I’m driving along the small twisting road that runs between Portree and the Skye Bridge. It’s late at night, very dark and, of course, it’s raining. It’s raining like it can only rain in Skye, my headlights sweep through great curtains of water and the surface of the road is no longer visible, submerged as it is under inches of rain as the ditches at the side of the road flood with water. Then, in a lightening flash, I look up and see a stag illuminated for a moment as he hurtles down the hillside towards the road. It’s obvious we are on a collision course and I have no time to brake.
I was reminded of that occasion as I sat down to write this blog in my home in Inverness and noticed a bumblebee trying to get in through the window. He is not very subtle and bumps his head repeatedly against the window frame hoping to find a weakness. I suppose he’s only trying to get in out of the wet, the weather this summer has been showers, punctuated by longer periods of rain. Bump, bump, bump goes his head – I know how he feels, sometimes life just feels like you endlessly beat your head against immovable objects.
“It feels like beating your head against a brick wall,” he said, beating my head against a brick wall.
In my time in the Highlands, both hill walking and getting around for work, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with beasts. Remarkably I’ve never hit a deer or a sheep but have come, like most people who live here, pretty close. Sheep are a constant hazard on the narrow roads that twist between the hills of the Highlands. The good thing about sheep is that they are relatively slow and fairly predictable. Sheep are known for their relatively humble IQ but the sheep on Skye, where I lived for six damp years, are spectacular in their level of idiocy. I came round a bend on evening to find a sheep standing in the middle of the road. She had 360 degrees of options in which to run but chose, in a moment of madness, to run directly at my car. There was much squealing of brakes and, in the end, an embarrassed, although unharmed, sheep. To be fair to the animal sheep have been bred for hundreds of years for wool and not for intelligence. If it were the other way round the hills might be populated odd looking bald creatures capable of quoting Shakespeare.
Deer are far more dangerous. They are bigger, far quicker and way more unpredictable. I was driving towards Lochcarron, with my young daughter, when a hind casually stepped out from the bushes feet from the bonnet of my old VW. For a few seconds the deer and I made eye contact and it was clear that we were both thinking the same thing, “Oh shit!” I was convinced I couldn’t stop but for once the road was dry and my brakes brought me to a shuddering halt with the animal removing its backside from my path at the very last possible moment. “Sorry deer,” my daughter called out, “Sorry.” Never mind that her father had been reduced to adrenalin filled quaking wreck at the time.
Over the years I have developed a few strategies, to keep myself, the local deer population, and the bonnet of my car, intact. The biggest risk from deer is in the winter when they come down to low levels to escape the worst of the weather ravaging the high ground. During these periods I drive as much as I can in the middle of the road. This gives me the maximum time to take avoiding action should a perambulating Bambi step out of the trees and on to the tarmac. I am also particularly wary if I see a hind cross the road in front of me, the female of the species are rarely alone and where one has passed others are sure to follow. I also take more care if there’s a deep ditch beside the road. Deer have a habit of sitting in ditches and then leaping up in fright as you drive by. Some folk fit a whistle to the car, inedible to humans but clear enough to deer. I’m not sure if it works but it might be worth a try as an encounter with a stag can prove fatal to all concerned.
By now the bumblebee, unable to penetrate the double glazing, has headed off to take his chance in the deluge. And the stag? Well I decided that since it was too late to brake I’d have to accelerate and was fortunate enough to see, in my rear view mirror, the stag land on the road a few inches from the boot of my car. If I’d braked I would definitely have hit him. Sometimes, like the bumblebee, you have to take the only available option.