This is a sign that fills me full of fear. And with good reason!
We climbed over the stile into a large field on the Offa’s Dyke route and walked leisurely along the footpath through the middle of the field. There was nothing there, or so we thought. Then we spotted it way over on the left perimeter – a huge brown bull. It was contentedly munching grass and, at first, appeared not to notice us. But as we continued, walking casually, it started to show an interest in us, then broke into a canter towards us. At this point we started to sprint towards the metal gate at the end of the field and we leapt over it just before the bull hit the gate. It was a near death experience but we had survived. Then we realised that we’d dropped the map about 10 metres away from the gate. Neither of us wanted to go back into the field to retrieve it, even though the bull had trotted off, so we tossed a coin and it fell to me to go and get it. That was back in 1985 and it was my first real encounter with a bull. We were left puzzled by the incident because it was the only animal in the field, we were well away from it, and we did nothing to antagonise it, or event attract its attention. So, what motivated it to be aggressive?
Then around 15 years later I had an even worse experience. I was walking with my youngest son, Robert, who was probably about 12 years old at the time. We crossed into a field full of cows somewhere near Chinley, Derbyshire. Most of the cows were lying down, many of them on our path and it was difficult to see a route through without coming close to them. So, I told Robert that we’d walk slowly and calmly, and keep as far as possible from them. We’d hardly started when Robert screamed “watch out dad”. I looked up and saw the angry bull charging towards us, snorting and flicking its hind legs high in a very threatening way. I looked round and Robert was already running in retreat. I shouted to him to stop and he asked what he should do. “Stand still”, I said “then walk slowly to the wall and climb over”. Then, in a millisecond, I pointed my walking pole at the bull and shouted “stop”. In hindsight, this seems absolutely hideous! But to my amazement, the bull stood where it was, just a short distance from us. Then we backed off slowly and clambered over the stone wall to safety. Adrenaline flooded through me and my heart was pumping like never before. We were both really shaken and it took some time to fully recover. But somehow, we were still alive.
And I’ve had a few experiences with cows too. The worst of these was when I was walking the Coast to Coast walk with my daughter Gail. We were approaching Kirkby Stephen in a large field full of cows and calves and we knew that we had to walk calmly and keep our distance. All was going well until suddenly a group of hikers, some distance behind us, started shouting. Immediately, the cows were startled, and they very quickly rounded up their calves and started to stampede. They were so close to us we could have easily touched them as the ground around us shook, and it was extremely frightening as we stood there motionless.
Some years later, I was walking in the Peak District with my wife Marilyn. We climbed over a stile into a field with two cows and a calf and started down the path towards them. Immediately one of the cows ran threateningly towards us. We retreated back over the stile and the cow returned to its calf. We tried again, but this time we turned left intending to walk away from the cows and around the perimeter of the field, but once again the cow ran directly at us. Clearly, it wasn’t having us in that field, so we had to abandon our planned walk and find another route.
So, those are my experiences, but many other hikers have stories about cattle too.
Recently there was a post on one of the Facebook Groups that I’m on - I picked out a few comments:
having spent many a summer holiday as a kid on my relative’s dairy farm I’ve never really been nervous around cattle until a couple of years ago when my son and I got ‘followed at speed’ by a herd whilst walking a footpath. Not too long after a gentleman was trampled to death by the same herd
I was trampled because I had the dog on a lead. The advice from the Ramblers Association and the NFU is to let the dog off the lead it you are chased/attacked
my god son and his girlfriend and at least 2 others were trampled last year which confirmed my fears
I’ve been chased by cows several times. I’m petrified by them. I remember one on a walk we were doing, we’d walked for about 3 hours and were close to finishing, when we came across a field with bulls, cows and calves in. They were all pretty much stood right by the gate on a public footpath. I told my other half I wouldn’t even go in that field without a dog, let along with mine. We tried to find a way round without going into the field but couldn’t and ended up walking back the way we had come.
I had no idea that cows were dangerous. I was attacked and trampled last year I’m lucky to still be alive. Cows with calves are killers. Please stay safe.
I was trampled two and a half years ago and am lucky to be alive - 34 breaks to the ribs among other injuries.
I've been chased by so many cows over the years! My partner's best friend's mum got trampled and killed by them when he was a boy so he's petrified of them!
On one very, very long walk one day when a couple of us were moaning a bit because we were exhausted (5 days into a trekking holiday) and couldn’t speed up, suddenly two loose cows ran at us. I’m telling you I have never moved as quick in my life
Vital advice! My dear friend almost lost her life after being trampled by cows with calves. Take heed!
So, there you have it – just one post on one Facebook Group and all those incidents leading to deaths, injuries and near misses.
Then, as I was writing this blog, there was a post on another Facebook Group as follows:
“SAFETY NOTICE- I’m on a bit of a mission to prevent this incident occurring again. The event below occurred 23 May 2022. I’ve posted this on other groups, so I apologise if you’ve already seen this.
Please be careful around cattle, especially if you have a dog. My friend was in ICU for 3 weeks and then the major trauma unit for another 5. She was stampeded and attacked by a herd of cows. She’s walked through the field on numerous occasions with no issues. She got charged by at least 50 cows and sustained numerous injuries. She is lucky to be alive.
19 broken ribs
Broken collar bone
Broken shoulder blade
Neck and facial injuries
If you have a dog and you get charged by a herd of cows, please let the dog go. It will fend for itself”.
And this of course prompted many others to share their own stories of ‘near misses’ or worse.
Then, just as recently as 11 September, the Kinder Mountain Rescue team was called out by the East Midlands Ambulance Service, to assist with a man who had been trampled by cows whilst walking his dog in the fields in the Hayfield area.
Nine days after this, I watched the TV programme “Helicopter ER” which featured a woman who was seriously injured after being trampled by cows in Masham, Yorkshire. She was with her partner walking her Labrador, to distract her from her forthcoming surgery for cancer, when they encountered a herd of around 30 cows, some of which attacked her and her dog. It is thought that the cows reacted to protect their young calves. She described how some of the cows pinned her against the hedge, then she was head butted in the knee and fell to the floor whilst one of them reared up on its hind legs and stamped down on her legs, chest and abdomen. The cows then surrounded them and they were effectively trapped. Fortunately, several people who were passing by, came to her aid and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance was called. It was harrowing to watch it on TV as she lay on the ground in intense pain whilst being treated by the paramedics. The Yorkshire Air Ambulance flew her to the major trauma centre at Leeds General Infirmary. She had seven broken ribs and serious abdominal damage which subsequently resulted in surgery to remove part of her bowel. Her cancer surgery was postponed until later that year and she is now on the road to recovery.
During the programme, it was mentioned that, during the past few years, several people had died in North Yorkshire due to serious attacks by cows.
According to the Health & Safety Executive, the number of people killed by cattle each year is extremely small, mostly involving farm workers, and the number of members of the public who are killed is even smaller. They also investigate serious injuries sustained as a result of incidents involving cattle but again, the number is small.
But it does occur to me that these numbers will include only those reported to the HSE. What about my own experiences – I didn’t report any of these incidents. And what about those mentioned on the Facebook Group – were any of those reported?
All this got me wondering. Then I stumbled across a blogsite called “Killers Cows” (https://killercows.co.uk), It was created by a group of walkers who have experienced aggressive behaviour by cattle and they are campaigning for:
1. Compulsory public liability insurance for all farmers who keep livestock.
2. Cattle to be separated from walkers on our National Trails.
3. A central database to record all incidents of cattle attacks across England and Wales.
The Blog includes incidents submitted by walkers with details of their personal experiences.
We will probably never know the true figures because it does depend on people reporting incidents with cattle and most people (like me) probably don’t report these unless, of course it involves serious injury or a fatality.
So how can we stay safe when walking through fields with cattle? Well, the Ramblers Association (www.ramblers.org.uk) offers advice on what to do and what not to do when walking near cattle. And this is what they advise:
Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves
Be prepared for cattle to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you
Move quickly and quietly, and if possible, walk around the herd
Keep your dog close, on a short lead, and under effective control
Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock
Report any frightening incidents or attacks to the landowner, the highway authority, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), and also the police if it's of a serious nature
Keep us informed of any problems you experience
Don’t hang onto your dog if you are threatened by cattle - let it go as the cattle will chase the dog and not you
Don’t put yourself at risk by walking close to cattle
Don’t panic or run – most cattle will stop before they reach you; if they follow just walk on quietly
Cattle on your path
So, what do you do when cattle are obstructing the path? Find another way, by going around the cattle. If cattle are blocking a path through a field, you’re well within your rights to find a safe way, away from the path to avoid them. You should then re-join the footpath as soon as possible – and when you consider it safe to do so.
The National Animal Welfare Trust offers the following advice when you are walking with your dog through a field of cows. Walking with your dog through a field of cows can be an intimidating and nerve-wracking experience, so here are some tips to help keep you and your dog safe:
Never, ever walk in a field where there are cows with their calves. You will be putting yourself and your dog in serious danger.
Even if there are no calves with the cows in the field, if you can find an alternative route, do so.
If there is no alternative route, stay on the footpath and walk calmly through the field.
Always keep your dog on a lead when walking near livestock.
Be aware that cows are inquisitive creatures and will most likely come towards you to investigate you and your dog. If they are approaching at a leisurely pace they are most likely curious.
It can seem intimidating when the cows start to follow you but try to keep a steady pace and remain calm. Cows tend to match their pace to yours, so if you speed up they will too in order to keep up with you.
The cows may sniff and lick you and your dog, this is them taking in more scent of you both and getting a better look at your dog, because cows do not have a good depth of vision.
If you feel confident enough, you can turn and clap your hands and say something like ‘hey, hey, hey’ to shoo the cows away. Only do this if your behaviour is not going to upset your dog. Bear in mind the cows will move away quite skittishly, but they will most likely come back, so do not run towards the exit of the field, walk briskly but calmly.
If you reach a situation where you feel that you and your dog are in danger, you may decide to let your dog off the lead so you can both reach safety. Only do this in the most serious circumstances, and do be aware that your actions may risk in you and your dog being prosecuted for livestock worrying.
I wrote this blog, not to scare you, but rather to encourage you to think about your own approach to walking through fields of cattle and to be aware of the do’s and don’ts so that you can stay safe. Despite my experiences, I do, of course still walk through fields with cattle. But I’m arguably more wary nowadays. I try not to get close to them if possible, walk calmly through and assess whether there is ‘an escape route’ should I need one.
It's important to acknowledge that we are walking through farmland which is owned by farmers whose livelihood depends on cattle and other animals. And whilst they do have some legal responsibilities, we obviously need to be prepared for situations which may arise and take all sensible precautions that we can to ensure our safety.
My mission is to encourage you to enjoy walking not to deter you, so I hope you will read this blog as intended. And that’s to make you aware of what you can do to stay safe, when passing through fields of cattle, and to continue enjoying your walks safely.
Walking the Peak Way
Fortunately, if you walk the Peak Way long-distance hiking route, you shouldn’t encounter many cattle. The first six stages of the walk are predominantly through the Dark Peak and you are unlikely to meet any cattle, except perhaps around Higger Tor and on Baslow Edge where you may see the herd of Highland cows. Then on the next two stages between Bakewell to Ashbourne, you may pass through a few fields that have cattle in. And again, on the next five stages from Ashbourne back to Stockport, you are unlikely to meet any cattle.
STAY SAFE AND ENJOY YOUR WALKS