“A hare’s movement seems plagued by the flicks and judders of restrained energy, as if carrying an ache that can only be relieved by running. The rest of the time it’s as though they’re absorbing the earth’s energy, tapped into a ley line, shivering with pent-up static”
As it’s March, it’s the perfect time to talk about hares. There’s something about hares, isn’t there? A certain ‘strangeness’; perhaps even a certain otherworldliness. I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a hare out in the wild, everything becomes a little stiller, a little quieter. It’s no wonder this elusive creature has exerted such a fascination on us mere humans over the millennia, becoming a firm feature in our shared folklore.
Samantha has always had a fascination for hares so, naturally, that fascination has passed over to me. On our walks together we see lots of wildlife – fox, badger, deer, owls, otter, stoats, snakes and slow-worms – but it’s always the times we see hares that really stick in the memory.
I remember the first time Samantha and I first saw them together. It was dawn on the summer solstice in the late ‘90s, we had got up early to watch the sun rise from a hillside field on the edge of one of our favourite woodlands. We’d already seen a badger while walking through the semi-darkness of the woods and while we sat waiting in the dewy grass of the meadow we noticed them; quite a way off, further down the hill, a small group of hares – presumably young ones – gambolling and playing in the early light, chasing each other, leaping and turning somersaults. They outshone the sun of the new day.
It’s funny but, before that first time, we’d never seen hares on our walks; but after it we saw them often. It was as though our eyes were opened to them.
Being craftspeople ourselves, we naturally buy the occasional piece from other artists and craftspeople (when funds allow!) and, that strange shared fascination we have for hares can be seen in the creations of others. Over the years we have collected several pieces which now decorate our house and workshop, every one of them an attempt to capture the uncapturable.
It was my birthday, a day in May full of grey drizzle and we went walking at Geddington Chase, a surviving outlier of the old Rockingham Forest. Admittedly, we were in a part of the woods where the public are not supposed to go but sometimes our curiosity gets the better of us when we’re out and about. We emerged from the trees onto a broad green ride where, a hundred or so yards away, a few hares were browsing. We noticed that one hare had separated from the rest and was ambling up the ride and coming straight towards us, so we gently backed off a little and crouched in the long wet grass. Slowly, very slowly, the hare came closer, stopping now and again to nibble the fresh growth… the tension was unbearable. It finally got to within about 10 feet of us and stopped to sniff the air, it looked uneasy, as though it could sense something was not right. Samantha and I were so close we could even see that one of its ears was ragged and torn. I’d been crouched in the same position for far too long, not daring to breath, muscles burning and there was an intense buzzing in my ears with the tension, but I didn’t want this moment to end. Finally, one of us made the slightest movement and the hare bolted… one moment it was there and the next it had vanished.
The following year we returned to Geddington Chase a little earlier in the year, in March. Although we didn’t get so close to a hare this time we did get to see something quite wonderful. It was in a ploughed field bordering the woods that we saw two hares boxing. This is, of course, the typical ‘Mad as a March Hare’ behaviour, two hares rearing up and attacking each other. It’s often mistakenly thought to be the male Hares which do this, in a fight for dominance, but it’s far more usual for it to be a male and female; the amorous male chasing the female until she gets fed up with his advances and turns to fend him off. This was certainly a male and female we saw as the Jack’s persistence finally wore the Jill down and nature took its course amongst the furrows. It was incredible to witness this wild and intimate moment.
Many, many years ago Samantha found an old, battered tambourine and painted it with her hare and moon design (the hare being indivisibly linked with the moon, of course) and, through a succession of homes, it’s been hanging on our wall ever since; currently in prime position above the fireplace. A while back, we were sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold, winter’s evening and we got to talking about that tambourine and the design and hares in general (which led to this blog post), when Samantha asked rhetorically, “How come we don’t have more hare designs on our shop?”
We’re really not sure why we don’t have more hare designs on our shop, but we plan to put this right! We’ve had our Tinner’s Hares design available for a while, but that’s it. So, as a start, we decided to take that design which Samantha created over 25 years ago and add it as one of our hand-tooled designs on our leather journals and binders. And, here it is (click on the image to see it on our website):
As I’m sure you already know, the best place to see Hares is just after the harvest in late summer, when the fields are all bare and stubbled. If you look at a field and think, “that tussock looks a bit out of place”, or “that clump of earth doesn’t quite look right”, then you may well be looking at a hare. A few years back, Samantha and I were walking with Tanner, our Border Terrier, across just such a field; it was a bright day on a high field and we were walking into a light breeze; we were admiring the surrounding views as we went, one of those days when all is right with the world. Suddenly, we weren’t alone, the earth sprang up and grew legs; a hare was suddenly in front of us, not more than six feet away (it’s always surprising how huge they look when close!); I’m not sure who was more startled, the Hare, me and Sam, or Tanner! I’m guessing we must have disturbed it while it was laying in its scrape but, with a bound, the Hare was off towards the nearest hedgerow, which was quite a distance, with Tanner in pursuit! Of course, we called Tanner back but we weren’t too worried, a little Terrier is no match for the speed of a hare. Before the Hare disappeared into the hedgerow it stopped and cast a look back at us; this is something we’ve noticed they do often, they give a little haughty, almost mocking, look back at those who dared to startle them as if to say, “You’ll need to be quicker next time!”
I’ve saved the strangest encounter until last. You know when you get those moments that transport you somewhere ‘other’? Those rare moments that don’t seem quite real? Those moments which, when you’re separated by the distance of years from them become indistinct; were they real or something you dreamt? For us, this was one of those.
We had a stall at a huge craft show on the Sandringham estate and, as we did back then, we spent the weekend on site and camped in our dilapidated old van, which we had converted into a make-shift camper. It used to be quite nice attending the shows on bank holiday weekends; after the customers had all left there could be quite a camaraderie amongst the stallholders camping ‘on site’ – much drinking and merriment, and musical instruments would often come out (who can forget Wocko the Woodman and his accordion?).
Anyway, on this particular evening, Samantha and I had decided to go for a walk around the woodlands of the Sandringham estate. It was a strange light, one of those evenings of bright sunshine and slate skies. Lazily ambling around the woods we came across one of those hides they build up in the trees, those simple platforms with a ladder (I’m never sure whether they’re for people to view or hunt the wildlife); so, we climbed up and sat in it, quietly chatting about whatever sprung to mind. I think we both saw it at the same time… a hare slowly walking along the path, with the usual ungainly gait. We sat silently, watching it from above. A few moments later and another hare came past, following the first. How wonderful, we thought, to see two hares! As we sat and watched, more hares came, one after another, until there was a procession of more than a dozen of them. A dozen or more hares, all walking in single file in their peculiar hop-hobbling way; all walking from the fields and going somewhere deep into the woods.
After the last of the hares had disappeared we sat in silence for a while before climbing back down. The sky was darkening and we could hear distant rumbles of thunder as we walked back through the woods and it was at this point we met the gamekeeper. At first he seemed a little offish and wanted to know what we were doing in the woods but after explaining we were from the craft show and were just going for an evening walk, he warmed up a bit. We explained to him what we had just seen and he replied in a broad Norfolk accent, “Ah, they often come into the woods when a storm’s coming”, and then, after a pause, “…well, either that or they’re on their way to their parliament”.
A Parliament of Hares – that’s a phrase to conjure with, isn’t it. According to tradition, people have witnessed hares gather in a broad circle, all looking into the centre and this is known as a Parliament of Hares. No one seems to know why they do it or even if these gatherings really happen; they could be one of those strange twists of folklore. But, the romantic in me certainly wants to believe they do happen and… if on that night, instead of turning away, we had quietly followed that procession of hares, what would we have seen and, more importantly… would we have returned to tell the tale!?
Of course, we have no photographic evidence to back up these tales, so you’ll have to take me at my word. There have of course been many other meetings with hares, including the time we strayed from the path on a wintery Kinder Scout and encountered the Mountain Hares and their almost invisible movements of white fur against a white landscape. And then there was the time when we were sleeping on the side of Glastonbury Tor on Midsummer Eve when Samantha turned into a hare, but that was when we were young and wild back in the ‘90s and is perhaps best kept as a story for another time!
As it’s that time of year, the time when we’re seeing the first green of spring, we’ll take this opportunity to wish you an early Happy Easter or perhaps a Happy Ēostre would be more suitable! We’d love to hear about your own meetings with Hares, so if you’d like to share then just add a comment! Or you can visit us at:
To end, I’ll leave you with Seamus Heaney’s translation of this anonymous Middle English poem which is perhaps the best thing ever written about the hare.
The Names of the Hare
Translation from the Middle English by Seamus Heaney
The man the hare has met
will never be the better of it
except he lay down on the land
what he carries in his hand—
be it staff or be it bow—
and bless him with his elbow
and come out with this litany
with devotion and sincerity
to speak the praises of the hare.
Then the man will better fare.
‘The hare, call him scotart,
the O’Hare, the jumper,
the rascal, the racer.
The wimount, the messer,
the skidaddler, the nibbler,
the ill-met, the slabber.
The quick-scut, the dew-flirt,
the grass-biter, the goibert,
the home-late, the do-the-dirt.
The starer, the wood-cat,
the purblind, the furze cat,
the skulker, the bleary-eyed,
the wall-eyed, the glance-aside
and also the hedge-springer.
The stubble-stag, the long lugs,
the stook-deer, the frisky legs,
the wild one, the skipper,
the hug-the-ground, the lurker,
the race-the-wind, the skiver,
the shag-the-hare, the hedge-squatter,
the dew-hammer, the dew-hopper,
the sit-tight, the grass-bounder,
the jig-foot, the earth-sitter,
the light-foot, the fern-sitter,
the kail-stag, the herb-cropper.
The creep-along, the sitter-still,
the pintail, the ring-the-hill,
the sudden start,
The gobshite, the gum-sucker,
the scare-the-man, the faith-breaker,
the snuff-the-ground, the baldy skull,
(his chief name is scoundrel.)
The stag sprouting a suede horn,
the creature living in the corn,
the creature bearing all men’s scorn,
the creature no one dares to name.’
When you have got all this said
then the hare’s strength has been laid.
Then you might go faring forth—
east and west and south and north,
wherever you incline to go—
but only if you’re skilful too.
And now, Sir Hare, good-day to you.
God guide you to a how-d’ye-do
with me: come to me dead
in either onion broth or bread.