The parking spaces were deserted.  Probably a good thing, since my husband told me this was a popular spot for dogging.  Wasn’t quite sure what that was. Or cottaging.  Not what you want to come across.

Our wolf dog is wild in the snow.  I think the smells above the surface of the snow are more potent, because the smells beneath the snow are blanketed out.  I can smell people more in the snow, I noticed.  Their perfume hangs behind them more than it would otherwise, the competition sealed beneath.  So he runs crazily from piss-post to piss-post.  They are quite obvious in the snow, surrounded by sprays of yellow.  Ugliness usually hidden.  Amazing how he keeps some back, to spray a little here, a dribble there, and then shoots off to find the next way point.

The track meets the river and we turn left along the rising cliff.  Here the snow is hardly marked though, oddly,  a neat, narrow caterpillar track has been cut into it.  A quad-bike, most likely.  Must have been fun, I thought.  Then, after a while, blood.  Bright red blood.  On the path.  Not just a drop, but large patches of it ahead as far as I can see.  I don’t like the look of it and hang back.  I feel frightened, let my husband investigate.  All horrors of men gasping their last breaths, suffocating in the snow, clasping at branches.  Off to the side, at the site of the first patch, is a messy mixture of snow and vibrant life blood, and a footprint on top.  But no sign of a body.

The trail leads off up hill, and the dog runs ahead, stopping to sniff each patch, sometimes licking.  It goes on forever, the trail of blood.  A patch here, and then another.  Not constant drips, but heavy pools soaked into the snow.  I imagine the wounded man dragging himself up the rising track.  At its highest point, the bloody trail goes off left into the woods, under a barbed fence.  Definitely something dragging itself along.  The dog follows his nose, trotting along the crimson trail, along a path that is so deeply cut in the snow that he almost disappears and we struggle to see where he goes.  No sign of a corpse, no excitement in him for a find.  We call him.  He sniffs some more then bounces across the deep snow to us.  We imagine the dying animal finally giving up, the carcass becoming cold and rigid.  It’s not what you would call a good start to the morning’s walk.

As we trudge on through the snow we distance ourselves from the sight of it.  We meet another couple of walkers and exchange news with them.  They’ve already been this way and seen the blood.  Poachers, the man says.  Yes, I think.  It must have been.  For anything else is too horrible, and that is quite horrible enough.

We try to walk round in a circle, coming back along the shingle beach, but the snow is slushy under the surface and it is like paddling.  We walk back along the bloodied track, and the dog has another lick of the iron-rich stains, and then we drive to a pub with an open fire, and eat steaming mussels with hunks of bread to dip in the cream soup underneath, and sip mulled wine and thick dark ale, driving out the bloodiness.