Celebrating 30 years – and 2 million words
AFTER 30 years of writing this column, since the High Peak Echo days, I thought it might be a good idea to look through the past articles and pick the best. However that was until I realised that there have been approximately 1,560, which equates to around 2 million words.
Maybe I should pick my favourite, or perhaps your favourite, because let’s face it, your letters, calls and, these days, emails, have been the life-blood of the column.
So I’m stuck really and it’s back to the use of a pin, or perhaps even a donkey’s tail, just like when my erstwhile travelling companion, Oaf, and I used to decide on where in Europe to travel to next: “Get the map out Woody,” he would shout. Right, I’ve decided, my favourite Oaf-Quote, followed by my one-in-a-million trip last year to photograph and fall in love with the European Bison.
When I was 62, I treated a number of friends to a holiday in Ravenstonedale in the Upper Eden Valley in Cumbria. We stayed at the remarkable Angel Barn. Anyway, I said to Oaf, “It’s my treat, you bring the food and make sure we eat like a king. I want venison, oysters, champagne and swan.” Oaf replied: “I didn’t know you could still get swan, Woody.”
My priceless mate. Bison could have been on my favoured menu, as it surely was for lords and peasants alike in days gone by, but I confess when I had the chance, after having encountered them in the vast forests of north eastern Poland and Belarus, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
The alarm pinged in my ear at 5.30am, and it was still pitch black outside the wooden lodge.
Within a few hundred metres of the village, there was a wild wood, and my hope was to catch the bison before they returned to the anonymity of the forest soon after daybreak.
And so it happened and I wanted to shout out, after spotting the shape of a bison through the mist; definitely a large bull from half a mile, and I won’t forget the moment for a long time.
Back at the lodge I met a local guide Mateuz Symura and when I told him how I would like to obtain a picture of myself and the bison in the background, he said: “If you are quick I think this may be possible.” There then followed a fastmoving adventure, involving red squirrels, red deer, frozen rivers and icy roads.
After another five minutes in the car, we skidded to a halt. Mateuz said: “Follow me quickly, we may be in luck.’’
In a repeat of my earlier sighting, there they were, say, 700 yards distant, but this time only two and they were feeding on hay.
It was my good fortune that my Polish friend knew his way around a camera, and as you can see, we got pretty close. Not that I was concerned you understand, but these beasts can turn in a nifty 35mph off a standing start.
Remarkably, and definitely a reason to sample the hip-flask of vodka, I had all the pictures on my wish list by 10 on the first morning and when I sent them through to Raging Bull, I was told: “Job done Sean, job done.”
More vodka came the cry.