Friday, 21 August 2009

The jungle line

The delights of a train journey across the rural heartland of England, through Devon up towards Bristol means we mostly chundle and rumble past farm-land and gardens. Each morning I see different breeds of cows and sheep sleepily grazing and gazing in the early morning weak sunlight. I see horses and ponies and a herd of Shetland ponies too, always making me smile with their portly tummies and stubby legs. Sometimes if I’m luckily I might see a deer startled and either frozen to the spot, or leaping along a field. I sometimes see hares, racing along side in fields, putting me in the mind of that marvellous painting by Turner, hanging in the National Gallery, in praise of the remarkable speed of the train, featuring a tiny hare, just noticeable sprinting ahead of the steaming engine. I always see soft brown rabbits, munching on the school fields by Taunton. Rabbits are the one meat I can’t bring myself to eat- their tiny bodies are meant for playing in the fields, or perhaps it’s too many early screenings of Watership Down? I’m not squeamish or sentimental about any other meat, just our bob-tailed friends.

The most exciting wildlife sighting happened this morning though. As we trundled past an old orchard, I saw a very large black cat, much too large to be a domestic cat- even a very fat and sedentary cat would have looked dwarfed by the size of this beast. It was larged bodied and muscular and jet black, an unmistakable feline shape, with a long tail. It could only have been a puma, or panther. What a thrill. It couldn’t have been anything else, not a dog or a sheep. There have been sighting of this ‘beast’ for years in the local moors but I don’t know if there have been any of these marvellous wild animals seen as high north.

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