On Sunday I decided to head up on to Exmoor, to the highest point, Dunkery Beacon, to have a walk and take some photos. The weather was far from settled, but I thought it might make for some moody skies. I stopped in the village of Dunster on the way (photos tomorrow) and then headed up onto the moor.
I arrived at the little grassed car park and immediately fell in love with my surroundings. Little did I know what this place had in store for me. Near the car park there was a little stream which ran under the roadway and then tumbled down through a series of leaps and jumps into a deep gorge. Straight away I was down in there snapping away.
A hollow near the stream bed, foxgloves included at no extra charge.
This is where the stream runs under the road
The gentle stream before the gorge
Upstream just a foot or so
From here I went down into the gorge. I had to climb out of where I was, through a very wet brackeny field and then down through cascades of dead leaves, mud, rocks, bushes and trees into the gorge itself.
Just after I took this picture I noticed the young sheep that you can see on the left hand side about half way up. (Click on the picture to see a larger version, and you might spot it.) I couldn't believe there was a sheep there. The slope was long and very steep and the sheep was just 'there' about two thirds of the way down it. What with having my camera and wearing my 'longs' and sandals, it was really difficult to get across the side of the gorge to where the sheep was. I ended up having to go up, across and then vertically down to get to where it was.
Once I got there I had a bit of a dilemma. I still had my camera and felt that all I could do was slip it in my pocket. I have a track record for breaking (actually - destroying) an identical camera when I was in New Zealand and I had to buy this one while I was out there, so didn't want to damage it, but I could also see that the predicament of the sheep was one precariously balanced between life and death. Sometimes there are priorities. I put my camera in my pocket and pulled out several buckets full of hope, it would have to take its chance.
Now for the sheep. I quickly realised what the situation was. The poor thing was caught in a short section of wire fence slung between two trees. All four of its legs and its head were through the holes in the wire and it could not move. It must have tumbled down over the slope, a miracle that it didn't injure itself, and slammed into the wire. It was a very lucky little sheep indeed because, if it had fallen a couple of metres to either side it would have plummetted the whole way down into the gorge, a fall it could not have survived. Having said that, it would not survive where it was for very long. There was no way in the world that I could leave it there, but how could I get it out?
Back up near the car park, on the other side of the road, there was a pony show type thing going on and there were a couple of elderly chaps on the gate who I had waved to as I had passed when I arrived. I decided that all I could do was to go and get help. I clambered and slithered, clawed and pulled myself up the near vertical slope to the top. Out of breath and flustered I ran across the bracken filled field to the path and then out to the road. I was in such a hurry that it didn't occur to me to drop my camera off at the car, it was still in my pocket. I persuaded one of the chaps to give me a hand, though he was a bit reluctant at first. As soon as I dealt my trump card, that I was from a farming background and that I knew I wasn't wasting his time, he agreed to come with me.
We both slid and clambered back down the slope to the sheep, which had gone nowhere while I had been away. My companion leant against one of the trees, scratched his head and said, 'Oh..bugger.' I agreed with the sentiment. Between us we managed to lift the wire and pull it back towards our feet. This meant that we could now begin to pull the sheeps head and legs back through the wire. Slowly we freed it and pulled it up to a small muddy ledge at about our waist height. It didn't struggle, being very stiff and weak from its ordeal, though we could see it wasn't obviously hurt physically. It had been trapped there for a long time, and I couldn't help thinking that, if I hadn't ventured down into the gorge to take a few pictures, it would never have been spotted.
With a lot of effort and one or two potentially dangerous slips, we managed to slowly bring the stricken sheep back up the slope. Neither of us could have made this rescue on our own. Although the sheep was not large or heavy, it wasn't easy trying to stay upright on the slope and we could, at least, share and co-ordinate our efforts with the minimum of trouble.
Finally we reached the lip of the gorge and the relative safety of the bracken filled field. We carried the sheep, which still made no efforts to struggle, out to a grassy bank by the path near the car park. I thanked my helper and he said that he would find the farmer and tell him to fetch his lost sheep. I stayed with it for a while and was pleased to see it start to nibble some of the grass, even though it was still lying on its side and very stiff. I knew it would be okay from there and that it would soon regain the use of its legs and hobble off to join its mates back on the moor.
This whole episode rather took the wind out of my sails and i just didn't feel like continuing my walk on Dunkery Beacon or taking photos. Photos! - I checked my camera in my pocket; it was fine.