If you’re a fan of any kind of countryside activities, walking, horse riding, mountain biking, there’s a strong chance you’ll have come into contact with cows. Having hugely increased my quota of cross country mountain biking over the last year, I’ve noticed that cows have come to occupy quite a niche in my regular rides and not always in a good way!
Now I love animals and I love the outdoors, however my position on any livestock of the largish variety is that I’m entirely happy to love them from a distance.
Sheep are great (well apart from their deposits) as they are more than happy to give you a wide berth. Whether walking or cycling, sheep will stand their ground for only so long before your approach becomes too much to cope with and they skitter off to a safe distance. Pigs, of which there are many locally, always seem to be safely enclosed behind sturdy hedges and horses are very happy to not engage. Recently though it’s the cows that seem to have developed a bit of an attitude!
Having grown up in country I’ve encountered my fair share of livestock, almost all of which would predominantly ignore you. At worst, a steady walk, wave of arms and a loud ‘Shoo’ would almost always do the trick to deter any advances.
On a country walk a while back, the footpath led me through a large open field populated by a large herd. With cows all across the path I decided to skirt around the perimeter to avoid them.
No sooner do I start walking when one rather beefy heifer clocks me with interest. I carry on. After another few yards another cow is watching, same again a moment later. By the midway point half the occupants of the field are either eyeballing me or starting to amble in my direction. Unfortunately I’m now bordered by a thick bramble hedge on one side and a moving wave of cows on the other. I speed up, but so do they, I change direction, but so do my bovine shadows. Trying not to break into either panic or a run I pick up pace. In a determined speed-trot I gratefully make it to the stile on the far side just before the cow-wave intercepts me. From the safety of the lane I eyeball them and they me. I’m sure they are smirking and I’m equally sure it would have been fine, but I wasn’t going to hang around to find out!
Even on the mountain bike it seems cows aren’t keen to let you go by unnoticed or un-accosted. I feel somewhat more confident knowing I can pedal faster than I can run but cows also have a surprising turn of speed. Maybe they have just gotten used to more foot and bike traffic during the long months of lockdown with people taking to the countryside far more than before, but it’s disconcerting.
The cow situation came to a head recently during a bike lunch stop. With cafes being closed we’ve taken to bringing sandwiches with us on long mountain bike rides. There’s been a good number of beautiful picnic stops on route too, as well as some desperate, hungry chewing in busy laybys.
On this occasion however, cycling down a remote track we spot a comfy looking log just the other side of a five bar gate. With the field seemingly empty we push the bikes through and enjoy a picnic gazing over waving fields of grass dotted with trees and wildflowers. It’s just as we’re finishing up that I spot a little knot of darkness on the horizon. Squinting into the sunlight this knot soon resolves itself into a small herd of bullocks who have also spotted us and are keen it seems to make our acquaintance.
As I mentioned, cows can move with surprising speed but so can 2 surprised picnickers it seems. M and I race for the gate which he unlatches and promptly lets go of to tend to his bike! I watch in slow motion horror at this widening gateway and the herd of cows now careening toward us. Pushing M through first I bodily pick up my bike and hurl it after him before sprinting to retrieve the gate. I’m literally heaving it in to place as a sweaty snorting mass of beef with horns skids to a halt, fortunately on the other side. My heart is doing a samba dance out of my chest there is so much adrenaline running through me but I’m also hugely relieved, a) that we haven’t been trampled and b) that we’re not having to explain to some angry farmer that we’ve loosed his prize livestock on the world. To say that I’m a bit miffed with M is also an understatement.
Always an opportunity for learning, it’scertainly made me give cows both a healthy amount of respect and space as well as picking our lunch spots with the utmost care. Some of us have also learned that you always shut gates too!