In other parts of the country they bellow, but on Exmoor they bolve. In the rutting season (September – November) one of the most haunting sounds on Exmoor is the bolving of red deer stags. Reminiscent of the roar of a bull, bolving is the primeval language of the stag. ‘Keep away,’ he is warning other stags. ‘I’m here,’ he is saying to potential mates. I find it eerie being on the Moor after dark hearing stags bolving. At home in the evening, the distant bolving echoing around the hills sends a shiver down my spine. Was that a beast or some evil spirit? It is not surprising that deer, in particular stags, play such a powerful role in folklore and mythology.
Red deer are the kings and queens of Exmoor. They attract many visitors, especially during the rutting season when the stags, standing proud with antlers and mud-darkened bodies, gather their harems. The stag tirelessly protects his hinds from young pretenders who endeavour to lure them away or to oust the dominant stag from his position. Binoculars and telephoto lenses capture the mating rituals as well as the violence of clashing antlers when stags fight for dominance of territory and hinds. These are scenes of vigour and cruelty. This is nature at its most primitive. The wildness is exhilarating. It evokes from fascinated onlookers a mixture of awe and fear, attraction and repulsion.
One reason for the fascination is that human beings are both like and unlike the animals they are observing. We share their basic appetites and deepest instincts and some will recognise, consciously or unconsciously, a potential for dominance and cruelty. Important as it is to recognise them, we do not have to be ruled by these appetites and instincts. Even though it can be a struggle, being human enables us to examine and direct them where we choose. We have a hand on the rudder of our lives. The exhilaration of the wild and the appetites and instincts shared with our animal cousins left unchecked can dominate, hurt and destroy. Used and directed creatively they can energise, challenge and bring new life.
Contemplating Exmoor – Gallery
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