Walk this way, and make my day!
This seems like a Good time to retrace your steps, or to exit stage left or right, whichever is the nearest to escape from what seems impending danger
How many of you have faced this problem, or know someone who has, being confronted with a herd of cattle, or even just one or two. I think that the numbers will be high, as it is a recurring problem when you chose to walk in the country. Not only in what I call, rough walking, like, leaving the tracks and heading wherever your feet take you, but on recognised trails and “ways”, like this one, which is part of “The West Island Way”. Don't get me wrong, this is not me lambasting the way. A great deal of walks in Scotland have cattle on them at some sections, I am just explaining the dangers that you may incur as you go walkabout anywhere .
Injuries, and indeed a recent fatality, caused by angry cattle has been well documented recently, and calls for warning signs to be displayed where there are cattle has been to the fore. Where will it all end. Will farmers be compelled to have signs placed at every field warning you that these animals may cause you harm? I don't think so. Maybe at sections on specific walks,and ways, there could be signs saying that. 'You are now entering an area in which you will encounter cattle', and the cost should be borne, not by the farmers but whoever is responsible for these walks or ways?
If you enter a field by a gate or by climbing over a fence, then beware, you are now in the cattle's territory. If they are milking cows, this is where they stay from May until October or later depending on the weather, and if they are beef cattle, then they may be out all the year round, so if you are a four seasons walker you will be well acquainted with our hoofed friends, and know the warning signals of impending danger?
Milking cows are by far the most docile of all the cattle that you will meet. They are quite happy to roam the fields, eating the grass and the lying down to digest it. The most movement that you will get from them is at milking time, when they will gather around the gate to get milked, as their udders get big and heavy and they are looking for relief. If they have to travel on the road to get to the farm, then this may cause you a bit of a problem if you get in amongst them, more so if you are in a car.
There may be fifty cattle or more passing you which seems to take an eternity to do so. They are not interested in you, they only want to pass you safely as they are unsure of you as you are of them. If you come across this situation, then stop, switch off your engine, and on no account sound your horn Even better if you see it coming from afar, stop before the farm, and save yourself and the cattle from a lot of hassle. If you were walking when you are caught up with them, sit on the dyke or stand at the hedge or fence and they will give you a body swerve. And don't worry if you are driving a red car as it makes no difference to cows or bulls. There have been incidents where vehicles have been damaged, but these are few and far between, so be patient and they will soon pass you, and you can be on your way.
The same idea applies if you are on a recognised walk or you are rambling. Let the cattle see you, do not walk fast or shout at them, as then, they may get excited and run in all directions leaving your exits blocked. Move slowly and they will move out of your road, and you will pass then easily. This is, if they are milking cows, if they are young cattle, then it is a different kettle of fish. Like all youngsters they are unpredictable and flighty. If they are at one end of the field or path, then when they spot you, they may come running. Not to harm you, but just to be nosey. As they get near you they will then stop running, and stand looking at you, letting you pass easily.
A few weeks ago I met a party of five at the Loch Fad causeway who wanted to walk round the loch. As I explained the difficulties in attempting this I then proposed that they should head up past Lochly Cottage, and then head up the path which brings you out at the road end for Lochend and the road for Scoulag Moor. They then decided to go this way and I headed for home via Ashfield Farm. As I neared the farm the rain came on, so I took shelter there. After about ten minutes, the party of five appeared and said that the had decided to call it a day and have a look at the cemetery instead.
Going by the white colour of their faces, I realised that they had met the young cattle in the first field that had just arrived there after a winter indoors and were in a flighty mood. The sight of them stampeding towards the was to much for their nerves, and they had beat a hasty retreat. They would have come to no harm, but try telling them that as they stood shaking, would have met with a cool response.
Bulls! Well if you enter a field that has one in it , you take your chance, some are quiet, some are not. No further comment on bulls.
Now we come to where the public are being harmed, and sadly,as in some instances losing their life. It always seems to be when the cow has a calf with her. The female of any species will protect their offspring from what they think is a threat to them, and we, the public are just that. They do not know that we mean them no harm, in fact they are full of trepidation as much as we are as we approach them. If you see yourself in this situation, resolve it by backing off. Don't try to be, “I'm not frightened of you”and stumble on and causing an incident. They are much bigger and stronger, and faster than you. If the calf is very young, you will realise very quickly that there could be a problem, but! if it is a very big calf, then you may be misled to thinking that it is just a few cows together and carry on.
Well I was in that scenario many years back, and I had to hightail it out of there fast, with my Jack Russel dog saving my skin as the cow turned away from me and chased her. We both escaped without injury, but that was a hairy situation that I would not like to repeat. I know cattle, and have no fear of them, only respect, and I know the danger signals, but if you come across a situation like I was in as I walked around a corner to be confronted, then you do not have much time to size up the situation. as quickly as the cow, then, get as far away from them as quick as you safely can, and learn from your experience, and remember, you are a visitor on their land.
First publiished in the Buteman August 2004.
The Highland Cattle are the most docile, as are other breeds, but like humans, there is a bad element in some, so take care
Images taken during various walks in Scotland.