Your holiday disaster: Bird-watching in Bulgaria, Peter Clarke fell victim to a snake in the grass

When I was 63 I went on a two-week package holiday to Bulgaria. It was my very first flight and I was making a solo bird-watching trip, as my wife would not go on a plane. I wanted to see some of the eastern European birds in their native breeding grounds.

One morning I stood on a roadside verge drinking in the beauty of Bee- eaters perched on overhead wires when I felt a tickling on my left leg (I was wearing shorts) so slight that I thought it was a grass stem waving in the breeze. I casually glanced down and was horrified to see a three- foot snake gliding away from my feet into the undergrowth. There was a smear of blood just below my knee.

I did not at panic, as I was only a short distance outside the town where I knew I could get help. The tourist representative for my trip had told me where to find the Polyclinic.

There were taxis passing, but none would stop in spite of my gesticulations. A Red Cross truck which also passed non-stop, was seemingly the final rejection and panic hit me. I was going to die in a foreign land and my family and friends would never see me again.

I decided to walk on another half mile to where I could see traffic stopping at a road junction. My mouth was now dry with fear. At the junction I was able to stop an old van with three Bulgarian workmen inside who could not understand a word of English. I tried desperately by signs to indicate my predicament. They at last understood, hauled me into their van, did a U-turn; and sped off to the Polyclinic.

I burst into the reception room and announced that I had been bitten by a snake. There were gasps all round from the other waiting patients. But the receptionist's reaction was simply to plonk a form in front of me. An English woman who was there at the time kindly helped me to fill it in. It was duly completed with the ever necessary stamp, and I was sent to the doctor's room.

Looking at my small wound he said in excellent English that the snake had not injected any venom, as there was no swelling. Was I sure that it was a snake, he asked.

I collapsed with enormous relief into a chair while three young nurses took charge. One wiped the blood away from my knee, another sprayed it; while the third nurse gave me an injection. What that was for I did not know. I was past caring.

I was told to go back to my hotel and rest. As I made my way there, ominous black clouds were gathering in the sultry air and claps of distance thunder rolled ever nearer. Were the Gods displeased at my escape?

When I got back to England my friend met me. He only wanted to know one thing: had I managed to take a photograph of the snake?

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