The Forest of Dean is well known for its Wild Boar and the impact that these animals have on their environment is obvious. Patches of torn up and turned over ground can be found all over the forest whether it is a lawn or the forest floor. They seem to be very much a ‘love them or hate them’ animal locally and getting close to them was always going to be challenging as these are animals that I knew little about.
So armed with a tent, plenty of waterproof clothing, two cameras and the most important bit of kit: my brother, we gave it a go. We had two days to track, find, photograph and learn about these incredible animals but it wasn’t just the time that was against us, the weather was going to unpredictable to say the least and we had no idea where to start!
On day one we were set up and ready for the off just after noon. The sun was shining although there was a chill in the air and there was barely a breath of wind to compete with the sound of the River Wye as it crawled slowly through its steep valley towards the Severn and the freedom of the open sea. Positive thinking was what we needed and all of this helped to keep our spirits up because we really didn’t have a clue where to go or what the day had in store for us.
After an hour or two the Sun was well and truly hidden behind ever darkening clouds and it became clear that we were in for a little bit of rain. Well, as it happens we didn’t get a little bit of rain, halfway up a very steep, little used path through the woods, the heavens opened. Rain quickly gave way to sleet and this began to fall harder and harder. The noise of the downpour drowned out the racket we were making trying to get up the hill but made it impossible to listen for wildlife and with our heads down, both to protect us from the sleet and to help with the climb, the chance of seeing any wildlife let alone the Wild Boar were remote to say the least.
The climb would have been hard in any weather but the path was soaked, slippery and very steep. From the way it had been carved out of the valley side it was obviously not just a track made by animals but was kept clear by flood water too. The track twisted and turned as it snaked up the hill making it impossible to see the the top. At every corner the path continued, at every brow there was another, seemingly steep section. Things were grim and both of us were struggling! Our waterproofs were not waterproof, we were soaked to the skin and exhausted. Finding the funny side of any of this was proving difficult!
We needed a break, just two minutes to grab our breath before carrying on. There was no shelter of course and the sleet showed no signs of slowing down so we just stopped. As it happened a litter of Wild Boar piglets, spotted by my brother, were happily rooting around amongst the Bluebells and had no idea we were there.
Whether it was the sound of the storm that allowed us to get close or just the fact that they were young and inexperienced, I don’t know and to be quite honest I didn’t care. My all weather camera cover (a black bin bag and the only thing that was actually waterproof) came off and I managed to get a few photographs before they decided we were far too close for comfort.
It is strange how the mood can change so quickly! After the litter of piglets spotted us and disappeared into the undergrowth we continued the climb, finally getting to the top and being able to properly catch our breath. The storm continued however as the slight breeze that we were so happy with earlier meant that it was slow moving and sleet fell and fell and fell.
By the time we got back to base we were soaked to the skin, cold and tired but the first day, although difficult, had been a partial success and were looking forward to the morning. A couple of pints and a warm fire in The Saracen’s Head helped to prepare for a cold night under canvas and a 5 o’clock alarm call.