Anyone who knows off the top of their head that the last fatal adder bite in the UK was in 1975 when a five-year-old was killed would have to be a bit of a weirdo right?
Well, hi, let me introduce myself, I’m a weirdo.
The fact I know this is totally the fault of my mother.
She is so scared of snakes she has to leave the room if one so much as appears on the telly (as a result she’s the only person in Britain who detests David Attenborough).
As a primary school teacher, she once climbed headfirst out of a classroom window when a child wandered in holding a grass snake.
On a family walk, if we went near some bracken, my mother would tell us that adders –the UK’s only venomous snake – were lurking close by and she would begin violently stamping the ground with her feet.
‘They’ll hear the vibrations and scarper,’ she’d assure us. ‘Deadly they are,’ she’d add. ‘One bite and you’ll be paralysed within the hour.’ Those walks were such fun…
As a result I too have been left with a lifelong fear of adders.
Well, I don’t walk around thinking an adder will slither out of the geraniums and pounce.
But I am always very wary when we are in adder territory, such as wading through deep bracken in some remote location… which is exactly the situation I found myself in the other weekend.
My friend and I decided to walk a section of the beautiful Wales Coastal Path. But beware, I wouldn’t recommend doing it with an imbecile who can’t read a map.
In fairness I’ve not much room to talk as I can’t read a map either.
I just make sure that I always walk with people who can.
Turns out my mate is as useless as me, and only pretends to know what he’s doing.
When we reached a slightly tricky part of the walk, my friend consulted our Ordnance Survey guide, pointed at some tiny black marking and confidently announced, ‘We follow the path to the left here. Should come out near the church by Damp Trouser Tarn’.
I nodded sagely, as if I had carefully examined the map myself and agreed, and we began marching along the path my friend had selected.
Five minutes later, and seemingly without warning, we found ourselves on the edge of a sheer cliff-face, with an incredibly dense section of bracken directly in front of us and no real trace of any path.
‘You sure this is right?’ I shouted, a few paces behind.
‘Yep, it’s just round this corner, I think,’ he replied.
A few paces further in and the bracken was around my midriff.
Prior to setting out, a guidebook had warned of adders in the area.
I now had a dilemma – do I do something highly unmanly and admit that I’m scared of adders, or do I continue stoically?
‘Erm, this is perfect territory for adders –I’m not that keen on carrying on,’ I said, weakly.
My friend looked at me as if slightly ashamed to be an acquaintance and said, ‘You’re joking right?’
I assured him I wasn’t and told him my fatal adder bite fact.
I whipped out my mobile phone and Googled ‘adders’. I was directed to the Forestry UK website which began, encouragingly, ‘adders have the most highly developed venom injecting mechanism of all snakes.’
It cheerfully added ‘adders strike swiftly at prey, injecting a lethal dose of venom’ and the number of bites ‘peak during July’. Gulp.
Basically, I was about to die, which was a real shame because I’m halfway through a good book.
My friend reluctantly conceded we’d gone slightly off-path but claimed if we continued just a short distance further, we’d make it back to the right point.
I made him go first – if one of us was going to be bitten by an adder and killed, I’d much rather it be him. I stamped my feet and made as much noise as I could.
After wading a further half-mile, and almost falling off the cliff four times, we made it back to the path.
I was relieved to be alive and, not one to hold a grudge or sulk, didn’t speak to my friend for the next 17 miles.
Next time, I’ll go with someone who can read a map – and is a fellow adder-fearer.