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“Catherine, the cow is in the garden.”

Some well-behaved calves between Malham Cove and Malham Tarn. Keep scrolling to see ‘the cow’.
North Yorkshire, July 2019.

For many years, I considered cows to be kind of docile, boring creatures. They lacked the elegance of horses. They were scarier to meet in a field than sheep. However, I consider myself educated. According to the radio the other day, they like opera. According to a nature-loving friend, they also exhibit a great deal of curiosity.

So long as you don’t spook them.

The cow on the mind of everyone here is called Lionel

This is not what his owner calls him, but it’s the name I have given him, now we have become close-acquaintances. He’s a beautiful cow (although you could argue he’s not a cow at all, being as he’s a boy). He has a strong, muscular build and satin-like shiny black fur.

For one reason or another, the electric fence, which keeps Lionel and his buddies in the field opposite our house, stopped functioning. I blame Lionel. The father says it’s because one of the posts has snapped.

Whatever the cause, the wire no longer curbs Lionel’s curiosity, and as such, the other day he discovered himself free to adventure.

First, he investigated the river at the bottom of his field

It’s a shallow stream. Part of the river is where Lionel and his mates drink. They appear at the top of the hill and gallop down with such heavy footing I’m forced to take on a new respect for the strength of their legs. It’s a steep hill, the cows descend without fear, throwing their entire bulk forward. To my eyes, it looks as impossible that they will make it to the bottom of the hill without snapping a foreleg as it looks reasonable for a plane to fly.

Lionel leads the troops.

So, although it was a new section of the river to investigate, it wasn’t enough to sate his curiosity.

At this point, he climbed up the other side of the bank

He did not understand the Mother owns this land and he is not welcome.

The Mother said, “Catherine, there’s a cow by our fence.”

I said, “Dear cow, you are not welcome here, this is my Mother’s garden, please go away.”

Lionel scratched his head against a small bush, taking out the bush. Once the bush had been destroyed though, he did decide to return to his field.

Being naive, I said, “Let’s call him Lionel.”

I took his photo and sent it to the Father and considered it all quite jolly.

The next morning, I was waking up when the Mother shouted at me

“Catherine, the cow is in the garden.”

Now I wasn’t a witness to the incident

Lionel had made yet another excursion to our side of the river and somehow moved through the fence into our garden. I cannot quite work out how this occurred, as enough of the fence was left standing that Lionel now found himself trapped in our garden.
Not one to leave the Mother being distressed without immediate assistance, I ran outside in my dressing-gown. A couple of friends who were staying the weekend were prancing around talking to Lionel. Someone closed the gate to the road.

The fence was going to prove a problem

My parents are fans of doing a proper quality job when they do something and the fence, I believe, is supposed to outlast them. It wasn’t designed to be taken apart by me in my dressing-gown on a Friday morning.

As we were trying to create an escape route for Lionel, ward him away from the fruit trees and gooseberry bushes and keep him well clear of the greenhouse, he started getting a bit agitated. I didn’t fancy our chances against a distressed cow. The Mother called every possible place we could think of to get help with a cow problem, but nowhere had a phone line open before 9 am.
Nine o’clock seemed a long way away.

Lionel started to experience his first travel woes

And his pals, like all good friends, wanted to provide support. Before we knew it more cows were crossing the river and climbing the steep and dangerous bank to get to Lionel.

They didn’t want to climb the precarious bank but, out of loyalty, they would. These cows couldn’t, however, navigate through a fence.

My visitors and Lionel continued to prance around the garden, the Mother shut herself in the house and I got dressed.

Somehow, the fence was broken

It took a long time and left us with a further problem. We had to let Lionel out of the garden without inviting his gang in. I went through the fence and asked the cows to leave. There were a thud and a splash and, for a second, I thought a foreleg must have snapped as a large lump of cow plummeted into the stream. It didn’t.

Lionel hopped up from the drive onto the lawn and moved, with hesitation, towards the opened fence. One of my friends jolted forward and Lionel turned in panic. Adrenaline must have been flowing through the blood of both men.

“Slow down,” I said, talking to cow and man

Lionel looked at me with distrust and turned back towards the opened fence. The moment he was through another friend swung the remains of the fence back in place. From here Lionel could find his way down to the river and reconnect with his fellow cows.
Determined not to have any further cow incursions, we barricaded the fence shut with some logs and went inside for breakfast. After some time splashing around in the stream, the cows returned up the hill for theirs.

The Mother was still fuming; she is not a fan of Lionel

But I have respect for him. Curiosity is a precious skill. It’s an ability many people don’t think about strengthening. They repeat themselves in the same safe loops. They stay in their fields only heading into the river when someone else has gone there first.

Lionel, July 2019.