Sunrise over Beadnell Bay in Northumberland
Sunrise over Beadnell Bay in Northumberland

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Ancient
Tree Hunt

Whilst you're out and about why not get involved in 'The Ancient Tree Hunt'

"A Carefree Morning". . .

A short story . . .

My cousin Roy's house was in a terrace perched at the top of a steep bank overlooking some rough pasture with a beck running through it and the main road beyond. The route from my house to Roy's was up a narrow lane that petered out into a dirt footpath at the end of my cousin's terrace. At the age of five I often played out with Roy and his gang from the houses up the lane. We usually played in the fields by the beck where a few long haired ponies made the best of the poor grazing.

One spring morning after a stormy night, I called at Roy's and we stood looking over the low wall in front of the row of houses trying to decide what to do. The air was full of that scent of damp vegetation when heavy rain follows a dry spell.

Something unusual caught our attention in the field below. One of the ponies was laid on its side with legs extended. Occasionally there was an involuntary twitch of a limb. The animal was clearly in trouble. We set off to investigate as fast as we could go. A shouted report of a horse lying twitching in the field was enough to collect most of the gang along the way.

By the time we arrived at the scene a knot of other people had gathered. We wormed our way to the front and could see at once a large whitish patch of skin on the pony's otherwise hairy shoulder. Within a few moments, as if by telepathy, we picked up from the crowd that the pony had been struck by lightening during the night. The crowd was awaiting the arrival of the vet to treat the suffering animal.

In a while a small horse box was seen approaching along the main road and a murmur of anticipation buzzed round the crowd. "That's niver a vet. It's t'nacker man!", said a knowledgeable voice in the crowd, but the distinction was lost on us. The vehicle stopped at the field gate. A man dressed in dark blue overalls got out to open it. His colleague drove the horse box in and stopped near the quivering pony. The tail gate was lowered revealing a small winch inside behind the cab.

The man who had opened the gate took out a blue cotton bag from the cab, under the driver's seat. He slowly approached the pony and knelt in front of it. The crowd was silent now as though holding its collective breath, guessing what must happen but still uncertain of the outcome. The man put his hand into the blue bag, took out a pistol, put the muzzle against the pony's forehead and fired one shot. The sharp crack of the shot was followed by a moment's silence as the pony's final twitch subsided, and then there was a hubbub of chatter.

The two men carried on with their task unconcerned by their audience. Ropes were attached to the pony's hind feet and the body was winched into the horse box. the tail gate was closed and the vehicle left. It had been in the field for scarcely ten minutes.

The crowd dispersed as quickly as it had gathered and we scurried off to our respective families to report on the morning's events. The field was left empty except for the two remaining ponies grazing quietly as usual in the far corner.

Frank Firth.
August 1995