During the lockdown, I’ve begun going to the racecourse when I have time for a proper walk, as there is plenty of space to avoid people. As well as the paths around the track, there’s also a small wooded area, where I know I will be completely alone, and there are a couple of places where you can climb over stiles and get onto footpaths that cross the adjoining fields.
There’s a proper made-up path on the inside of the track, but I prefer the natural path thats skirts the racecourse; this is quite narrow, but you can always dip under the fence to ensure the recommended distance is adhered to.
I usually stick to the wood and the path around the track, but this morning I decided to vary my route and cross the fields.
There were a few cows on the far edge of the field (off to one side, not on the footpath) when I crossed the brook and went through the gate. There were maybe ten of them, mostly laying down in the shade and looking perfectly placid. I may be a city girl, but ain’t afraid of no cows, so I went in and started walking.
I ignored the cows and they ignored me.
At least, they ignored me until I was almost two-thirds of the way across. Then I turned and saw them ambling quite clearly in my direction. All of them.
When I turned and made eye contact, they speeded up. And so did I.
I had already spotted the stile at the far side of the field, so I made a bee-line for it. Originally, I had had no intention of going on into the next field, but as the cows were now all jostling along towards me at quite a speed, I decided it would be wise to do so.
They came right up to the stile and looked at me. I reckoned turning round and taking photos would only encourage them, so, instead, I headed on across this farther field towards the next stile. Stopping before crossing that, I checked the maps on my phone and found I was about to get out onto the main bypass and that it would take me nearly an hour and a half to get home if I went by road. Which didn’t seem like the sort of once-a-day-for-exercise walk I’d had in mind when I set out.
By then, I cold see that cows had moved away and were no longer clustering around the stile, so I decided to risk turning back. I found another gateway that took me into the same field, but farther away and snuck back along the other side of the hedge that runs through the middle of the field. Fortunately, the cows didn’t spot me, so, unlike the hedge, I didn’t have to run through the middle of the field.
I even felt safe enough to pause and take a few pictures, though I’ll admit they are not the best I’ve ever taken.
As I made my way home, I was wondering what it was that I was afraid of. After all, I’m pretty sure that farmers aren’t allowed to put dangerous animals in fields where there’s a public footpath. I’m still not sure, though I do remember a colleague once telling me about the difference between the way cows and sheep graze. Apparently sheep are good with short grass because of the shape of their jaws, while cows have those amazing, almost prehensile, tongues and can tear up long grass without any problem.
However much my conscious mind tells me that I like cows – they’re the very image of lazy summer days as they ruminate knee-deep in buttercups – I had an unreasonable, and unreasoned, fear at the back of my mind that if they got close, they might try to lick me. And if one of those tongues got wrapped round my hair, I’m pretty sure they’d scalp me.
Which is why there are no close up photos of cattle to illustrate this post. I’m having to settle for buttercups, which, surely, must have been the name of one of them.
That doesn’t seem quite enough, though, so here’s a poem written after a morning walk many years ago.
When the dew lies cool in the day’s eyes, beyond
the umbelliferous lace of napkin fields
morning horses toss and fret, and rooks stalk
among the stubble. Two iridescent flies
spiral around invisible sweetness, climbing
a barley sugar twist of sunlight. Humbug-shelled snails
hang on an ivied wall and clover speckles
honey promises across the lawn. Under the apple tree,
a prattle of tabby-feathered sparrows anticipates
the flick and snap of chequered tablecloth
signalling their breadcrumb breakfast.
And finally, some cow parsley – the umbelliferous Queen Anne’s lace hedge around the racecourse.