Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Load of Bull

Beware of the Bull sign

Whilst walking back from Wollard the other day I had planned to walk through a field at the back of the village when I spotted what was evidently a bull, on his own, in the middle of the field. I climbed warily over the stile and as I did so the bull scraped his hoof on the ground in an obvious attempt to intimidate me.

I hastily climbed back over the stile. I would have to detour around the lane. It wasn't a long detour but still, it's the principle of the thing. I took a couple of photos of the offending animal, although as I had taken them from the safety of the lane, the images were not as clear as they might have been.

When I got home I decided to check the law on bulls on footpaths and went to the obvious place, the website for the Ramblers Association. Sure enough on the page entitled Basics of Footpath Law there it was, point 23: Can a farmer keep a bull in a field crossed by a public path?
The answer (more or less) turned out to be only up to the age of ten months for any breed, over ten months, sometimes but not on its own. This beast was clearly much older than that and there was not another animal in sight.

I fired off an email to my local council, complaining about the presence of a fully mature bull on a footpath. They promised to investigate. I was impressed with the speed with which they got back to me actually. Within a couple of days I had received an email from them saying they had conducted a visit and the 'bull' was in fact a very docile old cow who would pose no threat to me whatsoever. Oh dear. Sorry Mr Farmer, whoever you are.

This was my second non-bull incident in two weeks. The Saturday previously I had been walking near Siston on the outskirts of Bristol when I came across an off-putting notice saying Beware of the Bull on the footpath. On this occasion the sign had proved to be bull as the field had been completely devoid of livestock. It un-nerved me though, maybe that was the intention. Having crossed the empty field, the next one was full of llamas. Funny place, Siston.

Still, one can't be too careful. Last year a couple had been walking across a field in Nottinghamshire when they were attacked by a bull whilst on a footpath. He had been killed, his wife had managed to crawl to the road and get help. Why was there a bull on the footpath? Well the 'more or less' rule that only a bull of up to ten months can be kept on a footpath is in fact a bit more complicated than that. Over nine months,a bull of a 'named breed': Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry cannot be kept on a path, other bulls can be, provided are accompanied by cows or heifers. The bull in the Leicestershire case was a Brown Swiss. Two weeks later a farmer in Hampshire was killed by his own bull as he tried to move it from one herd to another.

Unsurprisingly these incidents have led to calls for all bulls to be banned from fields with PROWs (Public Rights of Way) and higlight the tension between the countryside as a place or work and the countryside as a place of leisure.

The classic bull scene for me is the one in Withnail & I:
Withnail: 'He won't gore you.'
Marwood: 'A coward you are Withnail! An expert on bulls you are not!'
Brilliant film. Although rumour has it that it wasn't a bull at all, but a cow that originally had cardboard horns attached - and that kept falling off. Which is why in the film the 'bull' has no horns at all. Seems it isn't only me that cannot tell the difference between a bull and an old cow...

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