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IN THE DEER FOREST:
FRIEND was walking one misty November morning on the
outskirts of the beautiful grounds near Bolton Abbey, and was suddenly alarmed by a hoarse and often-continued roaring from the heights above. Not being a naturalist or sportsman, he was somewhat dismayed, as nothing could be seen through the misty curtain spreading around, and imagination conjured up a cohort of wild cattle ready to descend and annihilate him. Fortunately a companion of his ramble was able to reassure him. These hoarse roars proceeding from the cliffs, hidden by mist, were nothing but the bellowings (or, to use the correct word, “belling,"1) of the red deer stags. They were challenging their rivals to fight after the manner which Landseer has made familiar to all, and expressing their devotion to the large-eyed hinds which accompanied them. The ignorance of wood-craft displayed by our friend (otherwise a weil-read scholar) points him out as a probable type of a very large class of persons, who may, perhaps, like country sights and sounds, but have never had the opportunity of familiarising themselves with the red deer in its native haunts. To such the following pages may be of service.
The only locality in England where the red deer leads a really wild life, and is pursued by hounds, is on Exmoor. The chase takes place in summer, and often leads to very severe runs, the quarry frequently taking to the sea, off North Devon or Somerset, and sometimes being killed by falling amongst the rocks facing it. The incidents of the chase as followed on Exmoor have been recounted in a classical book, “ Collyns on the Chase of the Wild Red Deer,” most of which, however, seems to have been written by the late Sir John Karslake. Whyte Melville and Charles Kingsley have also treated of it ; while one, who is the Nestor of English sportsmen, still pursues the sport, as an octogenarian, with the zest of a youth, and will ride his thirty
See Marmion, IV. 15:
The wild buck bells from ferny brake,
The coot dives merry on the lake. ? The Devon and Somerset staghounds had killed 86 deer by February 7 this season,
and perhaps half-a-dozen more meets remained.
miles a day in a manner which would not disgrace that youth, however active and bold. Cultivation is closing in upon the moor, and year by year the grazing grounds of the deer are becoming more circumscribed. But it may be hoped that not for many long years will this relic of past sporting days in England become extinct.
To see the red deer, however, in perfection, with all his instincts sharpened and his keen sense of danger quickened by the lonely existence which he leads on the mountains, the sportsman must visit the Highlands. Much of their wild country is reserved by the owners for deerstalking ; vast moors leading up to high ranges of mountains, intersected by streams and “correis " (the sheltered grassy valleys by streams), and often bordered by deep lochs, are wholly given over to the red deer. A strict supervision is exercised over these immense tracts of land by a good staff of keepers; strangers and visitors are discouraged; sheep are kept away; every precaution is taken that the deer may not be disturbed by the presence of many people, and by noise, shouting, and the like. For if disturbed frequently, the deer may, and often do, desert a whole stretch of country for a neighbouring march, where their tastes are more carefully consulted. Miles of fencing, occasional lodges, and a distant peep at deer on the sky-line beyond, are all that ordinary travellers see of most of the Scotch deer-forests. In others, especially in the extreme North of the country, the lessees are more liberal, and the public may pass through at will on certain leading tracks. In this case the deer may often be seen at no great distance, for they are remarkably sensible animals, and soon know when a man is to be feared or merely tolerated. Few more beautiful sights can be discerned in these Northern deer-forests than the behaviour of the little herds which run sportively along the hills, or browse on the underwood, while some grand-headed stag, or the presence of a few hinds, with their fawns, lends additional interest to the charms of wild moorland and mountain scenery. Sometimes the deer condescend to mix with the ordinary red and black cattle of the country; but they cannot abide sheep, any more than horses care to be near camels. We remember a fine stag which evening after evening used to come down to the grassy end of Loch Assynt, where the river Loanan runs into it at a place known appropriately enough as Inchnadamph (the cattle-meadow). The boys and gillies of the neighbouring hamlet amused themselves with stalking it, each one trying to get nearer it undiscovered than his friend. This was a very fearless animal. As a rule, however, little can be seen of the peculiar habits and instincts of the red-deer even in Scotland, unless the visitor have access to, and a keeper's guidance through a regular forest.
During the middle ages much of England was left uncultivated, where red-deer roamed in large numbers. “ Between the tenth and twelfth centuries, great forests came up almost to the gates of London.” 1
Much of Staffordshire was either woodland or moor. Needwood Forest itself was twenty-four miles in circumference in Queen Elizabeth's reign. Sherwood Forest ran far into Yorkshire on the one hand, and on the other joined the great woods of Lancashire. One forest alone, and that not in the wildest part of Cumberland, extended, at the time of the Norman Conquest, from Carlisle to Penrith, and was full of "red and fallow deer, wild swine, and all manner of wild beasts.” As for Scotland, the great Caledonian Forest clothed most of the country, behind the margin near the coasts. In England the different lords of the country and their friends hunted in these vast woodlands, strict laws inhibiting in most cases the villains from killing any beast of venerie. It was a privilege of a bishop, when on progress, that he might kill deer for himself and retinue ; at his death, however, his muta canum (kennel of dogs) was forfeited to the King. In Scotland all the clansmen indifferently, within any district, until the middle of the last century, lived on whatever they could kill on woodland and moor. The forest laws never prevailed there in the same oppressive fulness as among the Norman Conquerors. Curiously enough, the state of matters is now reversed, and rights of shooting and fishing are upheld in Scotland during our own times with even more aristocratic exclusiveness than in the South.
The word “forest” has acquired a rigidity of interpretation in modern days which it did not possess of old. We now confine it in common discourse to a large district of wood; but in old time (and at present in legal documents and in the northern division of the
and) it had a much wider signification. Manwood’ defines a forest as being “a certain territory of woody grounds and fertile pastures, privileged for wild beasts and fowls of forest, chase and warren, to rest and abide in, in the safe protection of the king for his princely delight and pleasure." Before Canute, all wild beasts and birds were claimed as the king's alone ; just as in Scotland the right of catching salmon has always been regarded as a royal privilege, to be granted only to those who merit such favour of the Crown. To this day, therefore, the right of salmon fishing in the North is upheld
1 Harting, British Animals Extinct within Historic Times, 1880, pp. 7-9. ? Forest Lawes, 1615.
in every case by royal grant, implied or expressed, and does not follow the old Roman law that proprietorship is vested in those to whom the banks belong. There is much that is curious in Man. wood's book on forest laws; it is worthy of perusal by all sportsmen. His arguments, indeed, are very often sophistical to the last degree, as where he writes : “ It doth appear that there were forests--yea even in the verie time of King David; for he saith, in his fiftieth Psalm, these words : 'Oh, Lord, I need not to offer unto Thee burnt sacrifices of beasts : for all the wild beasts of the forests are Thine.' Then, ergo, there were forests of wild beasts in his time ;” but his information is extensive, and his legal acumen renarkable.
A “forest,” therefore, in its modern application throughout Scotland, being a large tract of moor and mountain, far more conspicuous for the absence than for the presence of trees, although in the correis and other sheltered valleys it is beneficial to the deer that there should be wood for food and harbour, let us next inquire what are the great deer forests of the North. Their acreage being vague, they must be measured by their rental. A reference to Mr. Lyall's useful handbook) shows us, first, the Ballochbuie Forest, near Braemar, belonging to her Majesty. Dotted over all the northern and western shires, and even on the islands, are many more forests. The most extensive of all the western forests is probably the Black Mount deer forest, in Argyllshire, of late let to Lord Dudley for £4,470 by the Earl of Breadalbane; Rothiemurcus, in Inverness-shire, lets for £2,000; Gaick Forest, in the same county, brings the same sum ; Glenfeshie, again, lets for £2,500 to Sir C. Mordaunt, and we have seen some fine stags which he has brought down in it. An American capitalist rents the finest and most extensive of the northern forests (Glenstrathfarrar) at nearly £5,000 per annum.
It is evident from these figures that deer-stalking is not a sport to be indulged in by a poor man. Glenmuick, Invermark, Abernethy, Ardverikie, Ardvourlie, Ceannocroc, Glenloyne, Glenmore, and Kinloch are other well-known forests. Ross-shire holds several famous ones; while the Reay Forest, in Sutherlandshire, rented by the Duke of Westminster, is very extensive and wild, and runs up towards Cape Wrath. Such vast wastes as these, it is evident, could not be adequately watched, save by an army of keepers : their owners, therefore, take care, for the most part, to be on good terms with the neighbouring cotters and shepherds. But in most districts there are certain well-known characters as devoted to deer-stealing as ever was Shakespeare. Their depredations are often carried on in
· Sportsman's Time Tables and Guide. (Published monthly.)
broad daylight, after watching the keepers “to the other side of the hull.” Sometimes they are in league with the shepherds. It is not often nowadays that they go about their business in gangs. They have no mind, like the poachers of the English manufacturing towns, for bloodshed or murder if resisted, and prefer getting their venison as quietly as they can. Stories are told that at times they enter into a compact with the keepers. “My lord” shall have his month of shooting without his forest being disturbed at the beginning of the season, and when he leaves Scotland, "ye'll jist look the ither way, ye ken, Donald, while we tak to the hull for what few bits o' vennison we may need." Perhaps my lord is not sorry to wink at such a bargain as this. He gets what he wants, and there is no fear of bloodshed or trouble when he leaves the country. We heard a good story lately in the north of Scotland à propos of poaching. The members of a certain gallant corps of riflemen had been allowed to retain their pieces at their own houses between the different drilling days. One or two had found them valuable auxiliaries in nocturnal and early morning raids upon the deer forest of a neighbouring potentate. At length his keepers got on the scent of the culprits, and a regimental order was issued that all rifles should at once be returned to a central armoury. In a month or two Major the inspector, arrived to make his annual review of the corps, which mustered in full force, headed by the worthy owner of the deer forest, still smarting under the recent depredations upon his property and, perhaps, still more under the gossip of the amused country-side. The inspector passed a deserved encomium upon the appearance and manæuvring of the corps, and then, turning to their captain, slyly said, “ I think I need hardly inspect the men's rifles; I hear that they have been kept in pretty fair working order since I was last here!"
The red-deer is by far the noblest of our native quadrupeds. A fine specimen will stand four feet high or even more at the shoulder. As for weight, eighteen to twenty stone is a goodly animal, but they are occasionally killed up to thirty stone. The number of tines in a stag's antler varies with age, condition, character of pasturage, &c.; and it is considered that breeding in and in has somewhat injured the average size of modern deers' heads in Scotland. A vast amount of forest learning depends upon the horns. They rise from the “burr," or rough ring at the base ; the main stem is called the “beam ;" the branches of it are “antlers,” each distinguished by its proper name, such as “brow antler,” “ bez antler,” and “royal.” 1
1 Bell's British Quadrupeds, 2nd ed. pp. 349, 355.