| Only when I look down at the last second do I see it. I recoil instinctively|
|At intervals along the path, low wooden posts with discreet labels indicate where we are on the river. The access to pool 21 is easy. A couple of strides from the path and a hop down from the bank brings us to a stony beach no more than a couple of feet wide. Unlike the fishermen, our interest is not in the quiet pools but in the rock-strewn faster moving water that lies both up and downstream, and where we hope to see a dipper to add to the day's bird list.|
A little later, having failed again to find a bird that is proving to be surprisingly elusive, we turn to go back to the path. I reach out to place a hand on the bank to boost myself up and only when I look down, at the last second, do I see the snake. The response is immediate, instinctive, yet even as I recoil I know I am mistaken and that this is in fact no snake but a slow worm, a legless lizard, basking in the sun like an adder.
It is the largest slow worm I have ever seen, the smooth brown skin shining softly as if it has been oiled, the tail protruding from the neat pile of coils. I wonder if this is deliberate, for if seized by a predator the creature is capable of shedding its tail in order to escape.
The first quiet click of my camera elicits no visible response but as I cautiously change position to take a second shot, the circle of coils widen, as if something taut has suddenly relaxed and the creature's head, previously hidden, is revealed in the circle's centre.
The eyes blink in the bright sunlight. There is a quick flicker of the tongue as it senses the air, a pause, another flicker and then quick as a whip the slowworm uncoils and glides rapidly into a clump of heather where it lurks invisible, leaving me pondering what else we're passing by all unaware.