Hares are truly magnificent, graceful and really quite mythical creatures in the way they appear and just disappear. Equally as much at home in woodland as they are in vast open spaces.
The European Hare which is not the same as our Brown Hare was probably running around with the dinosaurs. A fact even the great Darwin found difficult to comprehend, but our Brown Hare was probably brought over by the Romans. For the hare to the Romans was the Centurion’s favourite friend, for when the Legions were marching against the Barbarians, the Romans would recognise a natural fact that was as true then as it is now for when you see a hare in open country or even in woodland everything is at peace, no surprises, no sudden attack. The sight of a hare conveys peace and tranquillity.
Back to the spring of 2013 when the countryside is so often invaded with gangs of hare coursers dressed in their camouflage trousers and combat jackets. They are a perfect menace to the animals in which their hoard of dogs become entwined with for example deer and muntjacks or anything else in their path, but they have really only come for the hares. A fair contest between lurcher, greyhound or hare, the hare would certainly come out on top one against one 99 times out of 100, but what makes a lot of todays’ coursing so unfair is that there are dogs on every boundary of the field making the hare’s escape almost impossible.
One Saturday, back in middle of April 2013 the Coopers had offered to walk Mitch and Shep and have them for the day while Jackie and I went shopping. The dogs were promptly picked up by the Coopers and that we thought was that, however, once we got down round the shops of Cheltenham, one shop then into another, a cup of coffee in between, then on for lunch, eventually returning home at 4pm only to find at the back door of the house were the very distraught Coopers. One dog sat up ears pricked pleased to see you, that was Mitch, but Shep, the other dog was led in a heap covered in a blanket, head didn’t move even when he heard my voice. “They got him, they got him,” shouted Mrs. Cooper fighting back the tears. I knelt down by the side of Shep and pulled back the blanket. His head stayed still but his eyes opened. The wounds on the back of his neck were gaping open and all his hind legs were also very badly damaged. Jackie immediately on seeing the horrendous wounds turned and asked “What happened?”
“The hare coursers’ dogs set about him. We were just walking when we encountered them. Shep ran off into the middle of the spring barley field, that’s when they all set aboard him. He tried to fight back but to no avail, there were too many, then another hare appeared and the lurchers then left off of Shep and pursued the hare. When we got to him this is what was underneath him.” She then produced a baby Leverette from underneath her coat. “We think he was trying to protect this little fellow and his mother, but that was the hare that the lurchers left Shep for. We saw them catch and kill her along the top boundary.”
“What vehicle were they in?” I asked.
“They were in a blue ford van, there were about ten dogs and four men. They had at least six hares. We didn’t manage to get their van registration, we had to stay with Shep.”
I took Shep up to the kids’ old playhouse which the dogs had adopted as theirs. Jackie took the baby Leverette and the Coopers went off in tears.
I returned back to the house for needle and cotton. I began to sew up Shep’s wounds, pulling the skin together neatly as one could. He had lost a lot of blood going by the colour of his tongue which was a much paler pink than normal. Jackie then came into the playhouse with Mitch who was looking very solemn. “What shall I do with this Leverette?”
“Tuck him in under this blanket with Shep, the feeling of protecting this little chap might just be the tonic he needs to help pull him through. Mitch was now licking Shep’s wounds. The best antiseptic in the world is a dog’s saliva.
Jackie and I couldn’t wait to get up on the following Sunday morning. We opened the playhouse door gingerly. Mitch was there tail wagging, Shep had hotched around in the middle of the night which was a good sign, he pricked his ears and you knew then he was going to be alright, and underneath his chin you saw the two ears of the Leverette. Jackie and I retreated with Mitch. As we walked just the one dog, who was looking decidedly out of sorts not having his brother with him, I said to Jackie “The Coopers said that the hare coursers had six hares, a good day’s plunder, they will be back.” I left Jackie on the walk and went on down the village to the blacksmith’s who I had known all my life and I asked him for forty foot of chain. He then went through the various chains with me, some were far too big and some were far too small. Then he supplied something from underneath his bench which was heaven sent. Light enough to carry yet big enough to do some damage. I returned home with the chain and put it in the shed and that’s where it stayed until last weekend.
Shep made a full recovery, the hare has spent his first few months in our garden, venturing sometimes out into the adjacent fields.
Saturday morning the phone rang, it was Mrs. Cooper and she was excited, seriously excited, “I’ve seen the van, I’ve seen the van.” I knew instantly what she meant.
“Where?” I asked.
“They’ve tucked it in behind the hawthorn hedge up by the old stone stile.”
“Thanks Mrs. Cooper, got to go.” I went to my shed and retrieved the chain that I had picked up from the blacksmith’s those few months earlier. Now the combines had been over the ground so you could now see vast open spaces again. The coursers were back and now it was payback time. I got out my old trials motorbike, put the chain on the back of the seat and I ripped along the stubble fields on my way to the stone stile. There it was just where Mrs. Cooper had said it was. I stopped the bike fifty yards short of the van, no one to be seen but I could hear dogs making tongue in the distance. I had to be quick, time was of the essence. I took the chain to the back of the van and attached it to the back axle. I then fastened the other end of the chain to the thickest hawthorn stump within the hedge. I covered the chain with straw left over from the combine harvesters and I vacated the scene as quickly as I had arrived. I rode the bike up to Four Oakes which was a great vantage point where I could see all over the valley and there I waited and watched. I could now see five men with about a dozen dogs who were now making their way back to the van. I sat astride the bike, and just as I was about to kick it over, I could see approaching the van with speed were the Coopers on their off road invalidity car. This invalidity car was as good as that salesman had said it was in the shop all those months ago, they were two up and they were going across the stubble field at a surprising speed for an invalidity car and flying in the wind above them I could see the Union Jack.
Mr. Cooper had given me the history of the Union Jack. The flag of the British Empire where the sun never set and the blood of innocents never dried. How England’s foes in centuries past had nicknamed the flag “The Butcher’s Apron” due to all the bloodletting that went on in its presence. Such was the fear of the sight of this flag flying at full mast heading towards the enemy, the coursers would not understand this emblem but I did. I kicked the bike over, I hit the bridge over the river at speed and scrambled up the bank on the other side. I wasn’t going to get there in time, the Coopers were going to get there first. When I did get there, there were the two Coopers by the side of the van looking very jubilant and excited. “They’ve gone, they’ve gone,” The five people were walking away from the van with their dogs shouting back to the Coopers all kinds of abuse. The Coopers were stood there with a nut stick in each hand and you could see that they were not afraid to use them. Looking at the state of the van, they had been using them. “They went to speed away and as they did so there was an almighty bang and they just stopped dead and then the van wouldn't move.”
“How extraordinary,” I replied.
“They won’t be back again in a hurry, we’ve taught them a lesson they won’t forget. That’s for Shep.”
After a couple of minutes of them strutting around the van triumphantly, I said that we all ought to get going. The Coopers went their way and I unhitched the chain from the back of the van and I went mine.
This little Leverette is a regular visitor to our garden much to our delight.