It was whilst watching a wildlife programme about North American wolves that a thought occurred to me – something that happens regularly actually. I’ve never seen wolves on a campsite but there have been loads of exciting encounters with birds and animals. Not close encounters, you understand, of the third or any other kind but lucky observations.
‘Lucky’ because they didn’t involve setting up hiding places or waiting up all night. They just needed me to be there. Not during the day but at dawn and dusk when, at home, the curtains are drawn and the world cut off. Catapulted back in time, I brushed the cobwebs off the experience box and trawled around inside. It was surprising how many there were tucked away and how one sparked off another.
As darkness began to fall on a Cornish campsite and we sat quietly relishing the sunset, a perky little face popped up out of a nearby hedge. Dismissing it as a cat, it was really thrilling to see a stoat emerge a couple of minutes later and fly along the length of the hedge for over 50 metres or so before seeking sanctuary again. It was a superb though brief experience.
In Suffolk, quietly leaning on a field gate next to the tent, with a cup of tea in hand, I spotted an owl swooping low over the next field. Over several minutes, he (or she) covered the whole area before heading off to, hopefully, more productive pastures.
More dramatically, I once stumbled across a golden eagle in Scotland. Leaving the tent to climb the hill behind, an eagle flew up from the carcass of a sheep with one flap of its wings. The shock sent me backwards in confusion and there was no chance of a photograph. But the moment was captured forever in my mind and it’s one to be treasured. What a bird it was.
Not all the wildlife moments have been so dramatic. Camping on a farm in France, I was sitting on a low stone wall when I spotted a tiny snake sliding across the grass. It was really tiny – a viper just a couple of inches long. It flowed over my shoe and disappeared into a gap between the stones. Magic. I have been lucky spotting adders in Britain but that cheeky baby has stuck in my mind.
And the memories come spilling out as I write. Far more than would have been guessed at off the cuff. Camping is all about experience and the wildlife moments have added rich and rewarding dimensions to the fun.