A cow of a day

I quite like cows. I think they’re lovely creatures, and it’s amazing that something so enormous lives mostly on grass. Oftentimes on this walk, there will be a sign warning walkers that cows are about and they should stick to the path. The problem is, cows like the path too…

I set out from Caistor on Monday morning. I had been a little reluctant to fill my water bottle up before I left. The previous night in the pub, a man had told the waitress that ‘once you have Caistor water, you always come back’. I’m not saying I was terrified, or that Caistor is a bad place, but I just have no desire to live out the rest of my days there! Walking into town, I made the resolution that I would try and find a small cafe to have a big breakfast in. In the way of all resolutions, no sooner had I made it than a cafe appeared! Which isn’t open on Mondays! And so I left Caistor with nothing but a 2-day old half scotch egg for breakfast.

I had only a short day planned. Just 15 kilometres. And there was no way it was going to be 30 kilometres! No way! It was unfortunately raining as I left the campsite, so my tent fly was soaking wet. I strapped it to the outside of my pack, and this actually seemed like an improvement to my pack weight and feel, so I’ll chalk that up to a win. Anyway, this was my first day actually on the Viking Way, which I’ll be following more or less until Lincoln and beyond.

In the way of hiking, getting out of Caistor was one of the more complicated bits. After diligently following the Viking Way signs, I suddenly found myself in a cul-de-sac, surrounded by ‘private property’, ‘keep out’ signs. I was unsure what to do. Should I knock on someone’s door? Sneak down a garden path? My map and GPS were no good. According to them, I was supposed to just magically transport myself through these houses. As if from nowhere, as I was standing there looking damp and stupid, a man in green gum boots appeared and walked forthrightly along the right hand fence. There! There was a path! I followed him (not too closely) and was back on my way.

It was mostly field walking for a large part of the day. Fields of beets, and cut back wheat. Fields of what look like weeds, but may have been something agricultural. And then I found myself in a dark eerie wood. “Do I go down here?” I thought, peering down the path. I have gotten into the habit of talking out loud to myself. To my left I saw a bricked up tunnel – where it once went, I don’t know. Looking around, I saw the entrances/exits of half a dozen tunnels, all bricked up, all erupting silently into this dark place. A crow cawed. Silence. A dove cooed. Silence. Birds I cannot name called out. I hurried to the bottom of the path, the bottom of the wood, and slipped out the kissing gate.

I was not, so to speak, out of the woods yet. I saw a sign that said something about ‘cows with calves, oh, and a bull’ and took a photo of it, smugly thinking that they’d used ‘maybe’ incorrectly. “Haha, no verb in that sentence,” I thought. What a jerk I am.

So there I am, merrily walking along the path, feeling smug about my grammar prowess when all of a sudden a great big enormous heifer was standing in my path. It might be more accurate to say that a great big enormous backpack wearing moron was standing in the cow’s path. She did not look happy. She scraped the ground with her feet in a way that suggested she wished I were underneath them. She let out a sound which sounded anguished, and I felt my neck bristle – I had the distinct and clear understanding that she was calling for back up. Behind her, a white cow ran up and stopped suddenly slightly up the rise off the path. Now there were two.

I was no longer thinking about the difference between adverbs of time and adverbs of meaning. I was now wondering if it was possible to climb over a hip-high barbed wire fence. Should I ditch my backpack? Of course, I should. But then what? What was the number for 000 in this country, anyway? And what would I say? I’m trapped in a field with angry cows! I slowly backed away from the two angry cows and passed through a gate in the fence. I stood silently, and watched, as the first cow, an enormous brown creature, with a slow swaggering gait and cruel eyes, made her way through the gate, too. That’s it, I thought. If she’s followed me in, she’s after me. But she turned to the right, and went her way up the hill, and the wiggle of her bum was pointed directly at me.

The white cow had followed her friend, but paused at the gate. Get a move on, I thought. I have somewhere to be tonight. But she stood there, in the middle of the gate. Perhaps she was reluctant to pass through, knowing I was there too. Perhaps she didn’t want to follow old bossy boots up the hill. What could she be doing, I wondered. Finally, she turned and went on past the gate, and down the field from which I’d come.

Slowly, I approached the gate and went to cross back into the field where the path was. And in the middle of the gap in the fence was a bit steamy turd. Thank you, white cow.

I advanced cautiously along the path, and with good reason. There, just beyond the crest, was a bull. Just standing there. Eyeing me off. Making sure I didn’t come any closer. I did not come any closer. I ran, terrified, all 57kg plus 16kg of backpack, straight up the hill and hid behind a tree.

I couldn’t stay there forever. I made me way ever so slowly along various ridges, taking circuitous routes around cows and calves and, oh, a bull, until I finally cleared the field and passed through a gate.

Boy was I relieved to find myself in a field of sheep, all completely ignoring my existence, much to my infinite pleasure.

These are the joys of walking. Quiet moments, interspersed with sheer terror. It’s why we do it, amiright??

It’s not all fields and agriculture on the path. I’ve passed through woods and forests, and villages that have been and are no longer. And villages that still exist, but whose hearts have been stilled. There is no pub, and the church is in disrepair. One such village was Normanby le Wold. The church, not in too bad condition, was too lovely to pass, so I stopped to eat a lunch of shallots wrapped in ham (hey, try carrying 15 kgs for 25 kms a day and see what YOU eat). It was a beautiful spot for a quick bite, and I sat on a seat dedicated to a local man, a man who evidently liked to walk and sit sometimes. I was just reading on Twitter the delicious news that Turnbull had ousted Abbott and, after surviving the cow episode, was feeling pretty damn good about the world.

And then two Jehovah’s Witness people showed up. First they leaned over the gated entrance to the farmhouse by the church, and calling hopefully, hopelessly up the drive, said “hiya, we’ve just got something you might want to – no? all right then, thanks for your time.”

And then they started coming toward me.

They were a youngish couple, late twenties I suppose, and the woman was pushing a pram that was shaped a bit like an old-fashioned perambulator. The man approached me as I had approached the cows – very, very hesitantly. He held out a hand which was holding a brochure.

“Hey mate,” he said. I was wearing a hat, and I suppose my gender was obscured. “Would you be interested in -”

“No thank you,” I said. And I thought of all the things I wanted to say. Things like, I’m a feminist atheist lesbian, I don’t think there’s any hope for me. Or, hey, I’m trying to eat my lunch here and dance on Tony Abbott’s grave. But he was so meek. He was so nervous. I just said, “I’m not interested.”

“Oh, okay,” he said, and that meek little hand retreated back to his side, where it was most comfortable.

They wandered off, back the way they’d come. They can’t have had much luck in that village of 5 houses and an old C of E church, and one lonely backpacker. As I watched them retreat, I felt profoundly sound for them. It must be difficult to stay positive in the face of so much rejection.

Much later than expected, as always, I arrived at Walesby where I was to stay. Although it had been drizzling on and off all day, it only poured torrentially twice. Once when I was putting up my tent, and the second time when I was walking the 2 kilometres into town to the pub. Dear hiking gods, you never let me down.

I’ve been having trouble uploading pics from my phone, so I’ll just stick them all in the middle in a gallery. Enjoy!

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.

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