Question: When is a cow not a cow?
Answer: When it thinks it’s a racehorse
If you’ve ever walked along English footpaths, you’re bound to have encountered cows. These large grass eating animals with horns come in a range of colours and sizes and are close relations to water buffalo. But that is probably where the similarity ends. On the whole they are gentle, curious creatures who move away when you walk towards them. As far as I know they only eat grass and they don’t bite.
I’ve always thought they had nice faces and beautiful eyelashes. But yesterday I met one of Dorset’s rogue varieties.
Over the years I’ve had a few brief encounters with cows in fields. Usually, they are bullocks and I’ve found myself walking very quickly as a whole herd seemed to be moving towards me from one end of the field. My daughter, who is a runner, tells me she has been chased by cows several times and is very wary of them.
When I was a local newspaper reporter, I wrote a news story about a clergyman friend who was chased by an angry cow and tossed into the river. It turned out to be quite a funny story – although not for him – and it made the nationals! I’ve always thought it strange and put it down to the fact that he was running through the field with his dog and the cow may have been protecting her calves. But this doesn’t explain what happened yesterday.
Our late afternoon walk on the cliffs was rapidly turning into a sunset walk, as we circled back towards the seaside town we’d set out from. It had been the most inspiring jaunt beside a blue, blue sea with barely a wave in sight. We were hemmed in on either side by spectacular cliff top views and rolling heathland and the sun made it feel like July. We even disturbed some Sika deer – Japanese natives who swam across to the Isle of Purbeck from Brownsea island some years ago. Their fluffy white bottoms were very distinctive as they leapt across the gorse bushes in front of us. At least they seemed harmless.
I was looking forward to a long cold drink and fish and chips by the beach, while I attempted to keep up with the long strides of my fellow walker, who maintained his distance always a few metres ahead. Every few minutes he would pause until I had almost caught up, then stride on and I was left behind again! We climbed a stile and found ourselves in a field of cows, which we were admiring, if somewhat hesitantly. Further up a few of them were blocking the path and we decided to skirt round rather than expect them to move. Just as I’d begun to navigate the back end of one, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a large black cow, further up the field, hurtling towards me. The other cows looked on, probably as confused as me.
One thing I’d heard about charging cows is that you are not supposed to run. Unfortunately, this cow hadn’t had the same memo and was speeding up. I mean he was going really fast, there were clumps of grass flying up from beneath his hooves. He must have thought he was at Cheltenham. I held my ground and as he galloped towards me I clapped my hands when he was a few feet away and he veered off to the left just in time. That’s the closest I have come to being charged at and it certainly got my heart racing.
“It must have been your top,” said my walking buddy, who’d been safely watching the action from some metres away. “He was coming for you, not me.”
“What d’you mean I said? That was scary.”
“You’re all in black and white… he thought you were another cow!”
This wasn’t amusing. I don’t know what the cow had on his mind or why he charged towards me. I only know it was scary, but the clapping thing worked.
My youngest son has a theory about cows. If you lie down flat in front of them in a field they will walk around you and won’t trample you to death. He tried it out for a few minutes once in a field, but lost his nerve when they came towards him.
So, real farmers out there – what can you tell me about cows and their behaviour? Are they our friends? Or do they all secretly want to hunt down hikers and toss them into the nearest gorse bush, when they have the chance?
The Jury is out. West country cows you’re on probation. I’m watching you!