The Beast of Box Hill

A conversation at work about living up on Box Hill prompted me to download my story published in Surrey Life 2010 and in Country wise Anthology 2010. As they say “the truth is out there”

                                                                The Beast of Box Hill

Box Hill is an area of outstanding beauty in Surrey. For someone fortunate to spend their life up here, the best time to appreciate the beauty of the hill is early morning or late evening. When the family picnics on the old donkey green have been packed up and the 4×4’s have descended back down the hill to join the M25 home.

Standing one warm summer morning at the look out point, the mists were hanging low over the Dorking Valley and although already dissipating, they showed  signs of hanging low across the landscape for most of the morning. I had seen this view many a time and it had become almost second nature to me. But this was the day I first realised just how easy it is to believe you know your environment so well  and yet be so completely wrong. And how nature still has so many secrets to be fathomed. This was the day after I first saw the beast of Box Hill.

Eight years of living on the hill and I have only seen the creature twice. The first time I was driving back up from working in the vineyard down in the valley. The mists that had been hanging low in the morning were still suspended above the lower lying bushes but this did not suggest that anything untoward was going to happen. I had just taken the first bend on the Zig Zag road , suddenly a creature jumped from the bank side  and stood in the middle of the road. I stopped and stared through the windscreen at what looked like a wolf. It had the same lopping stance as one, but I knew in my head it was not possible. This was Surrey and although Box Hill was home to lots of wildlife, a badger was probably the most exciting thing you would  see. I continued to stare and caught its eyes, they were the shape of almonds and the colour of amber, it had to be a wolf. The long muzzle and the shaggy grey coloured  fur. Was I so tired that I was now hallucinating?

Suddenly the creature lunged toward the other side of the road, and as quickly as it had come down the bank, it disappeared into dense trees, further down. I sat in the car staring into the foliage hoping I would catch another glimpse of it, but deep down I knew it had gone. I continued up the hill to my home. Just what on earth had I seen?

The sight of that creature remained  indelibly marked in my psyche. I knew every each of the hill. I hiked out every chance I got. I knew where all the badger sets were. I knew when there were fox cubs down on the donkey green. I followed the flight of the bats nesting in the old unused fort. Saw the roe deer down by the old brick kilns . In spring I would take the riverside walk to see the new rabbit kits that were for a few days unafraid of humans.  And watch the baby blue tits revel in their new found ability to fly. There would be no way that a creature like that would escape my notice. I had spent time tracking in South Africa and had been taught how to spot wildlife, how to spot changes in the landscape that would reveal a cheetah or even rarer a leopard. I had not noticed anything untoward up here.

The National Trust  had sheep grazing on the open slopes and an animal like a wolf would need to eat and sheep would be its ideal prey. Yet there had been no reports of attacks. And no half devoured carcasses. That time of year – mid summer there were numerous  day trippers to the hill and almost every inch would have been tramped upon, it would not have been able to hide. I reluctantly deduced that no, the mist had been playing tricks on me or perhaps tiredness from holding down two jobs had overtaken , yet its eyes seemed so real so wolf like.

Years went by and although I never forgot the appearance of the creature. I felt I would never see him again. The one autumnal day I saw him .

 November was a glorious month for the fall up on the hill. I walked out one Sunday to clear my head after a rather boozy drinking session the night before with some friends. I decided I would take the long walk that could be considered quite a challenge , which consisted of Box Hill, Mickelham Downs and Headly Heath. A good five – six hour walk that would definitely work off a hangover.

Because the weather was so damp there did not seem to be that many hikers and of that I was relieved. I am very much a solitary walker. As I walked up Juniper Hill, my heart started to pump and I was working up quite a sweat. I paused at one point to catch my breath. Amid the profusion of golden and russets leaves on the trees a very cocky robin who was not flying south for winter flitted. He bravely sang his song, plumping up his red chest chirping out his little tune “I am the King of my castle, Get down you dirty rascals.” His song hung ruby rich in the air . As he flew away I followed his flight and then suddenly,  I could see through the russet colour of leaves a darker shape, an animal. I was immediately thinking roe deer, and crouching down as low as I could I crept nearer and nearer.

It must have smelt me, because the creature looked up, it was no roe deer, I stared into the amber eyes of a wolf. For a split second we both were motionless. This was incredible, here I was in Surrey face to face with what was most definitely a wolf. I just couldn’t believe it. I gazed at the magnificent creature literally spellbound.

Suddenly the animal turned his body and with one agile jump was gone into the lower foliage of the golden beech trees. I stood back up to an upright position and looked around me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw hikers coming up the hill. Sitting down on a large upturned tree I drank from my water flask, trying to show my nonchalance as the two figures approached.  The man and woman politely acknowledged me and continued on their way toward where I had spotted the wolf.

I made my self take in every tiny detail of my environment. The smells of the wet earth,  the colours of the autumnal trees, the noise of a robin , the clothes the hikers were wearing as they disappeared up the track. Every thing even down to the mud on my walking boots.  I confirmed that however strange the sight, it was no hallucination. I had seen a wolf.

As I followed  the same route as the hikers, I looked down the slope and I saw a slight break in the landscape, a strange dark hump in the grass. Veering off the path I walked towards it, it was the partially eaten remains of  a dear. I breathed in and out slowly. This confirmed even more that there was a strange creature out here and he or she was very good at hiding of that much it was obvious. Two sightings in eight years. Would I have to wait another eight years to see him again?

I prayed that he would remain undetected, that none of the other  enthusiastic nature lovers like me would spot him. And that suddenly rather like the Loch Ness Monster, or Saskatchewan Man there would be wolf enthusiasts camping out with all their tracking gear and huge cameras. Desperate for a glimpse of the secretive animal.

From that day, my walks have been  taken nearer to evening, when all the day trippers have packed up their picnic paraphernalia in  their cars and descended down the hill. Or early morning when  the dear are surprised at human footsteps. Would I ever get another glimpse of the elusive  wolf? Somehow I thought no, not again soon, anyway. From time to time on a warm summers evening, walking back from the lookout  post when the smells of wild marjoram and strawberries waft over to me, I hear rustling in the trees alongside of me and a low growl. I stop to peer in at where the noise is coming from, I see nothing, unusual. Sometimes the tail of a newt as he scuttles away under fallen leaves. I know in my heart the beast  will only appear again when it is ready. For now I content myself in the knowledge that there is a strange wolf like creature living here and no one else knows about him. Yet……

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