Anyone who has walked in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park will know of the Mountain Hare (Lepus Timidus) and how they frequent the high moors and peaty plateaus that range above the valleys.
I followed Lepus Timidus the other day. He led the walk from a position about 25m in front of me, stopping and waiting when the distance between us became too great for normal conversation. We met at the top of a grough on Bleaklow. He startled me as I extricated myself from the fondant slope, fingers clasping onto a tussock of grass. Please hold, I muttered to myself as I hauled my bulk upwards and over to be met with the steady gaze of a Mountain Hare sat on the soft grass of the moor.
As I flailed around, trying with some decorum to get up, his gaze never left me nor did he move. Instead he sat there pondering this strange creature that had suddenly appeared in his world from some place below. Perhaps he thought there may be others, and that his day would be filled with these odd animals with the odd clothes and odd ways of moving over the moor.
I sat up and dusted myself off as well I could, some of the wet peat proving too difficult to remove by hand. The exertion had made my throat dry and as I rummaged around for my bottle I noticed that he, the Mountain Hare, was still there, still watching. I drank water and watched back.
He was a fine animal. Youngish I think judging by his size. His coat was a beautiful mottled grey, almost the colour of gritstone with deeper brown patches around his legs. His eyes were the most wonderful brown, dark pupils surrounded by a circle of solid brown. A grey nose that twitched, as it smelled the air and all finished off with erect almond shaped ears that pointed to the sky.
Raising myself to my feet I started to move forward and as soon as I did he moved off too, except not quite in the direction I was going. And that was when he took the lead. I followed him from then on. As we moved across the plateau I realised he never descended in to any of the groughs, but charted a course that took him across the moor, just below any viewing line, so that to all intent and purpose the only living being out there was me, a human, standing out like a telegraph pole in a desert. He moved much better than me, conserving energy, taking the easier route, which made his progress quicker too. This enabled him to stop and watch my cumbersome walk. What must he have thought as he saw this animal lumbering up and down the groughs, making those strange noises like a beast in its death throws. If he thought any of this he never spoke of it, he was, in his manners, the perfect Mountain Hare.
We walked for a half hour or more, just us, and the grass swaying in the breeze. Sometime he disappeared and I thought I had lost him, which left me feeling a little sad. Then there he would be, in front, or to one side, a little further ahead, looking back and waiting patiently. He never complained, never asked for anything, the best walking companion a person could have.
At some point he decided enough was enough, a noise or a smell, something, made him decide to move on, no longer to keep this odd animal for company. He left without word, no looking back, in a few seconds he was gone.
I stood there for a few minutes, my eyes scanning the moor for any sight of him, but there was nothing. I felt cheated in a way, then I realised he had chosen me as a companion, had let me into his world.
I turned east and headed for home.