THE WILD CATTLE OF CHILLINGHAM PARK
Having had a lovely relaxing look round the castle and gardens, plus a coffee and cake in front of the huge log fire in the buttery I considered whether to test my luck and strength in hopes of seeing the wild cattle
I knew a little about the herd at Chillingham Park in that they are the remnants of the herds of wild cattle which had originally roamed the forests of the area and had never been tamed or handled, simply emparked back in the middle ages, originally within the fifteen hundred acres enclosed by the park wall, but now confined to three hundred acres, though of course this was still a pretty large area to walk round looking for a herd of cattle. There are only about a hundred of these wild cattle which makes them more endangered than Giant Pandas - plus the numbers fluctuate, with the bad winters of last century in ’47 and ’63 nearly wiping the herd out.
I knew the track to the ’top carpark’ might be unsuitable for Thebus, and as Super Scooter had been performing so well I decided to risk it. In the event I am really pleased I used the scooter and not Thebus. We would have been in real trouble as it is a steep, narrow, rutted gravel track through overhanging woodland, but Super Scooter did a sterling job and we made it to the top.
Through the gateway into the field the directions were vague, and simply said to proceed diagonally to the gate at the bottom, so off we went through the tussocky grass, avoiding fallen branches and the larger of the cow pats. Ahead I could see gates, though not really sure which set to head for, but in any case before reaching them we had to cross a small stream leading to a marshy area, and the only possible crossing was couple of stout planks, unfortunately far too narrow for anything other than by foot, so abandoning Super Scooter in the middle of the field I pressed on.
It had all taken me far longer than I imagined and I knew the next tour was due to start at two o’clock so I tried to hurry as much as I could, but the next bit was pretty boggy, then through another field gate and the deer hemmel where the tour starts came into sight. A hemmel is an open sided barn, and this one was used to fodder the emparked deer during bad winter weather, and possibly the wild cattle came to be fed as well. Nowadays it is given over to a small display and somewhere to wait out of the rain. But yet again I had been incredibly lucky with the weather, and in fact by the time I reached the hemmel it was warm enough to sit in the sun in short sleeves
A few people were waiting so I hoped I was in time, though I had heard an all terrain vehicle driving off while I was trekking through the marshy bit, so was not sure. We found out later that the ranger had gone on an emergency trip to fix some fencing which two sparring bulls had demolished. I just assumed we had missed the two o’clock trip and settled down to wait for the three o’clock one. Then, in the far distance were some white cattle, moving slowly towards us and grazing as they went. Out came the camera and I took lots of photos, it was a magical experience.
Eventually the ranger turned up full of apologies, but we now still had to wait for three o’clock as there would be others booked for that time. By then my knees were feeling the strain, plus the walk was estimated to last at least three quarters of an hour, and once I had embarked on it I would not be allowed to stop or turn back for safeties sake, as apparently half the herd are bulls and they are fast, aggressive and unpredictable.
When he then told me that the field I had abandoned Super Scooter in also contained a bull, that decided me to head for home. Even though it was a Charollais I wasn’t sure how he would react to something so strange just appearing in the middle of his domain, and even if he just gave it a nudge in playfulness that would be a disaster for me. But in any case I felt more than satisfied with my viewing of the herd. The big bulls were lying close by, though just out of photographing range, mothers were suckling their young, one only a few days old, calves were playing tag with each other, pregnant cows browsed and splashed in the brook, and one or two took time for a thorough scratching on a low hanging branch. What a lovely experience.