Thursday, 27 August 2009

Red Deer

In June 1882 Jefferies visited Exmoor, a vast expanse of high moorland intersected by deep wooded coombes covering part of West Somerset and North Devon. The resulting book, Red Deer, is a natural history of the moorland red deer and a detailed account of the methods of hunting them, for which Jefferies owed much to the first-hand information given to him by Arthur Heal, huntsman to the Devon and Somerset staghounds.

The book concentrates on the Somerset sector of Exmoor which includes the heartland of deer hunting - the dramatic landscape around Dunkery Beacon and Horner which falls away to the Bristol Channel at Porlock. Deer were known on occasions to swim out to sea in a last effort to escape the pursuing hounds. A lively and expertly-researched book, Red Deer also includes much information on the topography and climate of Exmoor and the customs and outlook of its inhabitants. I have chosen the excerpts below to provide some background to the deer hunting and have not included any of the vivid, and sometimes harrowing, descriptions of the chase. Stags and hinds were hunted separately and at different times of the year.