The Famous Limavady Cattle StampedeAn eye witness account
It all began with a walk in the Country Park, that well known haven of rest for pensioners, fishermen, scheming students, sleeping police officers and at least one retired old lecturer. Usually the place is as safe as houses, unless of course, you go there at night of course, but today was to be different.
During past walks I had measured the height of the growing grass and had come to the expert conclusion that it was just about ready for some customers, and the local farmer - nice guy, likes a good yarn - had come to the same conclusion, because as I left the car park and dandered down the lane I noticed twenty or so bullocks resting in the luscious greenery. Old Tudor, my faithful Border Collie, showed the keen interest for which his race is justly famous. He instantly switched into "Sheep Dog Mode". This entails walking with your belly close to the ground, displaying a dominant but discrete tail, pricking up your ears like a couple of radar dishes and pretending that no other creature can possibly notice you - but you can see and dominate everyone and everything else in the neighbourhood. The cattle also snapped into instant action: They woke up, rose and displayed a mixture of confused bovine curiosity mixed with puzzled anticipation.
To understand what follows you must be aware of the layout of the field in question. As one walks down from the car park to the Roe it is the first field on the left - following the curve of the river in an oblong shape. Not large, but beautifully situated with a magnificent oak tree on the far side. At that time it was surrounded by a mixture of wooden fence and barbed wire. The right side of the field leads into a funnel shaped extension. Like this:
As Tudor and I approached the bullocks started to show
a marked interest in the dog - who
would be a born cattle rustler, if only I would let him. As we came
closer I suddenly
realized that the animals were experiencing their first day in the open
countryside. They weren't just nervous - they were terrified!
Suddenly old Tudor made a tentative outflanking move, which did not get him very far, as he was still painfully connected to his lead. His enthusiasm nearly dislocated my shoulder but only gained him half a metre. Unfortunately the cattle did not know that they were safe from attack and all twenty of them took off with the speed of a thousand gazelles, all in the same direction and all towards the funnel. In my mind's ear I heard a John Wayne like voice yell:
The Duke was right. The spooked animals had never seen
a tame border collie before and they headed like the hammers of hell
straight into the funnel to the right of the field. I remember
wondering, as the lead steer reached the fence: "How are they going to
stop?". The answer was simple: they didn't. What with the rear echelons
not seeing what the front runners were up against, and the front
runners not thinking of anything except a terrified escape, the whole
stupid mass of animals just kept on going. Straight through the fence,
barbed wire, plank re-enforcement and all.
Some of them bellowed, others butted whatever happened to be close by. Some crashed to the ground and lay there with their silly legs pointing into the air, whilst the others leapt over their fallen comrades, bellowing with terror and accelerating at a rate not hitherto measured by agricultural science.
It was terrific! The galloping hooves sounded just like in the movies, twenty tails were raised straight up, the cries of ghost riders filled the sky and dung was flying everywhere. The sturdy fence gave up its barbed-wired ghost with a loud snap and a crashing of planks: a symphony of sounds that I shall never forget. I yelled at the dog, the dog yapped at the cattle, the cattle bellowed, the ghost riders yippeed, John Wayne cursed - it was marvellous. Seconds later I gleefully watched the Long Horns disappear down the path in a panicky and incontinent mess, heading straight for the woods and the peace thereof.
Fifty years spent in twentieth century Europe had not
prepared me adequately for this, my first cattle stampede. I was
amazed. Within ten seconds the herd had vanished from view - gone
'round the bend at the bottom of the path and as yet I hadn't even
started to think about the consequences. What if an old lady had
happened by, walking her little doggy up that road just as the spooked
steers came rattling down? Luckily it was early in the morning and -
apart from the dog and several steaming piles of manure - I appeared to
be the only one about.
|"What will I do?" thought I. A pathetic question with no obvious answer. The fence was broken, the cattle had gone and the beautiful stampede was over. I lacked the experience to fetch a lasso to round up the herd and so I went to the park keeper's office and described what had happened, best expressed with the illustration below entitled: 'Jochen, the ruthless cattle rustler - a notorious Limavady original.'|
To cut a long story short, Danny,
the head honcho, came
down to what used to be the fence and examined the damage. After
voicing some charming noises of grunting surprise he went back to his
telephone and rang the farmer. What he told him I do not know because I
thought it wise to remove myself from the scene of the crime, but by
lunch time the animals had been rounded up again - this time they
grazed in a different field and kept as far away from the path as they
I shall watch the new guests to the Country Park with a lot more respect in the future. One can imagine a different outcome and the corresponding newspaper headline:
"Valuable cattle savaged by gruesome old lady."
It doesn't bear thinking about.