Friday, 17 September 2021

Strolling (carefully) among the bulls

TAKING my own advice, we took the beechen tunnel from Whitchurch Hill towards Goring on the Thames Path.

It was hillier than I remembered, but just as varied and beautiful.

We turned right as we emerged from the wood on the flat, up the even steeper Hartslock, a Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust reserve, but with a bench at the top for the view to the hills beyond Goring and down to the River Thames.

Surely the huge brick railway bridge was a shock to the inhabitants in its time, just as the metal gantries are to us today, so ugly and intrusive.

Passing down the other side, among a few lingering bellflowers and scabious, the orchids all gone, we turned right up an old packhorse route to the lane on the ridge, keeping right and right again to skirt Coombe Farm, where wonky stiles have been replaced by gates.

We reached fields of lush grass and a herd of peaceful cows of mixed ages and colours, peacefully grazing or chewing the cud.

We carefully followed the path as cows will rarely stir if you remain on the route where they are accustomed to seeing people, although it led us through some fine cowpats as it was on the margin of the wood, which had obviously been richly used as shelter by the cattle.

At a corner, I glimpsed a hump and knew it was a bull before I saw the tuft of hair under its belly, standing four-square on the path with a cow close to him. She moved away at our approach — would he move too?

Not a chance. As we crept nearer, he stared fixedly and remained planted, the barbed wire fence to one side and his harem to the other.

It was more than half a mile back to where the path crossed a driveway, which would anyway lead us on to the road where there was no footpath, or even margin to walk on.

We decided to cross the field to a gate and as we left the footpath the cows began to stand and stare, facing us, on guard against this unusual behaviour.

The bull did not move and, to our amazement, as we walked down the hill beside the road we saw through the hedge another bull, in the same field, gazing energetically, way away from our first fright.

Having recently read The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young, discovered at the Henley Literary Festival, I knew that these bulls must have been brought up together and could therefore cohabit without fighting.

It seemed to be an excellent example of family farming, that is farming cattle in their natural families, as outlined in this gem of a book with a foreword by Alan Bennett.

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