cup-moss, lichen, 
and thin, poor grass, a haunt of rabbits and shore-birds. 
It is now converted into a golf-ground, and studded 
at short intervals with level lawns of fine turf for 
"putting greens," which daily extend their area, and 
promise before long to convert the " running sands " 
into a beautiful and park-like recreation-ground. The 
beauty of the whole scene is much increased by the 
number of half-wild swans, which are constantly in 
movement, either swimming upon the pools and 
streams, or flying to and from the sea. These swans 
are among the natural agents busied in aiding the 
reclamation of the land. They feed almost entirely 
upon the weeds which would otherwise choke up the 
dykes, and it is believed that two swans do as much 
work in keeping the water-ways free and open as 
could be done by a paid labourer. 

The following notes on the reclamation, and the 



BRADING HARBOUR 39 

garden now cultivated upon it, are from the pen of 
Mr. C. Orchard, the lessee of the latter, whose practical 
experience I give exactly as he communicated it to me, 
together with an extract from an article on the wild 
plants of the sand-hills which he contributed to The 
Journal of Horticulture. 

" Some portions of the reclamation contain a sulphur- 
ous matter injurious to vegetation, and require a top- 
dressing of manure or other soil for the seed to 
germinate in. There are many varieties of soil and 
substances to be found throughout the whole area. 
The best for vegetation is a kind of loamy deposit of 
mud, on the highest parts ; that is, above the strata 
of sand : in this nearly every variety of cereal and 
vegetable luxuriates and grows beyond all proportions. 
There are four acres included by a fence, and now 
cultivated by me, as a market- and flower-garden. 
The soil is rich in phosphates, and all kinds of 
vegetables grow wonderfully clean and of good flavour ; 
the asparagus especially being noted for its delicious 
flavour, being in its natural element as a seaside plant. 
Apples, plums, and peas have been tried with great 
success, and flowers of all kinds grow and flower in 
great profusion ; the bright colours coming out to the 
highest degree in the open and sunny position. 

" Quite indigenous, the wild bastard samphire or glass- 
wort grows most profusely around the brackish streams 
and lakes. The horn-poppy also luxuriates on the 
sides of the road that forms the embankment, and on 
two distinct places I have found the very rare Silene 



40 LAND WON FROM THE SEA 

quinquevulnem, which I believe has been found only 
in two or three places in England. The wild evening 
primrose, Mnothera vulgaris, is found both here and 
at St. Helens 'Dover/ as well as the sea-holly. 

" The St. Helens * Dover ' is interesting on account 
of the beautiful and somewhat rare plants found 
growing thereon. It is a strip of land that stretches 
out and forms one of the arms of Brading Harbour 
(now better known as Bembridge Harbour), and com- 
posed almost entirely of sea-sand that has been washed 
and drifted up since the days of Sir Hugh Myddelton. 
It is covered entirely with vegetation peculiar to this 
soil, and the undulating surface of neat and fine turf, 
formed chiefly of the sheep's fescue grass, forms the 
very beautiful links of the Royal Isle of Wight Golf 
Club. In summer I constantly find patches of the 
great sea-bindweed, Calystegia soldenella, growing 
there. It trails and spreads over the sands, and twines 
about amongst the reeds and grasses, bearing a profusion 
of large, mauvy-pink, convolvulus-like flowers, quite 
2j or 3 inches in diameter. The sea-holly, Eryngium 
maritimum, is another beautiful object that grows 
profusely ; its silver-grey branches being surmounted 
by blue heads of teazle-like flowers. The common 
thrift or sea-pink, Armeria vulgaris, grows every- 
where, and forms part of the ordinary turf. In the 
autumn, thousands of tiny heads of the light-blue 
autumn squill, Scilla autumnalis, spring up amongst 
the turf, and the white and yellow varieties of the 
common stonecrop abound everywhere." 



SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 



SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH 

WITH the exception of the coracle-fishing in the 
Welsh rivers, the salmon-netting at Christ church is 
perhaps the most ancient and primitive method of 
taking the fish which still survives in England. More- 
over, the site of the fishery is unique, with surroundings 
of sea, land, harbour, river, and town of a kind without 
parallel or analogy on all the long line of British coast. 
The waters of the Hampshire Avon and the Dorset- 
shire Stour which meet at Christchurch, and hurry in 
great swirling pools past the grey towers and arches of 
the ancient priory, and under the many bridges of the 
town, are cut off from their natural impetuous entry to 
the sea by the long ironstone ridge of Hengistbury 
Head. Between the town and the sea this great dyke 
thrusts itself across the sky-line, and at flood-tide 
ponds back the whole of the tidal and river water into 
a broad lake, the exit from which into the sea might, 
for all that can be seen from this inland harbour, be by 
some subterranean passage beneath the cliff itself. The 



42 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

actual gate by which the outflow from the hundreds of 
acres of swollen waters escapes at the ebb into the sea, 
is a short and narrow channel, called the " Run," which 
cuts its way between two overlapping claws of sand- 
spit, the inner planted, down almost to its point, with 
gradually dwindling pines, the outer rising from flat 
shingle to moulded heaps of " sand-bennets," until it 
joins the ironstone rock of Hengistbury. It is in the 
narrow waters of the " Run " that the salmon are 
caught, as they begin to ascend the river at the turn of 
the tide. The mystery which the near presence of the 
invisible sea adds to the approach to this strange spot 
makes a visit a series of surprises and discoveries. Not 
until the last few yards are reached of the long road, 
which skirts the eastern side of the bay, does the scene 
suggest that the harbour is anything but a land-locked 
lake, dominated by the great pile of the priory walls 
and towers. The path runs along the claw of the 
inner spit, at the end of which are three or four old 
brown brick houses, with that bare, battered, salted 
look which betrays the neighbourhood of the sea. The 
pines on the left grow thinner and more gaunt, and as 
the view suddenly opens, there, within a stone's-throw, 
lie two long strips of sand, a short length of shining 
river, and beyond its mouth the long, grey, tumbling 
sea. On the left stretches the richly-wooded Solent 
shore ; beyond, and across the water, the chalk cliffs of 
the Isle of Wight, the Needles, and the open waters of 
the Channel. 

In the short channel through which the harbour 



SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH 43 

waters pour into the sea the net-fishing goes on without 
ceasing from the beginning of the ebb till the turn of 
the tide. The order of fishing is settled by agreement, 
and each boat in turn is rowed out into the stream 
carrying the far-end of the net, while the other is held 
upon the shore by a partner, who walks opposite as 
boat and net are swung down by the stream. Before 
the mouth is reached the boat completes its circle, and 
comes to shore, where both ends of the net are made 
fast, and the long line of corks swing with the tide till 
they lie in a deep narrow loop, parallel with the wet 
sand of the bank. Then comes the hauling of the net. 
Both men pull the wet mass rapidly in hand-over-hand, 
pausing now and again to fling out masses of sea-weed, 
until the last twenty yards of the net are reached. If 
the bosom cork is ducking under, if the gently bellying 
folds of the long-meshed trough are in a tumult, there 
is one salmon or more in the net, enough to repay the 
fishers for a score of fruitless casts. But in nineteen 
cases out of twenty nothing disturbs the even sinus of 
the floating line, and the meshes float on like clouds in 
the translucent waters, carrying with them only light 
and feathery masses of pink and crimson kelp. The 
words " we have toiled all night and have taken 
nothing " come home with a ring of human effort 
unrewarded, as net after net is hauled only to be found 
empty. But the Christchurch fishermen are not a 
complaining race. No sooner has one net swung at 
the bottom of the river than another has started at the 
top and is waltzing down with the stream. The fun 



44 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

is kept up like the gallop in a cotillon, each pair of 
partners hoping as they start that the caprice of fortune 
will give them the prize. It comes at last. The ebb 
has been running for an hour, at which time the salmon 
smell the fresh-water out at sea, and, fired with the 
sudden recollection of love and adventure in the river, 
rush, throbbing with impetuous life, into the narrow 
waters of peril. Gently the net swings with the tide, 
contracting and lengthening as if invisible fingers were 
drawing its centre downwards to the sea, until it lies in 
the still water by the bank, a narrow channel of cloudy 
meshwork some fifty yards in length. Before half has 
been pulled on to the dripping pile of net and sea-weed 
which lies behind the haulers, a rush, a great gleam of 
white and silver, and a splash tell without need of the 
sudden shout " A fish ! a fish ! " that a salmon is in 
the toils. Furiously he dashes from end to end of the 
yielding trap, sending water, sand, and spray flying on 
every side. Desperately he drives his shining head 
into the dragging, sluggish, invisible meshes. Had he 
only the one further gift of reason than that which his 
experience gives, he would leap into the air and clear 
the encircling lines before it is too late. But the net 
curves quickly in and closes over the fish, and in a 
second it is lying a broad silver bar upon the yellow 
sand. The symmetry and lustrous sheen of such a 
salmon seen within a minute of its return from its 
unknown life in the ocean, perfect in form, strength, 
and vigorous life, makes good its claim to be considered 
almost the most beautiful of living creatures, and 



SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH 45 

beyond comparison the finest fish that swims in British 
seas. 

The first fish taken in the day gives an impulse 
to the work of every boat. Salmon seldom come up 
singly, but rush into the fresh-water in little parties 
of two, three, or four, and not unfrequently the whole 
company are taken in a single net. The fortunate 
captors " track " their boat back to the ferry at the 
head of the " Run " to await their next turn, and 
meantime row across to the little inn which stands 
upon the point. To carry a 20 Ib. salmon by the 
gills, a man crooks his arms in to the hip, and even 
so only just swings its tail clear of the ground. The 
arrival of the fish is awaited by a critical company 
of veterans, knowing in the subject, who have already 
guessed its weight and recorded their opinions with 
a minuteness and emphasis which show that reputations 
may be made and lost even in guesses at the size 
of a salmon seen at a distance of two hundred yards 
upon the sands. For the fishing is alike the sport 
of youth and the solace of age. Custom allows one 
share of the proceeds to the boat, one to the net, 
and two to the crew, and veterans who own the two 
first can afford to spend their day watching the efforts 
of the last to earn a living at all. The accuracy with 
which the size is guessed is surprising. Of a dozen 
estimates made of the weight of a salmon which turned 
the scale at exactly 20 Ibs., a mistake of i^ Ibs. was 
the utmost limit of error. No difficulty is made 
of selling the fish upon the spot ; and any one who 



4 6 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

is so fortunate as to be present when the capture 
is made may purchase it at from is. to is. 6cl. per 
pound cheaper than would be paid in a Bond Street 
shop. Fifty-two pounds is, we believe, the weight 
of the largest taken in the Christchurch river ; three 
fish of 38^ Ibs., 26 Ibs., and 22 Ibs. at one haul 
fell to the lot of one fortunate fisherman quite early 
last season towards the end of April. But the fish 
are few and captures rare ; rarer, it is said, than in 
former days, when one of the oldest men boasts that 
he once took nine great salmon in a single haul. 1 
But if these scarce southern fish can still be caught 
in sufficient number to pay, what might not be the 
value of a restored Thames salmon fishery in which 
the catch would be numbered by hundreds, delivered 
fresh and unspoilt by ice at London Bridge ? 

The few Christchurch salmon which find their way 
into the London shops, are sold at one-third above 
the price asked for those from more distant waters. 
These fish are caught so fresh from the sea that 
the salt is hardly washed from their scales ; in the 
very mouth of the swift fresh river, yet within a 
stone's-throw of the breakers, and so near to London 
by rail that the epicure may see the fish upon his 
dinner-table within a few hours of the time that it 
was thrown glittering upon the white sea-sand. Their 

1 Mr. M. D. Barton informs me that inside the harbour great 
hauls of flounders are made. " I once saw," he adds, " one haul 
of nearly 200 flat-fish, the greater part flounders. They took the 
appearance of one immense heaving flat-fish, in which live 
flounders took the place of scales." 



SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH 47 

freshness alone would justify their reputation in the 
London markets. But there is a quality and refine- 
ment alike of flavour and appearance in the salmon 
of Christchurch which lifts them into a rank just 
one degree higher than that enjoyed by any others, 
even of their justly honoured race. The delicacy of 
their flavour is beyond verbal description ; and while 
some vainly point to analogies in this or that taste 
of other and baser fishes, or find a reason for their 
excellence in the luxurious food of the fish on the 
Solent shore, pointing to the fact that a Christchurch 
salmon fresh from the sea will look at no less dainty 
bait than the pink-fleshed tail of a prawn, others 
more justly claim that their flavour is due to their 
being taken at the exact psychological moment in 
which their spirits reach the acme of salmonoid 
exuberance, at the instant of leaving the sea and 
entering the river ; and, as extremes meet, the taste 
of the salmon which has met its death in an ecstasy 
of pleasure may well excel even that of the sucking- 
pig to which a gusto may be imparted, according to 
ancient writers, if its death be caused by flagellation, 
in an intenerating ecstasy of pain. 

Contrary to experience, the largest fish taken from 
the Christchurch river seem to have been captured 
with the rod. In the casts of fish in the room at 
South Kensington, which contains the collections of 
the late Frank Buckland, is one of a 52 Ib. salmon 
taken at Christchurch with the rod. It was a female 
fish, in the very brightest and best condition. A 



48 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

middle-aged farmer, with whom the writer had a 
chat on the way from Christchurch to the "Run," 
gave the following terse description of the chances 
of sport with the rod at Christchurch. He was 
a sincere admirer of the " Run " fishing, which 
is a kind of social institution for the Mudiford 
gossips who sit in the parlour of the little inn on 
the spit, and drink their ale, while they watch the 
hauling of the nets, and discuss the annals of the 
fishery with others " in the fancy." " They pays 
a deal of money, and they fishes very industrious ; 
and what they catches they aren't always allowed 
to keep. And often it so happens as them as fishes 
hardest toils in vain. Others come, and fishes with 
a light heart, and happen on the luck." By this 
time my friend had got well into the narrative style 
and continued like a book. "Once there came here 
a cricketer ; he was a cricketer, not a fisherman, any 
one could see. He never changed his cricket coat, 
but he took a boat just as he was, Yes ; just as 
he stood in his cricketing clothes. And the said 
cricketer hadn't fished ten minutes before he caught 
a thirty pound fish, and he landed him, that's what 
he did ; and he might never live to catch another." 

The fishermen of the " Run " mostly belong to 
the little village of Mudiford, which lies close by, 
and are without exception the best mannered and most 
taking set of men I have ever seen in rural England, 
though I have heard of a fishing community near 
Land's End, who seem to have much resembled them, 



SALMON-NETTING AT CHRISTCHURCH 49 

and been even more closely united. The life on the 
spit, between the inland lake and the sea, seems to 
have cut them off from the rather demoralizing 
influence which the proximity of shore life always 
has on fishermen, and at the same time made them 
great sportsmen and fowlers as well as fishermen. 
Hence they are often in request to manage fowling- 
yachts, punts, and apparatus for that kind of sport. 
There is a kind of double harvest going on all the 
year round, of fish and fowl, and as the men draw 
their nets their big guns are seldom far off. In 
summer, when the fowl are protected, they keep up 
a constant warfare on the cormorants. The pro- 
ceedings seem quite well understood both by birds 
and men. The cormorant colony is on the Needles 
and the Freshwater cliffs, many miles across the 
Solent. The birds fly over, and rising high over the 
lurking guns, go up the harbour and there catch 
trout and eels till their crops are full. They then 
fly back, and over to the Needles, to feed their 
young. The burden of fish makes it more difficult 
for the cormorants to rise clear of gunshot, and each 
as it passes is saluted with a discharge of swan-shot. 
But very few seem to be killed, though the men 
declare that every cormorant robs the harbour of 
fourteen pounds weight of fish per diem. As they 
approach the sand-hills near the " Run," they rise 
gradually in the air, and then fly at full speed, with 
necks stretched, out to sea, saluted by the roar of 
the big guns discharged after them by the fisherlads. 



5 o SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

The winter shooting, especially in severe weather 
like that of last year, must yield not only amuse- 
ment, but a certain return in fowl to those men 
whose houses are within sight of the tidal harbour, 
and in some cases almost washed by its waters. They 
shoot against one another, and seem out at all hours, 
day, night, or dawn, so that a stranger has very 
little chance of a shot. But this is natural enough, 
seeing that the men live on the spot, and have a 
kind of prescriptive right to the fish and fowl of their 
own harbour. 






THE LAST OF THE OSPREYS 

IT has recently been made matter of complaint 
against the Christchurch fishermen that they shoot the 
ospreys, which yearly visit their land-locked harbour. 
The complaint is perfectly justified, and the worst of 
it is that nothing will induce the men to take the 
modern view of the matter, and think that a live 
osprey is a " thing of beauty " which ought to be " a 
joy for ever." On the contrary, they think they look 
better stuffed, and if not, that they are worth more to 
sell than a wild goose or a couple of duck. 

" Did you ever shoot an osprey ? " I asked of a 
young fellow, the eldest of a family of brothers who 
were working their salmon-nets in turn. He was as 
fine a young Englishman as I ever saw, with light 
curling yellow hair, blue eyes, straight nose, and 
dressed in the most picturesque costume for that Norse 
type, a white jersey and flat sailor's cap. 

" No, I never had that pleasure / " he replied, in the 
polite phrase which these men seem naturally to affect. 
But he had tried often enough, and it was interesting, 
though deplorable, to hear what trouble he had taken 




52 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

to do so. The motive was a purely sporting instinct, 
and the only form of protection would be for the 
Hampshire County Council to pass a resolution for- 
bidding ospreys to be shot ; the Dorsetshire Council 
might do the same for their protection in Poole 
Harbour further west. In the long lagoon of the 
"Fleet," inside Chesil Bank, they are probably safe 
enough, as most wild creatures are on the estates of 
great proprietors. Of all the rarer creatures of Great 
Britain, there is none that deserves protection more 
than the osprey. It is unique alike in structure and in 
habits ; the sole representative of its class among birds, 
with strong affinities to the great fishing-owls of the 
tropics, though itself a true hawk, high-couraged and 
singularly friendly to man, and of a size and strength 
approaching that of the eagles. The safe channels in 
the Hampshire estuaries are marked out by a curious 
and probably very ancient method of sea-marks called 
" leather and twig." On one side are posts surmounted 
with old leather buckets, or sometimes pieces of trace, 
or a horse collar ; but the old buckets, being part of 
the come-at-able refuse of ships' stores, are the com- 
monest. To the stakes on the other side are fastened 
old birch brooms, or branches of trees. As the posts 
are far apart and the channels intricate, this rough 
contrivance indicates which post is to be considered on 
the right and which on the left of the channel. These 
posts, often surrounded by hundreds of acres of water, 
are the favourite perches of the osprey, and on them it 
sits unconcerned, every now and again leaving its post 



THE LAST OF THE OSPJtEYS 53 

to catch a flounder or grey mullet, on which it pounces 
with a rush like that of the solan-goose, striking the 
water with its thickly feathered breast, and driving its 
strong talons deep into the fish. At Christchurch, 
where they are known as the " mullet-hawks," the 
young ospreys on their migration may be seen every 
autumn ; and one at least of the residents by the 
estuary makes it his business, when prowling gunners 
are about, to be on the water in his punt, and scare 
away the too-confiding hawks from the posts on which 
they sit. Most of these young ospreys are probably 
bred in Norway and Sweden, the older birds which 
are seen on their way northwards in the spring being 
bound for the same shores. 

But some of the Christchurch ospreys are probably 
British birds, and it seems probable that the breeding 
places whence they come in autumn, or to which they 
are returning in spring, may be known with some 
approach to certainty. In a report recently read before 
the Zoological Society, it was stated that there are but 
three pairs which regularly breed in Scotland ; and in 
recognition of the protection extended to these survivors 
by the owners on whose property the nests were built, 
the Society resolved to bestow their silver medal on 
Donald Cameron of Lochiel, and Sir John Peter Grant 
of Rothiemurchus. To Sir J. P. Grant, whose death 
occurred a few days before the day on which the 
presentation was to have been made, belonged the credit 
of protecting what is perhaps the most ancient con- 
tinuous breeding-place of the osprey in the Highlands. 



5 4 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

Loch-an-Eilan lies in the narrow gorge between the 
Cairngorm mountains and the hill of Ord Bain, bordered 
by deep woods of tall and ancient pines, the remnants 
of the original Caledonian forest. Near the western 
shore, but wholly surrounded by the waters of the lake, 
is an islet, covered by an ancient rectangular castle, said 
to have formed one of the strongholds of the " Wolf 
of Badenoch." Looking at the castle from the nearest 
point on the shore, the angle on the left is seen to be 
strengthened by a square tower, that on the right is 
formed by a smaller turret, and piled on this to a height 
of several feet, broad and substantial and enduring, is 
the ospreys' eyrie. Year after year the birds have 
travelled northwards to their ancient haunt, reaching 
the old castle in the same week, and thrice, it is said, 
upon the same day, April ist ; and the record of their 
success or failure in rearing their brood is probably 
more complete than that of any similar period of bird- 
history yet preserved. The nest was seen by Mac- 
Cullough, the geologist, in 1824. It was robbed by 
Gordon-Cumming, afterwards known as the most 
ruthless and destructive of all African hunters, who is 
fabled to have carried an egg to the shore " in his 
mouth," probably in his bonnet, held between his 
teeth, as Lewis Dunbar carried the eggs which he 
robbed from a similar eyrie, in company with St. John, 
about the same time. Even after that date ospreys 
built not only on the island castle, but in the giant firs 
on the bank both of Loch-an-Eilan and the neighbour- 
ing Loch Morlaich ; but the continuous felling of timber 



THE LAST OF THE OSPREYS 55 

so alarmed them that their numbers were reduced to 
the single pair upon Loch-an-Eilan. It was shortly 
after this period, in 1872, that a disaster occurred 
which for a time left the nest on the old castle tenant- 
less. A sportsman, seeing a strange bird rise from a 
burn, shot what proved to be the male osprey ; and 
though for two years the female bird returned in the 
first week of April, and remained by the nest waiting 
for her old mate to join her, she finally disappeared, and 
for six years no ospreys were seen on Loch-an-Eilan. 
But in the first week of April 1878, a pair revisited 
the castle, and at once set to work to repair the deserted 
nest upon the turret. In due time the eggs were laid ; 
and as no boat was allowed upon the loch, the young 
were hatched, to the delight of the whole neighbour- 
hood, who made common cause in the protection of 
the brood. For ten years the visits of the ospreys 
were not interrupted, and the care with which the 
fish-hawks brooded and fed their young has been the 
most interesting spring sight on Loch-an-Eilan. " All 
that was visible of the hen-bird," wrote a visitor x in 
1880, " was her brown back on a level with the twigs, 
and her erect head and flashing eye, which she con- 
stantly turned with the restless watchfulness of all 
predatory birds. She was looking up the loch when 
we arrived, a position which she seemed to prefer, but 
successively faced in all directions. She formed an 
interesting sight, with her grey crest and head, and the 

1 Mr. W. Jolly, in the Leisure Hour. 



5 6 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

darker line round the neck which gave her the appear- 
ance of wearing a cowl her pure white breast, and the 
long, hair-like feathers of the upper part of the body 
blown picturesquely about by the wind. She generally 
sat quiet on the nest, gazing round, now readjusting 
the bleached sticks of her nest, then changing her 
attitude to settle down in watchful repose. The 
extraordinary devotion of so wild a creature to the 
trying duties of motherhood was most impressive. She 
seldom left the nest day or night, being supplied with 
necessary nourishment by her loving and unwearied 
partner." Of the male bird the same observer writes : 
" We saw the male bird approaching high in the air 
from the south. He swept round in narrowing circles, 
and finally settled on the nest beside his mate. While 
on the wing he showed nothing in his talons, which 
were hidden in the longer feathers beneath ; but he 
came not empty-handed, for he laid on the broad edge 
of the nest a shining fish, and this the hen proceeded at 
once to consume. . . . His behaviour to his wife was 
at all times modest, dignified, and attentive, as befitted a 
bird of quiet tastes, good character, and aquiline rank." 
It is difficult, indeed, not to feel a grudge against the 
selfish egg-collectors, whose greedy agents ruin all the 
hopes of such patterns of animal happiness and duty. 
The ten years of unbroken peace in this highland home 
were broken by a tragedy which was due, not to human 
molestation, but to a curious and inexplicable family 
feud among the ospreys themselves, which has once 
more left the eyrie on the castle desolate. In the April 



THE LAST OF THE OSPREYS 57 

of 1888 a pair reached the lake as usual, though with 
an interval of a few days between the arrival of the 
male bird and its mate. The last was evidently a 
stranger, though possibly one of the young hatched the 
year before, but it took possession of the nest, and 
busied itself in preparing it for the summer. A few 
days later a second female appeared, and from the 
moment of her arrival the eyrie was the scene of con- 
tinuous warfare between the rival birds, each endeavour- 
ing to drive the other from the nest. The first-comer 
was the stronger, and maintained her place, in spite of 
the savage attacks of the older bird, who, soaring above 
the turret, pounced upon her back, and tore her 
plumage with beak and talons. For two days the 
struggle went on from dawn till dusk, with little inter- 
mission. On the third, the dispossessed osprey seemed 
exhausted, but her efforts to turn out the intruder did 
not cease until the latter, suddenly rising from the nest, 
flew towards her enemy, and struck her a blow which 
hurled her senseless into the lake. The victor then 
pounced upon her, and driving her talons on to her 
body, tore the wounded bird with beak and talons until 
she floated dead. The osprey then flew back to the 
nest which had been the object of this fatal warfare, 
but in a few days left the castle and built a nest in a 
fir-tree at some distance from the island. No eggs 
were laid, and the pair soon left Loch-an-Eilan, never 
to return together. Each year the male bird has visited 
the castle, on which it sits and calls for its dead mate, 
and after hovering anxiously round the old home for a 



5 8 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

few days, disappears, and is seen no more till in the 
early days of the following spring it renews its melan- 
choly pilgrimage. Another pair have nested in the 
woods near Loch Morlaich, at a few miles' distance, 
but the solitary osprey of Rothiemurchus has not 
yet found a partner for his home on the ruined 
tower. 

Doubtless the Zoological Society's informants are 
correct in saying that there exist only three eyries 
which have been continuously inhabited. But there is 
good reason to believe that the fishing-hawks have not 
left the country, but have only retired from their 
natural eyries on the lakes to the deep and inaccessible 
fir-woods which now cover so much of the once treeless 
north. Mr. Booth, who travelled from loch to loch, 
and visited all the eyries best known by tradition on 
the lakes, found them all deserted. He then explored 
the dense pine-forests which grow on the steep hill- 
sides or marshy lower ground. " It was necessary," he 
writes, " to force a way through a tangled growth of 
gigantic heather, entwined in places with matted bushes 
of juniper or bog-myrtle, while here and there waving 
bogs of green and treacherous moss, intersected by 
stagnant pools or streams, blocked the way. The 
atmosphere was stifling, screened from every breath of 
wind ; and clouds of poisonous flies and midges buzzed 
in myriads round one's head." There, in the largest 
pines, he found the new homes of the ospreys, which, 
like the golden-eagles, are protected by the quiet of the 
great preserves. On some of the larger estates, two or 



THE LAST OF THE OSPREYS 59 

even three nests might be visited in a single day. In 
the more open districts the birds have wholly dis- 
appeared, or are only occasional visitors to the scenes 
which were once their chosen home throughout the 
spring and summer. 



6o 



POOLE HARBOUR 

THE estuaries on the coast have an even greater 
variety of wild life to amuse and interest a sea-side 
visitor than the cliffs ; and floating on their wide 
expanse of shallow waters, or threading the delta of 
mud-flats and rivulets that shift with every tide, is to 
many an experience as novel and interesting as the 
cries and forms of the birds which haunt them. 

Sheldrakes, curlews, dotterels, plovers, herons, and 
the like, look very different when swimming or flying, 
and when hanging in a poulterer's shop. What strikes 
a new-comer most is the great number of the waders 
and other birds which he sees on his visits to any 
favourite estuary, such as Poole Harbour, or the 
Aldboro' river, especially when the flood-tide is 
making, and the birds are crowded together, busily 
feeding on such parts of the mud as are not covered 
by the rising tide. But it must be remembered that 
as all these birds feed mainly on the mud-flats, and 
can only do so at low-water, they are forced to meet 
at one time, and are obliged to feed in company, like 
city men at luncheon. 



POOLE HARBOUR 61 

The best way to learn the habits of the fowl is to row 
up on the flood-tide with a boatman, if possible a local 
fisherman who knows the habits of the birds and the 
set of the tide. Yet the exploration of such harbours 
without local knowledge has its charms. My first 
visit to Poole Harbour was paid in the form which all 
history prescribes as the right one for approaching 
unknown shores, that is by sea, and on a voyage of 
discovery. In other words we were in a yacht a large 
and comfortable steam-yacht which had to be very 
carefully navigated into the harbour and over the bar. 
An hour spent musing over the charts in the chart- 
house on deck as we crossed the chord of the Bourne- 
mouth Bay, after rounding Hurst Castle, showed more 
completely than most maps the extraordinary character 
of this intricate estuary, for a chart shows the formation 
not only of the land, but of the sea-bottom, and the 
fathom-markings show the respective areas of shoal, 
deep water, sand, and mud-bank. 

The chart not only showed how at Poole, harbour 
lay within harbour, like the outline of a bunch of 
grapes, but the enormous expanse of " slob-lands " in 
proportion to navigable water in these inland lagoons. 
One inlet runs for many miles up towards the " Trough 
of Poole," another, Hollesley Bay, lies at the back, and 
to the east of Poole town, which itself lies several 
miles from the narrow entrance. To the left another 
lagoon stretches inland further than the eye can see, 
surrounding islands of sound ground with trees and 
cattle on them. But we were not prepared for the 



62 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

positive beauties which the entrance to the harbour 
disclosed, though expecting that substitute for beauty 
picturesqueness which seems inseparable from 
harbour scenery. 

As we came slowly in over the blue water, and 
passed over the bar, our surprise and admiration 
increased. On the right was a spit of sand-hills, 
covered with masses of purple heather and a few wind- 
blown pines. To the left lay Brownsea Island, with 
its castle and trees ; to the left a wide inland sea, 
lying between Brownsea Island and the long sweep of 
Purbeck, with the keep of Corfe Castle standing up 
far off, black against the evening sun. In front lay 
the way up to Poole town, with quaint ports and sea- 
marks, and one or two pretty wooden sailing vessels 
dipping down with the tide. On either side of Poole 
the sea seemed to run inland till lost in heather and 
pines. 

It was the first of August, the opening day for 
wild-fowl shooting, and bare-legged fishermen were 
standing on one or two shingle-banks just left by 
the tide, firing at flocks of ring-dotterels which were 
shifting about the harbour. We also caught the 
infection, and getting the yacht's dingy, rowed off 
towards the setting sun up the branch of the estuary. 
There is a singular charm in such an excursion into 
unknown waters. Even the minor problems of navi- 
gation, when a choice has to be made between different 
channels among thousands of acres of slob and sea- 
weed-covered ooze, serve to remind one of the diffi- 



POOLE HARBOUR 63 

culties which real explorers have to encounter in the 
unknown river waters which are so often the first road 
of entrance to newly-discovered countries. Beyond 
Brownsea Island were two hilly and bare islets. On 
either side the slob was emerging minute by minute, 
curlews and gulls were flitting to and fro, and the level 
beams of sunset lit up the flats with a blaze of mellow 
gold. On the left, beyond the flats, was a great plain 
of heather, gradually rising mile by mile towards the 
cliffs of Purbeck Island. Among the commonest and 
most interesting of the harbour ducks are the sheldrakes. 
They are devoted parents, and as the boat drifted up 
between the grey banks of ooze, the big black and 
white birds were seen watching anxiously by the 
harbour's edge, while the young ones, full-grown, but 
unable to fly, were swimming out in mid-stream. 
Presently the old birds rose and flew in swift circles, 
and the young ones dived. The boat being rowed 
quickly towards the places where they disappeared, they 
scattered, and when next they rose, showed only their 
heads above water, diving again instantly at the 
slightest movement. Meantime the old bird settled 
at some distance, and soon the young were seen rising 
from below water all round her, after which they swam 
off up the nearest creek. 

If chased into a narrow channel, the young will 
sometimes leave the water, poke their heads into a 
crevice, and allow themselves to be caught. The eggs 
are generally laid in a rabbit-burrow in the great 
heather-clad plain to the left of the harbour, often at 



64 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

a considerable distance from the water. Sir R. Payne 
Gallwey states that he saw one, "when the tide was 
Jow, and she was unable to lead her brood to the sea, 
carry them on her back, each duckling holding on by 
a feather, having, while she lay down, climbed up and 
ensconced themselves with the greatest care." We 
were anxious to get a young sheldrake as a specimen, 
and rowed up the stream which flows down from Corfe 
Castle, in pursuit of another brood of the young 
ducks. Their skill and quickness in swimming and 
diving for a long time defeated us. But as the river 
grew narrower the space left to the birds for sub- 
marine tactics was contracted, and we secured one to 
take back to the yacht. It was of a white and cin- 
namon colour, not in the least like the plumage of 
the old birds, but a handsome creature, both in the 
tint and texture of its skin. Meantime the sun had 
sunk, the flats grew dark, and the broad stretch of 
water had changed into a great level mud-flat, fringed 
by dark heather and pines, and intersected by a wind- 
ing, baffling stream down which we crept towards 
the yacht's lights in the distance. As the night 
drew on the whole harbour seemed alive with birds. 
Ducks, curlews, and waders flitted to and fro, and the 
air was full of calls and sounds quite unfamiliar to 
inland naturalists. Every now and again we heard 
the croak of a heron, as one after another they flew 
in and took up their stations for the night's fishing. 
Long after bed-time, as we lay awake listening to the 
lap of the water against the yacht's side and the rush 



POOLE HARBOUR 65 

of the tide on the cables, the cries of the coast-birds 
could be heard the familiar noises of Neptune's 
poultry-yard, feeding round the threshold of the deep. 
At the end of the great frost of the beginning of 
the year 1895 ^ P a ^ another visit to the harbour; 
this time approaching it from the east, along the 
Bournemouth and Branksome sands, and following 
the coast-line to the extreme point of the sand-hills 
at the harbour entrance. Race-horses, frozen out 
from Newmarket Heath, were training on the edge 
of the sand, under the yellow cliff ; the sun was bright 
and hot under the shelter of the pines, and the sea 
was slipping in in waves so tiny that they barely rose 
to the height of the horses' fetlocks. They were the 
merest pretence and fiction of waves sportive, illusive 
yet where the long sand-dam joins the upper cliff, 
and shuts in the right-hand haven of Poole from 
the sea, where the entrance would be, and may have 
been, before the sand-hills grew, was the fresh wreck 
of a thousand ton ship, her paint new, her fittings 
perfect, except the bulwarks, and her name still legible 
upon the stern. She had tried to make the entrance 
of Poole harbour, when caught in the gale, the effects 
of which upon the sea-fowl have been described 
in a previous chapter. 1 The Swanage life-boat came 
out gallantly through the " Race " which runs round 
"Old Harry Rock" at St. Alban's Head, but the 
boat was swamped and the coxswain drowned. Then 

1 The Sea-Fowl and the Storm, p. 17. 



66 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

the Poole lifeboat came down, and saved the men on 
the vessel, who were in danger of death, not only from 
the sea, but from the certainty that if left on the 
stranded ship they would be frozen to death. Opposite 
the wreck, but on the margin of the shore, lay the 
backbone of an older wreck, part of a smaller vessel 
lost many years before. It is a curious tribute to the 
constancy of the set of the current in the gales most 
dangerous on this coast, that had the new wreck been 
able to drift right on shore, she would in all probability 
have laid her timbers on the bones of her predecessor 
in disaster. The sand-hills were quite beautiful even 
in the frost. The heather and moss which contrives 
to exist even on the sand were of the richest dark 
plum- colour and green respectively. The frost had 
nipped all the dead heather blossom off, and this lay 
in little piles and patches, like dark seed-pearls, daintily 
scattered on the sand. In other places the wind-blown 
sand had been quite freshly piled, and was covered 
with the tracks of mice, and strange to say, of rats, 
which had been out foraging for food the night before. 
On the other side of the sand-hills the wind was 
blowing down the harbour, bitterly cold. Nearly all 
the harbour was ice-bound, and the swans, to avoid 
being nipped by the ice, had collected together in a 
flock in one of the bays, where by constantly swim- 
ming and keeping together, they kept a little circle of 
still unfrozen water. All other fowl seem to have 
forsaken the harbour for some less frozen sea. 



THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 

WHETHER judged by the strangeness and beauty 
of its surroundings, or the number and variety of 
the wild birds that make it their home, there is 
no more attractive spot for the naturalist, even on 
the line of coast which includes Poole Haven, Christ- 
church, and Lymington, than the Fleet, the straight 
lagoon which runs for nine miles from the Isle of 
Portland to Abbotsbury, behind the barrier of Chesil 
Beach. There is not an acre of water on the narrow 
shining lagoon, or a rood of shingle on the Chesil 
Beach which banks it in, that is not the chosen home 
of the wild-fowl of the river or the shore. During 
the winter, wild ducks and coots in thousands crowd 
the sheltered waters of the Fleet ; in summer, the 
hot and hazy surface of the shingle swarms with the 
young of the terns and dotterels ; and at the head of 
the water, in an almost tropical growth of pampas 
grass and fuchsias, and the rankest luxuriance of the 
herbage of the marsh, is the swan paradise of Abbots- 
bury. The nine straight miles of water below is only 
the playground of the birds ; but in spring this is 



68 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

forsaken, except by a few pairs that nest on the 
inner side of Chesil Beach ; and the rich and shel- 
tered mead which fringes Abbotsbury Brook is white 
with the graceful forms of a thousand nesting swans. 
In this their ancient haunt, so ancient that although 
the hills behind are crowned with the ruins of votive 
chapels and ancient monasteries, the swans may claim for 
their established home an equal if not greater antiquity, 
all the favourite sites were, at the time of a visit paid 
early in April, occupied by the jealous and watchful 
birds, each keenly resentful of intrusion on its territory, 
yet in such close proximity to its neighbours that a 
space of ten or twelve feet at most divided it from 
ground in " separate and hostile occupation." Near the 
mouth of a small stream which enters the Fleet below 
a close and extensive bed of reeds, now cut down and 
stored for the use of the birds when building, lies the 
ground most coveted by the swans. There, between 
two hundred and three hundred nests, or sites for 
nests, were occupied on a space of two acres at most. 
So anxious are the birds to secure a place on this 
favourite spot, that they remain sitting constantly on 
the place when occupied, in order to maintain their 
rights against intruders, and there collect with their 
long necks every morsel of reed and grass within 
reach to form a platform for the eggs. At this time 
the swanherd visits them constantly, and scatters bundles 
of dried reeds from the stacks, which are eagerly 
gathered in by the swans and piled round and beneath 
them as they sit. These additions to the nest go 



THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 69 

on continually ; and as the cock-swan takes his share, 
or even more than his share, of the duties of sitting 
upon the eggs, one of the pair is always at liberty to 
collect fresh material. This is mainly piled in a 
kind of wall round the nest, the interior being already 
finished, and often partly felted with a lining of 
swansdown from the birds' breasts. To the visitor 
who, under the guidance of the swanherd, walks 
on the narrow grass-paths which wind amid the 
labyrinth of nests, the colony recalls visions of visits 
to the island-homes of the great petrels or giant 
albatrosses in distant oceans. Many of the swans have 
built their nests so that they even encroach upon the 
paths ; and each of the great birds as he passes throws 
back its snake-like head, and with raised crest hisses 
fiercely and rattles the pinions of its wings, or even 
leaves the nest, and, with every feather quivering with 
excitement, makes as though it would drive the 
intruder from the sanctuary. But the presence of the 
swanherd generally reassures the birds, though the 
hissing rises and falls as if from the throats of a 
thousand angry snakes. In view of the natural jealousy 
and fierceness of swans in the breeding season, the 
comparative gentleness of the Abbotsbury birds is 
somewhat remarkable. On the rivers and broads of 
Norfolk, each pair claims and secures a large stretch 
of water for their sole use, and constant and some- 
times fatal fights take place if the reserved territory 
is invaded by another pair. There, also, the swans 
will occasionally attack not only strangers, but the 



7 o SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

swanherds themselves, who, owing to the extent of 
the streams and dykes along which the swans nest, 
are, of course, less well-known to the birds than are 
the keepers at Abbotsbury. Mr. Stevenson was told 
by John Trett, a marshman of Surlingham, that he 
was " attacked by an old male swan as he was examin- 
ing the eggs in a nest, to which, being a boggy place, 
he had crawled on his hands and knees. The swan, 
coming up behind him unperceived, struck him so 
violently on the back, that he had difficulty in regain- 
ing his boat, where he laid for some time in great 
pain, and though he managed at length to pull home, 
he was confined to his bed for more than a week." 
Another marshman was struck on the thigh in the 
same manner, and described the force of the blow 
and the pain occasioned by it as something incredible. 
The Abbotsbury swans, though not pinioned like the 
Norfolk birds, and leading a life of freedom on the 
verge of the sea, seem to know by instinct that the 
protection and safety which they obtain at Abbotsbury 
is more than enough to compensate them for the 
loss of the freedom and independence which an isolated 
nesting-place must give ; and with the exception of 
about twenty pairs, they congregate as has been 
described, abandoning not only their natural instincts 
for isolation, but also much of the combativeness with 
which this instinct is accompanied. Fights between 
the cock swans do occur. But the swanherd soon 
restores peace. One fine old bird which had quarrelled 
with both of its neighbours, was made happy by a 



THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 71 

semicircle of tamarisk boughs stuck in the earth around 
its nest, and so clearly defining its territory. 

Whether viewed from the land seawards, or from 
Chesil Beach across the Fleet, the scene was alike rich 
in life and colour. The strangeness of the view from 
Chesil Bank inwards makes it perhaps the more striking. 
To the right stretches an apparently endless line of 
dark-blue sea, separated from the lighter waters of the 
Fleet by the golden shingle of " the Bank," which 
vanishes into yellow haze towards Portland Island. 
On the Fleet opposite floated hundreds of white swans, 
among which the black coots and cormorants swam 
and dived like imps among the angels. The further 
shore was again fringed with the dead-gold of the reed- 
stumps, backed by the rich green of the hills beyond. 
As the evening drew on, the birds and animals of the 
shore and the lake seemed to enjoy an exclusive 
dominion over their respective haunts. No human 
being was in sight, and the nine miles of Chesil Beach 
were probably untrodden by any creature larger than 
the hares which came hopping down from the hills to 
feed upon a wild vetch which grows among the shingle 
on the shore. The mackerel-fishing had not begun, 
and the men of Abbotsbury and Chickerel village were 
busy with farm work, leaving the eels and grey 
mullets which swarm in the Fleet to the cormorants 
and divers, which were busily fishing in the shallow 
water. Gregory Gill, the swanherd, and his boy had 
just crossed the water-meadows on their way to the 
village ; every labourer had gone home an hour before ; 



7 2 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

and the writer, with an old swan and a hare which 
were sitting side by side on the shingle, were the only 
spectators. The variety of sound was as great as that 
of colour. The whistle of the ringed plover, the harsh 
cry of the coots, and the angry deep note of the male 
swan as he rushed at a rival, churning up the water 
with his powerful wings, with a noise like a distant 
paddle-steamer, rang out through the still air. The 
gulls were calling, laughing, and crying, and across 
the Fleet came the song of the land-birds from 
the poplar-grove behind the swannery. Then we saw 
the flight of the swan, a sight which the practice of 
pinioning these birds makes so rare in England. Four 
swans rose slowly from the mere, after a short rush 
across the surface, in which their wings beat the water 
into foam, and rose slowly upwards in Indian file, 
ascending steadily against the breeze. When they had 
gained the height they desired, they circled round the 
head of the lagoon, and from among the great flight - 
feathers of the beating wings there came back a 
measured sound like the ring of a tubular bell. Straight 
out over the meadows they flew, until they seemed like 
snowflakes over the church-tower a mile away, the 
bell-like sound growing fainter, but still heard, as it 
was echoed back from St. Catherine's Hill, and increas- 
ing in tone and volume as the birds once more circled 
back towards the mere. 

The annals of the swannery, so far as the writer 
could gather its more recent history on the spot, are 
not without chapters of disaster to the white-winged 



THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 73 

community in the Fleet. The total number is at 
present 1002 ; but last year the cold and wet of the 
summer were so fatal to the cygnets, that out of 800 
hatched all died but one; 150 only were reared by 
hand. The birds are still 500 less than the total 
number of the flock before the year 1 8 8 1 . The frost 
in that winter caused the greatest disasters from which 
the swannery has suffered during the present generation. 
A heavy north-west gale drove so much water out of 
the Fleet, that when the frost came, the ice caught and 
embedded the top of the grasses which grow on the 
submarine fields below. As the water returned to its 
normal level, the ice rose with it, and dragged all the 
grass up by the roots, thus destroying over the whole 
area the main food of the swans. For the next three 
years the swans had to be fed with grain ; but at first 
they refused to touch the new food, and one thousand 
adult swans perished of starvation. Though the grass 
has now grown again, the birds have never lost their 
liking for the corn which they at first refused ; even 
the severe winter of 1891 did not injure them. 

The history of this, which is not the most ancient 
swannery in our country, but the only one surviving in 
England, has been briefly summarized by Mr. Mansell 
Pleydell, in his History of the Birds of Dorsetshire. 
" There are records of a swannery," he writes, " long 
previous to the Reformation ; the abbots of the neigh- 
bouring monastery being its owners. At its dissolution, 
Henry VIII. granted it to Giles Strangways, the ancestor 
of the present owner (Lord Ilchester), who raised the 



74 SOUTHERN ESTUARIES 

number of the swans in the course of fourteen years 
from 800 to 1 500." The heirs of Giles Strangways 
were successful in defending their right to the birds, 
when it was contested on behalf of Queen Elizabeth 
that the swans, if marked, belonged to him, though 
those which were not marked, " having gained their 
natural liberty by swimming in an open river, might be 
seized to the sovereign's use by her prerogative, because 
they are royal birds." 

In August the cygnets of the year are nearly fully 
fledged, but are shut in pens with the old birds in order 
to keep them warm. By this time the swans begin to 
scatter over the whole of the Fleet, and even go into 
Weymouth Harbour. By this time the young terns, 
bred on the Chesil Bank, are also fledged and on the 
wing. The country boys catch them by putting a 
noose propped open with a straw just above a fish. 
The birds stoop down, and are caught by the neck. 
Later in mid-winter, the coots assemble on the Fleet, 
and in autumn sometimes an osprey. In March the 
ducks stay for a short time before going north, and 
the swannery waters are crowded with them. The few 
that stay to nest go up into the hills, and bring their 
young later down the streams to the Fleet. They 
have been seen swimming down the brook through the 
village in the grey of the morning. 

Abbotsbury is one of the choice spots of southern 
England. The place is as interesting as the birds. 
Sub-tropical trees and shrubs grow in the gardens ; 
there are the remains of the monastery, and the old 



THE SWANNERY AT ABBOTSBURY 75 

chapel on St. Catherine's Hill, and the terraces showing 
the ancient cultivation of the soil when each man had 
a strip in the common fields. Game swarms, especially 
hares and pheasants. But there is probably no more 
ancient institution native to the place than the swannery, 
which has existed for 800 years, and there seems no 
reason why it should not continue for an equal time to 
delight visitors from the cities of men to the city of 
swans by the sea. 



THE 

PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

IN PRAISE OF PINE-WOODS 

THE southern home counties are at present the scene 
of a sudden change of ideas on the subject of " eligible 
building property," which must before long alter not 
only the general appearance of large tracts of country 
which have, until now, remained almost uninhabited 
since the memory of man, but also the character and 
mode of life of what were until lately among the most 
rural and primitive districts of the South. The rush to 
the pine-woods, with its transference of capital from the 
suburbs not only of London, but of the great towns of 
the Midlands and the North, to the heaths of Berk- 
shire, Surrey, and Western Hampshire, is assuming the 
dimensions of an urban exodus. Measured by the 
standard of the realized wealth and spending power 
which it represents, it must be allowed to count in 
some degree as a makeweight against the loss to the 
rural districts by immigration to the towns. That the 
movement is not a mere foible of the hour, but based 



IN PRAISE OF PINE- WOODS 77 

upon a strong conviction that the pine countries present 
real and abiding advantages for modern country life, 
seems clear from the insistence with which the new- 
comers cling to the heaths, and refuse the most tempt- 
ing offers to build outside them. The villas follow 
the line of the sand as closely as collieries follow the 
line of the coal. Even the outlying and detached 
wastes, which, until recently, lay barren and uninhabited 
among the Surrey hills, or Hampshire commons, are 
parcelled out and covered with substantial houses ; and 
there are signs that, before many years, the main tract 
of the pine country will be converted into one immense 
residential suburb, composed of houses graded to suit 
all incomes from 500 a year upwards. 

The extent of the pine country is not so great as 
to render this surmise improbable. Though it reaches 
into the three counties of Surrey, Hampshire, and Berk- 
shire, it covers a very limited area in each. Hampshire 
and Berkshire are, in the main, chalk soils ; and the 
area of the Surrey heaths is more than balanced by the 
Weald, the mixed soils, and the downs. A line drawn 
from Bracknell, through Ascot, and thence to Wey- 
bridge, marks the northern limits of the true pine- 
country, which forms an almost equilateral triangle, 
with its apex at Liss, on the southern boundary of 
Woolmer Forest. This portion includes Fleet, Farn- 
ham, Aldershot, Bisley, Weybridge, Woking, and the 
Hind Head Commons. South of Liss, the Maeon 
Valley and the Chalk Downs block the way. Further 
south, in the " purlieus " of the New Forest, the sand 



78 THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

once more appears, and finds its final limit, and the 
perfection of its peculiar beauties, in the pine-woods 
and cliffs of the great Bournemouth Bay, and by the 
shores of Branksome and Poole Harbour. In the 
larger northern position, which may be roughly esti- 
mated at 120,000 acres, the greater part is already 
marked with the present or proposed sites for building. 
From the heights of St. George's Hill to the desolate 
flats of Fleet, the roofs of the red houses stand thick 
among the pines, or above the birch and heather. The 
great common at the back of Hind Head is becoming 
a mere " hinter-land " to villa-gardens, except where 
the ground still remains in the hands of one or two 
owners of vast possessions ; and by the cliffs and chines 
of Bournemouth, where, in the memory of living men, 
yachts' crews landed to fetch water from the little 
" bourne " by a solitary coastguard-station, a population 
of forty thousand inhabitants is imbedded in the pines, 
and thinks itself fortunate to secure a place in the 
groves upon the cliffs, at a price of from 1000 to 
2000 an acre. 

Bournemouth is the capital city of the new country, 
though placed at its extreme limit ; there all has been 
done that money and forethought can accomplish, to 
anticipate the wants of the new settlers in this sandy 
Arcadia. The creation of Bournemouth is one of the 
economic puzzles of the century, quite as remarkable, 
and hardly less rapid, than the rise of Middlesborough 
or Barrow-in-Furness ; for its population has gathered 
not to make money, but to spend it. The greater 



IN PRAISE OF PINE-WOODS 79 

number were, in all probability, free to choose any 
other part of England for a residence. The reason 
for their building a " city to dwell in " on this long 
line of Hampshire sand-cliff, must be sought in some 
amenity of the site, not so obvious as to be perceived 
at once, or Bournemouth would have been built long 
ago, yet capable of 'appealing to the senses of the 
greater number of those who visit it. The proximate 
reason of any sea-side colony usually lies in some very 
direct appeal to sentiment or convenience. Beachy Head 
" made " Eastbourne, Brighton is London-by-the-Sea, 
Hastings lies on a sunny shelf, Scarborough and 
Whitby are the natural marine towns of the West 
Riding, Ryde and Cowes are the yachting centres, 
Ilfracombe and Lynton share the double beauties of 
Exmoor, and of coast scenery unrivalled in the West. 
Bournemouth can claim none of these special advan- 
tages. The long line of yellow cliffs, with the distant 
bastions of chalk precipice, Freshwater, and the 
Needles on the east, and the pillared cliffs of St. Albans 
Head to the west, beyond the wide blue waters of the 
bay, give to the seaward view a breadth and simplicity 
which grows upon the imagination. But it is not by 
its coast, or even by the bright waters of its sand-paved 
sea, which the wildest storm cannot discolour, that the 
place prevails on those who visit it, to make there an 
abiding home. It is the whispering of the deep pine- 
wood that lines the land, and not the voices of the sea, 
which they hear and obey. The pine-wood of Bourne- 
mouth is to the plantations of the sand country what 



8o THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

the groves of Mark-Ash are to the beech-woods of the 
New Forest, the climax of an ascending scale of sylvan 
beauty, produced by the gradual and natural advance 
to perfection of a single species of tree, in a setting which 
varies in degree of beauty, but not in general features. 
What the charm of this pine-forest must have been, 
before it was discovered and inhabited, can only be con- 
jectured, though the first care of the settlers has been to 
preserve the trees, so far as the construction of roads 
and houses allows, and their further felling is forbidden 
by the strictest obligations of leases, and the enforcement 
of local regulations against wanton burning and injury. 
It is a fact that the cross-bill, the rarest and shyest of 
the birds of the Northern forest, still breeds in the 
Bournemouth woods ; and the ground is covered by 
half-gnawed cones flung down by the squirrels, which 
build their nests on the very verge of the cliffs. The 
trees in the oldest and thickest woods are not the 
Scotch fir, or the ragged spruce, which cover so much of 
the so-called " pine districts," but true Western pines, 
flat-topped and straight-stemmed, with a crown of up- 
curved branches, studded with masses of heavy cones, 
full of seed, and as prolific as on the shores of the 
Mediterranean. Many of these trees are more than 
a century old, and cover cliff and glen alike with 
high vistas of tall grey stems, lightly roofed by the 
intersections and multiplied upward curves of the 
branches which lace the sky, but admit both air and 
light to the ground below. Thus, in the oldest woods, 
though the mass of falling pine-needles makes the 



IN PRAISE OF PINE- WOODS 81 

surface as soft and noiseless to the tread as in the thick 
and crowded new plantations of the Woking heaths, 
the bracken-fern has space to grow, and the soil 
between the trunks is filled with all the minor orna- 
ment of heather, woodbine, and wild-rose. In the 
hollows, masses of rhododendron grow self-sown, and 
where the sea-wind strikes the summit of the cliffs, a 
tangle of young pines makes a natural and complete 
provision for the shelter and quiet of the deep woods 
beyond. In their peaceful precincts, in the sound of the 
sea-wind in the branches, the subtle scent of the pines 
and heather, which no rough wind can ever dissipate, 
in the breadth and quiet of the sandy forest, in the 
dryness and clearness of its air, purified by trees and 
sea, the attraction of the newly discovered country lies. 
Were its area ten times greater than it is, it would 
hardly satisfy the wants of those who have yielded to 
its charm. It is already crowded, not from choice, but 
because there is not building space for those who desire 
to live there. The last thing to be desired as the result 
of the new exodus is a reconstruction of town life and 
amusements ; yet that is exactly what is taking place in 
the choicest districts of the pine country. If it becomes 
a matter of faith that this is the best soil, and the best 
air and surroundings to make life happy and prolonged, 
there is no price that will not be paid, within the scope 
of individual means, to secure its enjoyment. But the 
limits of space must control the limits of population, 
beyond which the peculiar amenities of the district 
cannot survive. There are signs that this limit is 



82 THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

already nearly in sight ; though in the parts of Dorset- 
shire adjacent to the Poole district there is still a great 
extent of similar country available, and the question 
arises, Where else will be found the same conditions ? 
Perhaps on the Norfolk heaths ; or, if the climate of 
the East Coast is a barrier, we may see the growth of 
another and more perfect city in the pines, in the wide 
sand-hills of the Landes, between the Garonne and the 
Adour in sunny Gascony. 



SELBORNE AND WOLMER FOREST 

THE power of locality to form tastes, and its im- 
potence to subdue character, are shown with curious 
completeness in the cases of Gilbert White and William 
Cobbett. The same district and the same soil for 
Farnham is only twelve miles from Selborne, and both 
are lands of beech-hangers and hop-gardens, and both 
abut on sandy heaths was the birth-place of the 
authors of the History of Selborne and the Rural 
Rides. Each formed in youth such binding ties with 
the land and those that live by it, that he was impelled 
to revisit the old home and the old scenes, and each 
has left descriptions of them unmatched by art. But 
at this point the power of locality ended. White, the 
contemplative, returned from Oriel and Oxford to 
become of free will " a stationary man," to spend his 
days in secure enjoyment and observation of the dis- 
trict he loved. Cobbett, when, after the third attempt, 
he had broken free from the ties of his father's farm 
at Farnham, returned only to look down from the 
hill-tops on his native land, and then, after " blessing 
it altogether " in some of the finest descriptive English 



84 THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

ever printed, rode back to London to bombard his 
enemies in the Political Register, and denounce Pitt 
and paper-money. Sometimes the temptation came to 
him to abandon his warfare, not for a life of con- 
templation, like White's, but for one of rural progress 
and business success, the secret of which none knew 
better than Cobbett ; and some such thought was 
probably in his mind when he remarked, on his visit 
to Selborne, that " people ought to be happy there, for 
that God had done everything for them." But the 
memory of private wrongs and hope of public reforms 
thrust the thought aside. " The delight of seeing 
Prosperity Robinson hang his head for shame ! the 
delight of beholding the tormenting embarrassments 
of those who have so long retained crowds of base 
miscreants to revile me ! ... Shall Sidmouth then 
never again hear of his Power of Imprisonment Bill, 
his Circular, his Letter of Thanks to the Man- 
chester Yeomanry ? I really jumped up when the 
thought came across my mind, and without thinking 
of breakfast, said, ' Go, George, saddle the horses/ 
for it seemed to me that I had been meditating some 
crime ! " 

Selborne to-day is little changed since Cobbett visited 
it after a reader of his paper had sent him White's 
book ; and the village itself can scarcely have altered 
since White wrote, except that his house has been 
enlarged, and there is a new rectory. To a visitor the 
first impressions of the village are perhaps disappoint- 
ing, though the lofty beech-covered hill above it, and 



SELBORNE AND WOLMER FOREST 85 

the romantic glen called the Leith, below the church, 
bear out all that has been written of them. The one 
striking feature of the place is the position of the 
church, on a promontory jutting out into this Leith 
valley, looking from which the square tower stands 
like some small fortress closing the steep and narrow 
glen, backed by the great beech-wood of Selborne Hill. 
The ancient yew-tree in the churchyard still flourishes, 
and the interior of the church, with its double row of 
massive pillars, has all the dignity which Norman or 
very Early English architects knew how to give to 
buildings, however small, and the monuments and 
fabric show every sign of decent and reverent care. 
Still, the features of Selborne itself are hardly such as 
might be expected to inspire a classic. 

Wolmer forest, on the other hand, three- fifths of 
which lie in the parish of Selborne, is a strangely 
fascinating region, containing some of the wildest 
scenery of the South, full of strange birds and rare 
plants and insects, and improved, rather than lessened, 
in natural beauty, since it afforded White " much 
entertainment both as a sportsman and a naturalist." 
In his day it " consisted entirely of sand covered with 
heath and fern, without having one standing tree in its 
whole extent," but was studded with large meres and 
marshes. Now the waters have shrunk ; but much of 
the forest is covered with plantations of pine, and even 
of oak. The fir-plantations were made by Cobbett's 
enemy, " the smooth Mr. Huskisson," and formed the 
text for a ferocious attack on him as Commissioner of 



86 THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

Woods and Forests ; but though the price now fetched 
by the wood bears out the economical side of Cobbett's 
criticism, the trees add much to the beauty and char- 
acter of the forest. " This lonely domain," says Gil- 
bert White, " is an agreeable haunt for many sorts of 
wild fowls, which not only frequent it in winter, but 
breed there in summer, such as lapwings, snipes, wild 
ducks, and, as I have discovered within these last few 
years, teals." During a spring walk in the forest, 
it was the writer's fortune to find the nest of every 
bird which White mentions as breeding there, except 
that of the black grouse, which, though introduced for 
a time, has become nearly as rare as in his days. At 
the northern end of the forest, near Walldon Hill, is a 
marsh, not a mere swamp in the peats, but such a 
marsh as hunted outlaws may have sheltered in, over 
which the flame of the will-o'-the-wisp may still dance 
on summer nights ; a wide sheet of black water, with 
dead white limbs of drowned trees standing out from 
it, and winding labyrinths of dwarf alders covered with 
wet mosses and hanging lichens, and mats of bright 
green grass so firmly tangled that a boy can walk 
on them, and outside these quaking platforms thick 
beds of reed. This is the home and nursery of the 
wild fowl of the forest, where duck and teal, dabchicks 
and water-hens, bring up their young broods till the 
helpless time of flapperhood is over. But the ducks 
and teal do not nest in the marsh ; and we found 
White's observations exactly true, the teals nesting at a 
considerable distance from the water, and the wild 



SELBORNE AND WOLMER^ FOREST 87 

ducks in some of the furthest and driest parts of the 
forest. About a hundred yards from the marsh was 
a teal's nest. She had hatched her young the day 
before, but two eggs remained, of a pale ivory colour, 
and the nest, which was placed in deep heather under 
a seedling fir, was beautifully made of moss and 
speckled down from the bird's breast, which exactly 
matched in colour the lichen-covered heather. Had 
we risen at daybreak, we might perhaps have met the 
bird taking her tiny brood down to the water. A 
wild duck's nest was found on a steep, heather-clad 
hill, quite a mile from the water. There are few 
more difficult nests to find than that of a wild duck 
on a heath. But in this case a single breast-feather 
gave the clue needed, and after careful search a track 
was found winding among the heather-stems to a thick 
patch under the overhanging boughs of a young pine, 
beneath which was the nest. The eggs had been 
hatched for some time, and all the broken shells were 
buried beneath a layer of down. In a wet hollow near 
the outskirts of the forest was a snipe's nest. These 
birds are far less common there than formerly, owing, 
it is said, to the turf being no longer cut for fuel, so 
that there is less fresh ground exposed for them to feed 
upon. The nest was simply a round hollow in a wet 
tussock ; but when their brood is hatched, the snipes 
are said to be most affectionate parents. This par- 
ticular pair are said to have nested in the same place 
last year. Some men employed to dig sand close by 
were surprised to see a snipe fly up, which, after show- 



88 THE PINE AND HEATHER COUNTRY 

ing great unwillingness to quit the spot, perched on a 
rail about four yards off a most unusual thing for a 
snipe to do and remained watching them. Soon 
after, they discovered at the bottom of the pit four 
very young snipes lying together, which they took up 
and laid upon the level ground, whence they were 
soon called away by the mother-bird into the rough 
grass near. 

Plovers nest on the swamps and rough hill-sides ; 
and there are a fair number of wild pheasants and 
partridges on the sides of the forest. Squirrels swarm 
in the pine-trees, and live on the seeds of the cones. 
But perhaps the most interesting colony in the forest is 
the heronry. Perhaps this is a recent settlement, for 
Gilbert White does not speak of it. The nests are in 
a plantation of tall pines in the very heart of the 
forest, where one or two small brooks, deeply tinged 
with iron deposits, flow through the wood. The trees 
are so tall as to be inaccessible to the climber ; and as 
the great birds launch themselves from their nests, and 
sail round with harsh cries above the tree-tops, the 
visitor might well imagine himself back in some bygone 
forest era. The trees on which the nests are placed 
are covered by a thick green lichen, and are readily 
distinguished from the rest. One rare bird, the Dart- 
ford Warbler, which haunts the forest, has been almost 
destroyed by the recent severe winters ; and great 
numbers of woodpeckers have also died. But in the 
ring of lofty firs which caps the hill above the pool of 
Holly-water, there are a number of their nests, or 



SELBORNE AND WOLMER FOREST 89 

rather the holes drilled in successive years for their 
nests, by the pairs which annually breed in this 
favourite spot. One of them had been robbed by the 
squirrels, which had sucked the eggs and flung the 
shells upon the ground. Higher up in the firs were 
the nests of carrion crows and hawks, robber birds 
which haunt this lofty eyrie, and, soaring round the 
hill, or perched upon the dead branches of the trees, 
keep a watchful eye upon the forest for miles around. 

Wolmer forest is a good instance of a Government 
property managed with good taste and good sense. 
The forest fires, of which Gilbert White speaks, are 
now kept in check so far as the limited number of 
warders available can do so, and the wild life of the 
district is just apparently preserved to give that 
additional interest to woodland scenery, from the 
absence of which the forests of France suffer so 
greatly. If the origin of the sentiment which preserves 
these creatures were sought, it would probably be 
found in the writings of Gilbert White of Selborne. 



SURREY SCENES 



THE SURREY PONDS 

POOLS and still waters are as characteristic of the 
country in which they lie as rivers and running brooks. 
The beauties of a Highland tarn and a Norfolk broad 
are as separate and appropriate to their own surround- 
ings as the rushing moorland stream, and the level 
and tranquil windings of the Waveney or the Yare. 
Even the clay-embedded water-holes of the Suffolk 
farms, surrounded by their ragged clumps of thorns, 
and peopled by ancient carp which burrow in the 
mud in winter, and welter in the thick and tepid 
waters in the summer droughts, have a certain 
interest native to the soil ; and the moats of the 
decayed manor-houses, where rich franklins once kept 
their "bream and luce in stew," are still haunted by 
traditions of monster pike, the pets and familiar friends 
of past tenants of the farms. Among the bright 
heaths and moorlands of Surrey, and the adjacent 
corners of Hampshire and Sussex which meet near 



THE SURREY PONDS 91 

the sources of the Rother, the Wey, and the Dead- 
water, the "ponds" are perhaps the most beautiful 
and interesting features of the loveliest country within 
an hour of London. A glance at the map will show 
a hundred of these pools, some among the dry heaths 
on an impervious ironstone bottom, and often reaching 
the dimensions of small lakes, like Frensham pond, 
the Fleet, or Broadwater, near Godalming ; others, 
perhaps the richest of all in bird and fish life, in such 
valleys as Chilworth, or the marshy meadows of the 
lower Wey. But the most picturesque, and perhaps 
the least known, are the long chains of pools which 
lie back among the hills. In the rich profusion of 
soils at the roots of the Hind Head, where hops and 
heather jostle, and the full-fed oak kisses the starveling 
pine, the head-waters of rivers gather in these ponds. 
Like the Spider Mountains of Argos, the hills spread 
their web where the three counties meet, and between 
their strands lie the lines of upland pools. Follow 
any of the hollows in the dry moor downwards, and the 
signs of subterranean waters are apparent. Oaks min- 
gle with the pines, and the rabbit-turf grows greener 
and more compact. Loam takes the place of peat 
and sand in the banks, and beech and alder spring up 
in the hollows. Yet even there you may stand within 
a few minutes' walk of a chain of small lakes stretch- 
ing for miles into the hill, and not know in which 
direction to seek them. The sound of falling water, 
the scent of wood and peat smoke curling up from 
a cottage chimney into which it seemed easy to drop 



92 SURREY SCENES 

a pebble, and the gleam of a pool seen forty feet 
below, were the first evidence to the writer that 
he had chanced on one of the beautiful chains of 
ponds which form the sources of the river Wey. 
Narrow peninsulas of sound turf jut out from either 
side of the glen, washed by the streamlet whose ripple 
was heard above. On one of these stands the game- 
keeper's cottage, and below it lies the pool. Trout, 
and not game, are the main objects of the keeper's 
care, and a jay sat flirting its tail and screaming its 
double note on a pine just opposite the house. The 
pool itself was a type of hundreds among the Surrey 
coombs. The streamlet, which enters at the head, 
runs straight and deep for a few yards with a rapid 
current. Feathery swamp-grass, tall skeletons of 
thistles and of willow-herb, and clusters of bright- 
green rushes, half-smothered in a russet snow of oak- 
leaves, fringe the banks ; and where the morning 
sun falls, blunt-toothed fronds of oak-fern and young 
hollies sprout. Then the stream forks, and a miniature 
delta forms, covered with a tall growth of bulrushes. 
Below the delta stretches the broad, dark pool ; pure, 
clear, and shallow, with sandy bottom strewn with 
fallen leaves, and hungry trout cruising up and down 
in the water made clear as crystal by a touch of 
November frost. Grey-stemmed, yellow-leaved, twisted 
oak, and dark and shining hollies fringe the sunny 
side, and on the shaded bank a line of weeping- 
birches dips into the pool. All is bright, clear, and 
clean, void of clay or mud or rottenness ; even the 



THE SURREY PONDS 93 

dam at the lower end is built of crumbling, sandy 
loam, laced and bound together by the roots of oaks. 
The low November sun looks over the steep bank 
and beats into the sheltered coomb with a warmth 
that can be felt, though the opposite bank lies cold 
in deep shadow, with streaks of hoar-frost lingering 
beneath the birches. In front, the slender sparkling 
stream, so shallow that it must needs divide to run 
round tiny islands of gravel and jungles of cresses, 
meets again, and slips smoothly under a foot-wide 
plank, through the loam-bank, and into the pool 
below. 

The keeper, tempted to linger and chat by the 
warmth and beauty of the day, explained the new and 
sensible trout-culture which now stocks the pools with 
thousands of dainty fish, in place of the chance supply 
of coarse jack and odious wriggling eels which were 
once their main inhabitants. In the warm days of 
spring, thousands of troutlets, about one-and-a-half 
inches long, bright, silvery little fish, with scarlet spots 
upon their sides, are caught in the narrow runnels of 
the water-meadows between the ponds, and placed in 
a long wooden cistern, through which a constant stream 
flows. The water is then drawn off from the pool 
below the keeper 's cottage, and all the larger trout are 
removed to the other ponds in the chain. The sluice 
is closed, the pool fills, and the young fish are let loose, 
secured against all attack except the nightly visits of 
marauding herons from Stag's Wood, in Wolmer 
Forest. In eighteen months the water is once more 



94 SURREY SCENES 

run off, and the troutlets, grown into half-pound trout, 
are transported to the deep waters of the larger pools. 
These are divided from the breeding-pond by a 
" bottom," or a moist, green, squashy river of short 
grass, haunted by blackbirds, in which the stream is 
hardly visible, and often disappears below the surface, 
or is distributed among narrow strips of water-meadow. 
In the river-valleys of the lower ground, these 
" bottoms " are deep and oozy swamps, where red mud 
and slime stand and stink among the alder-stumps, and 
" quakes," or reedy jungles, spread in the open ground. 
The contrast between the sunny and the sunless bank 
remains: the latter dark, smooth, and steep, with a 
regular growth of birch, the former rugged and broken, 
studded with contorted oaks and ancient hollies. Flat- 
roofed caves lie under the oak-roots, in which sand is 
for ever dropping from roof to floor, like the dribble 
of the hour-glass ; even the wren hopping and singing 
from root to root beneath the cave dislodges tiny 
avalanches of sand. Under a hazel -bush lay a pool in 
miniature, an everlasting spring, fresh from the hidden 
cisterns of the hill. True springs like this are the 
nearest approach in rural England to the little 
"fountains" gushing from the rock, so dear to the 
poets of old Greece and Italy. The smallest of the 
" Waggoners' Wells " l for these, like all ponds and 
pools, however remote, have their distinguishing name 
could scarcely claim Horace's sacrifice of a kid ; but 

1 Part of this chain of pools lies within the Hampshire border. 



THE SURREY PONDS 95 

its tiny basin, scarcely a yard across, shows in miniature 
all the beauties of the larger pools. Ferns dip into 
its surface from the bank behind, thick mosses clothe 
its stones, and the crystal waters swell outwards in 
gently widening rings from some slow-throbbing 
invisible centre, where an unseen force is gradually 
raising tiny grains of brown rock, which linger and 
hang poised as if caught in water -cob webs, or wander 
downwards, hesitating and reluctant, to the leafy 
bottom of the spring. A culvert of oak-logs leads this 
youngest mother of rivers to the central stream. 
Beyond the spring the banks of the coomb once more 
contract, and become lofty and precipitous. There, 
overhung by oaks and drooping pines, which jut from 
the high banks, sleeps a larger, blacker pool, deep and 
narrow, dammed at the lower end by a thick dyke over 
which the water rushes in cascades at either end. The . 
pond covers a space of three or four acres, deep, and 
full of large trout, which are fed not from the clear 
waters and clean-cut banks of the mere, but by the 
vast quantities of insects carried down from the water- 
meadows above. At the coomb's head lies the queen 
of the line of pools a straight and beautiful mere, 
two hundred yards long and a hundred wide. At its 
head is a lofty heath-clad hill, topped with a mass of 
upright pines, whose grey stems stand like rows of 
columns supporting the peaked foliage of their crests. 
On either side, black alders and the grey stems and 
ruddy leaves of oaks break the straight line of the 
water, and dip their branches in the mere. On the 



9 6 SURREY SCENES 

right lie sound lawns, cropped by cattle hung with 
tinkling bells ; and at the lake's head a narrow bed of 
sedges harbours the few water-fowl which haunt the 
pool. Above, in the heart of the pine-woods, are 
tiny rills and basins, into which the trout ascend to 
spawn. Few cottages and fewer farms lie by these 
upland pools. Wood is the only crop, which needs a 
seven- years' season to mature, and no man to till the 
soil. Bad times and wet harvests do not touch the 
Surrey woods, or make the forester's or keeper's roof- 
tree cold. " Lonely ? No, never," is the keeper's 
answer to our inquiry. " It's a deal lonelier in the 
woods ; and what do I want with people ? I want 
things quiet, and home is good enough for me when I 
come back." He, his wife, and children are almost as 
dependent on the " ponds " as the wild-fowl and the 
trout. The stream waters their meadow, fills their 
cress-bed, gives them perch and trout, seasons their 
withy-baskets, brews their tea and beer, and, in winter, 
supplies stray wild-duck and teal, shot in the grey 
dawn, and woodcocks snared in the " bottoms." The 
keeper would not take the warmest lodge in a lowland 
park in exchange for his cottage by the upland pond. 



97 



TROUT-BREEDING 

IT is now fifteen years since Frank Buckland 
bequeathed his museum of pisciculture to the nation. 
In connection with the question of re-stocking trout 
ponds, by other methods than those described in 
the previous chapter, it is worth inquiring what results 
have accrued from Frank Buckland's legacy of his 
museum of pisciculture to the nation. Those who 
regard the younger Buckland as something more than 
an agreeable writer on the curiosities of animal life, 
will be curious to know whether, in the period that 
has elapsed since his death, the cause which he had 
most at heart has made any real and effective progress. 
Fish-culture, in the sense not only of breeding fish 
from the ova, but of their protection, encouragement, 
and profitable maintenance in the running streams and 
lakes of England, was the serious object of Buckland's 
later years. In its advocacy, he was at once enthusi- 
astic and practical, and so much before his time in 
the views he held as to the desirability of rescuing 
from neglect the productive forces of the water at 
a time when no expense or trouble was spared on 



H 



9 8 SURREY SCENES 

improving those of the land, that he had to create a 
body of opinion in his favour. In this he partially 
succeeded, mainly by his personal charm and the 
readiness of his pen. When he died he left a number 
of reports bearing out the old proverb that an acre 
of water yields more than three acres of land, and a 
museum of objects connected with the industry of 
fish-farming as he conceived it might be developed, 
which he bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum. 
Had this been the gift of any one else less in earnest 
on his subject than Buckland, it might have been 
liable to suspicion as an attempt to secure posthumous 
interest in a hobby. But the Buckland collection 
speaks for itself. It is the best rough-and-ready adver- 
tisement and propaganda of fish-farming existing in 
London. Great part of the collection consists of casts 
of fish made and painted from life by Buckland 
himself. His object in leaving them for public 
exhibition was to show the size and beauty of the 
creatures which could be grown in our neglected 
rivers and pools. Each cast is labelled in Buckland's 
bold handwriting not only with the weight of the 
fish, but the river, and sometimes the very pool or 
reach in which it was taken. The common brown 
trout alone ought to raise the envy of every owner 
or renter of a stream or spring, however small, for 
every tiny rill can be made into a pool capable of 
fattening trout. There is a brown trout of 13^ Ibs. 
from Britford, near Salisbury ; another of 14 Ibs. 
from Alresford, in Hampshire. What Buckland 



TROUT-BREEDING 99 

intended to convey by their exhibition was probably 
something of this kind. " These common trout, 
taken from the Avon and the Test, are far larger 
than any wild edible creature produced by the manors 
through which those rivers run. A 14-lb. trout 
weighs as much as seven pheasants, fourteen part- 
ridges, five rabbits, or two hares, it is not less 
beautiful than the pheasant, and weight for weight, 
contains more food than any game bird or animal, 
all of which it equals or surpasses in flavour. Any 
stream with feeders coming from sand or chalk-hills 
will grow trout ; why do the greater number produce 
few or none ? " Trout are not the only fish neglected. 
Here is a y-lb. silver eel, one of the best of river 
fish, from the humble little river Mole. Carp, the 
common fish of German ponds, are almost unknown 
on the country dinner-table in England. Readers 
of Carlyle's Frederick the Great will remember that 
the carp-ponds, with the waters run off, and a crop 
of rye growing in the mud for the fish to feed on 
later in the year, almost stopped the advance of 
Frederick's left wing and artillery of the Prussian 
army at the battle of Prague. As specimens of pond 
carp, Buckland left casts of two one from Berlin 
of 27 Ibs. weight, with scales as large as half-crowns, 
and one of the same size from Haarlem Mere. These 
round, blunt-nosed fish look like water-pigs, and are 
of about the weight and shape of a three-months'- 
old porker, minus the legs. They are mainly vege- 
table-feeders, and would thrive in most still ponds 



ioo SURREY SCENES 

where water-weeds abound. The cause of the 
migratory salmon and salmonoids, the true salmon 
and the bull-trout, may be said to have been prac- 
tically won since Buckland first spoke in their defence ; 
and the question of the hour is not whether salmon 
shall be protected or neglected, but whether the 
salmon-fishery is of sufficient value to cover the cost 
of rescuing rivers from pollution by factories. " Ob- 
structions " such as mills and weirs were the obstacles 
to whose removal or remedy Buckland more immedi- 
ately addressed his attention. His casts of salmon 
smashed by mill-wheels, of spawning salmon seized 
at Billingsgate, with wounds made by poachers' gaffs 
and hooks, his models of salmon-ladders, and pro- 
tective grating and guards for mill-heads and water- 
wheels, at South Kensington, are reminders of the 
danger of neglect in this direction ; and his cast 
of the yo-lb. Tay salmon is left as a perpetual 
record of the return which a protected fishery may 
make. 

Beautiful as the salmon are, they hardly come within 
the scope of practical fish-culture, except for the export 
of the eggs to the Colonies. The number of salmon- 
rivers is limited, and cannot well be increased. More- 
over, the supply of foreign salmon is so large that the 
increase of the English stock could hardly affect the 
price. But trout, which can be reared in every one of 
the home and southern counties, are far rarer than 
salmon. They are hardly obtainable at the greater 
number of London fishmongers. Grilled trout makes 



TROUT-BREEDING 101 

probably the best dish for breakfast obtainable in 
England, as good as the monster prawns caught in the 
harbour of Rio Janeiro. Yet, on how many tables 
does it appear ? Even at City dinners, where truite au 
bleu is often a part of the menu, the trout is more often 
than not a sea-trout, which lacks the distinctive flavour 
of the good brown-trout of the inland waters. In 
showing how the supply of brown- trout for stocking 
newly-made pools or existing but neglected streams 
could be raised beyond the limits of any possible 
demand by the artificial cultivation of the eggs in 
properly made hatching-places, Buckland completed the 
practical work of his life. His small hatching-pools, 
down which the water trickles from shelf to shelf, are 
still in use at South Kensington, and the young 
American brook-trout, hatched last year and the year 
before, are swimming in the tanks provided for them. 

The Buckland Museum marks the point at which 
the industry of fish-farming had arrived fifteen years 
ago, one hardly beyond the stage of suggestion. The 
degree in which its teaching has fulfilled the purpose of 
its founder is perhaps best shown by the account of the 
great trout-breeding establishment of the late Mr. 
Andrews at Crichmere and Guildford, contributed to 
the Field of January 19 by the well-known writer who 
takes the pseudonym of " Red Spinner." Mr. Andrews, 
like Frank Buckland, owed his death in some measure 
to a chill caught while superintending the work of 
spawning fish in winter. By education and profession 
he was a musician, and retained to the last the post of 



102 SURREY SCENES 

organist at St. Mary's Church at Guildfbrd. But he 
early caught the enthusiasm for the new industry of 
which Buckland laid the foundations, and for many 
years was able, during the spawning season, to furnish 
trout eggs at the rate of a quarter of a million a day, 
for private fisheries and exportation. When he first 
began, the site of the Crichmere ponds was a water- 
meadow, with a few cress-beds in it. " When I first 
went to Crichmere," writes a correspondent of the 
Field, "there were eighteen ponds, and the last time 
I found them increased to thirty-five in the Crichmere 
meadows, besides pools and falls. Since then ten acres 
of additional land has been included, and a number of 
narrow ponds created. Very proud, too, was Andrews 
of his pet stud fish, magnificent specimens of fontinalis, 
fario, and Levens. They were fed with chopped meat 
for the amusement of visitors, and special friends were 
allowed the pleasure of casting for and landing one or 
two with a huge hackled fly, from which the barb of 
the hook had been filed. Except in Tasmania or New 
Zealand, it is only here that I ever fly-fished for and 
caught trout in January. The fontinalis would at first 
come boldly at the fly, and as the fish fought in the 
clear water their lovely colourings flashed there, deep 
orange, silver-white bars to the fins, ruby spots set in 
turquoise, and perfect mottling on the back. There 
were over three thousand breeding females in the ponds, 
ranging from i Ib. to 5 Ibs. in weight. The extraor- 
dinary size of the Crichmere yearlings has no doubt 
been due to the rich natural food in the ponds. The 



TROUT-BREEDING 103 

eggs sent away every year are numbered by millions ; 
there were orders on the books for all the Colonies and 
various parts of the Continent, and to execute them all 
the spawning has to be cunningly regulated, so that 
some of the ova may hatch out as late as April. In 
one year, I know, eggs were taken from one hundred 
females as late as March 24th. It demands the best of 
management to keep the proper balance of yearlings 
and two-years-old in stock, and the secret of the high 
reputation of the Guildford Hatchery must be sought 
in the extraordinary character of the yearlings. These 
always vary considerably in size, and occur from 2 Jin. 
to 7 in. or even 8 in. Marked results were achieved in 
hybridizing at Crichmere, and for years the ponds 
containing the hybrids have been one of the most 
interesting features of the Hatchery." The demand 
for the young trout has risen from the growing recog- 
nition by the owners of country-houses that trout-pools 
are both useful and ornamental additions to their 
gardens and grounds, and not less interesting than the 
poultry-run or the pheasantry. The successful making 
and management of a trout farm is a branch of rural 
engineering and economy which, though forgotten for 
three centuries and a half, is now better understood 
than it was in pre-Reformation times, when it was the 
common annex of every manor-house ; and the credit 
of its revival is due to Frank Buckland. 



IO4 



THE NIGHTINGALE VALLEY 

BY the first day of May, through all Western 
Europe and Asia Minor, from the groves of " old 
Colonus " and the temples of Baal-bee, to the valleys 
of Andalusia and the coombs of the Surrey hills, the 
nightingales are in song, awakening, as they have for a 
thousand summers, the fancies of dreaming poets and 
the delight of the least imaginative of mankind. The 
poets of old set their own interpretation on the song 
of the nightingale. To them it was ever the voice of 
lamentation and mourning ; Philomel weeps for Itys, 
and never varies the refrain. Modern fancy is truer to 
the facts of Nature To us, as to Keats, the nightingale 

is the 

" Light-winged Dryad of the trees, 
In some melodious plot 
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, 
Singing of summer in full-throated ease." 

In a side-glen of the Surrey hills, running down to 
the deep stream of the River Wey, lies the Nightingale 
Valley. Two tiny streams cut their way down the 
steep and sandy hills, and unite in a pool which almost 
fills the bottom of the hollow. The granary and 



THE NIGHTINGALE VALLEY 105 

buildings of a solitary farm rise almost on the margin 
of the pool, and give back an echo which the night- 
ingales in the copses and thickets on the hillsides, and 
in the May-trees which overhang the water, never 
weary of answering. There are few villages without 
some garden or coppice in which the nightingale may 
not be heard in those counties which it visits ; but 
this particular spot has always seemed to the writer its 
most favoured and best-loved home. The copses are 
full of the birds, and in the still nights a score of 
voices may be heard, first completing the full chorus 
of their song, then silent and listening for a moment, 
until the echo repeats the last notes, when its challenge 
is answered by a rush of tumultuous melody. Probably 
the faintness of the echo's refrain leads them to suppose 
that it is the song of a bird in some distant grove, and 
engages the nightingales in common chorus against 
their unknown rival. 

The cock-birds usually arrive in the valley at the 
end of the second week in April, and spend at least a 
week in practising and recalling their song. At such 
times they are extremely tame, and the writer has often 
watched from a few yards' distance the singers, who 
show far less nervousness in practising before a stranger 
than is often observed in human vocalists. The first 
long-drawn notes are commonly run through without 
difficulty, but the subsequent trills and changes can no 
more be acquired without practice and training by the 
nightingale than by a human singer. The bird stops, 
and repeats the song, sometimes carrying it on with a 



106 SURREY SCENES 

rush which seems to promise success, and then breaking 
down helplessly. Now and then the complete song is 
sung so low as to be almost inaudible, and then 
triumphantly repeated with the utmost powers which 
the bird can exert. Prowling bird-catchers, with their 
traps and mealworms, are wont to find their way to 
Nightingale Valley at this season ; and the owner of 
the farm finds it necessary to give orders for the pro- 
tection of the nightingales equally with the pheasants 
nesting in the copses. By the end of May the birds 
are sitting ; and the cocks sing to them throughout the 
night. Hard a^ it is to find a nightingale's nest, the 
number in the valley is such that quick-eyed searchers 
have seen as many as six in a day. The eggs and nest 
of the nightingale are both so beautiful, and so unlike 
those of any other English bird, that it is impossible to 
mistake them when once seen. The site is nearly 
always chosen among the brown and dead oak or 
Spanish-chestnut leaves which lie on the ground among 
the brambles or wild-rose roots, or have drifted into 
some hollow of a bank. Sometimes, though rarely, 
the position is open to every passer-by, with nothing 
to conceal it but the resemblance of the nest and sitting 
bird, with her russet back, to the surrounding colour. 
The outer circle of the nest is built of dead oak-leaves, 
so arranged that the rim of the cup is broken by their 
projections, a mode of concealment practised, so far as 
the writer knows, by the nightingale alone of English 
birds, though a common device in the nests of tropical 
species. The lining is made with the skeleton-leaves 



THE NIGHTINGALE VALLEY 107 

that have fallen in the previous winter, and completed 
with a few strands of horse-hair, on which the shining 
olive-brown eggs are laid. There are few prettier 
sights than that of a nightingale on her nest. The 
elegance of the bird, the exquisite shades of the russet 
and grey of its plumage, set in the circle of oak-leaves 
among the briars, suggest a natural harmony and 
refinement in keeping with the beauty of its unrivalled 
song. A pair of cuckoos also haunts the Nightingale 
Valley every spring. 

The popular feeling in England in favour of the 
cuckoo is as unaccountable as the affection for the 
nightingale is natural and unquestioned. It is certainly 
of recent growth, for the old writers formed a just 
estimate of its character, and condemned it alike in 
metaphor and the plainest prose. Even to hear its 
voice was an evil omen 

" It were a common tayle, 
That it were better to hear the nightingale 
Much rather than the lewd cuckoo sing." 

Such is Chaucer's comment on the note, which, pro- 
bably from its association with the coming of spring, 
is now so eagerly listened for in rural England. The 
cuckoo's coming is the certain sign that winter is over. 
"One swallow does not make a summer, but one 
cuckoo does make a spring," should be the amended 
form of the old proverb. And this the burden of the 
ancient catch 

" Summer is yeomen in ; 
Loud sings cuckoo." 



io8 SURREY SCENES 

As for the date of his coming, that 1 is as uncertain as 
the arrival of the season itself. " He did use to come 
on Wareham Fair," said a Dorsetshire labourer the 
other day ; " but now he seems to come just when 
he likes." 

But except as a weather-sign, the writer fails to find 
one redeeming point in the life of the English cuckoo ; 
and if the cuckoo-lore of the Old World, over which 
it roams from Lapland to the Equator, and from 
Connaught to Kamschatka, could be compared, it 
should bear out this conclusion. He is a " vagrom 
man," as Dogberry would say : a vulgarian, a dis- 
reputable parasite. Yet he is in some ways an inter- 
esting creature, and the world has always a fondness for 
interesting scamps. He is an impostor so complete, 
that the mere catalogue of his deceptions rouses 
curiosity. From the egg, which imitates in size and 
colour that of the harmless skylark, to the full and 
fraudulent plumage of maturity, which clothes the 
indolent cuckoo in the garb of the fierce and active 
sparrow-hawk, he lives for ever under false colours. 
Though he looks like a hawk, he is an insect-eater ; 
he has two toes pointing forward and two backward, 
like a woodpecker ; but he cannot climb. He is 
aVropyos, devoid of natural affection ; and never 
works for his wife, any more than she does for her 
children. There was once a cuckoo in Germany who 
hatched her own eggs ; and another has been known 
to feed its young one, when the foster-mother, a hedge- 
sparrow, had been killed. But these instances are rare 



THE NIGHTINGALE VALLEY 109 

exceptions to the rule of cuckoo-life. In Spain, a 
large cuckoo is the especial parasite of the magpie, and 
lays eggs which almost exactly resemble those of the 
latter bird. Yet, in America, there is an honest 
cuckoo, which builds a nest though a bad one, and 
hatches its own eggs. This is the " cow-bird," so 
called from its note, " Kowe kowe kowe," which is 
uttered with gradually increasing speed until it some- 
what resembles the bubbling notes at times uttered by 
our cuckoo. The American cuckoo will even decoy 
visitors from its nest by the affectionate arts which so 
many birds make use of to divert danger from their 
young to themselves. 

It would be interesting to know which place " pays 
best," from the cuckoo point of view, and to try the 
result of contact with European cuckoo morals on the 
honest American cousin. If birds have the power of 
comparison, the contrast must be hard to bear ; for the 
career of the disreputable young cuckoo is one of 
worldly success from his first chipping the shell to his 
late departure from our shores. He is born with a 
special contrivance in the structure of his back, to 
enable him to hoist his foster-brothers out, and never 
rests till he has done so, and made things quiet and 
comfortable. The foster-parents then pamper the 
young cuckoo with a silly infatuation, due apparently 
to its size and appetite. " See what a fine child we 
have got ! " is the obvious feeling of a pair of wagtails 
or hedge-sparrows fussing round a young cuckoo, 
which though fully fledged is too lazy to feed itself. 



no SURREY SCENES 

Even other young birds, if placed in the same cage 
with a young cuckoo, soon begin to feed it. Yet after 
all the spoiling which it receives, the cuckoo is a 
thoroughly ill-conditioned, surly, and spiteful bird. A 
young one, which was daily fed by a thrush no older 
than itself which was confined in the same cage, pecked 
the poor bird's eye out because it ventured to eat a 
worm itself. Buffon speaks of a tame cuckoo which 
would follow its owner, flying from tree to tree, some- 
times leaving him for a time to visit the cherry 
orchards. We much doubt whether cuckoos eat 
cherries. All the tame cuckoos we have known have 
been uninteresting and unfriendly birds. At the Zoo, 
where English wild birds and migrants are tamed in 
the large aviaries, and nightingales, wagtails, warblers, 
and even a woodcock live together on the best of 
terms, the cuckoos are wild and as much disliked by 
the other birds in captivity as they are when free. 
But the sounds of summer would be the poorer for the 
loss of the cuckoo's note. It is beyond all others the 
sylvan bird, certain to be found among the lofty oak 
groves and the glades of noble parks ; and its cry, 
heard even before the dawn, brings crowding memories 
of the lakes and woods of Selborne and Wolmer Forest, 
of Windsor Park, of Brockenhurst, and the wide 
woodlands of the South. 



ITT 



THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK 

WHEN the Duke of Fife kindly took the envoys of 
Gungunhana to see Richmond Park, they asked " where 
were his assegais ? " Such at least was the story current 
at the time, and it may well have been true ; for the 
park, with its deer, its game, its ancient oaks, pools, 
lakes, and heronry, is a typical piece of wild England, 
such as might well appeal to the sporting impulse of 
wild men like these African chiefs, and remains, almost 
unspoilt, within an houf s walk of the greatest city in 
the world. The contrast enhances the interest of this 
famous domain. But apart from the accident of site, 
Richmond Park can claim on its merits a place among 
the best of these enclosed " paradises " in which English- 
men take such pride and pleasure. In size it equals 
that of any private park in England except Hawkstone. 
Towards the sunset it looks over a riverside landscape 
of incomparable richness, and the whole is just suffi- 
ciently preserved for Royal sport, to maintain the 
proper character of a park, as a precinct devoted to 
the sport and recreation of a single owner. It is to 
this careful surveillance that Londoners owe the estab- 



ii2 SURREY SCENES 

lishment of the heronry ; for, strange to say, this is not 
a survival, but a new colony, and a unique instance ot 
the migration of what are almost the shyest birds in 
England, toivards rather than away from a populous 
city. 

The original home of these herons was in the home 
park at Hampton Court, where the heronry had been 
for two centuries one of the ornaments of Wolsey's 
palace by the Thames. There, some ten years back, 
they were disturbed by the felling of some trees near 
their nests, and forsaking Hampton Court, they estab- 
lished their new home in the wood at the head of the 
two lakes, which are known jointly as the " Penn 
Ponds." There, protected partly by the care of the 
keepers, partly by the wary silence and stillness main- 
tained by these nocturnal birds, the colony has increased 
from ten to fifteen nests, unknown to most visitors to 
the park, who possibly mistake* the harsh and barking 
cry, which sometimes issues from the grove towards 
sunset, for the voice of a dog, or the challenge of a 
solitary stag. 

A closer acquaintance with the inner life of the 
heronry, and with the nature of the wood in which it is 
situated, goes far to explain the heron's choice. Pro- 
tected on the lower side by the broad waters of the 
lake, and screened from view on the south and west by 
a thick fringe of birch trees, the wood is the chosen 
home, not only of the herons, but of all the wild 
creatures in which the park abounds. The running 
stream which descends from the high ground towards 



THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK 113 

the Kingston Gate, and forms the main feeder of the 
lake, passes through its lower side, and is joined by 
other springs which ooze up in the plantation, to form 
a miniature marsh, in which the young broods of wild- 
ducks and moor-hens shelter. Even the red deer, 
which come at evening and in the early morning to 
browse on the floating tops of the water-lilies, and to 
drink the purer water at the lake head, are sometimes 
tempted to cross the narrow straits, and crop the rank 
herbage of the marsh beyond. Once hidden among the 
tall oaks and rhododendrons, the trespassing stag will 
remain alone for days, enjoying the comparative silence 
and solitude which the fenced and locked enclosure 
affords. 

The very dry and hot spring and early summer of 
1893 were exceptionally favourable to all the birds 
and beasts which rear their young in the park. The 
last day of April was more like a hot June day, with 
all the freshness of young spring in the leaves of the 
trees ; and the newly-arrived birds, as well as those 
which had spent the winter in the park, were revelling 
in the warmth. It was the most joyous spring day I 
ever remember. The trees seemed all to have rushed 
into leaf together. The birds were almost beside them- 
selves with happiness, which they showed each after 
their fashion. All the spring warblers, resting after 
their journey over sea, were practising their song, wild- 
ducks were flying in pairs high over the lake presum- 
ably mallards that were unoccupied with their broods 
the lesser spotted woodpeckers, the cuckoos, redstarts, 



n 4 SURREY SCENES 

and wood-pigeons were all uttering their spring notes. 
The deer were lying asleep, some of the stags stretched 
out with feet straight before them, and their chins 
resting on their knees, like a dog on a doorstep. 
Everything was happy, careless, and contented. The 
fringe of the wood, in the centre of which the herons 
were silently brooding their young, was alive with the 
melody of birds and the movements of the smaller 
beasts with which, in addition to the red and fallow- 
deer, the park is now so abundantly stocked. Swarms 
of rabbits, old and young, were moving or sitting-up 
in the tussocks of dead grass among the birch-stems, 
wood-pigeons glided from tree to tree, so tame as to be 
almost indifferent to our intrusion, and the song of the 
wood-warbler, the chiff-chaff, the cuckoo, and the 
chaffinch, came from all parts of the grove. Within 
the outer circle of birch, the character of the wood 
changes. Tall young oaks and dark spruce-firs, with 
scattered clumps of rhododendron, take the place of the 
thick and feathery birch ; and the song of the smaller 
birds was lost in the harsh and angry cries of the 
disturbed herons. A carrion-crow flapped from her 
nest on a dead oak, and flew with loud and warning 
croak through the centre of the wood ; and a trespass- 
ing deer, springing from its form in which it was lying 
concealed like an Exmoor stag, crashed through the 
thick growth of rhododendrons, and added to the alarm 
of the colony. Four male herons came sweeping high 
above the oaks in rapid circles to seek the cause of the 
disturbance ; and at the same moment the first of the 



THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK 115 

nests became plainly visible. It was placed on the top 
of a tall spruce-fir, which was so thickly loaded with 
the solid pile of brambles, sticks, and reeds, that a 
sudden gale must endanger the safety of tree and nest 
alike. The hen-bird was sitting close, and as she 
slipped silently, like a grey shadow, from the nest, the 
faint cry of the young was clearly heard. The second 
nest was built in an oak, and a third and fourth in two 
spruces growing side by side. In a small group of 
spruce- firs further to the north, almost every tree held 
a nest, the spruces being evidently the favourite site for 
the herons' nursery. One large nest was placed in a 
beech, near the lake-side, and others in the oaks further 
to the north. In all there appear to be at least twelve 
pairs, in addition to four more building in a separate 
wood which crowns the hill to the north. 

As each heron left its nest and joined the company 
of its fellows which were soaring above the wood, the 
scene became more wild and striking than is common, 
even in surroundings more often associated with English 
heronries than the centre of a London park. As the 
eye travelled upwards beyond the green summits of the 
oaks, the sky was filled with the forms of these wide- 
winged birds, sweeping in hurried and anxious circles 
between the tree-tops and the sun, and casting swift 
and intermittent shadows that cut and crossed the 
broken lights beneath. All the birds were thoroughly 
alarmed ; their flight was extremely rapid ; and the 
grouping of such a number of dark forms, moving 
swiftly against a limited space of sky, their plumage 



n6 SURREY SCENES 

flashing alternately black and white as they faced or 
crossed the blazing sunlight, was a sight not to be 
forgotten. At such times the head is thrown back in a 
noble poise, the feet extended like a train far beyond 
the tail, and the broad flight-feathers of the wing stand 
out clear and distinct against the sky. Moving towards 
the lake, in order to allow the herons to return to their 
nests, we flushed a pair of wild-drakes from a shallow 
ditch, and almost at the same moment a lame duck 
shuffled distressfully from the same spot, and moved 
off slowly, with apparent difficulty, in a direction 
parallel to the lake. The counterfeit was so remark- 
able, that had we not caught a glimpe of a small black 
object dashing into the marsh which lay a few feet from 
the drain on the opposite side to the course taken by 
the duck, no suspicion as to the reality of her disable- 
ment would have occurred. Meanwhile, the old bird 
invited pursuit, lying down, as if unable to move 
further ; and, resolved to see the end of so finished and 
courageous a piece of acting, we accepted the invitation 
and gave chase. For twenty yards or more the bird 
shuffled and stumbled through the rhododendron- 
bushes, until she made for the lake-side, where the 
ground was more open. There, running fast, with her 
head up and discarding all pretence of lameness, for 
another twenty yards, she took wing, and flew slowly 
just before us, at about three feet from the ground, 
until she reached the limit of the enclosure, when, 
uttering a derisive quack, she rose swiftly above the 
trees and flew out over the lake. Anxious to see the 



THE HERONRY IN RICHMOND PARK 117 

sequel to this beautiful instance of maternal affection, 
we hurried back to the little marsh where the duck- 
lings were probably hidden, and, sheltered under a 
rhododendron-bush, awaited the return of the herons to 
their nests and of the wild-duck to her brood. In a 
few minutes she reappeared, flying swiftly in circles 
among the trees, and after satisfying herself that the 
danger was past, she alighted among some wild-currant 
bushes about thirty yards from the marsh. There she 
stood for a moment, still and listening, with head erect ; 
and, seeing nothing to alarm her, ran bustling down to 
the drain. After realizing that no harm had overtaken 
her brood on the spot where they had been surprised, 
she climbed the bank and tripped lightly into the 
marsh, where, in answer to her low quack, we soon 
heard the piping voices of the ducklings, which till 
then had remained motionless and invisible in the few 
yards of grass and rushes near. In a few seconds the 
whole family were united, and we had the pleasure of 
seeing the old bird swim past at the head of an active 
fleet of eleven black-and-yellow ducklings, making for 
the centre of the marsh. The herons also recovered 
from their alarm, the hen-birds returning one by one 
to the nests, and, after some slight endearments, settling 
down to brood their young, while the cocks resumed 
their motionless poise on the surrounding oaks, to 
"dream of supper and the distant pool." 



THE DEER IN RICHMOND PARK 

IN the winter of 1886 the deer in Richmond Park 
were seen to be suffering from some strange disorder. 
Several of them died ; but it was not until January 
1887 that the disease was proved to be rabies. I find 
the following notes made at the time of the results of 
several visits of inquiry. " The keepers have been 
doing their best to stamp out the infection, but with 
little success. For a while there are no fresh cases ; 
then several animals are found to be infected at the 
same time, and have to be destroyed. At least 150 
fallow-deer have already been killed, though the red 
deer seem so far to have escaped the contagion. 

u When the disease was pronounced to be rabies the 
keepers were somewhat incredulous ; but to any one 
well acquainted with the symptoms, the condition of 
the poor animals which were netted and brought for 
inspection could not be matter for doubt. Even when 
the fact was proved by experiment it was difficult to 
understand how the infection was communicated. Deer, 
it was said, do not bite when fighting, but use their 
horns. It was observed, however, that the rabid deer 



THE DEER IN RICHMOND PARK 119 

did bite others, inflicting very severe wounds ; for 
though the stag has only a pad of bone in the upper 
jaw, the lower is armed with from four to eight very 
sharp incisors. They are also fond of licking each 
other, and it was found that the saliva of an infected 
deer was fatal to a dog ; a healthy doe after being 
bitten by it also died rabid. It was hoped that the 
further spread of disease might be checked by isolating 
the animals infected : a plan which was rendered less 
difficult than might be supposed by a habit which the 
deer have, after the breeding-season, of dividing into 
separate herds into which intruders are not admitted. 
As the disease was apparently confined to a single herd, 
it seemed probable that by separating this from the 
others the disease might be kept within bounds. 

" On the north side of the park near the head-keeper's 
lodge is an old enclosure, which was enlarged, and the 
herd were then decoyed into it by food placed inside. 
This was not difficult, as during the winter months the 
deer are always fed with hay, maize, and swede turnips, 
and the heavy snow made them tamer than usual. 
The ground was well suited for keeping them in health, 
as it is on a hill, with a good supply of water, and 
dotted with large trees and patches of bracken for 
shelter. In July about thirty stags and fifty hinds 
were left in the enclosure ; the stags keeping in a 
separate herd and lying quiet, as their horns were in 
the velvet, when they are very tender. But though 
apparently healthy, several stags had been shot the day 
before my visit, and had no doubt left the seeds of 



I20 SURREY SCENES 

further mischief behind them. Since then nearly all 
those first confined have been destroyed, and now 
another herd is enclosed as suspect. But this is not 
the whole extent of the mischief. Isolated cases have 
appeared in the park ; and if these increase it will be 
difficult to know what further precautions can be taken, 
for the season is at hand when the old herds are broken 
up, and the stags join the hinds for some time." The 
disease seems gradually to have been extirpated by 
shooting down all suspected animals. 

Though so many have been lost there are still more 
than 1 200 deer left in the park, both red and fallow, 
and few parks contain a larger stock in proportion to 
their size. It was once supposed that the two species 
could not be kept together, and in some places, as at 
Grimsthorpe and Badminton, they are still separated. 
But at Richmond they live together peacefully enough, 
and I have seen the red and fallow stags feeding in the 
same herd. The fallow are true woodland deer, and 
their colour exactly matches that of the dead bracken ; 
the red deer prefer the more open ground. Though 
the red deer of Richmond do not reach the great 
size of those in Windsor Forest, many of them are 
above the average of those in a Scotch forest. 

Every year the largest red deer stags are caught and 
removed to Windsor Park, in case they should prove 
a source of danger to the public in the rutting season. 
Their capture is an interesting and exciting scene. In 
January, 1894, some twenty stags, all with large 
antlers, were in the large paddock or " purlieu," which 



THE DEER IN RICHMOND PARK 121 

adjoins the park, near the Robin Hood Gate, on the 
Roehampton side. This is dotted with fine trees, and 
lies along the slope of a hill. A brook runs through 
the bottom, which is much like any flat alluvial 
meadow, and is separated from the park by the ordinary 
high split-oak railing. Several riders, among them 
two ladies, had the exciting duty of chasing the herd, 
and separating the stags one by one from the main 
body. Very hard riding and much cracking of whips 
were necessary to do this ; and the moment one parted 
from the rest, a brace of Scotch deerhounds were slipped 
after the deer. The object of the chase was not that 
the hounds should catch the stag in the paddock, 
but to force it to leave it through the only exit, a 
gate in the high split-oak fence, outside which the 
" toils " are spread. This classic contrivance for 
taking deer is a set of high nets, slenderly supported 
on poles, which " give " when the stag rushes in, and 
entangle him directly. Keepers, crouched on either 
side beneath the cover of the paling, stand ready with 
leather straps and buckles to bind the animals' legs, and 
transfer them to a cart. The first stag was so alarmed 
by the quick pursuit of the deerhounds, so unlike that 
of the cockneys' collies and terriers, which sometimes 
amuse themselves by a deer-course in the park, that it 
rushed at full speed straight for the fence, and charging 
it, burst quite through the barrier, carrying a yard of 
oak-rails before it, and came out uninjured in the park. 
The deerhounds followed, and a furious chase began 
towards the Sheen Gate. The stag, in far better con- 



122 SURREY SCENES 

dition than the hounds, beat them fairly, and the pair 
returned, panting and crestfallen, to the paddock. 

The remainder of the herd were less bold, and less 
fortunate ; but the scene was a curious reminiscence of 
the days when the Stuart kings used to take their 
diversion by hunting deer in the royal parks, though 
the result was neither cruel nor unsportsmanlike, but 
only an exciting and well -managed episode in the 
management of a " deer ranch." First a charge and 
chase by the riders, ending in the " cutting out J> of a 
stag from the herd ; then a splendid course round the 
ring-fence, the deerhounds stretching belly to ground, 
and the stag, with antlers lying on his back and muzzle 
stretched horizontally, flying before them until he 
came to the opening in the palings. One desperate 
bound landed him in the web of nets set beyond, and 
a rush of the keepers soon transferred him, bound and 
panting, to the deer-cart. The paddock, being quiet 
and not open to the public, is a favourite lying ground 
for hares, which kept rising from the forms and making 
away past the deer and horsemen. On September i, 
1894, the Duke of Cambridge and three other guns 
shot sixteen brace of partridges and forty hares on this 
side of Richmond Park, and on Coombe Farm, most of 
the hares being got in this enclosure. 

In the beginning of the present year (1895) tne 
hard frost made it necessary to postpone the catching 
of the larger stags for transport to Windsor until the 
end of February. Even then the ground was so 
saturated with frost that the riders could not gallop 



THE DEER IN RICHMOND PARK 123 

hard, and most of the work had to be done by the 
deerhounds. The stags were not driven into the 
paddock, as the escape of the animal mentioned above 
made it clear that the enclosure gave no special 
advantages for their capture. The nets were set 
between a thick plantation and one of the enclosures 
in which the deer had been fed during the frost. The 
hard weather had had no ill effects on their condition, 
as they had been liberally supplied with hay ; and some 
of the finest courses ever seen in the park were witnessed. 
The " hunting " began at eleven, and did not end until 
three P.M., when four stags had been taken. The two 
largest beat the hounds cleverly, and have so far 
maintained their claim to stay in their native park as 
chiefs of all the herds during the coming summer. 



124 



FAWNS IN THE "FENCE-MONTHS" 

"DEFENSE de chasser" is probably the origin of 
the ancient term of venery which heads the notices, 
posted during May and June at the gates of the 
royal deer-parks, requesting that during the " fence- 
months " visitors will prevent their dogs from dis- 
turbing the deer. In the months of May and June 
the red deer calves and fallow fawns are born. When 
the young fern is up, and Richmond Park is in 
its fullest sylvan beauty, the three main herds into 
which the seventeen hundred head of deer in the park 
usually divide, are broken up. The stags have shed 
their horns, and steal away in small parties into the 
quiet parts of the park until their new antlers are 
grown, and the does and hinds are severally occupied 
in the most anxious care .of their fawns. It is not 
until some weeks after their birth that these beautiful 
little creatures are seen in any number by the chance 
visitor to the park. Though both the red and fallow 
fawns can follow their hinds within a few minutes 
of their birth, the careful mothers hide them in the 
tall fern or patches of rushes and nettles, and it 



FAWNS IN THE 'FENCE-MONTHS' 125 

is only the older fawns that are seen lying in the 
open ground or trotting with the herds. When the 
fawn is born, the mother gently pushes it with her 
nose until it lies down in the fern, and then goes 
away and watches from a distance, only returning 
at intervals to feed it, or, if the wind changes, or rain 
threatens, to draw it away to more sheltered ground. 
They are not only most affectionate, but also most 
courageous mothers. Not long ago, a carriage was 
being driven along the road which skirts the wooded 
hill upon which the White Lodge stands. There is 
a considerable space of flat, open ground between the 
wood and the road ; but a young red deer hind which 
was watching her first calf was so excited by the 
barking of a collie-dog which accompanied the carriage, 
that she ran down from the hill and attacked and 
wounded the dog with her fore-feet, until she drove 
it for refuge under the carriage. As she continued 
to bar the road, the carriage was turned round and 
driven back, but was all the way followed by the 
hind until it left the park by the Robin Hood Gate. 
Gilbert White mentions a similar attack made on a 
dog in defence of her fawn by one of the half-wild 
hinds in Wolmer Forest. " Some fellows," he writes, 
" suspecting that a calf new-fallen was deposited in 
a certain spot of thick fern, went with a lurcher to 
surprise it, when the parent-hind rushed out of the 
brake, and taking a vast spring, with all her feet 
close together, pitched upon the neck of the dog, and 
broke it ! " 



1 26 SURRE Y SCENES 

The oak-grove upon the sides, and the thick fern 
upon the flat top of the White Lodge hill, are the 
most likely spots in which to find the hidden fawns. 
The red deer seem to prefer the patches of tall rushes 
which grow among the oaks ; and the fallow, the 
thicker shelter of the fern. There are also tall nettle- 
beds round the enclosure, in which the deer are fed 
in winter, and where in summer lumps of rock-salt 
are laid for them to lick. These uninviting nettle- 
beds are, strange to say, favourite layettes with the 
fallow hinds, and in them the writer has more than 
once found a sleeping fawn. 

It would be difficult to see a prettier picture of 
young sylvan life than a red deer fawn lying in one 
of the patches of rushes among the oaks. Unlike 
the full-grown red deer, the fawns are beautifully 
spotted with white, and the colour of the coat is a 
bright tan, matching the dead oak-leaves which are 
piled among the rushes. If the spectator approaches 
from the leeward side, he may come within a few 
feet of the fawn, which lies curled up, with its head 
resting on its flank. Presently it raises its head, 
and looks at its visitor with grave, wide-open eyes, 
and if not disturbed, will go to sleep again. Other- 
wise it bounds up and is at once joined by the mother, 
who has been standing " afar off to wit what would 
be done to him." As the hind and fawn trot away 
side by side, the greater grace of the young animal 
is at once apparent. The head is smaller, the neck 
and back straighter, and the ears shorter in the fawn, 



FAWNS IN THE 'FENCE-MONTHS' 127 

and the eye is larger, and even more dark and gentle. 
The fawns of the fallow-deer are quite as distinct in 
appearance from those of the red deer as are the 
full-grown animals of either kind, both in colour 
and shape. There are three varieties of fallow-deer, 
and though these are often members of the same 
herd, the fawns of each seem generally to retain the 
colour of the mother, the dark mouse-coloured hinds 
having dark fawns, the white hinds cream-coloured 
fawns, while the young of the common spotted variety 
are white, mottled with light-fawn colour, which 
gradually takes later the dappled hue of the parent- 
hind. Occasionally a very light fawn may be seen, 
which is probably a cross between the white and 
dappled varieties. But none of the fallow-deer fawns 
have the grace of the red deer calf; they are less 
deer-like, and in some respects, especially by their 
long, thick legs, they suggest a week-old lamb ; while 
the head is more rounded, and the muzzle less pointed 
than in the red deer. They seem to leave the fern 
and join their mothers earlier than their larger cousins, 
and are shyer and less easy of approach, a wildness 
which seems difficult to account for in the young of a 
species which has been semi-domesticated for so many 
centuries. In order to approach them nearly, it is 
as well to take the precaution of walking up from 
the leeward side. Even park deer seldom become 
wholly indifferent to the scent of man ; a score of 
hinds and fawns may be lying scattered under the 
oaks on the hill-side during a hot June day, enjoying 



1 2 8 SURXE Y SCENES 

the breeze and shade, and plainly unwilling to move. 
Yet if a stranger pass to windward of them, they 
will all rise, and when he comes in sight, move off 
to a distance. So when, in the winter, the keeper 
whom they know brings the hay to their feeding 
enclosure, they will scent him from a distance, and 
gather round the feeding-pen almost like cattle, some 
even venturing to pick up the hay as he throws 
it from the fork. But if a stranger be with him, 
not a deer will enter the enclosure, and few will 
appear in sight. Like wild deer, they seem to have 
greater mistrust of the danger which they can scent 
than of any object which they can see. 

At the end of summer, when the fawns are weaned 
and the stags have grown their antlers, the herds 
re-unite, and in September the battles begin among 
the stags for the mastery of the greatest number of 
hinds. Then among the oaks of Richmond Park 
there are forerunners of the fights between the stags 
which are seen a month later on the Scotch mountains. 
The writer once witnessed a struggle of the kind, 
when belated in Richmond Park, about nine o'clock 
on a moonlight night in September. The moon was 
up over the Wimbledon hills, and the scene near the 
pool by the Sheen Gate was so beautiful, that he 
sat down by a tree to watch the night. In a few 
minutes a stag came up to the pool and challenged, 
and was answered by another from the valley, which 
soon trotted up to the other side of the pond. In 
a few minutes they charged, and the crash of horns 



FAWNS IN THE 'FENCE-MONTHS' 129 

was loud and startling in the still autumn night. After 
a long scuffle, the new-comer was defeated and chased 
down the slope towards the brook. It is on the 
flats by the brook between the Roehampton and Robin 
Hood Gates that the most formidable battles usually 
take place. A large stag generally takes possession 
of the ground on either side of the stream, and any 
invasion of their territory is so keenly resented, that 
the keeper of the Roehampton Lodge has occasionally 
preferred to make a very wide circuit by the southern 
path, to crossing the small bridge that leads directly 
over the brook to his usual beat in the park. When 
a stag is seen to put out his tongue and let it play 
rapidly round his lips, it is safe to infer that his 
temper is dangerous ; and in that case it is always 
well to avoid disturbing the hinds. In Windsor Park, 
in September, the writer has seen as many as eighty 
hinds kept in sole possession by a single stag. At 
Richmond there are no such predominant masters 
of the herd, but no one can return from a day 
spent in observing them without feeling grateful 
to those who prevented the park being turned into 
a vast volunteer camp during the " fence-months." 



HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND 
WOODLANDS 



WINTRY WATERS 

(THE ITCHEN AND TlDAL THAMES) 

THOSE who during the great frost of January 1895 
cared to forego the attractions of the dead and frozen 
surface of the London lakes, found a strange contrast 
in the scene presented by the still living and moving 
surface of the London river. The tidal Thames for 
the moment changed its nature, and became a sub-arctic 
stream, deserted by man, whose place was taken by 
flights of wandering sea-fowl and a weltering drift of 
ice. Day and night the ice-floes coursed up and down 
with the tide, joining and parting, touching and 
receding, eddying and swirling, always moving and ever 
increasing, with a ceaseless sound of lapping water and 
whispering, shivering ice ; while over the surface the 
sea-gulls skimmed in hundreds, sailing out of the fog 
and mist of London, flying over the crowded bridges> 



WINTRY WATERS 131 

or floating midway between the parapet and the stream. 
These children of the frost became the pets of the 
river-side population, and bread cast from the bridges 
was the signal for a rush of white wings, and a dainty 
dipping of feet into the water as the birds gathered up 
the food, fearful, like Kingsley's petrels, that the ice 
should nip their toes. If a larger portion than common 
fell on an ice-floe, the birds would settle on the floating 
mass, with wings beating backwards like white butter- 
flies, and guests, feast, and table alike travel up the 
river with the tide. 

The scene beneath the bridges serves to remind us 
that it is not on the frozen pools, but upon the still open 
and running streams that the spell of the frost exerts 
its most pleasing powers. There it adds as much new 
life and novel form as on the still waters it destroys. It 
is hard to believe that the same powers have been at 
work on both. On the ponds and meres and slow 
streams the frost lays its hand and seals them like a 
tomb. As the ice-lips meet on the frozen bank, and 
nip the rushes fast, every creature that lived upon the 
surface is shut out and exiled. The moorhens and 
dabchicks are frozen into the ice, or leave for the run- 
ning streams and ditches ; the water-rats desert the 
banks, the wild-ducks have long gone, and only the 
tiny wren creeps among the sedges, or shuffles miserably 
among the bulrush stems. Even the fish are fast 
frozen into the ice, in which their bright sides shine 
like the golden carp on a tray of Chinese lac. Motion 
has ceased, and, with motion, sound, except that which 



132 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

Sir Bedivere heard by the frozen lake, " among the 
mountains by the winter sea," the whispering of 

" The many-knotted water-flags, 
That whistled stiff and dry about the marge." 

But there are hundreds of streams in the South of 
England which no power of frost can either freeze or 
stay ; and it may be doubted whether even the glories 
of spring buds, or the richest growth of summer by 
their banks, can match the beauty of these wintry 
waters in a strong and lasting frost. Take, for 
instance, the lower reaches of the Itchen, one of the 
most beautiful of Hampshire streams, with clear, swift, 
translucent waters springing warm and bright from the 
deep chalk that lies beneath the frozen downs. The 
river is so mild and full, that it runs like a vein of 
warm life through the cold body of the hills. Its 
water-meadows are still green, though ribbed across with 
multitudinous channels of white and crackling ice ; and 
to them crowd plovers and redwings, snipe and water- 
hens, sea-gulls, field-fares, and missel-thrushes, pipits 
and larks, and all the soft-billed birds in search of food. 
On and around the stream itself there is more life than 
at any time since the swallows left and the gnats died. 
That, at least, was the impression left on -the writer's 
mind, when standing on one of the main bridges over 
the river below St. Cross, in the bright sunlight of New 
Year's Day. Though the banks were frozen like iron, 
not a particle of ice appeared on the broad surface 
of the river. A pair of dabchicks were fishing and 



WINTRY WATERS 133 

diving some fifty yards above the bridge, not altogether 
without fear of man, but apparently confident in their 
powers of concealment and escape. Coots and water- 
hens were feeding beneath the banks, or swimming, and 
returning from the sides to an osier-covered island in 
the centre. Exquisite grey wagtails with canary- 
coloured breasts, and ashen and black backs, flirted 
their tails in the shallows or on the coping-stones which 
had fallen into the stream. But the river itself was 
even more in contrast to its setting than the content- 
ment of the river-birds to the pinched misery of the 
inhabitants of the garden or the fields. From bank to 
bank, and from its surface to its bed, the waters showed 
a wealth and richness of colour, rendered all the more 
striking by the cold and wintry monotony of the fringe 
of downs on either side. As it winds between the 
frozen hills, the bed of the Itchen is like a summer- 
garden set in an ice-house. However great the depth 
and an 8 -ft. rod would scarcely reach the bottom in 
mid-stream every stone and every water-plant is to 
be seen as clearly as though it lay above the surface. 
For in midwinter this water-garden is in full growth. 
Exquisitely cut leaves like acanthus wave beneath the 
surface, tiny pea-like plants trail in the eddies, and 
masses of brilliant green feathery weed, like the train 
of a peacock's tail, stream out, in constant undulating 
motion, just beneath the surface. In other places the 
scour of the river has washed the bed bare, and the tiny 
globules of grey chalk may be seen gently rolling 
onward as the slow friction of the water detaches them 



134 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

from their bed. The low, bright sunbeams were still 
upon the water when, slowly and almost insensibly, 
from beneath the dark arches of the bridge there glided 
out two mighty fish, not the bright, sparkling trout- 
lets of West-country streams, arrow-like and vivacious, 
or the brown and lusty denizens of Highland rivers, 
but the solemn and sagacious monsters which only such 
chosen waters as those of the Hampshire chalk-streams 
breed, fishes which would have done credit to the table 
of such prelates as William of Wykeham, trout that 
are known and familiar to every inhabitant, honoured 
and envied while they live, and destined, when caught 
at last, to be enshrined in glass coffins, with inscriptions 
like embalmed bishops. Six pounds apiece was the 
least weight which we could assign to the pair as they 
slowly forged up stream and lay side by side, the tops 
of their broad tails curling, and their fat lips moving, 
looking from above like two gigantic spotted sala- 
manders among the waving fronds of weed. 

Clearly, in this water-world, the great change 
wrought on land by frost was still unfelt. The cold 
has no power beyond its surface ; plants and fishes 
were unaffected. Yet on the bank, even at midday, 
the thermometer marked fifteen degrees below freezing- 
point, and at night a cold approaching that of Canada. 
The reason is not far to seek. The whole body of the 
river had maintained its temperature but little below 
that at which it issues from the chalk. Both at the 
surface and at the bottom, the quickly flowing water 
had a temperature of thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit ; in 



WINTRY WATERS 135 

the mill-race it was half a degree warmer ; and only 
where very shallow and still did it fall as low as thirty- 
five and a half degrees. It is therefore possible for a 
chalk stream to maintain its heat, after a week of one 
of the severest frosts on record, at some fifteen degrees 
above the midday temperature of the land and four 
above freezing-point. No wonder that the birds seek 
its genial neighbourhood, and its own particular inhabit- 
ants feel neither discomfort nor dismay. We were 
curious to visit the famous salmon-pool at Swathling, 
some few miles lower down the river, and mark the 
effects of frost in a part where the river-waters are dis- 
tributed in every form, from still frozen lakes and 
water-meadow channels to the mill-race, and the deep, 
swirling pool, in which a thirty-pound salmon may be 
caught, not two hours by rail from London. The 
Wood Mill pool is the crowning glory of the river. 
Two streams, one from the main mill-head, another 
from a tributary, rush into a wide horse-shoe basin faced 
with cam-shedding and concrete, where the waters whirl 
and spin in an everlasting eddy. Ice in powder, ice in 
blocks, and ice in sheets pouring in from the mill- 
head, followed the spin of the waters round, and 
showed the force of each minor whirlpool, clinking and 
shivering against the concrete walls, except where the 
long, thick strands of moss deadened its impact. At 
the back of the pool, a shallow beck was running 
below a covering of thin sheets, made up of ice-stars, 
with upturned edges fringed with crystal spikes, 
shifting and straining with uneasy motion. Higher up, 



136 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

the runnel was fringed with ice so formed as to lie 
just above the surface ; and we fancied that we could 
detect a regular pulse or beat in the stream, which now 
brought the water level with the ice-fringe, and sent 
the flattened bubbles coursing below it, now left it dry 
and white and clear of the surface. But the strangest 
freak played by the frost around and above the salmon- 
pool, was the formation of ground-ice or " anchor 
ice, ' as it is sometimes called deep below the un- 
frozen surface of the water. 

The hanging mosses, at a depth of from three to 
four feet, were covered with thick and clinging ice ; 
and in the deep but rapid waters at the inrush by the 
mill-head, rocks and stones far beneath were seen 
coated and crusted with a semi-opaque and rounded 
glaze of crystals. How it happens that ice, which 
should float on the surface, forms and remains below 
waters which are themselves apparently too warm to 
freeze, we are not prepared to explain. But in this 
case we forebore to test the stream, lest our operations 
with a thermometer at the end of a string should be 
mistaken for some new form of fish-poaching, a view 
clearly taken by one observer of our experiments at 
Winchester. 



MAY-FLIES IN MARCH 

(ITCHEN ABBAS AND AVINGTON PARK) 

" DAYS of promise " are a common feature of the 
English spring, when the rough winds sink and shift 
into the west, and the cold rain draws odours from the 
earth, and song from the birds, that remind us that 
winter is left behind. Even then the response of 
Nature is as hesitating and uncertain as the shifting 
moods of the March sky ; and the influences which 
appeal to man seem too subtle or too transient to 
change the winter habits of birds or beasts. 

Far different is the result of the first really hot days 
of early spring. When such weather comes in the 
middle of March, and lasts for more than a day, it 
affects all wild animals like some beneficent spell. 
The physical contrast of summer and winter, marching, 
as it seems, hand in hand, is alone almost sufficient to 
account for the change. The night frosts are forgotten 
in the heated air, which dances over the withered 
grass ; yet the dust, scattered in the high-road, falls on 
ice-covered pools in the shadow of the fence ; and the 



138 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

tortoise-shell butterflies, which flit from side to side of 
the lane, alight alternately on leaves and twigs powdered 
here with dust, there with crystals of hoar-frost. 

The scene in the water-meadows at Itchen Abbas, 
above Winchester, on such a day in March at the be- 
ginning of the hot dry spring of 1893, was in strange 
contrast to that presented by the wintry waters in their 
setting of iron-bound earth and icicle-fringe during the 
great frosts at the opening of the year. Then the 
warm and life-giving river supported by its bounty 
thousands of strange and suffering birds, forced by 
hunger to leave their native haunts, and to seek food 
by the still unfrozen stream. Now the river and its 
valley was peopled, not by hungry strangers, but by all 
the wild creatures native to this chosen spot, not 
struggling for existence, but enjoying the most 
complete form of happiness known to animal life, 
warmth, quiet, security, and plenty. There is, perhaps, 
no district in the South of England where Nature has 
done so much for man as in the upper valley of the 
Itchen. The downs on either side shelter it from 
rough winds, the parks and villages at their feet form a 
continuous line of garden and spreading timber, and at 
this season of the year the visitor may walk for miles 
without ceasing to hear the cawing of the nesting rooks. 
Rooks are still " free selectors " in our old-world 
country, and their presence is a guarantee that the land 
is good enough not only for man, but for the most civil- 
ized and critical of bird-kind. But the exuberant life 
of the valley is supported, not by the timbered parks 



MAY-FLIES IN MARCH 139 

or rich gardens under the hills, but by the great chalk- 
stream, which, like the river of Egypt, winds through 
the centre of the land, and distributes its waters in a 
thousand swift and shining streams over the thirsty 
meadows on its banks. There, while the grass upon 
the hill-sides is still grey and sere, the hay already 
shows half a crop, and the wide green blades seem to 
suck up the moisture visibly from the streams which 
trickle through their waving stems. Each furrow is a 
flooded watercourse, not stagnant and foul, like the 
muddy drains of Eastern fens, but bright and swiftly 
flowing, a miniature of the great chalk-stream itself. 
Where the valley narrows, as at the bridge of Itchen 
Abbas, opposite the tall limes and avenues of Avington 
Park, the teeming life of the river and its vale may be 
viewed at close quarters. There, as the strange and 
sudden heat of the March sun burnt and increased, and 
the yellow coltsfoot flowers spread their petals wide, 
like arms and bosoms, to the rays, we watched the 
whole wild-life of the valley abandon itself to the 
sense of exquisite happiness given by the first burst of 
light and heat in the year. 

Those who would blame man for his interference 
with Nature should at least give him credit for build- 
ing the water-mill, with its dam and mill-stream, its 
foaming " tumbling bay," its weir and double bridges. 
The result at Itchen Abbas is to divide the river into a 
wide and dancing shallow, studded with sedgy islands 
above the mill, while below the two streams unite in 
a swift and rushing current. The islands and reaches 



i 4 o HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

above the bridge are the chosen home of wild-fowl ; 
the pool below a very paradise of monstrous Hamp- 
shire trout. Up till mid-day the wild-fowl were still 
feeding, or moving from one part of the marsh to 
another. Two or three pairs of dabchicks were busy 
diving just above the bridge, their plumage almost 
black, and looking, when they appeared as if by magic 
on the surface, as if clothed in velvet. Moorhens and 
coots swam out from the sedges, the former in their 
best summer suits, with beaks red as sealing-wax, and 
neat white borders to their tails, crossing the river with 
that peculiar ducking and jerking motion of the head 
which distinguishes them from all other fowl upon the 
water. But at midday the sun asserted his dominion 
even over the water-fowl. For some time the land- 
birds had been flying in from the hot and dusty hills, 
and settling in the water-meadows to drink, feed, and 
wash themselves. First, a pair of partridges came 
skimming over the road, and dropped among the dry 
flags on one of the islands in the stream. Then a flock 
of plover came floating down, one by one, just clearing 
the gables of the mill, and settled in the water-meadow 
beyond, where they first drank from a shallow rill, and 
then bathed elaborately. The flutter and splash of the 
black-and-white pinions was clearly visible, until their 
toilet was completed by running up and down on the 
bank with wings expanded to the sun and wind. Then 
the rooks came down to drink, one by one, and a pair 
of wood-pigeons followed ; but the birds had come, not 
merely to bathe or satisfy their thirst, but to stay. 



MAY-FLIES IN MARCH 141 

Plovers, pigeons, and rooks settled themselves down 
upon the grass, drooped their wings, stretched their 
feet, and lay basking in the sun. For rooks, the most 
industrious of birds, to abandon themselves to complete 
idleness and sleep at midday is, so far as the writer's 
experience goes, a most unusual indulgence. Not till 
the day's work is over, and the low sun is lighting up 
the elm-tops, do the rooks allow themselves to take a 
brief hour's gossip and idling, and then only before the 
young are hatched. As it was, one pair, who had been 
busy close by nest-building in the earlier hours, kept 
up appearances long after the rest had yielded to the 
drowsy influence of the sudden heat. The hen flew up 
to the nest and pretended to "sit," though the eggs 
were not yet laid ; while the cock-bird, who was bask- 
ing on the grass below, started up at intervals, as some 
comrade flew overhead, and pretended to be looking for 
food with a sham earnestness most comical to behold. 
Meantime, the water- fowl were fast leaving the river 
for the meadows, in order to enjoy to the full the genial 
warmth. An old mallard stole quietly from one of the 
water-channels, and, after standing with his green head 
erect to reconnoitre for some minutes, he lay down on 
the grass, turned on his side, and slept as tranquilly as 
a farmyard duck. One or two other mallards followed 
his example, each lying down on the highest point of 
the ridge between the water- cuts, like a hare in its form. 
An old gander, who with his mate was swimming in 
the mill-stream, took a walk in the road, and finding 
that the warmth was to his liking, flew back in a hurry, 



1 42 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

and after some conversation both climbed the bank, and 
went off in a vast hurry to the strawyard, where they 
also composed themselves to sleep. By this time every 
one of the larger birds in sight was dozing, and the 
writer so far followed their example as to move to the 
sunny side of an old brick bridge, and there, with the 
warm wall behind, and the shining river in front, to 
watch the trout, and lunch. The sun was at its hottest, 
when a whole flock of chaffinches came hawking down 
the river, in eager pursuit of something which had not, 
till then, appeared upon the scene. We looked, and 
there over the surface of the water were hundreds of 
" May-flies," hatched by the sudden heat. Of course 
they were not true " May-flies " ; but for all that they 
were true Ephemeridce^ with long white tails and 
transparent wings, " March browns," we believe, in the 
language of the fly-fisher. Poor creatures ! What 
with the chaffinches above, and the greedy trout in the 
water below, even their brief day was shortened. The 
trout were in ecstasies. Before the appearance of the 
swarm, they had been leaping from the water in sheer 
exuberance at the fine weather. Now they settled down 
to the serious business of eating. Not ducklings and 
early peas, strawberries in February, ortolans in vine- 
leaves, or the first plovers' eggs, could move the epicure 
so deeply as the first dish of early " May-flies " in 
March touched the imagination of the Hampshire 
trout. The fish lay in lines across the river, each in 
his favourite part of the stream, like sportsmen in a 
row of grouse-butts. Constant quick rises just a 



WINTRY WATERS 143 

ripple, as the broad nose, followed by the back fin, and 
a triton curve of the tail, broke the surface of the water 
showed where each struggling fly met its fate. The 
flies then vanished as suddenly as they had appeared, 
and the dinner of the trout was over. 



T44 



THE WOODLANDS IN MAY 

THOSE whom choice or fortune has led to spend a 
fine May day in the deep woodlands of the south, will 
have learnt to prize the unrivalled splendour of the 
English spring, when lasting and unbroken sunshine 
has called every tree and bush, from the oak to the 
trailing sweetbriar, into leaf together, and the beauty 
of the woodlands appeals to the senses with a force and 
freshness which the maturer months of summer foliage 
can never weaken nor efface from the memory. There 
is an unwritten law in some of the villages of America 
that on a certain day every able-bodied inhabitant shall 
go forth, and not return, until on land, either set apart 
or otherwise suitable for the purpose, he has planted a 
tree. Now, if ever, such an example of the duty of 
man to Nature should appeal to every Englishman. 
Even though the craze for destroying the beautiful 
hedge-row timber, which, massed in the distance, makes 
the foreigner believe that he is for ever approaching a 
forest, which for ever recedes before him, no longer 
forms part of the enlightened farmer's creed, there 
are still many counties which the axe has left treeless 
and bare ; where the countryman never sees a real 



, THE WOODLANDS IN MA Y 145 

wood, or knows the delight of walking for hours 
where the low sky never shows between the distant 
trunks, and the sound of the labour of the field does 
not penetrate. Yet there are still many counties rich 
in forest scenery, even in the south ; and there is no 
need to visit the famous cluster of great estates in 
the Midlands, where the woods of Clumber, Welbeck, 
and Mansfield unite to cover the site of the old 
Sherwood Forest with an unbroken tract of woodland, 
in order to realize the full-dress beauty of the early 
spring. Hampshire, for example, may claim, apart 
from the New Forest area, a foremost place among the 
woodland counties of the south. Of its million acres, 
a hundred thousand are covered by permanent and 
ancient wood, not sprinkled in scattered patches, but 
deep and connected areas of trees and copse, in which 
timber, large and small, is regarded as the staple crop, 
with stated times for cutting and harvest, equally with 
the produce of the meadow or the field. Trees are 
native to the soil. On the uplands between the deep 
and fertile valleys of the Itchen and the Test, the 
transition from natural woodland to the spreading 
forests, which owe their present form to human care, 
may yet be traced. The down stands thick with 
ancient and self-sown hawthorns, fragrant with the 
heavy perfume of the May-blossom, and interspersed 
with tall patches of gorse and feathery birch, among 
which the partridges nest, and the young plovers, 
driven by the drought from the open downs, seek food 
and shelter. In the woodlands beyond, each and every 



146 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

tree and shrub to be found in the southern counties is 
in its full raiment of young and tender leaf. Even 
the ashes have burst their black buds, and the flower- 
clusters hang like bunches of keys thick upon the 
branches. The maples are in flower ; the cotton buds 
of the broad-leafed willow are rolling on the paths 
before the wind ; the young oak-leaves are crisp and 
curling ; the ground-oaks show clusters of longer leaves 
of flesh-colour and green ; the white-beam glistens with 
grey and silver, and flat white flowers ; the beech-buds 
have dropped their brown night-caps, and the sun has 
smoothed out the creases ; the elm branches are covered 
with almost summer drapery, and the senses are at 
once stirred and soothed by the ripple of the light air 
over the foliage, and the fresh smell of young green 
leaves. Beneath the timber-trees the copse- wood grows 
so strangely thick and strong, that a hundred stems 
seem to spring from every crown, and arching upwards 
and outwards, meet and overlap to form a continuous 
roof of clustering foliage, various in kind, but alike in 
strength and vigour. In the low lanes beneath, 
cloistered by this natural canopy, stretches in endless 
lines the flower-garden of the forest. Every foot of 
ground between the tree-stems and coppice-clusters is 
set thick with dark-blue hyacinths ; and if we stoop 
and look up the long corridors between the thickets, 
with roofs so low that nothing larger than a fox could 
thread them, the distance merges into a level sheet of 
purple. Over hills and valleys, banks and glens, the 
hyacinths spread, with no difference in number or size, 



THE WOODLANDS IN MA Y 147 

except that in the open spaces where the copse was 
felled last winter the spikes are taller and richer in 
scent and colour. Where the clay crops up, the 
hyacinths are mixed with primroses, small, but strongly 
perfumed, set as in a garden, in cushioned beds of moss. 
Standing on the hill-side at the margin of the wood, 
and facing the wind which blows over miles of similar 
forest- ground, the air sweeps by us fresh and clear, yet 
loaded with the perfume from hundreds of acres of this 
hyacinth-garden, like the scent of asphodels from the 
Elysian fields. 

In spring, while the sap is still running upwards, 
these woods are as silent and deserted by man as the 
wheat-fields in June. The fallen timber lies ready for 
carting ; but the grindstone stands dry with rusted 
handle, until wanted to sharpen the axes in autumn, 
and the young fern and flowers are twining among the 
stacked faggots and piles of wattle hurdles, which 
will not be moved till the fall of the leaf. There are 
few or no villages in the forest-country. The' homes 
of the woodlanders are scattered and remote, and, when 
found, present a strange and pleasing contrast to those 
of the labourers in the cultivated country. For the 
former, the choice of site has not been limited by the 
artificial value which accrues to land in the neighbour- 
hood even of the smallest village, and too often robs 
the labourer's cottage of the light and space which 
should be a countryman's birthright. The woodman 
has usually been a " free selector " in the choice of his 
dwelling-place, and it needs a wide acquaintance with 



i 4 8 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

these sylvan homes to weaken the first and natural 
impression that each and every one of these solitary 
cottages enjoy some peculiar and accidental advantage 
of setting and surrounding to which it owes its charm. 
The real reason for their beauty and their comfort is 
not far to seek. The cottage was built where it stands 
only because Nature had marked out the spot as a 
natural home for man. Shelter from the wind, water 
for the pony and cattle, a patch of good soil for a 
garden, and a glade of green grass for the cow to graze 
upon, may be all found together for the seeking in the 
wide woodlands ; and the spot where a company of 
hurdle-makers choose to light their mid- day fire, and 
raise a faggot-shelter in the winter, soon sees the 
growth of the woodman's home. A little reflection 
soon shows the reason, and even the necessity r , for the 
beauty of the whole. The water in the little stream 
was the first condition of the building of the house. 
The stream made the rustic bridge necessary, and its 
own moisture decorated the under-side of the planks 
with moss and tiny ferns. The ancient trees, with the 
close turf under them, are not accidental either. The 
woodman wanted a few rods of pasture, and found it 
where the spreading oaks and sycamores had killed the 
undergrowth below. His orchard flourishes, and fallen 
apple-blossom smothers the garden-plot, for where the 
oak grows there the apple grows also, and the autumns 
of centuries have enriched the ground with vegetable 
mould. The woodlands are the poor man's best home ; 
and while Nature gives the stream, the tiny park and 



THE WOODLANDS IN MA Y 149 

paddock, the good soil, and the fostering shelter of the 
forest, the owner himself is seldom backward to use 
the sylvan gifts. His work among the timber makes 
him master of the use of woodman's tools, and the 
split-oak fence of his garden, and the well-built sheds 
for cattle and stock, show a sense for order and good 
workmanship in strong contrast to the makeshift 
shanties around the field-labourer's cottage. In his 
daily fare he still tastes the forest dainties which have 
for ages been regarded as his right 

" I'll show thee the best springs ; I'll pluck thee berries ; 
I'll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough ; 
Show thee a jay's nest and instruct thee how 
To snare the nimble marmozet ; I'll bring thee 
To clust'ring filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee 
Young scamels from the rock," 

says the woodland monster in The Tempest. The 
forest children are adepts in these, as in other forms of 
woodcraft, and bring in tribute of brook-trout, young 
wood-pigeons, mushrooms, and wild fruits to the 
cottage table, sylvan gifts. The woodland children, 
and even the woodland dogs, seem to feel the influence 
of the quiet and loneliness of their lives. Both seem 
to long for human society and human sympathy, and the 
little sons and daughters of the cottage, with their dog 
companions, are happy and content to lie down and wait 
near the temporary resting-place of visitors to the woods, 
the children amusing themselves by weaving wreaths of 
moss and flowers, and asking no more proof of good-will 
than that implied in a kindly toleration of their presence. 



THE BUDS AND BLOSSOM OF TREES 

" A belt of straw and ivy buds 
With coral clasps and amber studs." 

THOSE who live among the woodlands maintain that 
to know the beauty of trees they should be watched 
from the first day of the New Year. To wait till the 
young leaves clothe the branches is to miss half the 
early graces of the woods ; for the trees, like the sun- 
burnt maidens of the Southern Sea, wear ornament 
before drapery, and lightly wreathe their limbs with 
beads and coral stars and studs, little coquettish jewels, 
like shells and flowers, and, like them, often thrown 
away before the day is done, or exchanged for orna- 
ment more lasting and complete. 

Nothing in the full foliage of summer is more 
beautiful than the early buds and blossom of trees ; 
yet no " flower of the field " is more often doomed to 
blush unseen. The gaze, which is at once bent down 
towards the crocus or the primrose, is seldom raised to 
the crimson blossoms which now cover the tops of the 
elms like drops of ruby rain, or to the pendent blos- 
soms of the poplars, the little golden brushes on the 



THE BUDS AND BLOSSOM OF TREES 151 

ash, or the pink flowers which stud the larch boughs 
like sea-anemones. These are blossoms which appear 
on the naked limbs of trees. Later, among the young 
leaves of the oak and sycamore, the bunches of pale- 
yellow bloom are confused with the young leaf ; and it 
is not till the ground below the last is piled with 
golden, dustlike petals that we wonder whence they 
came, and what the flower was like that bore them. 

One only among the hundred buds of trees is well 
known, and used for ornament in England the 
" palms " which are gathered by every stream and 
pond the week before Palm Sunday. Even they have 
as many phases of beauty as the rose ; first, the tiny 
pearl-like studs of satin-white ; then egg-shaped buds 
bound in grey plush like the lining of an opera-cloak ; 
and lastly, rounded golden thimbles, set with tiny 
blossoms. Or to follow the fancy of the Cheshire 
children, the young buds are the goose's-eggs, and the 
golden flowers the goslings, hatched by the hot March 
sun, and bending to the river. But the beauty of the 
buds of trees is almost invisible against the sky. They 
are lifted too far from the eye, and their forms are too 
minute and their colours too pale to break across the 
line of sight and play a part in broad effects of sylvan 
beauty. To be appreciated in mass the buds of trees 
must be viewed from above, from the opposite side of 
a glen, or in a copse below the observer. In the deep 
woods which cluster at the foot of the Hind Head, in 
the broken hollows near Haslemere, the millions of 
buds and catkins so pervade the upper level of the 



152 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

copse that the distant trees seem to rise through vapour 
and smoke. Nearer, the smoke resolves itself into 
motionless flakes of white or grey, dotting each upright 
wand and branch like seed-pearls sewn on a velvet 
scabbard. But at a distance the whole wood seems 
blurred with motionless puffs of white vapour, merging 
in the distance into a greyish haze. Plunge into the 
copse, and the source and shape of the misty mirage is 
explained. Every clump of underwood is studded with 
bud or blossom, though hardly a leaf is out from fence 
to fence. The catkins of the hazel and the tiny pink 
star-fish flowers are almost over, but the cornel buds 
are formed and the masses of blackthorn are powdered 
over with tight little globes no larger than a mustard- 
seed, in which lies packed the embryo blossom. The 
black-poplars are still as leafless as in the bitterest 
December frosts ; but their topmost twigs have lost 
their rigid look and are decked with little funeral 
plumes of sooty-black flower. At all the joints of the 
woodbine green buds are peeping out in pairs, and on 
the sunny edges of the copses the dog-rose is opening 
its leaves to the wind and frost. The elder is the only 
other native tree in leaf so early, though why this, the 
softest and weakest of the woodland shrubs, should 
share with the climbing woodbine and rose the honour 
of being the first to wear the colours of spring, is still 
among the secrets of the wood. On the wild-cherries 
the flower-clusters are shown in miniature globes, which 
stud the upper branches with whity-brown knobs and 
clusters, and the Lombardy poplars, as yet leafless and 



THE BUDS AND BLOSSOM OF TREES 153 

dry, have a false foliage of splendid crimson catkins, 
which lie tumbled, like crimson and yellow caterpillars, 
upon the ground below. But the buds of the willows 
are the main feature in the phase of beauty in the 
woodlands in March which precedes the bursting of the 
leaf. The tall osier rods are of all colours, grey and 
green, yellow and scarlet, maroon and black, and these, 
from root to top, are studded with white satin buds. 
The most beautiful of all have a deep purple bark 
which shines with a polish like Chinese lac, against 
which the velvet-white of the buds stands out in 
perfect contrast of texture as well as of colour. 

It is these beautiful and exactly placed ornaments 
that make the silver haze in the woods before Palm 
Sunday ; and it is perhaps of their silver fleeces that 
Shelley thought when he wrote of the spring 

"Driving sweet buds \\keflocks to feed in air." 

In the sunny March mornings, when the sun is 
up at seven, and a choice band of native songbirds, 
the thrush, the blackbird, the robin and the hedge- 
sparrow, are singing their pertest and loudest, un- 
challenged by a single note of song from the earliest of 
the warblers from beyond the seas, every tree shows 
some slight, half-hinted shadow of spring change. It 
is like the change of breathing as sleep is ending, or 
the swelling of wetted grain. At every joint, and 
at the end of every twig, there is ever so slight a 
swelling of the bud ; and though the change of shape 
and colour in each is hardly discernible till held in 



i 5 4 HAMPSHIRE STREAMS AND WOODLANDS 

the hand, the multiplied myriads of tiny curves change 
the whole aspect of the tree. In the sycamore, the 
points of the lower buds are slipping from their sheaths, 
like long green olives of Italy. The downy sumach 
tips are rough with swelling knobs, the laburnums 
are flecked with silver-grey, and even on the planes, 
where last year's fruit still hangs, the buds are swelling. 
But perhaps the most beautiful of all are the sprays 
of the hawthorn. Where each thorn leaves the stem, 
a tiny, gemlike globe has appeared upon the bark, 
laced on the sides with green and gold, and tipped 
with rosy carmine. The sharp thorn mounts guard 
above it, and protects it from harm, one thorn to 
a bud, all the tree over. But where the young shoots 
end where there is no protecting spear there the 
buds are clustered, that if one fail another may take 
its place. 

It is true of most English woods and gardens that 
the larger the tree the smaller is its flower. Few 
people could describe the blossom of the oak, or trace 
its change from the tiny pale-green flower to the 
infant acorn, in its miniature cup no bigger than 
an ivy-berry ; or paint from memory the flower- 
clusters which nestle among the beech-leaves in early 
June. Except the horse-chestnut, we have no native 
flowering timber-tree to take the place of the tulip- 
tree of North America, or the mimosa groves of the 
African plains. Yet the tulip-tree, with its broad, 
flat-headed leaves, and fine orange blossoms, like single 
inverted bells of the crown imperial, will flourish like 



THE BUDS AND BLOSSOM OF TREES 155 

the poplars in an English garden or hedgerow, and 
is far more useful as timber than the quick-growing 
and ornamental abele. We need another flowering 
tree. Even the blossoms of the lime would be less 
seen and admired were it not for their scent and the 
attraction which they offer to the bees. Were the 
flowers of oak and elm, of poplar and of fir dependent 
on the bees, rather than on the wind, for fertilization 
and the carriage of the pollen from flower to flower, 
they would be better known and appreciated than they 
are. But the pines at least attract the early bees. In 
the hot spring of 1893, the upright spikes of yellow, 
clustering flowers on the Austrian pines were crowded 
with the working bees, which laboured among the 
dusty piles till their bodies were covered with pollen, 
like flour-porters in the docks. The blossoms of the 
silver firs, the " balm of Gilead " of rural botanists, 
usually borne so high on the lofty summits that no 
bee would soar to reach them, studded even the lower 
branches, and revealed to ground-walking mortals a 
new feature of the flower-garden which lies in the 
upper storeys of the woods. Now that the pear and the 
cherry, the peach and plum, the apple and the quince, 
and, above all, the early and beautiful almond, are once 
more hastening into blossom, can we not take a lesson 
from Japan, and plant, not in isolated trees, but in 
orchards and groves, the double plum, and the pink- 
flowering cherry, which, for a few weeks, will fill our 
parks and gardens with the blossom and colour which 
even March winds cannot kill ? 



ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 



THE LOST FALCON 

IT was three o'clock on a winter afternoon. The air 
was filled with frost-sounds of twigs snapping, and ice 
tinkling as it formed and fell. On the lawn lay the 
limbs of an ancient cedar, snapped by the weight of 
snow. Hard by, on her block of pinewood, sat a 
trained falcon, her plumage compact and glossy. 
Though indifferent to the cold, she moved impatiently 
from time to time, jangling the tiny Indian bell upon 
her ankle. Feeding-time was near, and her appetite 
was sharpened by the frosty air. As we watched the 
bird a great white owl flapped, moth-like, across the 
open perhaps disturbed before her time, or dis- 
appointed in her catch of mice the previous night. 
The hawk caught sight of her also, and instantly 
changed her attitude. In general, though keenly 
observant of every living thing that passed her station, 
she knew the limit of her range. But instinct is 
stronger than training. As the owl passed, uncertain, 



THE LOST FALCON 157 

slow, bewildered, the temptation was irresistible. 
Tethered as she was, the hawk raised her wings, 
poised herself for an instant, and darted from the 
block. The leash, insecurely fastened, gave way, and 
she dashed off in chase. 

Falconry has many anxieties and disappointments ; 
but few mishaps occasion more concern than the flight 
of a hawk before the "jesses," or straps which secure 
her ankles, have been separated. In this case the thin 
leather strap or " leash " which is used as a tether was 
still attached to the jesses at one end. Consequently 
the danger of her being entangled in a tree or hung up 
by the heels to die miserably of exhaustion was in- 
creased. If, as was most probable, she killed her 
quarry, she would be likely to remain in the enclosed 
country. But beyond and above the village rose the 
chalk hills, on the summit of which she was usually 
flown ; and to these, if she missed her prey, she would 
probably direct her flight. On these the danger from 
trees was lessened ; for time and the hand of man have 
robbed the downs of timber. Here, from the Vale of 
the White Horse, commences the tract of Downs, the 
great chalk plateau lying between Wantage and Salis- 
bury, the land of sheep. Travellers by the Great 
Western Railway see its outer wall between Didcot and 
Swindon and mark its main bastions, the White Horse 
Hill and Lyddington Castle. From the railroad it 
appears like a single range ; but within this lies, ridge 
behind ridge, the mysterious Down country a land of 
rounded outline and soft shadows, of shepherds' huts 



158 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

and sheepfolds. Even in summer few strangers pene- 
trate this tract ; yet, apart from the charm of space and 
solitude, it is not without beauty and interest. Much 
even of the highest land has been brought into cultiva- 
tion ; but great part has undergone no change. Here 
for miles lies the natural turf, elastic yet compact, 
studded at intervals with ancient thorns. Nor does the 
landscape want colour or the more subtle charm of 
scent. The turf is gay with unusual flowers, recalling 
the hill-tops of more distant lands. A tiny gentian 
dyes broad patches a brilliant cobalt. Harebells and 
blue campanulas fleck the green in contrast to the 
yellow crowsfoot and ranunculus. Blue butterflies 
match the harebells, yellow snail- shells lie among the 
crowsfoot. The scent of wild thyme rises heavy in the 
tremulous heat ; and over all comes the sound of many 
sheep-bells. Nestling in the rounded hollows are rare 
farms, many of which are now occupied as training- 
stables. Not the least celebrated is that of the Seven 
Barrows, surrounded by the graves of heroes " whose 
souls went down to Hades" in the great fight of 
Ashdown, when Saxon and Dane contended for the 
mastery. Here the horse is still the genius loci, even 
as he was to his ancient worshippers, who cut his image 
on the great chalk hill hard by. 

But snow and winter banish whatever of beautiful 
the land once owned. Nature's harmony is broken ; 
nothing but a dull monotony of white remains. 
Colour is gone, and scent and even sound, except 
that of the icy wind that blows over the back of 



THE LOST FALCON 159 

the great White Horse. All the sheep are folded down 
below, and even the birds have disappeared ; only the 
sense of space and distance remains from summer's 
charms, as we see Inkpen Beacon and Highclere loom- 
ing up in the leaden sky. Where a low plantation 
skirts the road the snow has drifted deep, calling to 
memory an incident of the last great snow-storm. 
Here a wagon was at last brought to in the drift, and 
the man and boy who accompanied it lay out all night 
in the bitter frost. In the morning the man with his 
remaining strength unharnessed the horses. Leaving 
one with the boy, he mounted the other and pushed 
through the drifts to a shepherd's hut. Here as the 
warmth relaxed his stiffened limbs he sank into a stupor. 
Meanwhile the boy remained forgotten ; but the man's 
torpid brain was awakened by the arrival of the second 
horse, who had followed his companion. Full of self- 
reproach, he hurried back with the shepherd to the spot 
where the wagon was embedded in the drift. They 
found the boy standing with his hand still raised as 
though holding the rein; but the frost had done its work. 
Seeing nothing of the falcon, we descended. On the 
lower terrace of the hills stood the homestead, sur- 
rounded by corn-ricks and cattle-yards ; and as we 
approached it the absence of life and sound upon the 
hill was explained. The sheep, of course, were all here, 
bedded down in the warm pea-straw ; the farm-horses 
also in their cosy stable, munching the oats of idleness. 
But here too were all the birds of the hill ; for here 
only was food. Even the turnip-fields were covered by 



160 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

snow, though in one hard by several coveys of partridges 
were huddled. Here were all the rooks. In the 
morning they had made a combined attack upon a rick, 
and stripped the thatch. Now they were hastening to 
avail themselves of what light remained ; as each black 
robber left the rick he carried off an ear of corn to eat 
in the field adjoining. But a barley-rick presented the 
strangest sight. The sides were black with small birds 
dragging out the straws with desperate energy ; while 
beneath it the ground was covered by a fluttering, rest- 
less, feathery mass of birds, close-packed, eager, palpi- 
tating. The flock consisted of greenfinches, yellow- 
hammers, buntings, and chaffinches ; the sparrows had 
disappeared. By this time the light was failing, but 
hunger was not yet satisfied. On a sudden the mass of 
small birds rose as a kestrel swept round the stack and 
carried off one of their number, but instantly settled 
and were once more busy. A few minutes later a 
covey of partridges pitched down at a short distance ; 
and after a few anxious calls, and stretching their necks 
as they reconnoitred the ground, they scampered over 
the snow to the stack. It was pretty to watch them 
fearlessly attacking the grain, jumping up now and 
then to reach a tempting ear, or chasing one another 
round the rick. Soon another covey joined them, and 
afterwards a third all in frantic haste to make the 
most of their opportunity before nightfall. But by 
this time the light was disappearing warning us to 
return and make arrangements for recovering our falcon 
next day. 



THE LOST FALCON 161 

Next day we again waded through the snow-drifts to 
the crest of the Downs. Close to the ancient " Ridge 
Way" stood a group of corn-ricks, and round these 
were gathered all the birds of the neighbourhood. 
Hundreds of rooks were on the snow round the stacks, 
or flying to and from the ricks. They were attacking 
the stores of grain, resolute to make the most of the 
only food available. A great number were clinging to 
the sides of the rick like martins under the eaves, and 
while some dragged out the straws (apparently quite 
aware that the ear would be at the other end), others 
shelled out the grain where they were. They had 
already made hollows a yard deep into the stack, and 
every minute made the work easier. The snow for a 
hundred yards around was littered with the stolen 
straws. But other and wiser rooks were " working the 
claim " in a more thorough fashion. They had quarried 
through the thatch deep into the stack, and were 
crowding into the hole in a black and busy throng, the 
place of those departing being at once filled, with much 
cawing and noise, by others who were waiting en queue 
all along the ridge of the thatch. " Then there came 
another locust, which carried off another grain of corn," 
was the burden of the Eastern story that was to last 
for ever. But judging by the hole already made in 
the stack, if for " locust " we had read " rook," the 
story would not have been long in coming to an end. 
Presently we approached so near, that the rooks rose 
reluctantly and flew off a few score yards on to the 

snow. Alarmed at the bustle, a covey of partridges 

M 



i62 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

which had been feeding on the opposite side of the rick 
to that from which we were coming, ran round to see 
what was the matter. After reconnoitring us for a 
minute, they also rose and flew a short way off, where 
they remained calling and running about anxiously 
till we should be gone. Some hurdles wattled with 
straw lay under a shed near, and by making a screen 
of these it was possible to remain close by, yet 
undiscovered. 

Soon the birds began to call, and then flew boldly 
back to within twenty yards of the barley-rick. They 
stood upright, with heads raised for a minute, and then 
a fine old cock rushed up to the rick, clucking in an 
encouraging manner to the rest. These were not slow 
to join him, and soon the whole covey to the number 
of eight were pulling straw out with great energy, 
tugging and beating their wings when the work was 
more than usually difficult, and often jumping up to 
catch hold of any straw which hung out further than 
the rest. Another covey flew up to the other side of 
the rick, and the calling and clucking which notified 
their arrival made the first-comers cease feeding for a 
moment. The old cock bustled out from under the 
rick and was instantly confronted by the leader of the 
fresh covey. A fight seemed probable, but as their 
respective families fraternized and began to gobble 
barley together, the cock-birds seemed to think that 
enough had been done for honour, and were soon lead- 
ing the joint attack on the grain. From our position 
we could see well the beautiful plumage of the birds, 



THE LOST FALCON 163 

which looked even richer than usual on the white 
snow ; and the strength and agility of the partridges, 
shown in the difficult task they had of dragging out 
deeply embedded straws, was very remarkable. 

Besides the rooks and partridges, hundreds of smaller 
birds crowd round the stacks. On the sunny side, the 
ground is black with a fluttering, feathery mass of 
chaffinches, with a few linnets and greenfinches among 
them. After the recent snow had lain upon the 
ground for a week, these poor little creatures became 
so tame that we could not even drive them a few yards 
off, for the purpose of noting the wing-marks which 
they leave when rising, perfect casts of the wing- 
stroke being sometimes left on the soft snow. They 
flew round us at a distance of a yard or so, and nothing 
would induce them to leave even for a moment the 
only spot where food could be obtained. Except the 
hawks and carrion-crows, none but grain-eating birds 
remain upon the hill. The rooks, which are not solely 
grain-eaters, do not thrive on a corn diet, and are 
obliged to cast up the outer husks of the wheat and 
barley, just as hawks and owls do the bones and 
feathers of birds. Even for those which, like the 
chaffinches and greenfinches, prefer corn, it is a hard 
matter to find enough. In good weather, the stock of 
food is so abundant that most land birds, except hawks, 
feed but twice a day, early in the morning and in the 
afternoon. In the snow they feed all day long. From 
dawn till dark the crowd round the stacks never lessens, 
and they feed until even the light reflected from the 



164 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

snow serves them no longer. Wood-pigeons, even in 
the deepest snow, manage to find seeds of some kind ; 
and though their crops are generally full of turnip- 
leaves, there is always a mixture of some dark, shiny 
seeds, probably charlock. Red-legged partridges are 
much distressed by snow, not for want of food, for 
they burrow down to the turnips and eat both leaves 
and roots, but because they prefer running to flying, 
and the snow sticks in heavy lumps to their feathers. 
In Suffolk, where they are common, the unfortunate 
redlegs can be caught by a dog, or even by hand in 
such weather, and a heavy snow always thins their 
numbers sadly. Once the writer caught a brace of 
English partridges which had been flushed on the other 
side of a valley and pitched in soft snow near him. 
Instead of flying they crept deep into the drift, and 
made no effort to escape. 

In the gardens and meadows the soft-billed birds 
suffer equally with the hardier sorts in lasting snow, 
even though in receipt of "relief" from kind friends 
in-doors. When the missel-thrushes come to eat crumbs 
under the window, as they have been doing lately, it is 
a sign that the last yewberry has been eaten, and the 
last thornbush stripped. The tits suffer less than 
other insect-eating birds, because the lower sides of the 
branches, in the bark of which they find most of their 
food, are always bare of snow. The cheerful "rap, 
rap," of the nuthatches is still to be heard, as they 
crack the nuts they have hidden away in better weather, 
or stolen from the squirrels. But such times are very 



THE LOST FALCON 165 

bad for the birds. Half the blackbirds, thrushes, 
robins, and hedge-sparrows will die if not regularly fed, 
even though they spend all day turning over the dead 
leaves in the shrubbery in search of worms or snails. 
A three weeks' frost is more than they can endure, 
and already the thrushes are dying fast. But in great 
frosts, as a rule, those birds which stay with us run less 
risk than those which fly before the storm. Birds have 
no agencies to tell them the limits of the frost and 
snow ; and too often they arrive exhausted on distant 
coasts only to find that the frost has gone before them. 



i66 



THE PEEWIT'S HOME 

" There the winds sweep and the plovers cry." 

THE return of the plovers to their nesting-grounds 
in the south is always watched with interest by those 
who are able to compare for any length of time the 
yearly increase or decrease of bird-life over the same 
tract of country. During the first weeks of May, when 
ploughing and sowing are over, and the land lies quiet 
awaiting the increase of the spring, the graceful peewits, 
and their "great relations" the stone-curlews, are 
occupied in the incessant care and protection of their 
young ; and such is their anxiety and courage in 
endeavouring to mislead or frighten away intruders, 
that the number of pairs nesting on a given farm may 
easily be ascertained if the birds are disturbed. The 
writer has for many years been in the habit of devoting 
a few days at this time, partly to a careful observation 
of these and other birds, nesting on the open ground, 
near the White Horse Hill, with a view to ascertaining 
the conditions most favourable to their increase ; and 
partly to searching the adjacent fir and beech copses, 
in order to take the eggs of the carrion-crows and 



THE PEEWITS HOME 167 

magpies with which the plovers at this time wage fierce 
and incessant war ; for if the crows have no family to 
provide for, they are, as a rule, contented to get their 
living honestly. The result of some nine years of 
observations so made, goes to show that the numbers 
both of the great plovers, or stone-curlews, and the 
peewits are decreasing, and the demand for " plovers' 
eggs," even though largely satisfied from abroad, must 
probably be held responsible for the diminished numbers 
of the last. The disappearance of the great plover is 
even more to be regretted, for its size and upright gait 
make it approach more nearly in appearance than any 
other bird to the great bustard, which used once to 
frequent the same ground ; and its strange cry when 
on the wing is a wild and startling note among the 
sounds of the summer night upon the hill. It is 
difficult to account for the steady decrease of these 
birds. They generally choose the highest and barest 
ridges upon which to nest, and lay their eggs on some 
stony fallow, where it seems almost impossible to detect 
them, even though the particular field in which they 
lie is known. A friend of the writer's once endeavoured 
to aid him in discovering the nest by concealing himself 
at daybreak, and watching the ground with a telescope 
as the sun rose. But the birds quitted the field at his 
approach, and would not return. A week later the 
eggs were hatched, and we were so near to the young 
that the old bird settled on the ground within forty 
yards of us ; but so closely did they conceal themselves, 
that the most patient search yielded no result. The 



1 68 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

eggs and young of the peewits are more easily found, 
for, unlike the great plovers, they make a nest which 
an experienced eye can quickly detect, and when we 
appear on the hill with staff and scrip for a long day 
among the birds, our first visit is generally paid to the 
peewits' nursery. This is a broad tract of rough ground 
dotted with stones and dead thistle-tops, among which 
the eggs can be laid without the danger which they 
incur on cultivated land from the modern practice of 
rolling the wheat in spring. The nearest pair of old 
birds instantly mark the danger, and in a few seconds 
the whole colony are wheeling, calling, and tumbling 
in the air in the wildest excitement and anxiety. No 
bird, not even a tumbler-pigeon, is a master of such 
feats of aerial gymnastics as the peewit, and their swift, 
fantastic circles and stoops inevitably arrest the eye, 
and divert the focus of vision from that careful and 
minute scrutiny which is necessary to detect the lurking 
young. 

The best way to find the tiny creatures is to sit 
down and wait quietly, and without movement, when 
the anxiety of the old birds seems most marked. Then, 
after some minutes, a tiny head will be raised from the 
ground, and the watcher will be rewarded by seeing 
one of the prettiest sights in bird-life, a very young 
peewit. The little fellow is hardly larger than a 
walnut-shell, a tiny ball of speckled down, with large, 
bright black eyes, which he instantly hides from view, 
if the spectator moves, by gently pushing his head once 
more behind a weed or stone. But if perfect stillness 



THE PEEWITS HOME 169 

is preserved, the whole brood of four will one by one 
rise, and move daintily forward on unsteady feet in the 
direction in which they hear their anxious parents 
screaming and calling, stopping now and again, and 
laying down their heads, as if to rest and regain courage 
for a further venture in the open. In no birds is this 
curious instinct for concealment, and the strange animal 
power of remaining motionless without discomfort, so 
early developed as in the young of the plovers and 
their kin, a power which nevertheless seems common 
even to the most restless animals. The writer has 
watched a squirrel on a branch remain as motionless as 
a hare in its form for half-an-hour, until his own 
powers of observation were exhausted. If it were not 
for this method of concealment, the young plovers 
would stand no chance of escaping the crows and 
magpies which swarm in the spruce-copses on the 
adjacent downs. Every copse holds yearly at least one 
crow's nest ; and the population is seldom complete 
without a brood of hungry young magpies, and another 
of long-eared owls. 

The great nests last for years in the tall spruces, 
and are occupied, like the castles on the Rhine, by 
successive generations of robbers, who, unlike the 
plovers, maintain their numbers undiminished. But 
the crows and magpies are a part of the natural 
inhabitants of the hill ; and though we take their eggs, 
we leave the old birds in peace. But the hawks and 
crows are not the only robbers on the hill. The rich 
and juicy rye-grasses which grow on what was once 



170 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

corn-land, and is now laid down to pasture, naturally 
invite visits from the hungry sheep on the adjacent 
downs. Sometimes, when the coast is clear, their 
human guardian, unlike the " humble and innocent 
Abel " of Hooker's biographer, so far falls in with the 
wishes of his flock as to aid them in an organized raid 
into the heart of the neighbouring pastures ; and the 
owner of the soil, when making a spring ramble on the 
hill, has occasionally the satisfaction of capturing a 
pirate-shepherd thus engaged. Farms intersected by 
one or more of the broad green tracks which do duty 
for roads on the downs are best suited for his operations, 
especially if he can secure the pasturage of some patch 
of land which gives him the right to drive his sheep 
along the track. When the shepherd concludes that 
the right moment for a foray has arrived, the conspira- 
tors for the sheep-dog and the sheep seem perfectly 
intelligent parties to the scheme approach the scene of 
action with due precautions. The dog quietly assembles 
the sheep on the edge of the down next to the high- 
road, and the sheep follow intelligently, the dog trotting 
quietly behind, with none of the officious barking and 
fuss which usually mark its behaviour when in charge 
of a moving flock Arrived at the point where the 
green track leaves the main road, the shepherd makes a 
careful survey of the ground, and gives the signal for 
advance. Buried in the loose straw of a rick, we 
watch the foray through the binoculars with mixed 
feelings of indignation and amusement. Three hundred 
yards further along the track is a hollow, full of rich 



THE PEEWIT'S HOME 171 

grass, in which the flock might stay and feed all day 
unseen. To this point the invaders hurry, and in ten 
minutes have plunged into the hollow and disappeared. 
The shepherd and his dog lie down above them, and 
contemplate at their ease the success of their stratagem, 
ready to drive the flock unseen from the hollow on to 
the track on the appearance of danger. Though 
evidently an old offender, the shepherd is a stranger, 
so far as we can tell through the glasses ; so we decide to 
trust to being mistaken for tourists, and thus endeavour 
to capture the robbers at their meal. 

As we wander carelessly down the track the shepherd 
rises, and leaning on his staff, reconnoitres us with the 
keen eyes of a born son of the hills. The dog trots 
forward, and with one paw raised watches us also, ready 
at a sign from his master to rush back to the hollow 
and drive the sheep on to the track. " Towerists, for 
zartain," remarks the shepherd to himself, and prepares 
for a wayside chat. The collie, only partly convinced 
by his master's attitude, gives a short, defiant yelp, and 
trots back to heel. As we reach the edge of the hollow, 
we see the flock making the best of their time, eagerly 
pulling out and chewing the grass, and expanding in a 
rapidly widening circle up the sloping sides. The 
glimpse of the predatory side of an Arcadian exist- 
ence becomes amusing. We feel that the approaching 
dialogue should take a classic form 

VIATOR. " Tell me, shepherd, whose flock is this ? 
Is it Melibceus' ? " 

SHEPHERD (politely, but conscious of being better 



172 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

informed). " No, zur ; 'em beant ; 'em be Mister 
Parkinses, zur ; the miller's sheep, zur, be at Up- 
Lambourne, zur." 

VIATOR (tartly). " Then if you and your sheep are 
here five minutes longer, we will run them all down to 
Cressington Pound." 

SHEPHERD (realizing the situation). "Great 
Apollo!" (or words to that effect.) 

[The dog rushes off at a wave of his master's hand ; 
in a minute the flock are back upon the track, and in 
three more the enemy appear a white diminishing patch 
upon the distant down.] 



173 



MARCH DAYS ON THE DOWNS 

GAME, and wild birds and beasts of all kinds show 
themselves more on a warm March day than at any 
other season. This is not because they are more 
numerous, for after the hardships of winter, and 
before the young are born, or the spring migrants 
have arrived, their numbers are at the lowest point 
in the year. Yet the bare fields and the edges of 
the copses seem to tempt every hare, crow, magpie, 
and hawk, to show themselves for a few days almost 
without fear of man. Even the tame cats leave 
the houses and gardens, and sit out in the meadows and 
on the sunny banks, neither hunting nor sleeping, but 
sitting up sedately enjoying the prospect, and licking 
their fur into summer glossiness. The dog-foxes do 
the same, though the vixens are already occupied in the 
care of their litters. On a rough hillside forming the 
outskirts of a park, dotted with patches of dried grass 
and brambles, I have often watched them at this 
time sitting up like a dog with ears erect and a 
boldness of demeanour which must be born of some 
vulpine recollection that the hunting-season comes to 



174 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

an end with the appearance of what the old huntsman 
called " them stinking violets," and that the days of 
peace and plenty are within measurable distance. 
Licking and cleaning their fur also occupies much of 
their sunny hours. No one who has watched them so 
engaged can believe that the fox is naturally an un- 
cleanly animal, in spite of the disagreeable scent which it 
bears. But during the hunting season they become so 
wary and suspicious that every kind of food is dragged 
into the earths to be devoured. The skins and refuse 
parts are not eaten, the earths become foul and tainted, 
and with the approach of spring they are deserted, 
except as a place of refuge. The vixen digs a hole for 
her litter in some fresh haunt, or scratches out a 
deserted rabbit-burrow, and the male fox revels in fresh 
air, wind, and sunlight. In the long dry grass in the 
hollows on the downs, where what was once arable land 
has turned into coarse pasture, their seats may be found 
in numbers, round neat nests which the fastidious fox 
changes every day. " Grass burning " is an exciting 
minor branch of husbandry at this time, harmless to the 
ground-birds, which have not yet begun to nest, and 
pretty to watch, as the low flames creep crackling over 
the dry haulm above, and leave the good green under- 
growth sprinkled with invigorating ashes. The March 
hares are wide-awake, and hop away to the adjacent 
slopes, whence they watch the progress of the flames 
with ears erect, and a very human look of curiosity. 
The partridges whirr off in pairs, and no one is the 
worse, except the singed and smoke-grimed bipeds 



MARCH DAYS ON THE DOWNS 175 

whose business it is with branches and sacks to keep the 
sides of the fire from spreading too near to stacks or 
fences. Yet while directing this operation the writer 
once singed a basking fox. The grass had been lighted 
and relighted for more than an hour, and the successful 
laying of a long train of straw had at last produced a 
line of fire a hundred yards across, which was travelling 
slowly across the wind. The fox had chosen for its 
lair a hollow full of long grass from which rubble had 
been dug at some distant date, and was either sound 
asleep or unwilling to move, until the fire had passed 
on either side of its lair. When it sprang up in the 
middle of the smoke it was for a moment bewildered, 
and dashed through the flames with its fur on end, and 
every hair on its brush stiff with fright. A long- 
legged setter which was watching the proceedings at 
once gave chase, and it was not until after a long and 
close course in the open that the fox recovered presence 
of mind to make for a fence, and with one or two of 
the apparently simple ruses by which the fox always 
bewilders the slower dog-wits, that the setter was 
baffled. In a long day spent on the hills at this time 
it is possible to find every head of game, and all the 
winged vermin in a thousand acres, by sitting quietly 
opposite the sheltered slopes, or near the copses. 
It is the only season at which animals are more rest- 
less than man ; their power of sitting still deserts them 
under the genial influence of the unaccustomed sun. 
By the time that the peewits have ceased circling and 
calling, the little brown dots, which may be either hares 



176 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

or clods, begin to move. The distant ones look redder 
and larger. Presently one rises, not at once, but 
gradually, till its round back shows against the down. 
It creeps forward and nibbles at the grass, and at last 
hops gently, down the slope. The rest take courage, 
and rise one by one ; others appear in unexpected 
quarters, until the hillside is dotted with their cautiously 
moving forms. One, bolder than the rest, dashes up 
to its mate, and before long the whole party are busy 
courting, the lady hares nibbling at the young grass, 
taking little excursions to try another tuft, sitting up to 
watch the landscape, and pretending to be quite absorbed 
in the weather, or in anything but the affairs of the 
moment, while their suitors skip, run circles, or hop 
meekly after them, protesting that they have come 
miles to see them across the downs, and cannot take 
" No " for an answer. Some are already mated ; but 
few of the young March leverets survive the dangers to 
which the short herbage and long light days expose 
them. The hungry sparrow-hawks, whose keen vision 
sees the tiny leveret far more quickly than the most 
practised human eye detects a bold March hare, must 
kill the greater number of these " rathe-born " litters. 
They seem to know the exact spots where the leverets 
are lying, and not to take them until such time as they 
consider to be necessary or convenient. While watching 
the hares at play and at the same time the progress of 
the horse-drills in a field in which spring corn was 
being sown, the writer observed a sparrow-hawk 
perched upon a tree, and also watching the progress of 



MARCH DAYS ON THE DOWNS 177 

the work. The ground was in perfect order, dry, soft, 
and fine, and the horses were stepping briskly across 
the smooth, fresh-harrowed soil. At either end stood 
the open sacks of grain, ready to fill the seed-boxes, 
and the steady wind drove a cloud of good March dust 
the dust of the field, not of the road from the drills 
like spin-drift from a cutter's prow. More than half 
the area was finished when the hawk dashed from its 
tree, swept up a leveret from the edge of the field, and 
killed it before the sowers could run to the rescue. It 
had bided its time until, seeing that its prey must be 
disturbed, it at once made a bold dash to secure it. 
The magpies, carrion-crows, brown owls, and white 
owls, as well as the wood-pigeons and rooks, are all 
building ; and by a curious coincidence, the largest of 
common English birds, the heron the smallest, the 
gold-crest and the most brilliant, the king-fisher all 
lay their eggs in March. The frogs and pike are also 
spawning, and in the general scarcity of food the 
banks of the ponds and slow streams are a happy 
hunting-ground to nearly all the larger birds. The 
" breaking of the waters " under the first hot suns fills 
the stagnant pools for a few days with a thick infusion 
of green or red algse . The mud smells, the frogs croak, 
the pike bask in pairs in the shallows, and as the water 
shrinks from the margin the carrion-crows are busy early 
and late in hunting for their favourite dainty, the fresh- 
water mussels. The meadows near the canal which flows 
through the White Horse Vale, and is there dignified 
by the name of the "river," are studded with the 



N 



178 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

beautiful oval bivalve shells, their mother-of-pearl 
lining pierced by the crows' beaks ; and near any 
favourite post or old stump, which the crows use as 
a dining-table, there is a pile of the dark-blue and opal 
fragments. It is not creditable to the rustic feeling 
for sport that the March shrinkage of the waters, 
which suggests to the crows their raids upon the 
mussels, usually prompts the whole village to a short- 
lived enthusiasm for " fishing." It never seems to 
occur to rustic anglers that autumn and winter are the 
proper seasons in which to take coarse fish. The sight 
of the young fry near the banks, and the big breeding 
pike in the shallows, sends every idle pair of hands with 
rods or poles to the stream. If the weather is un- 
usually dry, the fish may even be hauled out with a 
hay-rake ; and in any case, snares, or some " engine " 
not considered fair to the fish by anglers, is preferred. 
" Did you catch he with a snare ? " was the first inquiry 
we heard addressed to an urchin who was discovered 
cuddling a 6-lb.. pike in his arms like a baby. " No," 
replied the boy. " You groppled he ? " suggested 
another. " Got 'un with a hook ? " surmised a third. 
" Not exactly, " was the answer ; " I catched 'an 
wi' a bung. 1 ' The big fish had fallen victim to a 
night-line, fastened to the cork of a mineral-oil cask. 



179 



"KITING" ON THE DOWNS 

AFTER seven years' experience of the district, I 
may say without qualification that I have nowhere 
found partridges so impracticably wild late in the 
season as those bred on the high downs by the great 
White Horse. Apart from the known fact that hill 
partridges are generally stronger and fly further than 
those on lower and more sheltered ground, there are 
scarcely any fences on the downs ; consequently there 
are no local limits suggested to the birds' flight other 
than those given by the natural lie of the ground. In 
an inclosed country a few brace may always be had 
by an active walker, even when single-handed, as they 
can generally be got to " fence." Such at least was 
my experience in Suffolk, when we as boys often made 
a Christmas bag when sturdy but short-winded 
farmers had returned almost empty-handed. 

" Well, what sport have you had ? " inquired my 
old friend Mr. Tom Barrett, as we met him walking 
rather sulkily home with the claws of one partridge 
sticking out of his covert coat-pocket. 

" Oh, pretty good for us, thank you, Mr. Barrett," 



i8o ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

we replied, with the pride that apes humility ; " we 
have shot six red-legs and a hare." 

" Shot 'em ! " replied our friend, with bitter irony. 
" Shot 'em ! you don't shoot 'em, you walk 'em to 
dead ! " and he stamped off home. 

Whether this insinuation were true or not and we 
certainly did rather tire our birds neither shooting 
nor walking will command a bag in Berks in late 
December, and I have found that the only way to 
make sure of a few brace is to try the kite. This 
Christmas the frost fog settled on the hill, and the 
absence of wind to blow away mist and influenza 
made the kite impossible. But this was unusual. 

A day marked by all the good and evil of " kite- 
flying " was that on which Eton restored some 
thousand young gentlemen to " make the home 
brighter" during the Christmas holidays. One of 
these was expected by an early train a sporting 
youth of seventeen, who naturally did not wish to 
waste a minute of the precious time ; and to meet 
this view it was arranged to begin so soon as ever 
the dogcart could deposit him at the cross roads, 
ready to take instant part in the business of the hour. 
Tt was a nice bright day, with enough wind to fly 
the kite, and sun to make the birds rather less anxious 
to shift their quarters than usual. Two coveys even 
rose within a long shot under a fence as we were 
getting the machine into working order, and a lively 
runner was claimed by all three of the party as the 
result of a general discharge. The kite was duly 



' KITING' ON THE DOWNS 181 

hoisted in the ancient road known as the " Icledon 
Way," and soared up clear of all danger from the 
few scattered trees near ; and while it tugged and 
pulled at the string, it certainly looked very like 
some goblin falcon, as it swayed about and gazed 
with horrible scrutiny from its one eye on the ground 
beneath. The little tags in the tail danced and hovered 
like small birds mobbing a hawk ; and a flock of 
rooks in a neighbouring field flew off into the vale 
in consternation at the invasion of so awful a fowl. 
Most people, when the kite is once up, fancy that the 
difficulties connected with its working are over. 
Though we did not quite share this view, the country 
before us was so easy, being a long and gradual ascent 
of four hundred feet with no timber, and a flat hill-top 
bare of trees beyond it, that we allowed the string to 
pass into the hands of a volunteer, who was an excellent 
farm bailiff, and rather jumped at the notion of working 
the kite for a few hours. It was not long before we 
discovered that the kite-flying part of his education had 
been neglected in his youth. 

Before going up the hill we wished to try a large 
stubble field, on which several coveys were feeding. 
In the middle of this stood two large isolated elm 
trees ; and we had not worked half the field before 
we were horrified to see the kite string caught in 
the largest and least " climbable " of the two. The 
kite struggled, fluttered, and then descended gracefully, 
casting the whole length of its tail across the topmost 
branchlets of the elm. 



i8 2 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

Now the trunk of the elm was large, and the lower 
branches had been carefully trimmed, so that there 
was nothing for it but " swarming " a tiring exertion 
in any costume, and made worse in this case by one's 
heavy shooting boots. The tallest of the party, who 
was rather an expert at tree climbing, made the sacrifice, 
and, after a desperate effort, perched himself among 
the branches, some fifteen feet from the ground. But 
when he had reached the tree top, so far as that was 
possible for a man of his weight, the kite was still 
out of reach, so nicely was it balanced on the outer 
branches. We then sent for a ladder and a saw, and 
an active young labourer, who brought both, clambered 
up into the tree, and sawed the main branch, on which 
the kite was hung. But, as I waited, with our Etonian, 
at the foot, I suddenly saw an expression of alarm 
in the face of the latter, and, looking up, beheld the 
lad, who found sawing rather a slow job, " laying out," 
as the sailors say, along the half-cut limb to try and 
reach the kite. This was too exciting for our nerves, 
so we ordered him back, and, after a few minutes' 
vigorous sawing, the branch and kite came down 
together, without damage to the former. 

Most people will agree that so far we had had our 
share of ill-luck. The hitch in the tree cost us an 
hour's delay. We had not started till eleven, and 
thus it was twelve o'clock before we could get under 
way again ; worse than this, the tiring climb put one 
of the party off his shooting, and the fuss occasioned 
by the whole incident upset us all. 



'KITING' ON THE DOWNS 183 

But straight shooting is never more wanted than 
with the kite. Birds fly fast, low, and twisting, and 
in this case there was a nice wind to help them, so 
that we soon had to laugh at ourselves and congratulate 
the birds. 

Making straight for the hill-top, we passed over 
some long sloping stubbles, and before long one of the 
party held up his hand. " Come up quick," he said ; 
" there is a whole covey squatting in this pit," and he 
pointed to a slight hollow in front of him, from which 
chalk had been taken. " Spring them," we said ; and 
then watched him carefully pick up a clod, and shy 
it at the birds. Up they all jumped, with no end of 
a screeching and cackle, and then did our friend care- 
fully miss them right and left. 

After some remarks by an old shepherd who had 
joined us, to the effect that " when 'em's scared 'em 
twistes, and when 'em twistes 'em's bad to hit," we 
got the kite over a field of swedes. Now, a swede 
field in December, after the frost, means so many 
acres of hard round balls, with no leaf on top. But, 
bad as it was, it was the only cover we had, and the 
birds were there. Like prudent creatures, though 
afraid to fly, they ran as far as they could ; and it was 
not till we got to the extreme edge that we had a rise. 
Then at least forty were flushed at once. Most flew 
low and fast, twisting ; others rose high and went back, 
and one old cock waited till all our barrels were empty, 
and then got up with all the dignity possible and flew 
down the line. And what was the result of our volley ? 



184 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

Alas, two birds only ; the pace had apparently been 
too much for us. 

We then moved on to another swede field, and 
found that, as in the first, the birds had all run to 
the edge. Here we made the mistake of working the 
down-wind side first. The kite-flyer walked down 
the windward edge of the swedes, and soon flushed two 
big coveys, which flew away somewhere into the next 
parish but one. We then drew out, and taking up that 
side, had two good rises and bagged a leash ! If the 
powder had only been decently straight, it should have 
been four brace. By this time it was past two o'clock, 
and the sun was already sinking towards the back of 
the White Horse Hill, and the misty vapours filling 
the hollow by Seven Barrows. 

After tying up our kite, and eating some luncheon 
by a barn, we concluded to try some high rough grass 
for hares, and then have another turn at the birds. 
There is something very exhilarating in walking this 
high uncultivated land, far from houses, except scattered 
shepherds' cottages, and surrounded with memorials 
of a dead past in the shape of barrows and ancient 
camps. The hares were pretty numerous, and un- 
commonly wild ; nevertheless, we shot three, and 
eventually a fourth. This last hare went on hard hit, 
but going fast ; then, after travelling one hundred and 
fifty yards up hill, it gave three bounds and tumbled 
Over stone dead. 

We next unfastened our kite and tried some more 
swede fields. It occurred to me that, as we had sprung 



'KITING' ON THE DOWNS 185 

nothing but large coveys in the morning, we might 
have walked over some smaller lots. So we let the 
setter range, which had hitherto walked at heel ; he 
very soon stood, and five birds rose. Of these our 
Etonian had a right and left, and I one, a fourth 
going on and towering over a copse, where we lost 
him. In the next field we rose two more coveys ; but 
these were wilder, and we only had one bird. 

By this time we had descended below the ancient 
" ridge-way," which marks the crest of the downs for 
forty miles, and the wind greatly lessened in force, 
so that the kite descended gently into a swede field on 
the steepest part of the hill- side. Then occurred a 
curious incident : one of the party went on to raise 
the kite, and, laying down his gun, stooped to pick 
up the mock falcon, while I took the string some forty 
yards away and higher up the slope. But as he stooped 
up bounced a covey all round him ; so close were 
they, that he picked up his gun and shot the last 
bird. 

It was evident that the kite had fallen right into 
the middle of these birds. They, true to their instinct, 
kept still. But when the wingless enemy, man, came 
among them, they flew. Of course the birds are quite 
right in their tactics. A peregrine is quite harmless 
as long as they are on the ground ; and they seem to 
know it. But the sparrow-hawk will attack birds when 
running, if not when squatting. I witnessed this when 
shooting in Suffolk with my brother, Mr. J. G. Cornish, 
in severe winter weather. We were shooting red-legs 



i86 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

in the snow, which had frozen on the top and enabled 
those wary birds to run, though they were of course 
very easily seen. We were watching a brace making 
across a roughly ploughed field, where the snow lay in 
the furrows and the ridges were bare, when a sparrow- 
hawk dashed from a tree, pitched beside the leading 
bird, and grabbed him by the back with one foot. 
The two scuffled along together for a couple of yards, 
and then the partridge shook himself clear, and got 
into .the fence. Nor were his nerves at all upset by the 
encounter, for he got out of it before we could come 
within shot of him, and made ofF. 

We killed another bird coming down the hill, and 
then wound in our kite, in case we might have another 
difficulty with the tree, having only bagged twelve 
birds and four hares. But if the powder had been 
straight, we ought to have doubled that number. 

On the whole, shooting with a kite is unsatisfactory 
work. It is a nuisance to have a machine out shooting ; 
and if it goes wrong or gets hung up, it disconcerts 
most people for the day. But if it is used, the success 
of the day will depend mainly on the judgment with 
which the man in charge of the kite works it. This 
means experience, and my own is not sufficient to allow 
me to dogmatize. 




J 
; 



i8 7 



WILD RABBIT FARMING 

THE growth of " Wild England " has been going on 
by leaps and bounds during the years in which the price 
of wheat and oats have maintained their steady decline. 
It would be a most interesting experiment for the 
County Councils of the home districts to issue a map, 
on which the land withdrawn, not only from the plough, 
but from any form of cultivation, and running wild, 
was coloured in a bold tint and plain to the eye. Most 
of this will turn into rough pasture of a sort ; but the 
question of how to gather some revenue from it 
meantime is a pressing one. Much of this land, 
especially that on the Berkshire downs, is thin light 
soil, well suited for the rearing of game ; and as 
sporting rights let well, and the ground which rears 
partridges and rabbits is also suitable for running rough 
stock and sheep upon in winter, the new wilderness 
is likely to be fairly well peopled with its natural 
inhabitants. In some places wild rabbit farming has 
been taken up seriously. A partner in one of the 
large London provision stores told the writer that he 
had turned part of a farm in Essex which he had 



1 88 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

taken to graze cattle on when the state of the market 
made it desirable to keep them for a few weeks before 
being turned into beef into a rabbit farm, and that with 
the sale which he could secure, it answered well. This 
is a new departure in English rural economy. 

The proverb that " what is one man's poison may 
be another man's meat " could not be better illustrated 
than by a comparison of an interesting little book on 
The Wild Rabbit in a New Aspect^ by Mr. Simpson, 
Wood Agent to Lord WharnclifFe's estate, near Shef- 
field, with the mass of rabbit literature which has 
appeared in Colonial Blue-books and Reports during 
the past few years. No one who is at all familiar with 
the feelings of resentment, irritation, and despair which 
find their way into Colonial prints on this subject can 
doubt that the character of the rabbit needs white- 
washing badly. It is said that any person convicted 
of bringing the wild rabbit to any port of Cape Colony 
would be lynched as certainly as a Negro murderer of 
a White in the Southern States of America. In New 
Zealand, the sheep-farmer drives from one log-cabin 
to another on his " run " with a cartful of cats in 
cages, which are deposited at each, and taught to earn 
a living by keeping down the rabbit-plague. The 
demand for cats, fostered by the increase of the rabbits, 
even disturbs the domestic circle, when hearth-rug 
favourites of known home-keeping habits mysteriously 

1 The Wild Rabbit in a New Aspect ; or, Rabbit Warrens that 
Pay. By J. Simpson, Wood Agent, Wortley Hall, Sheffield. 
London : Blackwood and Sons. 



WILD RABBIT FARMING 189 

disappear, and bereaved housewives, on comparing 
notes, find a suspicious correspondence between the rise 
in the prices offered by the advertising farmers and the 
sudden loss of their household pets. In Australia, the 
rabbit has learnt a new accomplishment. In California 
it has forgotten an old one. The Australian rabbit has 
developed long claws, and climbs the scrub with ease, 
in order to eat the leaves when grass is scarce. In 
California it has forgotten how to burrow ; and 
recently a rising en masse of the inhabitants of a 
rabbit-infested district succeeded by driving the crea- 
tures by thousands into an inclosure, where they were 
destroyed without a chance of escape. But in all the 
Colonies and even in most parts of Germany, where 
the people will not eat rabbits, declaring that the meat 
was " too sweet " the rabbit is looked upon as a pest, 
to be exterminated if possible, and so unremunerative 
as food as not to pay the wages of the men employed 
in its destruction. The " Ground Game Act," recently 
passed in England, reflected some such general feeling 
among our own middle and lower classes ; and in many 
parts of the country where wild rabbits formerly 
swarmed they have completely disappeared. The 
contrary opinion, maintained within limits by Mr. 
Simpson, comes with a certain recommendation from 
the position and employment of its author. In the 
first place, " he comes from Yorkshire," writing from 
the park of Lord Wharncliffe, at Wortley Hall, near 
Sheffield, where his experiments were made ; and in 
the next he is a " wood-agent," or manager of growing 



i 9 o ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

timber, young and old, upon a large estate, and, of 
course, looks upon rabbits at large as his natural 
enemies. His record of the means by which these 
creatures on a very large estate were maintained within 
bounds, and yet available as a source both of profit and 
sport, is all the more interesting. The Wortley warren 
consists of very old park-pasture, which had always 
been overrun with rabbits, on which the herbage was 
in many parts very poor and rough. Seventy-seven 
acres of this were surrounded by a cheap rabbit-proof 
fence, enclosing a strip of old wood, mostly of oak, 
with an undergrowth of elder, rhododendrons, and 
bracken. It is curious to notice that though the 
warren, which was divided by a wagon-road, was 
provided with artificial burrows on the side opposite to 
this wood, it took the rabbits a whole year to find 
them out ; and for the first twelve months they fed 
almost wholly on the half of the pasture which 
adjoined their burrows. In the first year, 3000 good 
live rabbits were caught. Meantime, every other 
rabbit on the estate had been destroyed ; and the 
annoyance of damage to woodlands and complaints 
from tenants ceased. For the succeeding three years 
the same average yield of 3000 rabbits has been main- 
tained, in addition to which cattle have been fed on the 
warren to the value of 100 per annum. But 
omitting this source of profit, the ground has for four 
years produced over 40 rabbits per acre. The author 
makes the total 50 ; but this does not correspond 
with the figures in his acreage. But this is far beyond 



WILD RABBIT FARMING 191 

' the return on less carefully managed or neglected 
warrens, where an average of from 15 to 20 rabbits 
per acre is by no means common. The expense of the 
Wortley warren is not stated as clearly as could be 
wished. But the returns from an " experimental acre," 
specially fenced-in and stocked with a view to ascer- 
taining the number of rabbits which the standard acre 
would support, are given as follow 

Manure, lime, hay, labour, and interest on 

fencing at 5 per cent. ... ... ... i 10 o 

Rent, rates, and taxes ... ... ... i 14 o 



Total cost ^3 4 o 

Off this acre no rabbits were netted, whose market- 
value was is. \d. per couple, giving a gross profit of 
6 4,9. 4.d., and a net profit of 3 4$. 4^. per acre. 
It will be noticed that the number taken from this 
experimental acre was nearly three times that produced 
by the same quantity of ground in the large warren. 
On the other hand, the expenses of fencing and labour 
for the larger area would be far less in proportion than 
on the smaller ; and the writer gives it as his opinion 
that, were he allowed to keep a larger breeding-stock 
at the end of the season his return over the whole 77 
acres of the warren would not fall far below that of his 
experimental enclosure. Two facts in connection with 
wild-rabbit culture in England appear from the data 
which we have referred to. The creature is far less 
prolific in England than in the " new countries," where 
it now swarms in such uncontrollable numbers ; and it 



192 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

enjoys a reputation as delicate food among the working 
class of the North and of the large towns, which makes 
it always saleable at a high price. The wild rabbit, in 
a ivarren, does not multiply as it is reported to do in 
the Australian runs. A pair in an isolated burrow 
might, the author considers, produce 20 young in the 
season, which lasts from February till September ; but 
in a warren, not overstocked, 10 young is the highest 
number which can be expected from a single pair. In 
reference to the great demand for rabbits, the author 
writes : " In all towns and populous districts the 
demand is practically unlimited, and has increased since 
the Ground Game Act came into force. It might be 
supposed that the market would be glutted when the 
shooting season is in full swing, and thousands of 
rabbits are sold daily from many estates ; but that is 
not the case, and game-dealers compete keenly with 
each other for the chance of securing the rabbits at 
shootings, and will attend and move them if shot, and 
pay cash down for them if required. The dealers find 
ready buyers at from 2s. 6d. to 3,9. 6d. per couple, and 
a little less for the smallest and worst shot. But a 
considerably better price can be had for hand-killed 
rabbits than for shot ones." There can be no doubt 
that rabbits are the favourite luxury of the poor ; and 
though we should be inclined to rate the constant 
market-value at from 2s. to is. 6d. per couple, rather 
than at the higher value given above, there is never any 
difficulty in disposing of them in any quantity, and at a 
constant price. 



WILD RABBIT FARMING 193 

The reasons for the economic failure of rabbit-warrens 
hitherto are not far to seek. Opinion on the subject of 
the wild rabbit has long pronounced that any land the 
worse the better suits rabbits ; and when this has been 
well stocked the pasture is left, without manure, or 
lime, or any of those restorative agents which are 
necessary to replace the waste caused by the sale of the 
rabbits which have built up their active little bodies 
from the produce of the soil. The result is that the 
catch grows yearly less, and the land is pronounced to 
be "rabbit-sick." Rabbit farming can only be con- 
ducted successfully just on the same conditions as any 
other form of stock-raising, with this exception, that 
the habits of the rabbit make it peculiarly suitable for 
such a purpose. It is, perhaps, the least wasteful feeder 
among all the rodent tribe. Unlike the hare, which is 
dainty and particular, and causes more damage to crops 
by wandering from place to place to satisfy its whims 
and fancies than by the actual needs of its appetite, the 
rabbits move slowly forward from the edge of the 
covert or burrow, going over the same ground every 
day. If the burrows are properly distributed over the. 
warren, the rabbits will eat the grass down as it grows, 
keeping it short throughout the summer. If they do 
not, the warren is either ill-arranged or under-stocked. 
A few months cover the whole feeding period ; and by 
the beginning of November most of the rabbits should 
be caught, and only the breeding-stock left through the 
winter, which can be provided with artificial food at 
little expense in long frosts or snow. Thus, beyond 



i 9 4 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

keeping up the fences and catching the rabbits, for 
whose wholesale and painless capture the author gives 
an ingenious and simple device in use at Wortley Park, 
there is little expenditure either on labour or food ; and 
the cost of protecting the warren against poachers need 
only extend through the spring and summer, before the 
young stock has been caught, for no one would think it 
worth while to attempt to catch the few rabbits left to 
breed in the winter. The only point of which we have 
to complain in Mr. Simpson's statement is, that his 
figures are less full and detailed than could be wished 
in what is otherwise a very suggestive and practical 
work. Rabbits are clearly in demand ; and the time is 
ripe for such an experiment as he suggests, which would 
probably yield a fair profit until the " rabbit pest " in 
the New World is converted into a source of wealth 
by some gigantic " canning " industry for the supply of 
the English market. 



I 95 



BIRDS IN THE FROST FOG 

"And now there came both mist and snow, 

And it grew wondrous cold." Ancient Mariner. 

THE sufferings which fell on the Ancient Mariner 
and his comrades for the wanton killing of the albatross 
were the penalty of a bird murder of the most aggra- 
vated kind, for in killing the albatross they broke the 
bond of an alliance formed between comrades in mis- 
fortune. The sea-bird suffered from the fog and mist 
in the same degree and in the same way as did the lost 
ship's crew. They saw in the bird a comrade, and the 
bird found in the ship and its crew both society and a 
home 

"At length did cross an Albatross, 

Through the fog it came ; 
As it had been a Christian soul, 
We hailed it in God's name. 

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud, 

It perched for vespers nine ; 
Whilst all the night, through fog-smoke white, 

Glimmered the bright moonshine. 

It ate the food it ne'er had eat, 

And round and round it flew. 
The ice did split with a thunder fit, 

And the helmsman steered us through ! " 



196 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

Poets have an instinctive feeling for the truth of 
natural life, and Coleridge caught and developed the 
probability that the bird was baffled and bewildered by 
the mist as well as the crew, and so heightened the 
feeling of good-will between the sailors and the white 
bird of the sea. For birds even more than mankind 
suffer in continued fogs and mist, even without the cold 
that generally accompanies or causes them. Men, and 
all things that walk, can usually find their way from 
point to point by working from one well-known land- 
mark to the next. But a bird flying in the mist is like 
a ship in the sea-fog. The dull, grey cloud lies 
between it and the earth, and shuts out all guiding- 
marks from view ; and when once it has lost its bear- 
ings, it becomes hopeless and distracted. This is more 
especially the case at sea, or on open plains or downs, 
and even in the homestead they seem torpid and afraid 
to move. The Berkshire peasants have a word for the 
condition of bees just before winter. They are said to 
be " droo," and this exactly describes the condition of 
the pigeons and fowls, especially the former, in a long 
frost fog. During such weather the white pigeons 
sit all day long under the dovecote eaves, huddled up 
as if asleep, not even coming to the ground to look 
for food ; and on the high downs, where the frost -fog 
drifts all day like frozen smoke, neither the cry of a 
bird nor the stroke of a wing is to be heard. Great is 
the silence of the mist. No horses are at plough, the 
sheep are down in the straw-yards, and the wide hill- 



BIRDS IN THE FROST FOG 197 

tops are all smoke and darkness. It is like the atmo- 
sphere before Ovid's cave of sleep 

" Nebulae caligine mixtse 
Exhalantur humo, dubiaeque crepuscula lucis." 

Cobbett calls these fogs " dry clouds." But they are 
not always dry ; oftener they condense on vegetation, 
and make everything dripping wet. Their area is very 
capricious. For many days in January, 1888, the vales 
were filled with dusky rolling vapour, rising to a level 
of 700 ft., while the hill-tops were in bright sunlight. 
Yet the larks and starlings and wood-pigeons dare not 
venture through the fog in search of the bright weather 
above it. The vapour condensed on green wood, but 
not on dead, and the woodlands were dripping and 
uncomfortable. The wood-pigeons were afraid to 
venture from the plantations, and remained in them all 
day, drowsy and stupid ; and pheasants, which run in 
search of their food, and so feel no danger of being 
lost, did, in fact, wander away for miles, and scattered 
from their head-quarters in the preserves all over the 
country. On the downs, when a sudden drop of 
temperature covered the hill also with fog, and turned 
the water-drops on the trees into crystal tears, the birds 
all retired to the copses of beech and spruce-fir, and if 
disturbed, would flap on in scores for a short distance, 
or wheel back into the copse behind the intruder, not 
daring to leave the trees for the murky darkness of the 
fog. At such times, even the frequent discharge of a 
gun has fewer terrors for them than the unknown 



198 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

dangers of the mist, and numbers of these birds are 
shot in small plantations. But though this unusual 
tameness is partly due to their reluctance to leave 
the landmark of the wood, they have also another 
reason. Birds, looking down into the fog, as it lies 
below them with the solid earth for a backing, have 
far more difficulty in seeing objects beneath them, and 
so avoiding danger from below, than we have in dis- 
tinguishing their forms against the sky, which must 
always be the lightest object even in thick fogs. The 
writer and a friend had once some curious evidence of 
the additional difficulty and danger to which fog 
exposes birds. We had gone up on to the top of the 
downs, where a long copse skirted the road, partly to 
see the curious effect of these mists freezing on the 
beech-trees, partly in hopes of shooting a couple of the 
wood-pigeons which had been eating the turnip-tops in 
safety during the open weather. , For some time, how- 
ever, the mist was so black that we could see little, and 
the pigeons, which were mostly in another and more 
distant plantation, were afraid to move. Soon, how- 
ever, though the fog hung as thickly as ever on the 
ground, it was evident that there was a clearing in the 
vapours higher up, for the tops of some poplar-trees 
which grew by the side of the beech-copse, and rose 
some thirty feet above the level of the rest, could be 
seen bright with sunlight. These branches must have 
stood out from the dark sea of mist as trees do in a 
flood, and probably presented some such appearance to 
the pigeons. For the flocks, which soon began to fly 



BIRDS IN THE FROST FOG 199 

about in the welcome light, settled on these trees, 
although we were standing below them. But we must 
have been quite "Invisible to the birds, for though we 
shot as many as we wanted, fresh numbers constantly 
arrived on the trees at the foot of which we stood in 
the open road. In this road, which was very cold and 
skirted by the copse, the. fog hung closer than else- 
where, which perhaps accounted for our invisibility. 
On another occasion, the writer came across a bird 
really "lost in the fog." It was at Moor Allerton, 
near Leeds, a village which stands on a high hill, 
crowned by a large wood. By the road near the wood 
stood one or two of what were then the last gas-lamps 
of the town. Though it was not late in the afternoon, 
the fog was so thick that these were lighted, and round 
one of them was flying a large bird, either a wood- 
pigeon or a stock-dove, which had probably lost its 
way as it was making for the wood, and was helplessly 
flying round the twinkling light. It continued to do 
so as long as the writer cared to wait, but must have 
gone on later, as it had disappeared when he returned. 

Wild geese, which like the wood-pigeons are most 
wary birds, often become very tame, and even be- 
wildered, in a fog. St. John used to shoot them easily 
in the bay of Findhorn in such weather, waiting till 
they flew inland, when they would come cackling just 
over his head. But the oddest story of geese in the 
fog comes from Norfolk, and was told to Mr. Steven- 
son, the author of The Birds of Norfolk^ by the Rev. 
,H. T. Frere. A large flock of geese were attracted to 



200 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

the town of Diss on a foggy night by the lights, and 
from the sound of their voices seemed to fly scarcely 
higher than the tops of the houses. They came about 
seven P.M., and as it was Sunday evening, they appeared 
to be especially attracted by the lights in the church, 
and their incessant clamour not a little disturbed the 
congregation assembled for evening service. From that 
time until two A.M., when the fog cleared off and they 
departed, they continued to fly round and round utterly 
bewildered. One bird happened to fly so low as to 
strike a gas-lamp outside the town probably, like the 
pigeon at Leeds, it was flying round the light just as 
a policeman was passing by, who very properly, as the 
bird was making a great ncise outside a public-house, 
took it into custody ; and the next day it was with 
equal propriety sent off to a private lunatic asylum at 
Melton, where it lived for some years an honoured 
guest. 

Rooks and partridges do not seem to alter their 
habits in the fog so much as other birds that seek their 
living in the open country. Partridges are, if anything, 
wilder than ever ; and if the rooks keep nearer home 
than usual, they by no means refuse to fly ; their wings 
make a great noise in the silence of the fog, and often 
the first notice of their presence is the flapping of the 
damp wings as they make off suddenly before the 
unwelcome presence of man. But all other wild birds 
keep still and moping till the darkness goes. The 
deprivation of light, which affects all animals so much, 
is particularly depressing to birds ; and this may be 






BIRDS IN THE FROST FOG 201 

another reason for their unwillingness to move in the 
frost fog. Naturally they are the first to welcome its 
departure. As the mist lifts from a Scotch hill-side, 
the cock-grouse begin to crow ; and in the English 
fields, the rooks caw, the small birds twitter, and the 
cocks crow in the barn-yards. These sounds are as 
certain to proclaim the lifting of the fog as the 
" London cries " to begin when the rain stops. 



202 



ENGLISH ANIMALS IN SNOW 

(THE "WHITE HORSE" DOWNS) 

As the first snow fell this year gently, steadily, and 
by day, instead of rushing upon us in a midnight 
storm, the sheep, not waiting until it pleased the snow- 
demon either to bury them or to pass on to mischief 
elsewhere, drew together facing the wind, and stamped 
the snow down incessantly as it fell, just as they stamp 
their feet when facing a strange dog, but far more 
rapidly and continuously. Some of them were lambs 
of the year, that had never seen a snow-fall. Yet 
these creatures, so long domesticated, untaught by 
experience, were by instinct using the same means to 
combat the snow, their greatest enemy, as does the wild 
moose in the Canadian backwoods. The moose would 
perish like the sheep in the drifts, if the herds did not 
combine to trample out the " moose-yards " ; and these 
sturdy Southdowns were showing exactly the same 
instinct in an English park. 

But snow generally catches our animals unprepared 
all but the hedgehog, who is comfortably asleep, rolled 
up in a coat of leaves, and they are put to all kinds of 



ENGLISH ANIMALS IN SNO W 203 

shifts to find food and escape their enemies. The more 
open and exposed the districts, the greater their diffi- 
cult ies. Where there are thick woods and hedgerows, 
and, above all> running water, birds and beasts alike can 
find dry earth in which to peck and scratch, or green 
things to nibble, and water to drink. But on the 
great chalk-downs, a heavy snow-storm seems to drive 
from the open country every living creature that dares 
to move at all. For the first day after a heavy fall, 
the hares, which allow the snow to cover them, all but 
a tiny hole made by their warm breath, do not stir. 
Only towards noon, if the sun shines out, they make a 
small opening to face its beams, and perhaps another in 
the afternoon, at a different angle to the surface, to 
catch the last slanting rays. Walking across the fields 
after a violent snow-storm in January, the writer stepped 
on a hare, though the field showed one level stretch of 
driven snow ; and later in the day, from the brow of a 
steep, narrow valley, the sun-holes made by the hares 
were easily marked on the opposite ridge. Four or 
five were discovered in this way ; and on disturbing 
them, it was found that each had its two windows, 
one facing the south, the second and longer tunnel 
pointing further to the west, and at a sharper angle to 
the surface. But hunger soon forces the hares to leave 
their snug snow-house ; in the bitter nights, as the, icy 
wind sweeps through the thin beech-copses on the 
downs, and piles up huge ice-puddings of drifted snow 
and beech- leaves, they canter off down into the vale, 
to eat the cabbages in the cottage-gardens, and nibble 



204 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

the turnips in the heaps opened to feed the sheep in 
the straw-yards. Squirrels, which are often supposed to 
hibernate, only retire to their nests in very severe and 
prolonged frosts. A slight fall of snow only amuses 
them, and they will come down from their trees and 
scamper over the powdery heaps with immense enjoy- 
ment. What they do not like is the snow on the 
leaves and branches, which falls in showers as they 
jump from tree to tree, and betrays them to their 
enemies, the country boys. During a mild winter 
they even neglect to make a central store of nuts, and 
instead of storing them in big hoards near the nest, 
just drop them into any convenient hole they know of 
near. A pair took possession of an old, well-timbered 
garden in Berkshire, and when they found out, as they 
very soon did, that they were not to be disturbed, 
continued during the mild, open weather to exhibit a 
reckless improvidence quite at variance with squirrel 
tradition. In October they stripped the old nut-trees, 
but flung the greater number of the nuts on to the 
ground. Later in the autumn they spent the greater 
part of each morning collecting and burying horse- 
chestnuts, not in any proper store, but in all sorts of 
places, among the roots of rose-bushes, under the 
palings of the lawn, or in the turf under a big tulip- 
tree. Almost every knot-hole in the trees of the 
orchard and walks had a chestnut or walnut poked 
into it ; but there was no attempt to bring them 
together for a cold-weather magazine : and they even 
had the impudence to dig up crocus-bulbs under the 



ENGLISH ANIMALS IN SNO W 205 

windows, and leave them scattered over the lawn. 
Then came the snow, and the improvident squirrels 
had to set to work at once and call in all these 
scattered investments at an alarming sacrifice, for the 
nuthatches very soon found out their carelessly hidden 
property and made off with it. Fortunately the snow 
soon melted, or they might have been reduced to short 
rations. 

Like the squirrels, rabbits seem rather to enjoy the 
snow at first. Like many men, they require a dry, 
bracing atmosphere, and sea-breezes and frost suit 
them ; and the morning after a snowfall their tracks 
show where they have been scratching and playing 
in it all night. But after a deep fall they are soon 
in danger of starving. Though not particular as to 
quality, they like their meals "reg'lar," and with 
all the grass covered with a foot of snow their main 
supply of food is cut off. If there is a turnip-field 
near, they will scratch away the snow to the roots, 
and soon destroy the crop. If not, or if the surface 
of the snow is frozen hard, the hungry bunnies strip 
the bark from the trees and bushes. In the long 
frost of February, 1888, we saw nothing but bare 
white wood in the fences near the warrens. Ivy bark 
seemed their favourite food, and even the oldest stems 
were stripped, making a white network against the 
trunks of the big trees. Even these did not quite 
escape, for though the lower bark was too hard and 
dry even for the rabbits, broken limbs of a foot in 
diameter, smashed by the weight of snow, were peeled 



206 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

to the bare wood. In some places the rabbits had 
first stripped the bark from the lower part of a clipped 
thorn fence ; then mounted to the top and nibbled 
the shoots ; and lastly, using the thick top as a seat, 
had nibbled the ivy bark from the trees in the hedge- 
row, eight feet from the ground. It is easy to guess 
what damage the starving rabbits do in young planta- 
tions, if the drifted snow enables them to scramble 
over the wire fencing. 

When snow melts on the grass, any one may notice 
a number of dead, frozen earth-worms lying on the 
flattened sward. This may account for a habit which 
moles have of working just between the earth and 
snow. When the thaw comes, the lower half of the 
burrow may be seen for yards along the surface of 
the ground, unless the upper crust was frozen before 
the snow fell. While all the harmless animals are 
obliged to spend the greater part of the day and night 
seeking food, their enemies profit exceedingly. The 
stoats and weasels find that they have only to prowl 
down the stream-side to catch any number of thrushes 
and soft-billed birds which crowd the banks where 
the water melts the snow, and little piles of feathers 
and a drop or two of red on the snow show where 
the fierce little beasts have murdered here a redwing 
and there a wagtail, or even a water-hen. The tracks 
show well their method of hunting. Once we followed 
the tracks of a fox for a long distance from a large 
earth on the downs. He had begun by visiting a farm 
near, going round all the ricks, and then close to the 



ENGLISH ANIMALS IN SNOW . 207 

house. Apparently he had been frightened, for he 
had gone off at a gallop. Then after keeping along 
a high, steep bank where there was a chance of finding 
a lark roosting in the rough grass at the edge, he 
had diverged to examine a patch of dead nettles which 
had sprung up round a weed-heap. Next he had 
gone off for half-a-mile in a straight line to a barn, 
and there, after examining every bush and straw-rick, 
had caught a rat or a mouse, and then gone off into 
the vale. Not far off was his return track. He had 
gone a short distance on the track of a hare, but 
apparently had found a good supper before then, for 
in a few yards he had abandoned the trail and gone 
straight back to the earth. The same day we found 
the traces of a tragedy in rabbit-life : the footmarks 
of several bunnies just outside a thick brake, the traces 
of a fox creeping cautiously up the hedgerow between 
them and their earths, and the fox's rush from the 
bushes, ending in a broad mark in the snow, where a 
rabbit had been seized, leaving only a few bits of 
grey hair scattered about as memorials for his family. 
Walking along the road through the flat meadows 
one snowy night, we were startled by the noise of 
a covey of partridges rising and cackling the other 
side of the hedge. A fox had sprung right among 
the covey, but apparently missed his mark, as the 
next moment he crossed the road in front of us. 
Water-shrews, water-rats, and otters all dislike frost 
and snow, more, perhaps, because the streams are 
frozen, and food more difficult to obtain along the 



208 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

banks than from any inconvenience the snow causes 
them. The otters, even if the rivers do not freeze, 
have a difficulty in finding the fish, which in cold 
weather sink into the deepest pools, and, in the case 
of eels, tench, and carp, which form the main food 
of the otter in the slow rivers of the eastern and south- 
eastern counties, burrow in the mud. So the otters 
go down to the sea-coast for the cold weather, and 
making their homes in the coast-caves or old wooden 
jetties and wharves, live on the dabs and flounders 
of the estuaries. Rats also often migrate to the coast 
in snow-time and pick up a disreputable livelihood 
among the rubbish of the shore. Of all effects of 
weather, snow makes the greatest change in animal 
economy in the country-side, and weeks often pass 
before the old order is restored. 



209 



RUSTIC NATURALISTS 

THE erection of the memorial to Richard JefFeries in 
Salisbury Cathedral, and the raising of a fund for the 
benefit of his family, are additional evidence of the 
favour with which the public looks upon the work of 
the prose-poet of the Downs country. His birthplace 
at Cote Farm has even become a place of pilgrimage ; 
and his admirers doubtless imagine that they trace in 
the old farmhouse, and the daily life of its inmates, the 
natural and appropriate environment of a consummate 
writer on the wild life of the fields. 

The inference is a very natural one. But if such a 
life and such surroundings thus predispose the mind 
to see what JefFeries saw, and to interpret nature as he 
interpreted it, why is it, we may ask, that so few of the 
writers who have treated of these subjects have sprung 
from the class to which JefFeries belonged ? And why 
in the instances in which they have been born the 
sons of small farmers, or labouring men, have they been 
so reluctant to abide among the scenes which they 
and JefFeries so charmingly described ? Thomas 
Bewick is one of the few instances of a farm-bred 

p 



210 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE . 

naturalist returning by an uncontrollable impulse to live 
near the scenes of his boyhood. " I would rather be 
herding sheep on Mickley Bank top," he wrote home, 
" than be one of the richest citizens of London." But 
Cobbett, the son of a labourer, abandoned the village 
when a lad ; the Howicks, like the late Edward Bates, 
were citizens of " fair Nottingham," and Gilbert 
White, Charles Kingsley, and Waterton, were parsons 
or squires. Jefferies himself, like Cobbett, longed to 
shake off his early associations, and his mad enterprise 
of a walk to Russia when a boy, and failing that, of 
crossing the Atlantic, was only prevented by want of 
means. To the last he would rather have been a 
novelist than a naturalist, and declared that he knew 
London quite as well as he did the country. No 
doubt the sense of contrast so presented, painted the 
beauties of the country in more vivid colours in the 
mind of Jefferies, as in that of Cobbett. But it will be 
found that the rustic naturalist does not, except in rare 
instances, spring from the classes who spend their 
serious life in the fields. For the common labourer, 
his daily toil is too severe ; for the farmer, the prac- 
tical problems are too exacting. How exacting that 
strain is, mentally and physically, both for master and 
man, the reader may gather from Jefferies' description 
of the harvesting of the hundred-acre cornfield, in his 
essay on the " Loaf of Bread." 

It is only the shepherds of the hills, while keeping 
their flocks as of old, who are free to see visions and 
dream dreams, or watch the stars and nature. For the 



RUSTIC NATURALISTS 211 

rest, such contemplation fails to give the change of 
thoughts they need. Like Piers the Ploughman, they 
would turn their backs upon the fields and go 

"Wide into the world, 
Wonders for to hear." 

It must not, however, be supposed that because the 
farmer and farm labourer usually confine their interests 
in outdoor life to the practical problems of the land, the 
rustic naturalist is a rare or eccentric character in village 
life. There are numbers of men employed in sedentary 
occupations in villages and small country towns, who 
find in the pursuit of natural history the same change 
and excitement which the London artisan does in his 
favourite hobby of angling in the well-fished waters of 
the Thames and Lea. Village tailors, cobblers, and 
harness-makers are among the greatest enthusiasts of 
this class. The most intelligent of the class whom the 
writer has known was, like Thomas Edward, the Banff 
naturalist, a shoemaker. His trade was hereditary, and 
accidental. Mechanical invention was the natural 
tendency of his mind ; he learned the whole of Euclid, 
taught himself algebra, and became a rapid and exact 
calculator. Had he lived in Lancashire, and not in a 
country village, he would have improved the machinery 
in the mill or invented a new process. As it was, the 
sole mechanical appliances open to his observation were 
those used in making tiles and bricks. For this he 
invented new machinery, and went to London to 
exhibit his drawings. There his ideas were stolen ; and 



2 i2 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

he returned, in broken health and spirits, to become a 
naturalist, and so to " drive machinery out of his head." 
The change of ideas so obtained saved his health, and 
possibly his reason. By day he worked resolutely at 
his trade. Experience had taught him the value of 
silence ; and he discouraged gossip by filling his mouth 
with wooden shoe-pegs, and hammering these one by one 
into the boot-soles, on the approach of a visitor. At 
night, " when the wheels began to work in his head," as 
he afterwards explained, he took his butterfly net, 
collecting-boxes, and dark lantern, and went out into 
the lanes to collect moths. His favourite hunting- 
ground was a dark and little-frequented road, bordered 
by trees, palings, and thick fences, which was avoided 
by most of the village people, except by lovers on June 
evenings. But there are moths to be caught in 
winter nights as well as in summer, and the shoemaker 
was as indifferent to solitude and darkness as the owls 
and nightjars which were his only companions. His 
garden was soon turned into a butterfly-farm. In it he 
planted the trees and shrubs whose leaves form the food 
of the rarer caterpillars, and as soon as the eggs laid by 
the females were hatched, they were turned out to 
pasture on the poplars, privets, and alanthus, and 
protected from the birds by ingeniously made coverings 
of muslin. One day he discovered that a certain old 
willow-tree was full of goat-moth caterpillars. This 
tree he bought "for fuel," and put aside until such 
time as the perforated trunk yielded a rich harvest of 
the rare goat-moth chrysalises. The boxes for his 



RUSTIC NATURALISTS 213 

specimens he made himself. In the course of a few 
years he formed a complete collection of the butter- 
flies and moths of the district, and became familiar with 
the other wild life of the county ; he also added music 
to his accomplishments, and learned the delicate craft of 
violin-making. Under the composing influence of his 
naturalist pursuits, his nerves recovered their balance, 
until his mechanical bent could be indulged without 
danger ; and he is at present said to be planning 
the illumination of his native village with electric 
lights. 

The writer has more than once tried to enlist the 
services of the rural policemen to observe the habits of 
night-flying and night-feeding birds and beasts. In 
many counties these men are drawn from an intelligent 
class, and they often practise flower-gardening and bee- 
keeping with great success. But the village constable, 
though he often makes a useful assistant-astronomer, is 
less successful as a naturalist ; and though he can be 
educated to report the movements of comets and erratic 
meteors with professional accuracy, he generally prefers 
the starry company of the Pleiades to listening to the 
night birds in the dark shadow of the pollards, or by 
the still pools in the valley. In the periodical scares 
caused by the threatened introduction of some new 
pest, the lofty indifference of the rural constable to the 
insects and other " vermin " which he permits to crawl 
unnoticed on his beat, sometimes leads to trouble 
and perplexity. During the Colorado-beetle panic, a 
thoughtful Government caused portraits of the sus- 



214 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

pected insect to be circulated in rural districts, 
accompanied by other and highly magnified enlarge- 
ments of its appearance in the grub and pupa stage. 
Naturally, the last were the more striking to the 
imagination, the "life-size" portrait carrying little 
conviction beside the large and variegated monster in 
the magnified plate. So guided and so informed, the 
rural policemen were all on the watch to arrest the 
delinquent beetle, as they would any other " party " 
who was "wanted," and whose portrait was circulated 
from head-quarters for identification. An opportunity 
for distinction soon occurred. Two enormous cater- 
pillars (of the death's-head moth) were found by a 
labourer on his potato-patch, and by him carried to the 
house of a lady who took an interest in entomology. 
The caterpillars were received, and the labourer, praised 
and rewarded, took care to let his friends in the village 
know what a clever fellow he was. The discovery of 
strange caterpillars in the potato-bed was discussed ; and 
next day the local constable, in the absence of the lady, 
called, and demanded to see the creatures. These he 
compared with the illustrations in his possession, and 
pointed out that they were as big, or even bigger, than 
the awful monster there depicted. He then "took 
up " the caterpillars, and carried them off by the next 
train to the county town, where they were discharged 
after due inquiry, and returned, with apologies, to their 
owner. The policeman's ally, the gamekeeper, seldom 
lets his interests extend beyond the habits and require- 
ments of the very limited number of creatures which 



R USTIC NA TURALISTS 215 

it is his business to protect or destroy ; but the close 
and accurate observation which these duties require make 
him in many cases an intelligent and useful auxiliary 
when properly directed. But the class which supplies 
the greatest number of observing, as distinguished from 
collecting, naturalists in the villages, is the brotherhood 
of shepherds upon the Downs. Partly from the 
solitude of their life, a solitude so great, that, in spite 
of the rural etiquette which forbids any one to pass a 
shepherd without speaking to him, these men often 
forget how to pitch their voices in the tones of ordinary 
speech, and partly from being concerned solely with 
animals and not with agriculture, the shepherds have 
the keenest eyes and most minute knowledge of animal 
habits of any class in the country-side. It may safely 
be assumed that no animal larger than a rat, and no 
bird bigger than a quail, appears upon the hill, even for 
a few days, unnoticed by the shepherds. They know 
the movements of the hares and foxes so exactly, that 
the writer has seen them point out the particular spot 
in a ten-acre field of barley or beans, in which the 
leverets or cubs would be lying. They know in which 
copse the long-eared owls, the sparrow-hawks, or 
kestrels are nesting, and the most likely stony patch for 
the curlew's eggs or plover's nest. They can foretell 
the approach of rain or wind, or judge the relative 
value of the herbage on one side of the down and on 
the other. They know the times when the springs 
will break out, the signs of plenty, and the tokens of 
dearth. Like the shepherds of Greece, they still play 



216 ROUND THE GREAT WHITE HORSE 

the pipe and strike the tuneful strings, though the 
instrument is the violin and not the lyre, and the scene 
the cottage on the Downs, and not the groves of 
Arcady. With them the love of Nature is neither a 
hobby nor an anodyne, but the hereditary and 
spontaneous accompaniment of the oldest and most 
primitive occupation of civilized man. 



IN THE ISIS VALLEY 



THE ISIS IN JUNE 

ON the margin of a black-letter Herbal and Natural 
History, published early in the sixteenth century, and 
now in the library of Hertford College, I find this 
entry opposite to a quaint woodcut of a swallow : 
"This day, I did see a sea-swallow on Port 
Meadow." 

Sea-swallows still find their way from time to time 
to the streams which border Port Meadow ; and if any 
one desires a change from the tiring festivities of 
Commemoration, he may well follow the example set 
by the sea-swallow 300 years ago, and seek it by the 
Oxford river. The last time that I was there the 
backwater at Medley lock was covered by the boats of 
the rival establishments of Beasly and Bossom, families 
which have long been at the head of the riverine 
population of Oxford. A Beasly has for many years 
stroked the city four and city eight to victory. It was 
a Beasly " Fighting Beasly " who upheld the honour 



2 i8 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

of Oxford against the bargee from the Potteries who 
had fought and beaten successively the local champions 
at each stopping-place by the canal on his way from the 
Midlands. Roused from his bed for he was "in 
training" and had retired early he met the insolent 
foe and defeated him in less than thirty rounds. 

On the other hand, perhaps the boats of Bossom out- 
number those of Beasly. The largest house-boat at 
Medley is inhabited by a Bossom. Behind it, in 
diminishing series, are other house-boats his " cast 
shells," so to say, which he has outgrown, like a water- 
snail. I hired a gig, and placing in it my rod, rowed 
gently up to Rosamond's Bower at Godstow. On the 
left were the Wytham Woods ; on the right the great 
flat of Port Meadow, covered with the cattle and geese 
of the freemen of Oxford. Half-way to Godstow is a 
marsh, noted for rare water-plants, where among beds 
of arrowhead and forget-me-not I found that beautiful 
plant the water- villarsia. It is not unlike a water-lily, 
but even more graceful, with the edges of its leaves 
scalloped and slightly upturned ; the petals of its 
yellow flower are alternately opaque and semi-trans- 
parent, the latter delicately frilled, Here, too, was the 
flowering rush, tall as the iris, bearing a coronet of pale 
rose-pink flowers. By this time the geese had made up 
their minds that I was not to be trusted ; and, forming 
a phalanx of some 200, with their yellow goslings in 
the centre, marched to the river and swam to the mud- 
bank which they occupy at night. I also took to the 
water, and rowed up to Godstow once the fairest spot 



THE ISIS IN JUNE 219 

upon the upper river, but now disfigured by the works 
of the new Thames drainage scheme. The tiny lock 
stream is now a hideous straight cut, to make which 
the stone coffins of the prioresses were disturbed and 
displaced. The venerable walls of Rosamond's Bower, 
covered with thick ivy, are still standing ; but many of 
the trees are cut down, and the position of the old 
bridge and inn has lost its meaning by the alteration of 
the river's course. In time the remains of Godstow will 
disappear, as those of Osney and the greater part of the 
castle have also gone. Collegiate Oxford flourishes ; 
feudal and monastic Oxford seems doomed to neglect. 
It is strange that, while the buildings of Godstow perish, 
frailer relics of the nun's occupation remain. The me- 
dicinal herbs which they planted in the garden still 
survive in the fields and upon the broken walls. 

In a copse near the ruins I found many nests of the 
reed-warbler, all placed in the wild hopbine which 
grows among the willows, and lined with the cottonlike 
down of some waterside plant. Over the shallow 
stream below the " Trout " a kingfisher was hovering 
in mid-air, his wings vibrating and invisible, till he 
plunged and seized his game. 

In the garden of the inn I began my fishing. I say 
" in the garden," because it is a maxim among chub- 
fishers that to take the largest chub you must procure 
the biggest bumble-bees as bait. I look upon this as 
the most difficult part of the sport. Chub are not hard 
to catch, but bumble-bees are. A quick eye and steady 
hand are not required to catch chub, neither is nerve 



220 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

demanded in any measure : all these qualities are 
brought into play in taking bumble-bees. The snap- 
dragons in the garden yielded some bumbles, and I 
presently attacked the less noble game, the chub, who 
were lying above in the Pixies' Pool, greedy but sus- 
picious. In order to keep out of sight, I thrust my 
rod between the sides of a cleft willow, and made my 
bee play upon the water. After a few shy rises, a 
monster chub came slowly from the bottom, swallowed 
the bee, and whisked down again. We had a violent 
struggle for a minute, complicated by the awkward 
position of my rod. Soon, however, he came exhausted 
to the surface, and, passing the butt of my rod round 
the willow, I landed him. "Stuff him with pickled 
oysters," says Izaak Walton, " and baste him well with 
claret wine, and you shall find him choicely good 
meat." I doubt it, and doubt equally whether it is 
worth while to experiment with Izaak's recipe. 

In the summer of 1893 the Upper Isis was almost 
vanquished by the sun. All its outlying streams were 
sucked dry. The long drought and heats burnt every 
meadow brown, and the foliage of the hedgerows were 
gnawed and bruised by the hungry cattle. Even the 
main streams and river were invaded, and not only the 
rushes and sedge upon the banks, but the water-lilies 
and arrowheads in the running water were browsed and 
cropped level by horses and oxen. Next year came the 
turn of the river and the land. The latter had drunk 
seven months of sun, and the summer rains of the next 
season brought the vegetation into life with almost 



THE ISIS IN JUNE 221 

tropical swiftness. The result was a crop not only of 
leaf, but of flowers, of the richest and most luxuriant 
growth. In the river-side gardens, the stems of the 
white lilies were six and seven feet high, the clustered 
roses almost broke their branches, the honeysuckle tore 
itself from the walls by its weight of blossom, and the 
second crop of grass was smothered with field-flowers. 
For the moment the gardens eclipsed the fields both in 
scent and colour, though the sense was almost oppressed 
by the heavy odour of the drying hay-ricks. But in 
the gardens there was a blending of delicate scents such 
as has not been known for years. There has grown up 
a fashion of preferring mere odours to perfumes, perhaps 
because the aesthetic perception, which has learnt to 
appreciate many things which it did not, is forgetting 
the value of what needed no teaching. The taste for 
wild-flowers is almost losing its sense of proportion, 
when ox-eyed field-daisies are bought in the streets by 
preference to roses, and at an equal price. But what- 
ever the canons of beauty, that of scent can hardly 
change. The rose has still the purest perfume in 
Nature. Let those who are forgetting it, go down to 
the country, and walk among the rose-gardens in the 
morning, as the sun is drying the dew on their petals 
in mid-July. The flower fancies of the Midsummer 
Night's Dream were woven in the fresh hours of 
midsummer mornings, as well as of summer twilight, 
and it was then that the poet remembered to make his 
night-flying fairy-queen send her elves 

" Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds ; " 



222 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

while more true to fairy hours 

" Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings." 

It was the same hour which made Milton for once 
strike a note of gladness, unborrowed from the con- 
ventions of his classic store, and bid the Nymph of 
Gladness 

" At his window bid good-morrow, 

Through the sweet-briar, or the vine, 

Or the twisted eglantine." 

And it was the rose-gardens of Damascus, in which, 
then as now, the Syrian lords sat among the damask 
flowers by the rushing stream from Lebanon, that 
Naaman had in mind when he asked if Abana and 
Pharpar were not better than all the waters of Jordan ? 
It is by the banks of English rivers that the natural 
beauties of the midsummer months are seen in their 
greatest perfection. The contrast of cool waters and 
sun-lit levels of meadow appeals equally to the sense 
of sight and the enjoyment of coolness, tranquillity, and 
repose. The Upper Thames, and its tributaries, the 
two Colres, the Loddon, the Cherwell, the Windrush, 
and the Evenlode, are the natural summer haunt of 
those who can choose their locality to suit the months. 
To appreciate the beauties of the water-garden you 
must be on the water itself, and row among the lilies, 
and in front of the flower-set banks. The growths in 
the two have this contrast. All the plants of the bank 
are tall and upright ; all those of the stream, except 
the arrowhead, are level and flat. Thus the purple 
and yellow loose-strife, the yellow iris, burr-reeds, the 




Kingfisher. From a Japanese Woodcut. 



THE ISIS IN JUNE 223 

St. John's wort, the bulrushes, and, above all, the 
pink flowering-rush, are set like sentinels to watch the 
stream, in which the lilies, water-plantain, and villarsia 
float and blossom, supported by the density of the 
water itself, which takes the place of the upright stalk, 
and leaves them free to spread themselves in ever- 
increasing areas of natural growth. Most of the upright 
water plants may be made to live and blossom indoors. 
If the yellow Iris or the flowering rush be pulled 
up by the roots from the river bank or the mud, 
and planted in a bucket, with plenty of river soil 
round them, they will flower even more gaily than 
when in the stream. Even the lily buds will open 
and last in perfection for days, if they be set in the sun y 
and the water be not allowed to drown the petals. 



224 



WILD-FOWL IN SANCTUARY 

(BLENHEIM LAKE) 

JUST before the opening of spring, when the biting 
winds drive the shepherds down from the hill, and send 
even the gipsies to the shelter of the towns, wild birds 
and beasts seem almost to vanish from the open country, 
except the March hares and they, we know, are mad. 

Yet there is no time at which the rare and beautiful 
water-birds, now so scarce in England, are more tame 
or more easily observed than when they seek sanctuary 
for rest and pairing, before their long journey to their 
breeding-places in the high latitudes of the North. 
The scene on the few inland lakes and waters of any 
size in the south of England, where the fowl are 
unmolested, is at such times full of interest even to the 
least observant eyes, though a few weeks later the 
surface will be deserted by all but the nesting swans, 
and the few coots, dobchicks, and water-hens which 
remain throughout the summer. The lake at Blen- 
heim, always beautiful from its setting and surround- 
ings, gives a pleasing picture of the Lenten rest and 
quiet which the wild-fowl then enjoy. This lake, 



WILD-FOWL IN SANCTUARY 225 

formed by the waters of the Gleam all the tributaries 
of the upper Thames, the Colne, the Windrush, and 
the Evenlode, have harmonious names winds for some 
two miles between low but steep hills, and naturally 
attracts to its quiet surface most of the wild-fowl of the 
Oxford vale. At my first visit to the lake at the end 
of March, it was evident that their numbers were as yet 
hardly diminished by departures for the North. Much 
of the surface was still covered by ice and snow, and just 
off the edge of the ice some twenty swans were feeding ; 
while from all parts of the open water were heard the 
constant musical whistle of widgeon and teal, the 
quacking of the mallards, the hoarse snort of the swans, 
and the croak of coots and moorhens, sounds more 
suggestive of Poole Harbour on an August night, than 
of a Midland lake in March. On the further bank, 
sunning themselves on the sloping turf, and sheltered 
from the wind, were a score of mallards and their 
mates, which rose with much angry quacking and pro- 
test as a herd of deer came trotting down to drink at 
the very spot which they had chosen for their chilly 
siesta. It was, however, no wanton intrusion by the 
deer, for at that spot only was the shore free from ice, 
where some land-spring broke the frozen boundary. 
Meantime, the sun came out with a warmth which 
could be felt, and a second flock of wild ducks broke 
into sudden ecstasy at such an earnest of the coming 
spring. Beating its wings upon the water, each mallard 
rushed across the lake ; then diving, they reappeared 
beside their mates, and went through a kind of water- 

Q 



226 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

tournament, with much splashing and noise. In the 
course of this amusement, one of the performers came 
up from the depths almost under an old cock-swan, 
which was sleeping with its head " under the blankets " 
that is to say, its wing-coverts and resented the 
disturbance by a vicious bite which called the whole 
company to order. Most inland lakes, except those 
Surrey pools where the water seems to be held naturally 
upon an ironstone bottom, are river-fed, and shallow 
and sedgy at the head where the stream enters. Blen- 
heim Lake is no exception to this rule, and some acres 
at its upper end are covered by yellow reeds, through 
which the Gleam cuts a winding channel of deep-green 
water. This is natural cover for the fowl, and, though 
frost and snow had beaten down the sedge, it was alive 
with coots and snipe and moor-hens. There, from 
behind a tree, we watched for some time a snipe court- 
ing, at least so we judged, for the object of its atten- 
tions was concealed in a little tuft of sedge. The snipe 
ran round this bower setting up its wings, and flirting 
its tail in very gallant fashion, turning round and 
bowing with all the airs and graces of a pigeon making 
love. At the extreme head of the lake, in the swift, 
narrow current of the Gleam, a fleet of swans were 
feeding, one behind the other, an old cock-swan taking 
the post of danger and of profit next to the conduit 
from which the water enters. By hiding behind the 
bridge-parapet for some time, and then carefully 
peering over, it was possible to observe exactly 
the way in which a swan feeds in water just deep 



WILD-FOWL IN SANCTUARY 227 

enough to make it necessary for it to invert its body 
in order to reach the bottom. The neck was partly 
bent, and the crown of the head touched the bottom, 
its head and neck being used exactly like a bent- 
handled hoe to search among the gravel and stones. 
Its head was deeply tinged with red, from the iron in 
solution in the water and mud. The result of stillness 
and partial concealment in watching wild animals was 
well illustrated during the ten minutes spent in observ- 
ing the swan. Water-hens seemed to spring from the 
flattened sedge by magic, as if rising from the ground, 
and launched themselves on the stream, or tripped 
about feeding among the sedges, where the ground was 
rapidly thawing. 

The head and western bank of the lake are fringed 
with a narrow belt of young plantation, made partly 
with a view to sheltering the wild-fowl, partly to 
screen the guns when the birds are shot in the winter. 
The lake-keeper, whose cottage stands at the head of 
the water, quoted as an example of the number of fowl 
that collect in severe weather at Blenheim, that on one 
occasion three guns shot a hundred and twelve snipe, 
and between forty and fifty wild duck and teal. But 
the birds are seldom shot, and at the time of our visit 
seemed quite aware that no harm was intended ; and as 
we passed close to the water on the opposite side to 
that from which we had approached, partly screened by 
the belt of young trees, they showed little inclination 
to leave the water, with the exception of a solitary 
heron, which, after watching us uneasily for some time, 



228 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

rose with a croak, and after flapping some way, with 
its dangling toes touching the ice, rose high into 
the air, and flew steadily in the direction of Wytham 
Woods, where the hen-birds were already sitting on 
their eggs. 

Viewed from the western shore, the scene was in bright 
contrast to the prevailing steely monotony of an Eng- 
lish landscape in March. The tops of the overgrown 
osiers which fringed the lake wore the polished scarlet 
bark of early spring, and shot up in a stiff line of red 
rods. Beyond them lay the surface of the lake, under 
the sun, in three zones of colour, following the sweep- 
ing bays and curves of the ice. Next to the shore, 
the ice was dazzling white with snow, which had 
melted on the earth, but still lay deep on the thickest 
ice ; and against this white background stood up the 
thousands of scarlet osier rods. Next to the snow was 
a zone of clear ice, blue-grey and snowless ; and beyond 
the margin of the ice-fringe lay the deeper waters of 
the lake, of the deep translucent green of jade, on which 
some fifty shining swans were floating in every attitude 
of motion or repose. Beyond, on the hill, the long 
colonnades and shining cupolas of Blenheim stood 
solemn and severe, like some "Palace of Silence," 
against the sky. 

A great number of duck and teal, and a flock of 
widgeon, were floating near an evergreen-covered 
island, in separate groups ; and a score of coots, con- 
spicuous by their white heads and velvety black bodies, 
were feeding near the shore. At the sound of a stick 



WILD-FOWL IN SANCTUARY 229 

struck upon a paling, all but the coots rose from the 
water, the mallards showing to the greatest advantage 
as they spread the fanlike white feathers below the 
dark-green tail, and mounted high above the lake. 
The widgeon kept in a compact flock, turning and 
wheeling like starlings, and passing and repassing in a 
symmetrical and monotonous course through exactly 
the same evolutions in the air to an accompaniment of 
melodious notes. The teal soon settled down in pairs, 
some dashing boldly into the water, others alighting 
with rapid backward beats of the wing upon the ice. 
A careful stalk brought us near enough to see that the 
teal, like most of the ducks, had evidently paired for 
the summer, as the cock-birds were swimming round 
their mates in a restless, fussy fashion, and did not 
allow any other bird to come within the circle of water 
so appropriated. The view of the lower lake which we 
caught through the wide and beautiful arch of the 
stone bridge, showed that the fowl were there even 
more numerous than on the upper waters. From the 
parapet of the bridge we counted seventy-four duck 
sleeping on the edge of the ice. Under and upon the 
steep and sloping bank near Rosamond's Well, quite 
three times that number were crowded together, and as 
a sudden snow-squall came over the hill, they all rose 
with a loud roar of wings, and, joined by the flock 
from the ice, settled on the open water, preferring, 
apparently, to endure the squall on their native element 
than on the ice or firm land. No doubt the numbers 
of wild-fowl on the tidal harbours of the coast in 



230 IN THE ISIS VALLEY 

winter are many times greater than those collected at 
Blenheim and on similar lakes in March. But such 
opportunities for watching them in their happiest 
moods cannot be obtained by the sea, or anywhere 
except in places where man combines with Nature to 
protect them in the season of sanctuary. 



IN HIGH SUFFOLK 



SUNDOWN IN SHOTLEY WOOD 

SHOTLEY WOOD is marked on the county map. 
Sometimes, though rarely, when there was enough 
spare money in the county to keep a three-days-a-week 
pack, it figured among the less popular meets of the 
season. Now it is forgotten by the world, even the 
world of county sport. Yet it has stood or rather 
it has been felled and risen again since the days 
of King John. From the time of Magna Charta till 
the present day, no plough or harrow has cut the 
virgin soil within its fences ; and every decent piece 
of building in the parish, from the church roof set 
on in the year of grace 1507 to the newest barn floor, 
has been fitted with the timber grown on its seventy 
acres of deep yellow clay. "Us be all despret poor 
now," as the exciseman (the only rich man in the 
parish) truly says ; and those who had sense to read 
the signs of the times have made treaty with necessity, 
and stepped back, with a rough and rugged insistance 
on the change, to the plain living of Saxon times. 



2 3 2 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

Are our tables worse furnished, or is our roof-tree 
colder ? I think not. We kill our own swine, brew 
our own ale, and press our cider ; bake our dark but 
palatable bread, and pay our men and our dwindling 
" tradesmen's bills " from the narrow yield of our own 
fields. The owner of the " big wood " finds it a little 
silver-mine. Frugality begins at home a coy but 
lasting friend and when once won is never lost by the 
countryman who lives on his own acres. The coal- 
grates have been pulled out in hall and dining-room, 
and the old bars rescued from rust in the out-house 
are piled with the surplus branches of the oaks ; and 
on Christmas-day the green ashen faggot will blaze 
and sputter with a lively warmth that mocks the dull 
caloric of the coal, as young laughter leaps above the 
book-bound wit of ages. The wood supplies our table 
with its daintiest fare. Never was there such a year 
for wild-bred pheasants ; and the stub-rabbits are no 
longer despised. In December the wood-pigeons come 
in to roost in large flocks, and pay a daily tribute to 
the gun. The poor still look for rabbits at Christmas, 
and on our way to the wood before dusk, to lie in 
wait for the pigeons, we overhear the rabbiter and the 
bailiff in consultation : the former deep in the yawning 
ditch, under the stubbs, the other with his ear to the 
bolt-hole in the field above. The rabbiter is calm and 
professional, as becomes one finishing a long day's 
work. The bailiff a school-boy friend of the poorer 
man, long since risen in the social scale, a stern and 
unbending Noncomformist, but with a suppressed but 



SUNDOWN IN SHOTLEY WOOD 233 

uncontrollable love of sport is as excited as a boy. 
They have dropped the ceremonious " Mister " of East 
Anglian address, and for the moment have forgotten 
that the world contains anything but themselves, the 
hapless rabbit in the bury, and the ferret at the end of 
the line. " Eddard," says the bailiff ; " Eddard, I can 
hear it a-scrabbin' ! " " Can you ? " replies the rabbiter. 
" Do you cop me your ' dabber.' ' The " dabber," an 
implement with a spade at one end and a spike at the 
other, is " copped " and dexterously caught. " Do you 
fudge him a bit," urges the rabbiter ; and the bailiff 
" fudges " vigorously. Then the ferret is withdrawn. 
" Lor' bless me, if I hain't been a-fudging the ferret ! " 
he exclaims ; and the ill-used and gasping ferret is 
exhibited. " Oh, ah ! " says the rabbiter, " we'd best 
go back, I reckon." And the pair wind up nets and 
bags, and splash home through the mud. They are 
almost the last to leave the open fields, and as we enter 
the high wood the sounds of daily human labour die 
with the waning light when the plough-teams, with 
looped-up splinter-bars banging against the trace-chains, 
plod homewards to the stables. The grey light wanes 
and the wind rises, angry and sighing in the tree-tops. 
A wide avenue of Scotch firs runs down the length of 
the wood. The ride is still strewn thick with acorns, 
for this has been the most prolific year ever known for 
the seeds of trees ; the husks are already splitting here 
and there, and the red shoots are sprouting from the 
pointed end ; but many are mere crackling shells 
nibbled by squirrels and mice. The wood-pigeons 



234 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

have been feasting for weeks, pheasants have helped 
them, sacksfull have been carried home by the wood- 
man to grind and mix with bran for the sheep, and 
pigs have forced their way through the fences to munch 
their fill, yet the quantity on the ground seems now as 
great as ever. In the ride we met a hedgehog, almost 
the last creature to be expected on such a chilly day. 
Generally piggy spends the winter coiled up in a bed of 
leaves in a rabbit-burrow, under a root, or in the 
centre of a thick bush, and sleeps till spring comes. 
Perhaps this hedgehog had been idle in the summer, 
and not laid up a store of fat to last him through the 
winter ; so he was awake, and obliged to forage. He 
was hunting eagerly, taking half the width of the ride, 
and quartering it to and fro not very accurately, for 
he did not keep straight lines, like a setter, but still 
rarely going twice over the same ground. We ap- 
proached slowly, for if a hedgehog is not disturbed 
by a heavy footfall or sudden movement, it simply 
disregards men. To and fro he went, poking his long 
snout into every hoof-mark, and routing among the 
oak-leaves. He seemed to find little, and to be very 
hungry. Once or twice he put up his head and sniffed, 
and stared at the figure above him ; but as it did not 
move, he went on searching for a supper. As he 
passed, we touched him a tergo with the gun-barrel. 
He whisked round with prickles up, looking angry and 
quite at a loss to understand what had happened. He 
then examined the boots and tried to climb the leg 
above, but could not get a foothold for his hind-feet. 



SUNDOWN IN SHOTLEY WOOD 235 

Down again to the boots. The blacking smelt nice, so 
he gnawed at them steadily, with far more force than 
might be expected from so small a hedgehog for he 
was not larger than a cocoa-nut. Having tasted one 
boot, he then tried the other, and did not take alarm 
till he was suddenly picked up. Then for a minute he 
closed his eyes and rolled into a ball. A curious 
change of expression takes place when the hedgehog 
draws his heavy eyebrows down. At other times his 
face is impudent and rather savage. Then he looks 
meek and gentle, a nice little fellow, who eats bread 
and milk, and is regarded as a pet for children. 
Unrolled he is his true self a creature that kills 
adders, drives the partridge from her nest, and eats the 
eggs ; a sturdy omnivorous little animal, afraid of few 
things except a badger. He had not been held a 
minute before he began to uncurl, wriggled over on 
to his back, gave the nearest finger a bite which reached 
through the buckskin glove, dropped on to the ride, 
and scuffled away among the brambles. By this time 
it was almost dusk, and the pigeons were arriving in 
small flocks, and settling into the fir-tops in different 
parts of the wood. Each flock circled high overhead 
twice or thrice before alighting. The fieldfares followed, 
squeaking and chattering from tree to tree, and the 
cock pheasants went up to roost one by one, telling 
the whole wood about it. Small woodland birds feed 
till dark in these short winter days, and a whole flock 
of tits and bullfinches were climbing and flitting among 
the ash-poles, eager to use the last minutes of twilight. 



236 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

A pair of sparrow-hawks were anxious to make their 
supper on the tits, and their silent gliding forms crossed 
and recrossed among the stems from minute to minute, 
winding among the closely growing ash-poles with 
astonishing powers of steering in full flight. So quick 
were their movements, and so close to the stems, that 
though the bold birds took no alarm at the motionless 
human figure, it was almost impossible to fire a shot 
at these worst poachers of the woods, with any certainty 
of killing. They had carried off more than one of the 
tits when a third hawk swept over the wood, seized 
a small bird in its claws, and sailed off up the ride. A 
shot and a red shower of sparks was followed by the 
fall of the hawk, and the clatter of a hundred pairs of 
wings as the pigeons left the trees. The hawk was 
dead, with the finch still in its claws, apparently unhurt. 
In a few minutes the wood is quiet again, and the 
pigeons return, and during the last few minutes before 
dark pay heavy toll to the gun, as they fly low and 
sleepy and bewildered over the pine-tops. There is 
hardly a better bird for the table outside the true game 
birds, than these plump Christmas wood-pigeons after 
months of plenty and open weather. Even when the 
lingering twilight has almost gone, and the bright 
planets shine with eager eyes through the lacing oak- 
boughs, while " echo bids good-night from every 
glade," the wood is not yet silent. The grey crows 
have come from the north to tell us that it is Christmas. 
They have crossed the North Sea, and skirted the shore 
southward from estuary to estuary, past the mouths of 



SUNDOWN IN SHOTLEY WOOD 237 

the fen rivers and the marshes of the broads, and 
arrived, as they always do, in the last week of the 
old year, to croak their warning tale into the winter 
night. 

" I sent forth memory in heedful guise, 

To search the record of preceding years ; 
Back like the raven to the ark she flies, 
And croaks disaster to my trembling ears," 

the poet writes. The cry of the grey crows, like the 
voice of the raven, has an evil sound. But they have 
croaked in the wood at each year's ending, and if the 
next be no worse than those which have gone, we shall 
not cease to enjoy the sounds of the winter wood at 
sundown. 



238 



ANCIENT MEADOWS 

PROBABLY there are no meadows in the world so 
good as those in England, or so old. They are 
the sole portions of the earth's surface, with the ex- 
ception of the barren wastes and cliffs, which modern 
agriculture respects and leaves in peace. Hence the 
excellence of the English pastures, and the envy of the 
Continent. When I look at one of these fat and 
smiling meads, the pride and stay of the farm in which 
it lies, I like to think that it and its like are probably 
survivals of old England's surface remaining unchanged 
since the days of Canute and Edward the Confessor, 
with a fixity of type as enduring as that of the wildest 
parts of the New Forest or of the great park at 
Windsor. 

From the early Saxon times, old meadow has been 
distinguished from mere grazing-ground, and has 
always been scarce. Two-thirds of what is now estab- 
lished meadow-land still shows the marks of ridge and 
furrow ; and from the length of time needed to make 
a meadow ten years on the best land, a hundred on 



ANCIENT MEADOWS 239 

the worst men have always been reluctant to break 
up old pasture. Ancient customs survive even in the 
tenure of these sacred spots of earth. " Joint holdings " 
exist in meadow-land long after they have disappeared 
in connection with the cultivated portions. The Thames 
valley is still full of such joint tenancies. In the Stour 
valley, with Essex on one side and Suffolk on the other, 
are numbers of " common meadows " in which several 
men own portions, which they agree to feed or mow, as 
they may decide, every year. At Bampton, in Oxford- 
shire, the sections of the " common meadow " are 
annually redistributed by lots among sixteen owners. 

The flat meadows by the sides of rivers, level as a 
table, are so exactly alike in one particular, their 
absolute conformity to the level line, that an explanation 
of their history seems demanded by their shape. The 
story is simple enough as geologists read it. All the 
flat meadows have been made by floods, which, as they 
retired, left a uniform deposit of mud. This went on 
till the level rose even with the highest flood-mark, 
and as rivers tend to wear their own channels deeper 
the flat meadows were left. These, however, are in 
many cases only in course of being made they are not 
always the sweetest or most ancient pasture, like that 
on the good warm marl and loam round the inland 
farms. 

u St. Barnabas mow the grass " is an old country 
saying. But although St. Barnabas' day falls when 
the meadows are generally ripe for mowing, there is 
no crop so " tickle," as the Yorkshire farmers say, as 



2 4 o IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

to the time at which it must be cut. Hay must fall 
when the grasses are in flower. Walk into a hay-field, 
in the second week in June, and you will see the pollen 
dropping from the fescue and timothy, and the yellow 
from the buttercups lodges on your boots. Then the 
beauty of a good meadow can be seen and understood. 
The trefoil and yellow suckling are ankle deep, and a 
little above rises the perennial red clover the white 
being not yet in full bloom. The true grasses reach 
to the knee, the growth becoming less dense as it rises 
higher, and the crowning glory of beauty is the wide, 
ox-eyed daisies more dear, however, to the artist than 
the farmer. Dotted among the grasses are carmine 
meadow vetchling, and a dozen other small leguminoste, 
golden weasel-snout, buttercups, and wild blue gera- 
nium. In a picture of Albrecht Diirer's, which we once 
saw, the artist had evidently painted the section of a 
hayfield. One seemed to be lying on the cut grass, 
and looking at the wall left after the last sweep of the 
scythe. Every flower, every stalk of grass was painted, 
the white daisies filling the top of the canvas. Not 
only sight but scent is needed to judge the maturity of 
the crop. In a walk through the " mowing grass," to 
determine the condition of the blossom, the fragrance 
of the odours from the almost invisible flowers of the 
grasses, and of the tiny clovers, crowfoot, and trefoil, 
that " blush unseen " in the thick growth at the 
bottom, is almost stupefying, and is certain, in some 
cases, to bring on a violent attack of hay-fever at night. 
If the flower is out, then the hay must be cut, no 



ANCIENT MEADOWS 241 

matter how threatening the weather, and no crop lies 
so completely at the mercy of the skies as does the hay. 
If the crop be short, it cannot therefore be left to 
grow. The grass must fall while the blossom is upon 
it, or the cattle will refuse it. " Better let it spoil on 
the ground than spoil as it grows," is a country maxim. 
For the latter is a certain loss, and a day's bright sun 
and wind may always dry a fallen crop. 

How and when men first learned to make hay will 
probably never be known. For hay-making is a 
process, and the product is not merely sun-dried grass, 
but grass which has partly fermented, and is as much 
the work of men's hands as flour or cider. Probably 
its discovery was due to accident, unless men learnt it 
from the pikas or calling hares of the Eastern steppes, 
which cut and stack hay for the winter. That idea 
would fit in nicely with the theory that Central Asia 
was the home of the " Aryan " race, if we were allowed 
to believe it, and hay-making is certainly an art 
mainly practised in cold countries for winter forage. 

But the old meadows only supply a part, though 
probably the most valuable part, of the yearly crop of 
hay. The change from arable to pasture, which has 
marked the last twenty years of English farming, has 
covered what were once cornfields with sown grasses 
or " leys." No one travelling by rail over any of the 
high plateaux of the south of England, such as the 
Berkshire downs or Salisbury Plain, can fail to notice 
the hundreds of acres of waving " rye-grass," which has 

taken the place of fallows and turnip-fields. On the 

R 



242 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

chalk land the lovely sainfoin spreads its crimson flowers 
over an ever-growing area ; for sainfoin hay is the best 
of all food for producing milk, and is saved for the 
ewes in lambing time, and for the dairy cows. Seven 
years is the life allotted to a sainfoin " ley/' after which 
it is ploughed up and used for other crops. Hardly 
any sown pasture is so beautiful or so profitable as 
this on soil which suits its growth. It gives two crops 
in the year, and the hay can often be sold for 6 or 
j an acre. The broad-leaved clover grows on most 
soils, and though it stands for two years, is generally 
ploughed in after the first year's cutting. For agri- 
cultural chemists have discovered that the delicate 
clover leaves gather in nitrates from the air, and so, 
when ploughed into the ground, give food to the 
young wheat-plant. " Field-hay," as the produce of 
the rye-grass, sainfoin, clover, and trefoil is called, is 
a new feature in the country. Its beauty is less refined, 
bright though the masses look in early June ; and the 
pleasure it gives is less. It is part of modern husbandry, 
and lacks the poetry of the old. 

Half the beauty of the "haysel" has been lost since 
the mowing-machine was invented, and the other 
time-saving appliances of modern farming. For the 
most picturesque sight in the cycle of rural toil was 
to watch the mowers. But the steady rushing of the 
steel through the falling grass, the rhythmic move- 
ment of the mowers, as they advanced en echelon, right 
foot foremost, down the meadow, and the ring of the 
whetstones on the scythes, have almost given place to 



ANCIENT MEADOWS 243 

the rattling machine. Yet there is more pleasure in 
"haysel" than "joy in harvest." The weather is not 
so hot, and the grass does not attract the sun as does 
the stubble. Every one is ready to lend a hand. 
There is the sweet scent of the flowers when fresh, and 
of the grass as it dries. The big horses munch happily 
while the workmen rest for their "elevenses" and 
" fourses," and eat their white currant-loaves and drink 
their cider. The wives help to rake the swathes 
together for the men, and the children roll about and 
bury themselves in the haycocks. If the weather is 
very catchy, the farmer is sometimes thoughtful ; 
but the stake is not so great as at harvest-time, and 
the anxiety proportionately less. 

The cutting of the grass leads to a sad disturbance 
of the wild creatures which the meadow shelters 
under its tall crop. As the machine or the mowers 
make the circuit of the outer edges, the nests of 
landrails, larks, partridges, and pipits, are uncovered ; 
and even missing bantam-hens and guinea-fowls from 
the farm may often be found sitting on a stolen 
nest in the hayfield. The shining blades of the 
machine cause cruel destruction among all these con- 
fiding creatures, and the close-sitting partridges are 
more often killed than saved. Doe-rabbits and field- 
mice or rather the " voles " which are destroying the 
Scotch pastures have their nests in the grass, and in 
the very centre of the field an old hedgehog and her 
young and prickly family are found rolled up like 
dumplings, and presenting their spines to the inquisitive 



244 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

sheep-dog that has discovered them. The ground, of 
course, swarms with insects that have fallen from the 
grass ; and the whole surface of the newly-cut field is 
one great table of food for birds and beasts. They do 
not wait to be invited. Starlings and sparrows rush 
down upon the grubs and spiders, and eat till they can 
eat no more. The rooks march over the field in 
black battalions, and gobble up every lark's, landrail's, 
and partridge's egg uncovered, pull to pieces the voles' 
nests, and swallow with infinite relish the young and 
helpless voles. The dogs do their best to eat the 
young hedgehogs, and thereby prick their mouths 
sadly ; and then scratch out the young rabbits and 
catch the moles, which, being stupid and subterranean, 
are npt aware that the covering grass has gone, and 
work too near the surface. In the evening the cats 
come shyly to the field, and catch the disconsolate mice 
which venture back to look for their children. But 
perhaps the most curious evidence of the universal 
attractiveness of a hayfield which the writer has yet 
seen, was the invasion of a meadow by fish ! A 
summer flood had come down the upper waters of the 
Cherwell, and spread over the meadows near Kidlington 
Church, drowning millions of insects and small animals. 
The water still lay among the haycocks, covering the 
ground to the depth of a few inches, and of course 
filling all the ditches and deeper channels. Up these 
the fish had come, leaving the muddy river, and had 
spread themselves in shoals over the field ; great chub 
and carp and roach were pushing and flapping among 



ANCIENT MEADOWS 245 

the haycocks, their backs partly out of the water, and 
swallowing greedily the drowned creatures which floated 
in thousands on the surface or lay dead at the bottom. 
When frightened, they struggled back to the ditches, 
from which, however, they soon returned to their novel 
feeding-ground. 



246 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 

FRENCH partridges, or " Red-legs," as they are called 
in Suffolk, grow so cunning after the end of October, 
that on ground where game is scarce, or driving not 
practicable, they escape the gun entirely after the heavy 
covert has disappeared, and in this case sportsmen are 
only too pleased when a heavy fall of snow brings them 
once more within reach. A sudden snowstorm dis- 
concerts these birds infinitely more than the grey 
partridges. Accustomed as they have been for months 
to run rather than rise on the approach of danger, the 
new obstacle to their progress seems to baffle them 
entirely. Their usual cunning forsakes them, and the 
coveys remain huddled under the fences, or more 
often in the ditch itself, sometimes all together, but 
more often in twos and threes, and rise within easy 
shot of the guns. Usually they do not repair to 
the fences until they have made some futile attempts to 
run about the fields, and this may perhaps account for 
the fact that those shot have often large lumps of 
frozen snow hanging to their thighs and bellies. In a 
few days they get thin and poor should there be fresh 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 247 

falls, but generally the surface of the snow is frozen 
hard enough on the second morning for them to run as 
usual, and any one who will watch them may then form 
some notion of what one of these birds is capable of 
doing on its feet. 

There is no need to start very early in the morning 
after the fall ; it is best to begin about ten o'clock or 
half-an-hour later, when the birds have given up their 
attempts to travel over the snow, and will be lying up 
snugly under the hedges. An old setter, who will not 
mind going into a fence to flush a bird if necessary, is 
the best dog for the work, or a good hunting retriever. 
But not every one keeps one of these " dogs of all 
work," and an obedient spaniel is equally good, pro- 
vided he will keep close. If not, he is apt to spoil 
sport by running on ahead and flushing the birds, 
which, according to the habit I have mentioned, often 
lie scattered for some distance along the brow of the 
ditch. 

It is a pleasant and exhilarating experience to step 
out, well wrapped up and thickly shod, into the fleecy 
powder-like snow, and tramp across the fields, or rather 
round them, while the icicles tinkle on the bramble 
sprays and glitter in the pale winter sunlight. Before 
starting, however, it is well to remember that shooting 
in the snow is accompanied by certain chances of accident 
which are not so likely to occur in ordinary weather. 
Two of the most dangerous are the blocking of the 
muzzle by chance contact with snow, which will burst 
it as effectually as if plugged with a wedge of iron; 



248 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

and, secondly, the danger of slipping on ice which is 
rendered invisible by the loose snow fallen upon it, and 
so risking an explosion by the gun flying out of the 
hand. Both these mischances have occurred to the 
writer, although in the fall the gun did not go off. 
The concussion was, however, so severe that a deep 
dent was made in one of the barrels. In the former 
instance the barrel burst about two inches from the 
muzzle, the metal opening evenly down the centre. It 
must be remembered that hares as well as " red-legs " 
lie very close the first day after a heavy fall. Often 
they will allow the snow to cover them entirely, and 
not move until almost trodden on. 

One of the most amusing day's red-leg shooting in 
the snow which the writer recollects was in Suffolk, after 
a very heavy and sudden fall, accompanied by a fierce 
wind from the east. The snow fell all one afternoon 
and night, and next morning the drifts were as high as 
the fence tops in some places ; while all ditches, gullies, 
and drains were filled up level and smooth like the top 
of an iced cake. The wind had dropped, and the sun 
shone brightly, but the cold was intense, and the sun 
had not the least effect in consolidating the dry and 
powdery snow. No better weather could have been 
desired for forcing the birds to " fence," but the walls 
and ramparts of snow cast up against the hedges made 
it an exceedingly difficult matter to get from field to 
field. A couple of well-trained retrieving Clumber 
spaniels were our aid on this occasion, and we fortified 
ourselves against the cold by taking with us a plentiful 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 249 

luncheon of cold mutton chops, cold plum pudding, and 
two large flasks of cherry brandy, enough for my 
brother and myself and for the man we took with us. 
The dogs too were not forgotten. 

The first half-mile along the road was easy enough, 
and we stepped out briskly, the dogs racing about and 
rolling over each other, every now and then eating 
mouthfuls of snow ; but the moment we stepped into 
the fields we realized that not a little judgment would 
be required to make a bag. The fences running from 
east to west, and therefore facing the sun, were the 
likely places, but all the cross hedges which ran at right 
angles to the direction of the last night's gale were 
piled high with many feet of snow. Thus in many 
places to " double " the fences properly was impossible. 
On the other hand, we knew on which side the birds 
were likely to lie, and the piles of snow in the hedge 
foot made it difficult for them to slip through on the 
wrong side. 

Our first effort was made along a tall hedge covered 
with snow on the windward side ; on the leeward was a 
tiny stream, and the water had washed a little margin 
clear of snow. The spaniels soon began to feather, and 
a track here and there showed that birds had been there 
that morning ; then one of the dogs paused a moment 
on the bank, cocked his ears, and plunged into a mass 
of brambles, tall grass, and teazles, and out of the 
cascade of snow and tiny icicles a couple of big " French- 
men " bounced, looking as large as pheasants. Both 
birds flew across us, and fell. Three more rose at the 



250 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

shot, and, though they were rather wild, a partridge 
against the snow is a clear mark, and a careful long 
shot brought the last bird down. He would have been 
a runner had the snow allowed, but, finding it impos- 
sible to make any way, he poked his head under the 
snow, and submitted to be caught by Rebel, the retriev- 
ing Clumber. 

Following the little stream up to the higher land, we 
secured another brace of red-legs old birds, with legs 
knotted like a blackthorn stick. One of these was a 
towered bird, and made a beautiful picture on the snow, 
the coral legs and beak and beautiful shades of buff, 
French grey, and chestnut showing up against the white 
background. We also flushed several coveys of grey 
birds ; but these were quite wild, and seemed only extra 
wary on account of the difficulty of concealing them- 
selves. On the higher ground we had some difficulty 
in finding our birds ; but at last we discovered a sunny 
fence, under which four or five coveys had collected. 
This we were able to double ; and though they were 
wilder than we expected, as birds generally are when 
collected in any number, we had very good fun. These 
birds were all lying in the ditch, or rather just below 
the level of the field, as we could see by the holes in 
the snow where they had been sitting. My brother 
secured a right and left, and I two single shots, and two 
birds were marked down in hedges at no great distance. 
One of these the spaniels caught, he having thrust him- 
self under brambles covered with snow, and so became 
entrapped. The other bird rose, and was shot by my 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 251 

brother through the hedge. The dogs could not get 
across to retrieve on account of the piles of snow, so he 
walked down some way until he came to what seemed a 
level crossing, though the absence of gateposts in the 
opening in the fence ought to have warned him. Step- 
ping boldly across, he at once sank into the ditch up to 
his shoulders, only his head and arms appearing above 
the snow. The dogs were dreadfully upset at the 
incident, one of them howling with excitement and 
sympathy. Nor was it an easy matter to get him out, 
for the brambles beneath the snow laced him in. 
However, after taking his gun, I managed to get a 
hurdle and throw it on to the snow, by means of which 
he extricated himself, and then got the bird. By this 
time we were pretty hungry, and were making our way 
to some stacks to eat our luncheon, when the sun, 
which had been shining brightly, was obscured by a fall 
of the finest and driest snow. Then followed a beautiful 
snow scene. A small whirlwind, like those which often 
travel across the cornfields in harvest time, and twist up 
straws and barley swathes to great heights in the air, 
swept round the high plain on which we were, and 
wreathed the light snow into fantastic clouds. Presently 
we found ourselves in the centre of the vortex, and 
stood surrounded by the eddying rime, through which 
the sun dimly penetrated. As we approached the 
stacks we could see that we were not the only creatures 
repairing to them for warmth and shelter. Hundreds 
of yellow-hammers, chaffinches, and greenfinches were 
hopping and fluttering beneath the stacks. The rooks 



252 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

were pulling away the thatch, and a covey of grey 
partridges rose close by, and one fell a long shot to 
my brother's gun. 

The bag, eleven red-legs and one grey bird, were 
laid upon the snow, and admired, and we fell to upon 
the luncheon. As for the cherry brandy, we could 
drink it like claret, and feel no ill effects in such a 
frost. The birds which we had laid upon the snow 
were frozen hard and fast to the surface when we once 
more started to shoot. 

Our idea was to take down a long boundary fence, 
some three-quarters of a mile in length, which marked 
the limit of a three-hundred acre farm. Most of this 
had, in accordance with modern notions, been stripped 
of its hedges, and laid into one monotonous stretch of 
corn land. Many strong coveys of French birds had 
been on it all the season, and had hitherto laughed at 
all our efforts to touch them. 

To-day, as we expected, they were all along the 
boundary fence, and not choosing to desert it for the 
white and covertless expanse of snow, they simply flew 
on, and pitched in again. The first covey rose wild, 
but we saw them all drop in pairs and singly along 
the fence, so calling the dogs in, we hurried onwards. 
A hare then bounced out from the ditch, looking as 
big and brown as a fox, and fell to my gun, and before 
we reached the spot where the other birds had dropped, 
another covey rose, straggling from the fence, and left 
three of their number kicking on the snow ; these also 
went forward, and we began to have great hopes of a 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 253 

bag. Soon the spaniels came to the place where the 
covey had begun to drop in. It was easy to find them, 
for the place where each bird had alighted was plainly 
marked in the snow, with his track leading to the deep 
ditch, and thick straggling hedgerow. The spaniels 
grasped the situation at once, and, instead of floundering 
about in the snowy hedge bottom, went up to the 
place which we indicated, and soon pushed the birds 
up. Five of this covey were secured ; but, even in the 
difficulties of the snow, their usual cunning did not 
altogether forsake them, and many a chance was spoiled 
on my brother's side of the fence by their rising just 
when he was engaged in scrambling over the cross 
fences which were pretty numerous on that side of the 
boundary. Further on we put up two fresh coveys, 
and picked up several single birds, which were by this 
time well scattered. The last twenty yards of the 
fence yielded three, and, counting our bag since 
luncheon, we found that we had ten red-legs and a 
hare. Some of these we decided to take to a large 
farmhouse which stood in some park-like meadows 
surrounded by a moat, like so many of the large farm- 
houses of Suffolk. A good many moor-hens or " water- 
cocks," as they are called in the eastern counties, 
frequented this moat, and " water-cock pie " is a dish 
which any one who has tasted it will wish to try again. 
The moat was frozen tight as an iron safe, and we 
rightly conjectured that the water-hens would have left 
it, and be hiding in the deep ditches in the meadows. 
Both the spaniels were immensely keen in hunting 



254 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

these birds, which give them all the pleasure of running 
the foot scent, as they slip up and down the ditches, 
with the final excitement of a flush. To-day the snow 
wreaths so weighed the brambles down that the birds 
could slip along underneath them, though the dogs 
could not. Several, however, must have run forward 
to a small pond further on, for from the banks of this 
the dogs flushed five, first " setting " them, and then 
making a rush. The water-hen, unable to dive or 
flutter across the water, rose high, and flew back over 
our heads towards the house and moat, giving very 
pretty shots, and we secured all five. 

After leaving some of the game at the farm, and 
getting our cherry brandy flasks refilled, we decided to 
send the man home with the rest of the game, and go 
ourselves to a small spinney near at hand to wait for 
wood-pigeons. Twilight was coming on fast, but the 
light was reflected from the snow, and an early moon 
was already up, looking silvery and white. 

Waiting quietly under the fir-trees, I could hear the 
sounds in the farmyard as the horses were watered and 
taken to the stable, and the calls of the partridges 
before going to their roosting-places in the snow. 
Then an inquisitive jay came down the plantation to 
have a peep at the intruder, and was shot. A flock of 
fieldfares then next arrived, with squeaks and chattering, 
and I was tempted to try and add a few of these 
excellent birds to the projected " water-cock pie." 
Just then I heard the " swish " of wings, and a flock of 
pigeons circled round, and settled in the larches near. 



SHOOTING RED-LEGS IN THE SNOW 255 

One I " potted/' and as the flock dashed off, I heard 
my brother's gun, and surmised that they had paid toll 
in passing. Before long I had two more, and found 
that he had also secured a couple. By this time, 
though not too dark to shoot, the cold was so intense 
that we decided to go home. It was time, for when 
we got there our stockings were tight frozen to our 
boots. 

Apropos of shooting in the snow, I may mention 
a strange experience that occurred to me when shooting 
in the snow near Pangbourne. It had been intended 
to drive partridges on a neighbouring property that 
day, but a deep fall of snow the night before caused 
this to be postponed. In the afternoon I went out 
with another gun, more for exercise than with any 
expectation of killing game. We found one or two 
hares buried in the snow in the way I have mentioned, 
but the birds, which were numerous, \yere much too 
wild to approach, and the immense quantity of snow on 
bush and branch rendered any attempt to beat even 
the smallest spinney impossible. Eventually my 
companion and I separated, he walking along one side 
of a valley, while I, with the keeper, took the opposite 
brow, with the hope that one or other might put birds 
across, and so give a chance of a shot. After some time 
I was far ahead, when I heard a distant cry of " mark,'' 
and a covey of seven birds was seen flying across the 
valley in our direction. The wind was dead against 
them, and it was some time before they reached the 
field we were in, and pitched some sixty yards from us, 



256 IN HIGH SUFFOLK 

the first pair close to the fence, the rest at irregular 
intervals of from one to twenty yards from each other. 
The snow was quite soft and powdery, but my surprise 
was great to see the birds, instead of rising as I 
approached, gradually sink out of sight in the soft 
mass. By the time I reached them only the backs of 
the first pair were visible, and both let me come within 
ten yards before rising. I shot both, and looked for 
the others. . They had disappeared. Presently I saw 
two small depressions in the snow, about an inch lower 
than the rest. When I was quite close, up jumped a 
partridge, which I shot ; and then another from beneath 
the snow. Ten yards further on was another little 
mark in the snow, which also yielded a bird ; and a 
sixth the keeper caught under the fence. The seventh 
rose close by, but I did not shoot. They were in 
splendid condition, plump, and strong. 



SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS 



A WHIT-MONDAY FISHING 

MOUNTAIN, sea, and stream are the natural features 
which most invite tired men from town ; and for our 
part we could never understand where lay the difficulty 
of choice. The human fancy which saw in every 
stream the intelligible form of a god, a nymph, or a 
saint, will not be lightly blamed. There are rivers in 
England to suit every mood of man, and suggest every 
impulse whether of melancholy, merriment, or repose. 
But no one would consciously choose a sad stream as the 
scene of a sojourn, however short, upon its banks. The 
sight of the 

"full-fed river winding slow 
By herds upon an endless plain ; 
The ragged rims of thunder, brooding low, 
With shadow-streaks of rain," 

is apt to breed melancholy and depression, as it did in 
the Soul which owned the " Palace of Art." Nor do 
we love best, even as the companions of a day, those 



258 SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS 

quiet, slumbrous streams which poets' fancies have ever 
painted as singing the lullaby of sleeping gods. The 

" Rivus aquae Lethes, per quern cum murmure labens 
Invitat somnos crepitantibus unda lapillis ; " 

the 

" Rock-born flow of L'ethe's streams, 
With muffled murmur of a thousand tongues, 
Of tinkling pebbles soothing Somnus' dreams." 

Merriment, not repose, is the best and brightest gift of 
the young summer ; and we must seek it, not by the 
solemn rivers of the plain, or by the dropping springs 
of the rocks, but by the brooks that come dancing 
down from the hills, and overrun in a thousand tiny 
channels the sloping meadows of Somerset or Devon. 

There are thousands of such rivulets in the west 
country, not brown and peaty, like the becks of York- 
shire or the burns of Scotland, nor white and glassy, 
like the Hampshire chalk-streams, but honest little 
home-spun brooks without a history, though rarely 
lacking a name, some running through the homesteads 
of the upland farms, some rilling the fish-ponds of the 
old manor-houses, others mere channels in the broken 
faces of the hills. But whatever the nature of their 
upper course, all are alike controlled at last by the 
ingenious western farmer, and carried along the ridges 
of the coombs in a network of terraced rivulets, by a 
system of engineering which tradition has made almost 
perfect for its purpose, until they reunite at last and 
rush through the wooded bottoms to the waiting sea. 
In early summer, these water-meadows are the chosen 



A WH1T-MONDA Y FISHING 259 

resort of every form of wild life in the neighbourhood. 
The leverets come down to nibble the rich grass at 
night, and play along the sides of the tiny dykes ; and 
in the early morning the cock-pheasants slip out from 
the covers to drink and feed. The peewits are tamer 
there than on the hills above, and the wood-pigeons, 
rooks, and jackdaws bathe in the shallows, and leave 
their broken feathers and footmarks on the soft mud. 
Big trout leave the main stream and slip into the cuts, 
where they grow fat on the grubs and insects and 
little trout, and even young salmon force their way 
up to the upper waters, until they reach the utmost 
sources of the stream. 

Owners of the ancient fishponds once attached to 
every house of consideration in the country-side, re- 
membering the old saying that an acre of water is 
worth four acres of land, often take advantage of the 
chance offered by the subdivision of these streams to 
re-stock their home waters with young and lively trout ; 
and if the streams are not too high, a " Whit-Monday 
fishing " with this object will convince the most 
sceptical visitor that the fun and merriment of the 
good old days in the country have by no means passed 
away, and that master and man may still unite in 
the common pursuit of sport and amusement. For 
sport it is, though catching, not killing, be the object, 
and the quarry only lively little brook-trout, and eels, 
and lamperns, destined, however, to grow strong and 
lusty fish in the fat waters of the manor pond. Nor 
need the Hampshire fly-fisher share the feelings of 



260 SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS 

resentment which the writer once saw excited by the 
simple narrative of a method of taking trout in the 
water-meadows, given by an Andover rustic : " When 
us sees a big 'un, us shuts down the sluice ; and then 
us runs he up and down until he be that blowed he 
can't a-move ; and then us gropples he/' For the 
" fishing " entails hard and enduring toil before the 
trout can be transferred from the brook to the tub 
on the cart which waits to carry them to their new 
home. Such, at least, was the experience of the last 
occasion of the kind in which the writer assisted. 

The scene was in a narrow coomb, down which ran 
one of the minor tributaries of the river Yarty, on 
whose banks Sir Francis Drake was born, and beyond 
which lies the Tudor manor-house, which was part of 
the grant awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth, with an 
estate, held, like the house, by his descendants, within 
sight of the birthplace of the first circumnavigator 
of the globe. The stream ran almost beneath the 
windows of an even more ancient manor-house, 1 
dating from the days of Henry VII., on the 
Somerset side of the Yarty, and the trout-pools below 
the mansion were yearly filled from the young fish 
taken from the lower waters. Close by were the 
remains of a Roman gentleman's comfortable villa ; and 
it is not improbable that our Whit-Monday fishing 
may have been a repetition of yearly scenes of country 
economics, supervised by the polite Roman, whose 
interest in domestic comfort doubtless extended from 
1 Whitestaunton Manor. 



A WHIT-MONDAY FISHING 261 

the arrangement of his hypocaust and neatly con- 
structed Turkish bath, still remaining, to the u stagna," 
or fish-ponds, which gave him grilled trout for 
breakfast. 

The spot selected lay in a wood, at a point where 
the brook divided for some distance into two streams, 
the one, straight, deep, and rapid ; the other, a 
succession of small pools, joined by miniature cata- 
racts, in which the water danced down from pool 
to pool over lumps of flint and brown chalcedony. 
Early in the morning, the men for this is no boy's 
work had dammed the last stream at the fork, and 
turned most of the water down the straight channel ; 
and when we tramped through the squashy meadows, 
and the thick growth of wood-elder, wake-robin, wild 
garlic, and blue and pink comfrey in the wood, to join 
the workers, the chain of pools was only connected by 
an inch of trickling water. But the instinct by which 
fish detect and follow the first warning of scarcity, had 
already caused them to withdraw to the deepest holes 
and hollows, and even the groping of a practised hand 
under the banks detected no sign of a trout. No one 
who has not tried to empty it, would believe the 
quantity of water which a small pool holds. When a 
dam of turf cut from the banks has been thrown across, 
to prevent the waters below running back as the surface 
sinks, two men step into the pool, and rapidly and 
steadily, like machines, fling the water forward and over 
it, until the sweat rolls from their foreheads, and we 
volunteer to take their places. Stepping into the cool 



262 SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS 

water, we do our best to imitate the mechanical swing 
and cast of the practised hands, until the pails strike the 
bottom, and only a few gallons remain. Then, as we 
grope in among the rocks and stones, the water seems 
alive with fish, and the excitement grows. Half-a- 
dozen pairs of hands are busy feeling among the slippery 
roots and hovers, and shouts of laughter rise, as the 
nimble trout spring from the grasping fingers, or are 
held and carried full speed across the brambles and 
under-growth to the tub. Nothing could exceed the 
beauty of these small brook-trout, streaked with yellow, 
olive, and silver, and studded with vermilion spots, and 
showing their contempt for the temporary discomfort of 
their capture by a violent jump and fling of their tail 
as they drop from the hands of their muddy captor into 
the clean water of the tub. But the trout, though the 
main object of the foray, are not the only denizens of 
the pool. Eels and lampreys and the odd little 
" miller's thumbs " abound, and the pursuit of the eels 
is an endless source of laughter and mishap. A big 
yellow eel slips through half-a-dozen pairs of hands, 
writhing round and under rocks, in and out of the 
tree-roots from which the water has worn the soil, and 
back into the deepest hole left in the pool. " Drat 
he ! " exclaims an old labourer, looking at his bruised 
knuckles, " he be so nimble as a little pig," citing 
appropriately the most difficult creature to catch next 
to an eel in his experience. But at last the trout and 
eels are all caught, and nothing left in the pool but the 
" miller's thumbs," or " bull-heads," and certain tiny 



A WHIT-MONDAY FISHING 263 

and game-like little fish, which we suspect to be, not 
troutlets, but young salmon. In the larger pools which 
hold the finest trout, it is often impossible to throw 
away enough water to make the capture. 

The closing scene of the " fishing " was a swan-hunt, 
in order to capture and shut up the royal birds, which 
would have given little law to the young trout when 
turned, tired and bewildered, into the strange waters of 
the manor ponds ; and it was not until after much 
manoeuvring and strategy that the swans were driven 
from the water, and shut up, hissing and indignant, in 
the pen which is reserved for such occasions. But 
the fish soon become accustomed to the spacious waters 
of their new home, and there thrive and grow fat, 
until they fall victims to the rod, and form not the 
least welcome of the " kindly fruits of the earth " which 
a well-managed estate provides for its owner's table. 

In a similar enterprise in a different part of Somer- 
setshire, at which the writer assisted, a number of fine 
trout took refuge in a deep hole under the bank, where 
the tips of their tails only would be reached by the 
hands stretched to the utmost limit which the water 
allowed,. >: One of the party, fired by the enthusiasm of 
the moment, divested himself of all raiment, and lying 
down in the water, drew out, one by one, the reluctant 
fish. Meantime, the "water " became a thin red paste, 
deeply coloured by the red marl of the district, and 
when the successful bather emerged, he stood like an 
interesting example of terra-cotta statuary, until a dip 
in the mill-pool enabled him to resume his costume. 



264 SOMERSETSHIRE COOMBS 

The pools which it was intended to stock were a 
chain formed in one of the lovely coombs that run 
down from the Quantock Hills towards the Bristol 
Channel. At the head of it is a pass which the red- 
deer stag usually take when hunted in this neighbour- 
hood, and making for the sea. Lower down, where 
masses of deep purple heather and bracken almost hid 
the little stream, the owner had made one or two 
small pools, by throwing a few stems of Scotch fir 
across, and banking them with turf. The experiment 
grew more interesting the lower down the valley he 
descended. The pools grew larger, the trout more 
numerous, and the satisfaction which attends minor 
engineering feats, prompted further efforts. At length 
he plunged boldly into building, and made a fine stone 
wall across the coomb, and gained an additional pool 
larger than a tennis lawn. All went well during the 
summer, though the farmer who lived lower down 
sometimes expressed a doubt as to what might happen 
in winter rains. There was a small farmyard and 
piggery below, and a kitchen garden, and further down a 
long narrow lake in the grounds of the owner's house. 
One night the farmer was awakened by dismal sounds, 
and a sound of waters. The stone dyke had given 
way, the water was rushing down, and had washed the 
pigs into the gooseberry bushes. Soon it tore these up, 
and pigs, garden, and gooseberry bushes went rolling on 
to the lake. The lake burst its lower end, and went 
on an excursion down the road, and far into the valley, 
taking with it thousands of tench and eels, which were 



A WHIT-MONDAY FISHING 265 

picked up, wriggling and perplexed, in the newly- 
formed river-bed in the road. This was an unfortunate 
result of amateur engineering ; but the business of 
making fish-pools is now better understood, and the 
results are beyond measure satisfactory to the owners 
of these artificial lakes. 



266 



THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 

IN November 1891 a spotted eagle was caught at 
Elmstead near Colchester. It appears to have alighted 
exhausted in a field, and to have been there chased and 
caught, after weak efforts to fly, by a labourer, who 
sold it to a gipsy, from whom it was bought by a 
benevolent bird-stuffer ; and as it is reported to have 
eaten in three days a rabbit, a large fowl, and many 
pounds of mutton, it may be taken that its health was 
perfectly restored, after its involuntary flight across the 
German Ocean. For the spotted eagle is amongst the 
rarest stragglers to England, and the bird should by 
this time be far on its journey to the south, or making 
its way with others of its kind up the Nile Valley, 
towards the mountains of Abyssinia. But though the 
spotted eagle is so rare a visitor to this country, eagles 
are less uncommon in England than might be supposed, 
and hardly a season passes in which they are not seen, 
even in the south. Two are said to have been seen 
flying over Westminster during the frost of February 
1895 > an d though this report is not corroborated, it is 
certain that during the past few years, sea-eagles have 



THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 267 

been seen frequently in the Isle of Thanet and in the 
great flats and marshes near the estuary of the Thames ; 
and though there were constant notices of their appear- 
ance in the local papers, owing to the open nature of 
the country, and the absence of game-preserving and 
vermin-traps, they have generally escaped destruction. 
In other parts of Kent, they have been less fortunate. 
In 1887, one was shot at Minster, and one at Eastwell 
Park. But a third which was seen was not destroyed, 
though the dangerous attraction of the game-preserves 
must naturally tempt the hungry young eagles from 
the safer but almost foodless marshes 1 by the coast. 
Most of those killed in the south are young sea-eagles, 
which seem to follow a general line along the east coast, 
and sometimes so far adhere to the ancient instincts of 
their race as to make some stay in the Norfolk warrens 
and marshes, where they were once so common as 
to be known as the " fen-eagles." But eagles appear 
in other parts of England, and it is probable that if 
they could be protected from those who, unlike 
shepherds and gamekeepers, have neither lambs nor 
game to suffer from their ravenous appetite, some 
might come once more to nest in their ancient breeding- 
places in the cliffs of the south and west. 

An eagle which was clearly not a passing autumn 
traveller, but which remained till late in the winter, 
appeared a few years ago on the Quantock Hills, a 

1 Those marshes near Rochester, where the Cliffe coursing club 
hold their meetings, and on the Essex coast near Southminster 
are an exception. They swarm with hares. 



268 THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 

district quite apart from the line of migration of the 
coasting eagles, and one in which the cliffs and coast of 
the Bristol Channel, and the open country on the 
Quantock and Brendon Hills and Exmoor, offer a 
home as suited to the sea-eagle as the coasts of Jura. 
" We first saw the eagle," writes a correspondent, " on 
Christmas Day, circling above the carcass of a sheep on 
the side of the hill. For several days we observed the 
bird wheeling over the moor, mainly on the high hills ; 
but once or twice it was seen flying over the low lands 
near the villages. It had evidently been feeding upon 
the sheep, which was freshly killed, but probably not 
by the eagle ; it was too early for lambs upon the 
hills, so it probably fed upon carrion and rabbits. It 
remained for about a month after we saw it, but 
towards the end of January it was wounded by some 
gunner, and afterwards picked up dead by a labourer." 
If this eagle had escaped, it might perhaps have found 
a mate and occupied the old eyrie in Lundy Island, 
and the eagle and the red-deer might have once more 
become neighbours on the coasts of Devon and 
Somerset. Since the death of the bird mentioned, 
another is said by a good observer to have haunted the 
Quant ocks, near St. Audreys ; if so, it has so far 
escaped the fate of its predecessor. Culver Cliffs, in 
the Isle of Wight, are said to have been an old eyrie of 
the erne, or sea-eagle ; and the Arnescliff, a mass of 
stone jutting from one of the hills in Wharfedale, in 
Yorkshire, still recalls its former presence south of the 
border. But as most of those which might settle again 



THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 269 

in the English cliffs are young birds driven by their 
parents from the eyries in the north, we must look to 
Scotland as the source of supply ; and there it is to be 
feared that the sea-eagles are dwindling in numbers, 
mainly owing to the incessant war waged upon them 
by shepherds and " oologists." It may be doubted 
whether the bribes offered by the latter are not more 
stimulating than even the loss of their lambs in spring- 
time to the egg-robbing ardour of the shepherds. Still, 
the sea-eagles are by general consent ill neighbours to 
the young lambs which are born on the hills, and lie 
out scattered on the moors. On the poor and barren 
Highland coast there is little farm stock to be injured, 
except the lambs ; but where they are to be found, 
little pigs are said to offer great temptations to the 
sea-eagles, and one was caught in the Hebrides in a 
stye into which it had descended, but which was too 
narrow to allow it to spread its wings and escape. 
What a scene such a foray among the pigs would cause 
in a well-regulated English farmyard ! The statement 
of a shepherd that in one season more than thirty 
lambs were killed by eagles on a single sheep-farm has 
been doubted, on the ground that it would be impos- 
sible to judge the actual loss, or the cause, on the wide 
area of a Highland " farm." But perhaps the critics 
know more of the eagle's habits than of those of the 
sheep, or of the minute and careful knowledge possessed 
by the shepherds as to the numbers of the flocks, and 
the particular spots in which the ewes drop their lambs 
on the hills. 



27 o THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 

Even when half-tamed and provided with food, the 
sea-eagle does not lose its predatory habits. A full- 
grown young bird, which had met with some injury, 
was kept for some weeks and fed by the gardener at an 
old castle in the West, which has been the home of the 
chiefs of a highland clan for perhaps as long as the cliff 
of which it forms almost a part has been the eyrie of 
the sea-eagles. When cured and released, it returned 
to be fed, and in time grew so familiar as to enter the 
house. The dining-room, as in many ancient Scotch 
houses, was at the top of the castle, with several windows 
looking out over the Atlantic. Breakfast was laid, and 
many of the guests were in the room, when an open 
window was suddenly darkened as the eagle flew in from 
the sea, and, folding its wings, alighted on the sill. It 
then flapped on to the table, and after looking at the 
guests standing in the room, it made its way down the 
table, and swallowed the butter, which was set for use 
at intervals down the board. For two years the eagle 
lived about the castle ; but its visits to the farmyards 
were not less frequent, and though " indemnity " for 
these outrages was freely paid, it is to be feared that 
the eagle's disappearance was due to a reprisal from an 
injured flock-owner. There is, however, good reason 
to believe that the golden eagle, which at one time 
seemed destined to extermination, is rapidly increasing 
in numbers. By a fortunate chance, its powers of 
destruction, which incurred the revenge of the shep- 
herds and grouse-preservers, are of certain service to 
the deer-stalker by keeping down the numbers of 



THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 271 

mountain-hares which live on the hills, and often spoil 
the success of a hard morning's stalking by jumping up 
and alarming the deer. For once, the sportsman and a 
bird of prey can exist together, and the eagles are 
carefully protected in order that they may aid in 
keeping the forests clear of all other animals but deer. 
In these vast preserves quiet, secluded, and untrodden 
by sheep or shepherds the golden eagles are now 
suffered to rear their young, and have so far increased 
in numbers that it is rare to meet with a deer-stalker 
who is not familiar with their appearance, and in some 
degree with their habits. They occasionally kill a deer- 
calf, and have been known to attack the full-grown 
deer. But their main food is the blue hares, and these 
are so numerous that the problem of maintaining in 
any numbers a carnivorous bird which will swallow 
five or six pounds of meat at a meal presents no 
difficulties. It is quite likely that, where several of 
these protected districts adjoin, the golden eagles will 
once more become numerous. In California, where 
they find an inexhaustible supply of food in the 
land-tortoises of the plains a curious commentary on 
the story of the death of ^Eschylus, caused by a tortoise 
let fall by an eagle they are not only common but 
exceedingly tame, building their nests near roads and 
houses. One nest was found in a small live-oak near a 
road, and only thirty feet from the ground, built of 
sticks of the poison-oak and sage-brush. An old 
nest was close by. Another eagle had decorated its 
nest with a large " soap-root " by way of ornament ; 



272 THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 

and the next year the same bird built close by, and 
also procured a " soap-root " to place on the side of its 
nest, which showed some individuality in taste. A 
third eagle had a fancy for sacks, and after its old nest, 
which contained a corn-sack, had been blown out by a 
storm, it built a fresh one close by, and in this was 
found another and a new sack. The eagles seem to be, 
at any rate in some parts of California, almost as 
common as the kite was in England, and to have 
the same propensity for carrying to their nests any 
object which strikes them as ornamental or interesting. 
It is not to be supposed that, under the most favourable 
circumstances, the golden eagle will increase to such 
numbers in the Highlands. But there is every proba- 
bility that, as its area extends in the North, some of its 
earlier breeding places in the South, such as the 
Cheviots, the Peak of Derbyshire, or Westmoreland 
and Cumberland, where it nested as lately as 1838, 
may be revisited, and that we may before long see the 
golden eagle re-established in England. 

The following extracts from a letter communicated 
to the writer by one who has unequalled facilities for 
acquaintance with golden eagles gives an idea of the 
great increase in their numbers, and of their boldness 
in the " protected areas " of the deer forests where they 
live. " Eagles are more plentiful now, I should imagine, 
in this forest than anywhere else in Scotland, as they 
have always been carefully preserved. Three years 
ago, indeed, while I was stalking hinds in the winter, 
I saw eight in one day. One rarely goes out stalking 






THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 273 

without seeing one or more in that beat of the forest. 
On the other side of the river also they are comparatively 
plentiful. Their food consists of all sorts of game, 
sheep, and lambs. They seem to prefer young deer 
and hares to anything else. These they kill, though 
they prefer the former sick, and unable to help them- 
selves. They are also rather destructive among lambs. 
An eagle, unless hungry, seems to be a cowardly bird, 
and rarely attacks anything that seems likely to give 
it much trouble. Last year I was stalking, and shot a 
calf by accident, which was coming up beside a hart, in 
a sort of gulley formed by a rock, thus 



Q 




I was at the point x, and shot the beast at D. The 
remainder ran over the ridge, about twenty or thirty 
feet high above them, and I ran after them. I shot a 
hart at about Q, and ran back to see what I had done at 
D. There I found my calf, with his eyes already torn 
out by an eagle, which was sitting on him, and just 
about to begin a good meal. It must have been very 
hungry, as after I had shot the calf I was never twenty 
yards from it, and fired a shot, though I was on the 
other side of the hill. It was a misty day, which would 
make a little difference. 

" We often shoot grouse under a kite at the end of 



274 THE EAGLE IN ENGLAND 

the season, when it would otherwise be impossible to get 
within shot of them. The kite is made in the shape 
of an eagle, and causes the birds to sit better, and rare 
sporting shots they give when they rise. This kite is 
a sure draw for any eagles in the neighbourhood. They 
come swinging round it, completely puzzled, and cannot 
make it out at all. The other day we were accompanied 
for two or three hours by an eagle, a falcon, and a 
merlin, all at the same time." 



275 



CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 

IT is more difficult to sympathize with other people's 
amusements than with their troubles in this world. 
The reflection is not new, but so many amusements are, 
that we are constantly invited to recognize its truth. 
The attraction of mountain-climbing, especially in the 
minor form in which it can be enjoyed in England, is 
a case in point. Yet the admiration for our mountain 
scenery is a semi-modern sentiment. Speaking of the 
beautiful Lune Valley, Defoe wrote, " This part of the 
country seemed very strange and dismal to us (nothing 
but mountains in view, and stone walls for hedges, 
some oatcakes for bread, or clapat bread as it is called). 
As these hills were so lofty, so they had an aspect of 
terror. Here were no rich pleasant valleys between 
them as in the Alps ; no lead-mines and veins of rich 
ore as in the Peak ; no coal-pits as in the hills about 
Halifax ! " The pleasure of climbing for climbing's 
sake is almost as little understood by many minds at 
the present day, as the picturesque forms of the moun- 
tains were by Defoe. Yet it is increasingly popular, as 
may be seen from the work on this amusement as now 



276 CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 

practised in this country, which Mr. Haskett Smith 
recently published, 1 though it is not in the Cumberland 
Fells that the taste for mountain-craft usually origin- 
ates. It is the High Alps that make the first and 
obvious appeal to the uninitiated. The gratification of 
the sense of sight is the main inducement held out by 
the mountain-tops. The rims and peaks of the ice- 
capped walls which rise so high and so steep that the 
eye does not readily see clear of their summits, unless 
the natural poise of the head be altered, promises a 
view so boundless and majestic if once the barrier be 
topped, that the imagination is kept in a constant 
crescendo of excitement and curiosity until the summit 
is reached. To stand level with the heads of twenty 
Alps, whose glittering peaks stud the horizon like a 
riviere of brilliants, or to see the plains of Lombardy 
spread, like a carpet, ten thousand feet below, and thirty 
miles beyond, or the rising sun " stand tiptoe on the 
misty mountain-top," or the " bright white lightning " 
leap from the thunderstorm in the valley below, or, 
best of all, to look from some untrodden peak from 
which no human eye ever yet gazed, these are the 
promises which beckon the climbers to the mountain. 
Experience often shows them to be delusive ; but it is 
not experience which issues the first summons. That 
is the work of imagination, though experience often 
transforms it into a longing which outlasts the ability 
to gratify it. The exhilaration of the air is such that 

1 Climbing in the British Isles England. By W. P. Haskett 
Smith. London : Longmans. 



CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 277 

at reasonable heights of from five to ten thousand feet, 
a buoyancy of spirits and strength of body seem to 
accrue such as is only felt elsewhere in rare and happy 
dreams. All sights and sounds are new and beautiful. 
The flora changes, and the climber finds himself among 
flowers and plants unknown, in a setting equally un- 
familiar. Sounds gain a strange clearness and resonance, 
and the mere effort of producing the voice has an effect 
of sonority such as nothing but some mechanical in- 
strument could render in the dull air which creeps on 
the level ground. Then at the last comes the need for 
physical exertion, coolness, and skill, under the very 
circumstances of atmosphere and mental exhilaration 
most likely to secure their successful development. 
The extent to which the English mountains are now 
used as a training-ground for the delights of Alpine 
climbing is evident from the familiarity with particular 
spots which Mr. Haskett Smith's book presupposes in 
his readers. The delightful difficulties which may be 
found and surmounted in the ascents of the Pillar 
Rock, of Pavey Ark, Napes Needle, and Moss Gill, 
are given with the minuteness of detail which is usually 
bestowed on the climb of some High Alp without a 
guide. Ice-climbing needs special practice in the glacial 
regions. But rock-climbing can be learnt almost as 
well on the mountains of the Lake district as on any 
others. There, according to recent experience, it " may 
be enjoyed by amateurs without incurring the reproach 
of recklessness, while they may at the same time enjoy 
the exquisite pleasure of forming their own plans of 



278 CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 

attack, of varying the execution of them according to 
their own judgment, and finally of meeting obstacles, 
as they arise, with their own skill and by their own 
strength, and overcoming them without the aid of a 
hired professional." The peculiar charm of these 
mountains, to the initiated, consists in the cracks, or 
" chimneys," which seam the precipices from top to 
bottom. Sometimes these are damp with trickling 
water, and Nature has thoughtfully lined them with 
moss. Too often they are only hard and angular 
crevices, like three sides of a chimney-top. Up these 
the climber wriggles, like an eel in a pipe. In reading 
the records of their ascent, one is tempted to muse on 
the relative nature of pleasure. It is not long since 
master-sweeps were sent to prison for sending their 
apprentice boys up real chimneys, not nearly so high, 
nor so dangerous, as those of Moss Gill. It was in the 
interest of these human victims that a philanthropist 
made the happy suggestion that a live goose pulled up 
the flue with a string would do just as well, or, if not, 
that a couple of ducks would answer the purpose. Now, 
amateurs in climbing go to Cumberland to experience 
the sensations which must have been part of the every- 
day lot of the chimney boy, and record their enjoyment 
in print. The high spirits and serious fun which 
underlie these accounts speak volumes for the benefits 
of mountain air. Winter climbing adds the pleasures 
of surmounting snow and ice in considerable quantities, 
in addition to the difficulties of the natural rocks. The 
" Lakes " have now a winter season, entirely devoted to 



CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 279 

the best class of English climbing. "There is no 
time," writes Mr. Haskett Smith, " at which a trip to 
Lakeland is more thoroughly enjoyable. In the first 
place, there is no crowd. You can be sure that you 
will get a bed, and that the people of the house will not 
be too overworked to make you comfortable. You will 
have no companions but life-long lovers of the moun- 
tains, and robust young fellows whose highest ambition 
is to gain admission to the Alpine Club, or having 
gained it, to learn to wield with some appearance of 
dexterity the ponderous ice-axes which are indispensable 
to the dignity of their position. How different are the 
firm outlines of the distant peaks from the hazy in- 
distinctness which usually falls to the lot of the summer 
tourist ! What sensation is more delightful than that of 
tramping along while the smooth crisp snow crunches 
under the feet, and gazing upward at the lean black 
crags standing out boldly from the long smooth slopes 
of dazzling white ! Christmas in Cumberland is usually 
dry and fine, as is pointed out triumphantly by those 
who resent Mr. James Payn's sarcastic allusion to " dry 
weather " in the Lakes, " which is said to have occurred 
about the year 1824." 

The Yorkshire dales, Cornwall, and Dartmoor, 
though their beauties are not disparaged, have less 
attraction for the ardent learner in mountaineering. 
The axiom that " a very fine hill may be a very bad 
climb," applies both to the " tors " and the limestone 
carrs and crags of millstone grit. But the great sea- 
cliffs of England offer a peculiar and natural playground 



2 8o CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 

to the devotee of climbing. Old-fashioned cragsmen, 
who, unlike the modern school, risked their necks with 
a purpose, if only for the very inadequate one of 
gathering sea-fowls* eggs, or taking a falcon's or raven's 
eyrie, chose an exactly opposite method of attack to 
that now in favour. They accepted the fact that it is 
usually easier to reach the juts and ledges of a cliff 
from the top than from the bottom, and that 
scrambling about on slippery chalk or treacherous lime- 
stone was quite dangerous enough for glory, if the rope 
were made fast to a crowbar above, and not to the 
waists of a line of climbers tied together like bits of 
paper on the tail of a kite. Of course, these men 
sometimes grew over-confident, and paid the penalty 
with their lives ; but the margin of safety is usually 
ample, and there is no reason why the particular crags- 
man who has taken the young ravens from the Culver 
Cliffs, in the Isle of Wight, for the last seven years, 
should not do so till he is too stiff to climb. But the 
modern athlete prefers to treat the cliffs as training- 
grounds for practising manoeuvres likely to be useful in 
recognized mountaineering. The use of the rope is 
not discountenanced, but only in Alpine form, as a link 
between the climbers. Some of the directions for the 
" use of cliffs " seem horribly dangerous ; and the art of 
climbing is considered so entirely an end in itself, that 
the precipices are merely mentioned in the terms of the 
material for the exercise of a fine art, chalk being 
described rather quaintly as a " treacherous and difficult 
medium, and one which is likely to lead those practising 



CLIMBING IN ENGLAND 281 

on it to be very careful climbers." The uses of the 
magnificent cliffs of Dover, and between that place and 
Folkstone, with the precipices of Beachy Head, and the 
vertical cliffs to the west of it, are thus indicated for 
the enjoyment of seaside visitors who may think of a 
visit to the English lakes next year, and of qualifying 
for the Alps the year after. " As a rule chalk is only 
sufficiently solid for real climbing for the first 20 ft. 
above high-water mark, though here and there 40 ft. of 
fairly trustworthy rock may be found. These sections 
of hard chalk are invariably those which at their base 
are washed by the sea at high tide." " Traverses," or 
scrambles sideways, are the proper exercises in these 
delightful spots ; " a good olyectifmay be found in the 
endeavour to work out a route to the various small 
beaches that are cut off by the high tide and the cliffs." 
The discovery of these little hidden bays and rock- 
gardens is always interesting ; but though Mr. Haskett 
Smith properly cautions his readers that in climbing the 
upper precipices of the chalk slopes, "a slip would 
almost certainly prove fatal," he omits to mention that 
if not killed the modest " passager " who breaks his 
leg by a slip from the sea-washed base is also pretty 
certain to drown at high tide. Nor should it be for- 
gotten that climbing, even on Cumberland fells, is 
perhaps the severest form of exercise known, and that 
the results of overstrain are almost equally dangerous 
with those of a fall, when the exhilaration of mountain 
air has led to an overtax of a frame fresh from the 
sedentary life of professional work. 



282 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

THE Yorkshire Fen is less well-known than those 
of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. Yet its history 
is not less interesting, and its present appearance, 
especially in those parts which lie in the narrower 
valleys, and were formerly arms of the great marshy 
sea, is far more picturesque, owing to the number of 
woods and plantations which flourish on its black and 
rotten soil. It was the first of all the large fen areas 
to be reclaimed, and the history of its reclamation is 
one of singular interest. For the details the reader 
should consult the life of Sir Cornelius Vermuylen, in 
Dr. Smiles' Lives of the Engineer s> and the story as told 
by Abraham de la Pryme, F.R.S., in the MS. History 
of Hatfield in the British Museum. This is not the 
" Hatfield " owned by Lord Salisbury, but the ancient 
fen of "Hatfield Chase," which with the Isle of 
Axholme, and the marshes lying between the Don, 
Thorne, Idle, and Trent rivers, constitutes the York- 
shire fen. Sixty thousand acres of this great tract were 
drained by Cornelius Vermuylen, the Dutch engineer, 
in 1626, who in two years completed a task which 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 283 

a commission appointed to report on its possibility 
had declared impossible. The nature of the ground at 
that time may be judged from the fact that when 
James I. visited the country five hundred deer were 
collected from the drier parts of the fen, and made to 
swim across the waters, where they were caught from 
boats. The scene must have been much like that of 
hunting the swamp deer of Borneo. The local name 
for the upper levels of the reclamation is the " Carrs," 
and each village usually has attached to it a part of 
this reclamation which bears its name, such as Loversall 
Carr, Wad worth Carr, Balby Carr, and others. The 
portion with which the writer is best acquainted is that 
which lies south-west of Doncaster, in the valley, or 
what is now the valley, but was once the marsh, of the 
rivers Thorne and Idle. This was an outlying branch 
of the great fen, which originally extended on the 
north to the river Humber, on the east to the lowlands 
of the Trent, and on the south into Nottinghamshire, 
and included the Isle of Axholme, Thorne Waste, 
Marshland, and the Fen of Hatfield Chase. Before 
the end of last century, according to a most interesting 
article on this fen by Mr. Eagle Clarke, which appeared 
in the Field of November 26, 1887, there were not 
only vast numbers of duck breeding in the fen, but 
in addition the bittern, rufF, and reeve, the black- 
tailed godwit, the marsh harrier, the great crested grebe, 
and the water-rail, all bred commonly on the " Potterick 
Carr" above Doncaster. In 1762 John Smeaton, the 
builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse, showed how the 



2 8 4 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

lingering surface waters might be made to disappear. 
The drainage and enclosure of the flats, now separated 
by deep and impassable streams, and planted with wide 
and enduring woods by private owners, extends a natural 
protection to the remaining species which still in count- 
less numbers make the " carrs " their home. In no 
inland region that the writer has yet seen are the larger 
birds found in such astonishing numbers, or so easily 
observed, as in the wooded portions of the "carrs." 
Nor need this be matter for surprise, where food, water, 
shelter, and quiet are found over vast spaces of land. 
The farms and villages are far removed on the higher 
ground, seated, as it were, with their feet in the quiet 
marshes, where breadth and solitude are broken only by 
the thick and silent woods, and the slow-running rivers : 
a dark country, with dark skies, and trees, and waters. 
The very mole-hills are black, and the dykes bridged 
by heart of oak, black as coal, and dug from the peat 
of the fen. Even on the sound land on the border of 
the marsh, where the ancient trees survive, the giant 
poplars which fringe the pools have leaves as dark as 
those on which the vapours of invaded Tartarus left 
their mark for ever. Yet, unlike most marsh-lands, 
the " carrs " are neither gloomy nor deserted. But 
birds, not men, people the flats ; and to meet them the 
visitor must keep early hours, and be abroad by sunrise, 
or in summer a little later ; for it is possible to be too 
early for the birds, even after day has broken, and at 
four o'clock on a summer's morning even they are 
scarcely awake. Here there is no sudden leap of 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 285 

Nature from sleep to active and eager life as in the 
tropics, where the beginning and ending of light and 
darkness are as rapid as the lighting and quenching 
of a torch, and the hour of disappearance of the 
creatures of night is fixed by the quick and tyrannous 
invasion of the sun. The early visitor to the stream- 
side will surprise the wild ducks and herons before they 
leave their feeding-grounds for the day. In that part 
of the " carrs " with which the writer is best acquainted, 
the heronry lies in the centre of a thousand-acre wood, 
from which the birds sally in all directions to hunt the 
streams at night. In the early morning their grey and 
ghostly forms may be seen, as they stand quietly in the 
long meadow-grass, resting after their night's fishing, 
or wading about in the long, wet herbage. Seen 
among the white and curling vapours which lie upon 
the dripping aftermath, they seem like the spirits of the 
fen, as they slowly spread their wings and sail away 
towards the sunrise to their sanctuary beyond the 
stream. The departure of the herons is the signal for 
a general awakening of the main bird-population of the 
" carrs. " Though the sunbeams have scarcely pene- 
trated the lower levels of the mist, the tree-tops in the 
plantations are already glowing with the morning rays, 
and the noise of the birds is astonishing. The tree- 
tops are full of rooks and jackdaws, wood-pigeons and 
stock-doves ; and like children, their first impulse on 
awakening is to chatter. The rush and clatter of wings 
as the flocks leave the wood for their feeding-grounds 
is like the sound of the sea, and their numbers beyond 



286 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

conjecture. The fallow fields, where the roughly 
ploughed clods are dry and warm, are first visited, not 
only by the rooks, jackdaws, and pigeons, but also by 
the flocks of peewits which have been feeding all 
night on the wet marshes. The last come, not for 
food, but, as it seems, for rest and company, remaining 
quite still and quiet, and apparently enjoying the 
warmth of the morning sun. But the great flocks of 
day-feeding birds are eager in search of food, the rooks 
and jackdaws prying beneath every clod, while the 
pigeons fly over each other's backs, struggling for a 
place in the crowd like their tame relations in a 
London square. Perhaps the latest birds to awaken to 
the business of the day are the partridges. Even in 
August the coveys do not seem to move till six o'clock, 
when they may be heard calling and making up their 
minds to leave their roosting-places for the first-cut 
stubbles. By eight o'clock in August or September, 
the birds have ceased feeding, and fly to the river to 
bathe and drink, by some common and well-understood 
impulse, which brings the flocks in noisy and cheerful 
companies to the water-side. When coming down to 
drink, their flight and manner of approach is altogether 
different from that which marks their descent upon the 
fallow fields which are their morning feeding-grounds. 
The serious business of the day is over, and they gO' 
down to the water in great companies and processions, 
flying low over the ground and constantly alighting 
for a short time, then rising and flying onwards with 
much cawing, chattering, and gossip. Several different 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 287 

kinds unite in these bathing- parties. On one occasion 
the writer saw a flock which must have numbered at 
least a thousand rooks and jackdaws approaching the 
water in this manner. With them were scores of wood- 
pigeons, a flock of turtle-doves, and a number of 
peewits, all of which flew or alighted at the same time 
in the same direction. The stream was flowing rapidly 
and smoothly between high embankments, and it was 
only here and there that the cattle, or some careless 
weed-cutter, had trampled down the edges sufficiently 
to make the access to the water easy for the birds. All 
these " bathing ghats," as we could see by looking up 
the straight cut from behind the decayed stump of the 
last great tree that stood upon the marsh before the 
forest disappeared, were occupied by crowds of rooks 
and pigeons drinking and bathing, until others came 
down and pushed them forward till they were obliged 
to fly across the stream. There they sat in long rows 
on the rails which run by the side of the dyke, drying 
themselves or preening their feathers, until the whole 
row of fencing was covered with black lines of cawing 
and chattering birds. In no long time the water 
brought down traces of the bath, in the shape of 
hundreds of floating feathers, lightly cushioned on the 
surface of the stream. Not even the floating thistle- 
down lies more gracefully on the water, than do these 
little fleets of feathers from the morning toilet of the 
birds, the crisp and curling black plumes from the breast 
of rook and jackdaw sailing by like fairy gondolas, while 
here and there a feather from a pigeon's wing, with a 



288 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

drop of water for ballast in its curve, catches the wind 
at every gust, and sails among the lesser craft and 
dances on the ripples like some miniature yacht. 

The pheasants and partridges also visit the stream to 
drink, though not to bathe. Hidden near one of their 
favourite drinking-places, the writer has more than 
once observed the care and anxiety which the wild 
pheasant exhibits when bringing her brood to the water. 
Men are so rarely seen upon the " carrs," that her fears 
must be due, not to the danger from human interference, 
but to the attacks of the hawks and magpies, foxes and 
stoats, which enjoy almost the same freedom from 
disturbance as the other wild creatures of the fen. The 
pheasants invariably approach the stream from a wood 
near by a long hedgerow, which runs down to the water, 
and gives complete protection from winged enemies. 
The old bird then ascends the bank, and after some 
moments spent in surveying the neighbourhood with 
head erect and motionless, she descends and drinks, 
raising her head like a fowl after each draught. A low 
call then summons the brood, who descend in turn, 
while the old bird once more mounts guard. If dis- 
turbed, the whole brood run into the fence, with a 
speed and silence more to be expected from some nimble 
four-footed animal than in a bold and strong-flying 
bird like the wild pheasant. The partridges, on the 
contrary, drink at the most open spots, flying in a body 
with much noise and calling to the waters, and returning 
as hastily when their thirst is satisfied. By nine o'clock 
the "carrs" are almost deserted by the birds. The 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 289 

pheasants are in the corn, or hidden in the plantations. 
Rooks, jackdaws, and pigeons have flown far up into 
the cultivated ground, the plovers have followed them, 
the herons are asleep in the thick woods, before the 
shepherd drives his flock to feed on the drying grasses 
of the fen. 

In the great frosts the running streams which flow 
from the upper ground into the " carrs " are an almost 
certain haunt of wild-duck, and the writer was for many 
years accustomed to visit the fen before breakfast, when 
the only light was the topaz glow in the sky before the 
winter dawn, and the moon had a planet opposite its 
curve, as bright as that which shone when the Turks 
stormed the city of Constantine. The way to the fen lay 
along the side of a wood, below a park in which warm 
springs rose from the limestone almost at the edge of the 
flat. No frost, even those recently experienced, ever 
froze this "dyke," to which the contrast of green weeds, 
running water, and, in such weather, clouds of warm 
vapour rolling from the surface, gave an almost tropical 
appearance, while all the ground round was crusted with 
snow and frost needles. The rush and flutter of the 
water-hens in the thick rushes, the thin dry sound of the 
reeds as they rustled and bent in the cold morning 
gusts, and the darkness of the wood which fringed one 
side of the water, made this one of the most unusual 
scenes I have ever met with in English cultivated 
districts. A brook below was the favourite haunt of 
the duck, which fed in the warm dyke by night, and 

then lay in the brook which was still more removed 

u 



2 9 o THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

from the ordinary paths of the labourers on the farms. 
In the half-light every splash of a water-rat or rail 
suggested the immediate rise of duck ; and when they 
did fly up from the deep brook, sometimes in a flock 
of from eight to a dozen, over-anxiety and the dusky 
light often made the shooting less straight than it 
should have been. By the time the true " carrs " were 
reached the sun was well risen, and the view across the 
flat " line landscape " with its level waste of snow, long 
black lines of dyke, and straight walls of trees fringing 
the distance was very striking. The drains and rivers 
were almost without bridges ; there are no more roads 
than when the marsh was impassable, and the farm- 
houses and villages to which the " carrs " are annexed 
lie far away. Consequently there are neither men 
nor houses on the marsh, and the early visitor is 
absolutely alone. When the duck had been dis- 
turbed in the higher levels of the " carrs," it was not 
unusual to see a " wedge " flying steadily down the fen, 
seeking open water in the main river. This was an 
exciting moment, for if they pitched, owing to the high 
banks, a shot was certain. On one occasion the writer 
and another watched seven duck come down the level, 
and suddenly descend into the river where it is joined 
by the brook. Here there is always open water even 
in hard frost, and the duck will even lie in the rough 
grass in the angle between the streams. 

" Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes 
Angulus videt." 



THE YORKSHIRE FEN 291 

It is a favourite corner. We crept up to the place. 
Thirteen fine wild-duck rose, for a previous party had 
evidently acted unconsciously the part of " decoys," and 
three were shot. One, a beautiful drake, fell across the 
stream, which was deep, and icy cold. Local knowledge 
here came in usefully ; a sheep-trough on wheels was 
fetched and run out into the water, and with the pier 
so made, and the aid of the shepherd's crook, the fine 
mallard was secured. 

Mr. Eagle Clarke, in the interesting paper referred 
to above, has given a history of an ancient duck decoy 
about three-quarters of a mile from the junction of the 
St. Catherine's brook and the river Thorne, which was 
owned by the Corporation of Doncaster. He thinks it 
probable that Sir Cornelius Vermuylen's Dutchmen, who 
settled on the reclamation, first introduced the art of 
decoy-making into England. The decoy on these 
" carrs " "dates from at least as early as the year 1657, 
when it was either erected or acquired by the corporation 
of Doncaster as an investment for certain moneys 
intrusted to it for the benefit of the poor. It is curious 
that in the very earliest days of decoys in England we 
should thus find a public body selecting such an 
innovation as an investment." Mr. Clarke supposes 
that the success of the Dutch in other decoys in the 
Yorkshire fen encouraged the Doncaster corporation to 
construct one. In any case they devoted two sums of 
100 and ,60, money left for the poor, to making the 
decoy, and made a special embankment of over three- 
quarters of a mile in length, still called " Decoy Bank," 



292 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

to reach it. The decoy pond was circular, with six 
acres and a half of water and six "pipes." In 1662 it 
was let for twenty-one years at an annual rent of 15 
not a bad return on a capital of 1 60. But in 1 707 
the rent had fallen to 3. Yet there must have been 
plenty of wild-fowl still upon the "carr." Smeaton did 
not complete the drainage till after 1762 ; and the 
lessee of 1707 made a specialty of catching pochards 
one of the best ducks for the table, though not often 
seen in English poultry-shops at this date by means 
of nets which were raised by pulleys on poles after the 
pochards had settled on the water. 

The last decoy-man died in 1794, and all the pipes 
were in existence in 1778. Now the Great Northern 
railway runs straight through what was the decoy ; part 
of the wood which surrounded it remains, but few 
visitors from London to Doncaster imagine that just 
as they approach the busy town they are running 
through the site of the old corporation decoy. But 
south of the line the " carrs " are still secluded, solitary, 
and a very paradise for birds. Mr. Clarke's interesting 
and full account of the archaeology of wild-fowling in 
the district should be read by all who know the 
Yorkshire fen as it is, and would like to picture what 
it has been. 



293 



DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE 

THE wind was sweeping across the great level of the 
Humber valley, tearing slates from the barn roofs, 
twisting up the rick thatches, and whirling loose straw 
and rubbish from stackyard to field, while squalls of 
rain and sleet or driving hail sent everything that had 
legs or wings to covert and shelter. As I was walking 
out between the showers, I was hailed by the shepherd, 
riding up on the battered old horse which he has the use 
of when the flock is far afield, from a visit to his sheep 
in the marshes. A fresh-flayed fleece flung across the 
saddle in front of him, the wool inside against his thighs, 
with the red exterior presented to view, showed that at 
least one of his flock had succumbed to the rigours of 
the night. But it was not to give news of his sheep 
that he smote the old horse with the hedge-stake in his 
hand and jogged across the path to address me. " Eh," 
he said, "ye suld ha' been wi' me an hour back wi' 
your double-barril goon. Such a sight o' dook ! I 
believe there wur forty came over me and pitched in 
the drain by the black wood, and t' dyke is fair wick 
(alive) wi' 'em. They'll be come some way, I'm 



294 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

thinking, for they made nought of me, but just settled 
and bided where they were." 

Though this sounded rather like exaggeration, it 
seemed, on reflection, likely enough that the storm had 
brought duck into the " carrs." Flights of plover, 
pigeons, gulls, and fieldfares had been passing all day, 
and no doubt the duck on the large pieces of water in 
the neighbourhood would find them rough resting- 
places, while shore-loving widgeon and teal might well 
have shifted inland. The great flats, though drained 
and in places cultivated, were once a paradise for fowl, 
and in the particular corner in which I was, the quiet 
dykes and drains were in many places bordered by tall 
plantations, and fringed by deep beds of reeds and 
bulrushes. In some, where the water hardly ever 
freezes, duck may be found at all hours in a hard frost. 
At any rate it seemed worth trying, so unchaining an 
old half retriever, half water spaniel, and putting on a 
covert-coat, comforter, and cap with flaps to keep the 
rain out of my ears, I started for the " carrs." At the 
bottom of the park, where the flat land begins, a stream 
bubbles up, and flows by the side of a dark plantation 
for half-a-mile before joining one of the drains of the 
" carr." The water seems to be warm, for all through the 
winter cresses and other green weeds grow there, and in 
a hard frost the steam may be seen rising from it like 
smoke. Naturally, it is a favourite feeding ground at 
night, and to-day was more than likely to give a shot. 
The wind was howling so loud through the tree-tops 
that even the wary moor-hens failed to hear my steps, 



DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE 295 

and hurried off alarmed to bury themselves in the thick 
reeds on the opposite bank, but for some time I saw no 
duck. Presently I approached a favourite spot, never 
more likely than in a storm. Here the stream is joined 
by a smaller rill, and the two form a deep circular pool, 
sheltered partly by the plantation and partly by a thick 
clump of black poplars on the neck between the streams, 
whose gnarled and twisted stems look like those in 
the foreground of some picture by Poussin, and form a 
remarkable feature in the flat landscape. Slipping up 
between the poplar stems, I peered over towards the 
pool. A dozen duck were swimming across to the far 
side, evidently uneasy, but loth to move. Just as I saw 
them they saw me, and rose. The noise in the branches 
was so great that I could hear nothing of their clatter, 
but I fired into the thick of them and got two, and sent 
a third away hard hit, for so quickly did the wind take 
them that the last bird put fifteen yards further between 
us than he would on an ordinary day. I watched the 
struck bird, and saw him fall about 300 yards further 
down the dyke ; so, picking up the first brace, and 
tying their heads together, I hung them across a bough 
in the plantation, and proceeded down the dyke. More 
moor-hens and a solitary coot were all that I saw for 
some time. Meantime the gale increased, and the 
stinging hail beat down like shot, rebounding from the 
gun-barrels, and making the old dog whimper and poke 
her head between my legs for shelter as I stopped and 
turned my back to the blast. 

Then it lulled, and as I walked on, my dog, who had 



296 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

been longing to go in and beat the reeds, splashed in, 
and in a minute a teal rose and flew low across the 
meadow. He fell, and at the shot a second rose also ; 
but wild, and I failed to get him. Then came a con- 
tretemps. We had arrived at about the place where 
the wounded duck had fallen, and after some hunting 
in the reeds, which the furious wind was bending and 
beating almost level with the water, the old dog 
emerged with a splendid mallard in her mouth. The 
bird was alive, and I had some difficulty in giving him 
his quietus, which the dog took advantage of to hunt 
down the stream on her own account. Turning round 
to pick up my gun, I saw, for I could hear nothing for 
the noise of the wind in the branches, first three and 
then five duck rise and drift away before the wind. 
Then the dog came sneaking back, looking ashamed of 
herself, as she deserved. This brought us to the end of 
the stream which we had been hunting, and we were 
now upon the " carrs " themselves. Here, away from 
the shelter of the belt of trees, the full force of the 
gale was apparent ; and it seemed pretty certain that 
any duck there might be there would be in the dykes 
which ran at right angles to the direction of the wind, 
and not in those which were swept lengthwise by its 
full force. The main stream was that which bounded 
the property, and was in most parts exposed, though 
here and there was a bend which seemed worth trying. 
Accordingly, I made directly across the " carr " to one of 
these spots, tramping, with, my hands in my pockets 
and head bent down, across the wet tussocky pastures, 



DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE 297 

whence the big Lincolnshire sheep had been driven by 
the gale to huddle beneath the stacks of coarse, stemmy 
hay. On my way I kicked up a hare, and was stupid 
enough to shoot him ; an awkward load at the best of 
times, this one was doubly so, for I had not a large 
game bag, and so tied his legs together and hung him 
to the strap of my cartridge bag. With this animal 
bumping against my thighs, I cautiously approached 
the first bend, but it held nothing. The next held a 
single duck, which fell an easy shot, but on the further 
bank. The dog, however, made up her mind that it 
was in the water, and it was at least five minutes before 
I could get her to mount the further bank and search. 
Then she dropped it in the stream and refused to take 
any further notice of it ; consequently, I had to coast 
along by the bank watching it drift, until it should 
please chance to put it my side of the stream, if it did 
not stick on the other. Just as I was thinking of 
giving up the duck the dog changed her mind, and, 
jumping in, retrieved it. 

About 500 yards lower, the drain made a sudden 
twist, beyond which was an old stump, the remains of 
one of the great trees which seem once to have covered 
this curious country ; at any rate, the plough constantly 
strikes on trunks, often of oak or yew, more or less 
sound, in such parts of the " carrs " as farmers choose to 
plough. 

Though there is nothing, to judge by appearances, to 
make this part of the straight uninteresting drain more 
attractive to duck than any other, the neighbourhood 



298 THE YORKSHIRE FEN 

of this old stump, worn smooth and polished by the 
rubbing of generations of cattle, is a favourite place 
with them, and I crept up full of hope. But I was not 
to succeed. The duck were there, but some fifty yards 
to the left of their usual place, and thirteen rose just 
out of shot, and flew down stream, disturbing a pair 
and a single bird on their way. 

This was dreadfully disappointing, but there was still 
another chance. At the very end of the estate is a 
plantation of about fifteen acres, by the side of which 
for some eighty yards runs a tolerably wide drain. It 
was not on the sheltered side, but there seemed a 
possibility of finding birds there, especially as some of 
those I had sent on had wheeled, and shown an inclin- 
ation to alight. One or two herons flapped away from 
the trees as I came up, with their noisy croaking cry, 
but as the wind was from the dyke to them it did not 
matter. 

Passing through the plantation was rather nervous 
work. The trees, tall and spindly, most of them spruce 
firs and ashes, were ill rooted in the loose, rotten, peaty 
soil, and more than one had fallen during the day, not 
broken, but uprooted. However, I made my way 
through the tangled growth of unhealthy, green-looking 
brambles and white shimmering reeds, and looking 
through a screen of the latter, which grew on the dyke 
side, I was a little above the water, I saw not wild-duck 
proper, but a small flock of widgeon swimming about 
forty yards to the right. Pulling in the dog, and 
giving her a small cufF by way of admonition, I stepped 



DUCK-SHOOTING IN A GALE 299 

back into the wood, and crept carefully up to the bank 
again ; I had hoped to get a sitting shot, for the noise 
of the wind drowned any that I made. But, as I was 
within a few yards of where I hoped to shoot from, they 
sprung up there must have been thirteen or fourteen 
and drifted back over the wood. My first barrel 
missed, but the second brought one down with a crash 
into the brambles behind, whence I extracted him, stone 
dead. The widgeon must have come inland from the 
sea, for the surf mark was on the breast of the bird 
shot. He was in excellent condition, and storm, not 
hunger, must have brought them inland. 

It was a weary trudge back, soaking wet, with the 
wind cutting through damp clothes, and the hare was 
a gruesome object, more like a drowned cat than a 
smart jack hare, when I arrived at home. But the 
duck were an ample reward. One lesson to be drawn 
from the experience of the day is that, in a widely 
distributed storm, affecting large areas of land and sea, 
it is worth while to take a walk in the marshes. 



3 



IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 

To ask if country life is still possible may seem mere 
paradox. That every sound-minded Englishman is at 
heart a countryman, has been for so long a fixed idea 
that we have hardly realized that what was once the 
inborn bias of a nation has perhaps dwindled to a 
sentiment. There are good grounds for thinking that 
the old belief (to which we would still most gladly 
cling) was based on fact, and not on fancy. Lord 
Burleigh's axiom, that " he who sells an acre of land 
sells an ounce of credit," was respected long enough to 
become a guarantee for its transmission. Men who 
made fortunes, large or small, clung to the habit of 
investing them in land, and their sons, to whom they 
left their " money " that is, their land were brought 
up to live on it, and there learnt that strong love for 
country life which seems almost inseparable from early 
association with the soil. They were countrymen in 
the best sense, and knew how to reap the most conscious 
and complete enjoyment which their manner of life 
could afford. Of the general tendency of a nation, 
there is no quicker judge than an intelligent foreigner ; 



IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 301 

and even so late as M. Taine's first visit to England, 
his diagnosis of the end proposed to himself by the 
average successful Englishman namely, the possession 
of a country estate, with the social and political prestige 
which it conferred was probably not wide of the truth. 
The change had already begun, but not for the gener- 
ation with which M. Taine was probably most in 
contact during his visit. For most of them, " modern 
life " had begun too late to destroy the tradition of the 
past. Those of his hosts who were engaged in com- 
merce, probably took as it came the huge rush of 
" business " of the first half of the present reign, with 
its rapid increase of wealth, its bustle and excitement, 
and wisely made the most of it. But their ideas of 
leisure were those of their fathers. The form which 
their enjoyment of that leisure should take was deter- 
mined by the ideals of their youth. When the money 
was made and the time came to enjoy it, they bought 
estates, or added new acres to the old ones, settled down 
naturally to country interests and country sports, the 
taste for which had been early formed ; and shook off 
the dust of the City without regret. There was no 
cause for them to feel ennui or isolation, for they 
merely exchanged one set of occupations for another, 
with which early associations made them not unfitted. 
They did not leave affairs to dawdle through the 
morning with the Times, or potter with vineries and 
early asparagus, but found work in the management of 
their property and amusement in field-sports, or more 
rarely in the observation of the wild life which ur- 
rounded them. In the last, they renewed their youth ; 



302 IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 

in the first, they found employment for the energies of 
maturity. 

But though this reaction towards the country was 
partly due to early sentiment, it must be remembered 
that London life was then infinitely dull for the busy 
man, and especially so for the " business man." Office- 
hours were much longer, and holidays very rare and 
short. Mr. and Mrs. John Gilpin's 

" Twice ten tedious years that we 
No holiday have seen," 

was the common experience not only of decent trades- 
folk like the hero of the ride to Edmonton, but of 
merchants and professional men of standing. We were 
told by the head of an old City business, who is now, 
excellent man, enjoying his country house in old English 
fashion, that the first day on which he so far complied 
with modern habits as to take a " half-holiday " on 
Saturday, he made bold to go so far as Hampstead 
Heath ; and when there, was so overcome by the 
enormity of the thing he had done, that he went back 
to his office, though he knew that he should find it shut 
up, and his younger employes taking their holiday 
without any scruples of conscience. Again, we still 
recall the memory of two old partners in a leading firm 
of solicitors, whose sole form of enjoyment for twenty 
years was a solemn drive round the Park together in a 
yellow chariot at half-past six, as a preliminary to 
dinner, whist, and bed. There was little or no mixing 
with other men and other interests ; no journalists or 
artists to chat with ; no mixture of the leisured class 



SS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 303 

with the busy class ; no " society " for the business 
man. If he wanted a change, and a chance of meeting 
fresh ideas in others, " e'en from the peasant to the 
lord," he could only find it in the country ; and to the 
country he went. 

That neither of the two causes which mainly kept up 
the old English taste for the country retain their old 
force, is certain, though the effect of their gradual 
weakening is curiously sudden. Early association 
certainly has less hold on the imagination of the present 
generation than it had on their predecessors, mainly 
because it is allowed so little time to act before it is 
supplanted by rival interests. When the author of 
Tom Browns Schooldays complained that " young 
England " did not know their own lanes and fields and 
hedges, he found a reason in the " globe-trotting spirit " 
which sent young men abroad travelling, instead of 
returning to the old country haunts. By a curious 
irony, the later chapters of his book, in which the 
author has so vividly painted the delights of organized 
athletics, have appealed so powerfully to " young 
England," that, with our usual instinct for doing one 
thing with all our might, games of every kind have not 
only in a great measure supplanted the old interest in 
wild life, but even threaten to rival the taste for field- 
sports which once seemed innate in every Englishman. 
To be able to ride fairly, to throw a fly, and to shoot 
with some skill himself, and without danger to his 
neighbours, were the common accomplishments of an 
English gentleman. Excellence at cricket, tennis, and 
golf are now more important social qualifications ; and 



3 o 4 IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 

if "young England" has a marked taste for riding 
anything, it is probably the safety-bicycle. Organized 
athletics do not flourish in the country nearly so well as 
in a London suburb or a fashionable watering-place. 
But these counter-attractions are mainly, though not 
wholly, for young men and it must not be forgotten 
for young ladies. Later, the disabilities of country 
life, and the necessity of the hourly fillip given to the 
mind by close and easy contact with the executive centre 
of the world at Westminster and the financial centre in 
Capel Court, become more and more imperious. To 
the man who has really been engaged in affairs, the 
mere perusal of the morning papers is a poor substitute 
for the day-long possibilities of telegrams and special 
editions. Even if he secures a constant supply of 
" news," he wants the right people with whom to talk 
it over. In London, he can generally find the man he 
wants. In the country he is often at a loss to find a 
kindred spirit with whom to discuss subjects unconnected 
with the petty interests of rural life. Hence the country 
house tends to become a mere annex to the town 
establishment, reserved for brief intervals devoted to 
recovery from town life. 

But rest, repose, and beauty are not the only enjoy- 
ments which rural life has to offer. The country is not 
solely a playground and a sanatorium, a tame and 
temporary recruiting-ground after the excitements, great 
or little, of the town. Even its beauty may pall and 
fade, as Wordsworth found, and Mr. Ruskin has 
confessed, unless the conditions which make country 
life possible are better understood than they are by some 



IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 305 

of those who have tried it and failed. Now, the first 
of these conditions is that we should really live there, 
and not make the country house a mere basis and depot 
for excursions elsewhere, but make it, in the true sense 
of the word, a home. If this be established, it is 
wonderful how quickly the accessories of rural happiness 
group themselves round it. To one who has known a 
country home, any other seems but a dim and distant 
shadow of that reality. Town life is only a huge 
co-operative society where we all subscribe to pay jointly 
for cabs, horses, gardens, and the rest. 

But the country house must be self-supporting ; and 
it is in the provision and maintenance of such accessories 
as it requires, that one of the chief interests of the 
country life is to be found. " Live not in the country 
without corn and cattle about you," says Lord Bur- 
leigh ; and in the well-ordered country house, animals 
which in town are often useless pets or mere machines 
for locomotion, not only "justify their existence" by 
the share which they contribute to the comfort of the 
establishment, but generally manage to assert a separate 
and amusing individuality which seldom fails to exact 
due consideration from master and men. As for the 
dogs and riding-horses, whose share in country sports is 
as personal as that of their owner, there is no limit to 
the interest which their training and well-being may 
afford to a skilful and sympathetic master, or to the 
return of cleverness and affection which their simpler 
natures are willing to make. 

Now, the welfare of horses, cattle, dogs, chickens, 
and pigeons, not to mention the pigs, which, if over- 



306 IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 

looked by the masters, are generally very dear to the 
servants, is a thing not lightly to be trusted to subor- 
dinates without supervision ; and it is not too much to 
say that if all these are to thrive and be happy and 
there is no more depressing sight round a country house 
than sick and ailing animals the master may rise at 
half-past six, and still feel that by eight o'clock break- 
fast he has not done more than the supervision of his 
animal dependents requires. It is only too common in 
country houses to see hungry horses and cattle and 
famished poultry, which ought to have been fed at six, 
and are kept without food till eight by the neglect of 
careless servants. Besides the welfare of the animals, 
this early rising offers two other " compensations for 
disturbance," health, and the beauty of the garden, 
which is never so lovely as in the early morning, when 
the flowers seem half-asleep, and all the wild birds in it 
are tame and confiding. Never, since the great revival 
in Queen Elizabeth's days, has the garden had a greater 
store of pleasure to offer than now, when all good 
flowers, old and new, are cultivated and cherished for 
their single and separate beauty, instead of being 
banished to distant borders to make way for curly 
cactuses and paths of pounded brick. The garden is 
the one pleasure of country life which stands unques- 
tioned and alone ; it is a pleasure which never palls, 
which makes demands upon our time rather than our 
purse, and is dearer to women even than to men. 
From March till October the flowers last, from the first 
tulip that raises the signal of spring to the last Michael- 
mas daisies drenched with autumn dew. In the late 



IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 307 

autumn mornings the garden is perhaps dearer than 
ever, when the squirrels are collecting nuts, and the 
rooks, which have been stealing walnuts since dawn, 
are cawing as contentedly as if they had gained their 
breakfast honestly, and the late autumn flowers linger, 
not as part of the chain of production, but as gracious 
things in themselves, with nothing to offer us but their 
beauty. 

The garden is ill-stocked which provides only flowers 
and fruits. With due management, there is hardly 
any limit to the birds and animals which will freely and 
gladly haunt the lawns and shrubberies of a country 
house. The modern Eden should be a home for 
animals as well as plants, and the lawn their play- 
ground. There is no reason why even the wilder 
creatures should be banished to woods and plantations, 
when, if not molested and encouraged, they will gladly 
take sanctuary under the protection of man. October 
sees the last of the flowers ; but the pleasure of the 
garden may be continued, in a slightly different form, 
even while the flowers sleep. Trees are only flowers of 
a larger growth, and though the satisfaction gained by 
planting trees is part of the "joy that cometh of under- 
standing," the art of forestry is now well understood, 
and is not difficult to learn. A wood, properly planted, 
will in thirty years be worth the freehold of the land 
on which it stands, and no monument to the ability 
of a past resident is more durable and more honoured 
in the memory of the country-side than that left by 
woods and plantations of good and beautiful trees. 
Jacob in Palestine dug a well, and left it to posterity. 



3 o8 IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE? 

In England, he would have planted an oak-wood. 
Trees, plants, and animals, none of them are to be 
neglected if the country life is to be developed to the 
full. Cobbett, who, though not a naturalist, was a 
keen and practical observer of all sides of rural life, 
and probably took a more comprehensive purview of 
the relation of all he saw on his rural rides to the 
human welfare of the country-side than any other writer 
since his time, surrounded his whole farm with a broad 
belt of trees of the newest and most valuable kinds, 
planting not only oaks and ashes, and such English 
trees as were suited to the soil, but acacia, plane, Italian 
poplar, hickory, and walnut. The growth of the acacia 
in this country is mainly due to Cobbett, and many 
cottage industries, such as straw and grass plaiting, 
which he introduced, have increased the comfort of 
thousands of villages. 

Cobbett, though very sensitive to the beauties of 
landscape, was not an observer of the ways of animals 
like Richard Jefferies. But the habit of observation can 
be learnt, when it has not been gained by early associ- 
ation, much more readily than the love of the beauties 
of landscape. It is far more concrete and conscious than 
the subtle suggestions of natural scenery, though it is 
so mixed up in the minds of countrymen with sport 
in all its forms, that it is often difficult to say where 
the liking for observation of animal life ends, and its 
use as a means to their destruction begins. Perhaps 
the truest view is that the habit which begins in the 
case of animals which are the objects of the chase, is 
extended to the case of all others, though often this 



IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE 1 ! 309 

process is reversed. To many dwellers in the country, 
the possibility of close and intimate acquaintance with 
the wild life of the district is one of the most lasting 
pleasures which it affords. Much has been written 
and much has been read upon the subject ; but what 
has not been seen is always new, and what has once 
been seen never loses by being seen again. But much 
has never yet been seen or understood. 

Our eyes are barely open to the facts of the flight 
of birds. We know little of the changes in animal 
life wrought by the sudden influences of wind, rain, 
cold, and heat, and next to nothing of parts of the 
life of some of our commonest quadrupeds. No doubt 
sport fills a great place in the life of countrymen. 
" From February to September I fish," said one noted 
sportsman, " and when it is wet I make flies. From 
September to February I shoot, and when it is wet I 
make cartridges." But though sport does, and always 
will, hold a prominent place among country amuse- 
ments, the care of domestic animals, gardening, planting, 
and the observation of wild life and scenery, with the 
due ordering of a household, give a guarantee that part 
of the time spent in the country shall be both pleasant 
and profitable. But country life has more to offer 
than this. To the health and vigour of the body, 
which make the mind elastic, it adds another condition 
without which study and mental effort are at a dis- 
advantage. Real leisure and freedom from interruption 
are nowhere so easily obtained as in the country. " It 
is a good year for the grouse/' remarked a visitor to 
Sir Walter Scott's old servant at Abbotsford. " Yes ; 



3 io IS COUNTRY LIFE STILL POSSIBLE* 

and a gude year for our books" was the reply. But in 
the country it is always a "good year" for books, 
whether for writing or reading them, and Sir Walter's 
pen might never have run with such astonishing ease 
and quickness had he not been supported by the bodily 
and mental vigour gained by his country life at Abbots- 
ford. Charles Kingsley is another instance of a good 
and vigorous worker who did his task the better for his 
country surroundings. Yet even in his active nature 
the inroads upon his leisure made by his parish and 
pupils were, in the literary sense, a burden ; and his 
pen never showed such charm and freedom as when, 
in a brief holiday, he wrote The Water-Babies. So 
long as it has such gifts to offer, the country can never 
remain long discredited ; and the reaction from town 
and suburban life will be all the stronger because it 
has been for a time deferred. Even now there is in 
many minds a half-unconscious repulsion to the sus- 
tained strain of modern life, which will before long 
find expression in a new exodus to the fields ; and in 
others the tastes of Wordsworth and his followers have 
never died. The unbought beauty of the country 
which so strongly influenced them is still its main and 
most potent charm, and at the same time we comfort 
ourselves with the thought that country life, with all 
its beauty and repose, may be one of vitality and 
vigour, and not of " calm decay." 



THE END 



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LIFE AT THE ZOO 

NOTES AND TRADITIONS OF THE REGENT'S PARK 
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BY 

C. J. CORNISH. 

Illustrated from Photographs by Gambier Bolton. 
pinions xrf the 



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tions by A. BRUNET-DEBAINES and H. TOUSSAINT. 6s., cloth. 

WINDSOR. By W. J. LOFTIE. Dedicated by permission to 
Her Majesty the Queen. With many Illustrations by HERBERT 
RAILTON. 6s. 

STRATFORD-ON-AVON. In the Middle Ages and the 
Time of the Shakespeares. By S. L. LEE. With many Illustrations 
by E. HULL. 6s., cloth. 

EDINBURGH. Picturesque Notes. By ROBERT Louis 
STEVENSON. With many Illustrations by W. E. LOCKHART, R.S.A. 
3-y. 6d., cloth ; $s., Roxburghe. 

CHARING CROSS TO ST. PAUL'S. By JUSTIN M'CARTHY. 
With Illustrations by JOSEPH PENNELL. 6s., cloth. 



A few Copies of the Guinea Edition of some of these volumes, 
containing the original etchings, can still be had. 



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