As we mentioned previously, the very first morning we awoke at South Reen we walked the entire property with Ann. Stepping out of her kitchen we entered the conservatory, the buffer between her home and outside where the wet and muddy clothing is left to dry.
On this particular morning the rain had just subsided, but left on the lawn and plants was a thick dew.
At last we finally have the opportunity to wear our winter clothes. The boots and jackets that never see the light of day in San Diego, patiently waiting for this very moment. We stand in the conservatory, gearing up, probably a little too long with too much clothing. It seems to take us three times as long to get ready than it does for Ann. Finally ready to follow Ann out the door, we head into the foggy haze that lingers over the house by the bay.
She walks us down her dirt road along the beach, around the bend and up the hill toward her farm house, currently rented by a couple from London. After about a quarter mile along her road we reach a gate to access the pastures. Through the gate we continue up the hill toward several pastures outlined by brush embankments.
We walk farther up the hill, almost out of breath at this point, toward dairy cows in the pasture to our right. They spot us and begin to walk in our direction. They’re massive. We rarely see cows up close, so their size is humbling. I’m thankful they are gentle creatures, I would not want to mess with a creature that big. #foreshadowing
We keep up the hill, ducking the low hanging electrical fences that line the borders of each pasture. The animals know this fence is their border, they’ll only ever come within a few feet of it. We’re not too keen of electrical fences either, so we abide by the same general rule of keep-away, as well.
As we walk, Ann is telling us about the property and history of the area. She points out High and Low Island which sits just off the coast from Union Hall. The sea is rough and spotted with whitecaps.
One of the last pastures that sits on the south-facing end of the coast is full of yearlings, year-old heifers that seem to be too busy grazing to pay attention to us. Ann explains it’s not a good idea to get in the pastures with the animals and it’s best to leave them be. #extremeforeshadowing
Fast forward a few days to a less-gloomy and precipitous day. We’ve just finished one of our first days working at South Reen and we’re ready to enjoy the afternoon. Ann introduces the idea of fishing for pollack from the rocks on the ocean-side of her property. She gives Matt a rod and some basic strategy, as well as some directions of how to reach the most popular fishing spot for guests willing to try their luck.
The best place to fish for pollack is on the ocean-facing side of the cow pastures. From those rocks on the shore you can reach deeper water where the fish look for food. We head out down the road hoping a seafood dinner is in our future.
We reach the hill toward the pastures and head through the gate to the pasture trail. The dogs have joined us to act as trail scouts, running ahead and waiting for us to catch up. As we reach the end of the pasture trail we must enter a fenced pasture to head down toward the ocean. Keep in mind there are several pastures utilized for the cows, so we must be aware of which are actively hosting cows and which are not.
We enter a pasture which is empty, but reach the end and are unable to reach the pasture which provides the easiest access to the fishing spot. Having never been to the spot before, Matt is unsure exactly where it can be found, but being unable to reach the ocean knows we have not yet found it. He recites the directions the best he can remember and determines the correct way to proceed is north.
This means we must cross the adjacent pasture to our north side and find the access point to the shore. The pasture to our north is gradually sloped down toward the coast, so we’re unable to see where it ends, nor if it is currently full of cows. Nevertheless, we’re determined to find the fishing spot, we can’t see any cows at the moment, so we decide to enter the pasture.
We begin trudging through the tall grass, scanning for cows and shoreline. The dogs have a large lead on us at this point, running ahead almost out of view. Matt whistles for them to stay close, but they’re too preoccupied with freedom to listen.
As we reach the crest of the hill we’re able to see the other side of the pasture, thickly bordered by dense brush and trees. Certainly no clean shore access, probably not even enough room to cut through. Our eyes run the fence line, looking for breaks in the brush or any sign of access to the shore. Nothing.
Our pace through the pasture has slowed as we assess our next direction. We continue down the slope and our field of vision begins to increase. We can see now there are cows in this field. Four cows standing in the lower portion, near the border fence, to our right. They’re grazing about two hundred yards away, but they haven’t noticed us yet. Just then we see more cows, a group of maybe six or seven not far from the first group of four.
It’s at this point we have to make a decision. Either we turn back for the uninhabited pasture, knowing we wont be able to find the shore, or, we commit to this direction and break for the fence toward the coast. We decide that we’ve come too far at this point to turn back. We’re getting to that fence.
It’s almost as if the cows could hear us think. Almost in unison, the whole lot of them picks up their heads and looks in our direction. Then, the farthest herd begins to walk, then trot in our direction. They’re picking up speed. Running downhill, they are now in a full gallop, smacking their heads together as they collide. We can feel the ground tremble as their strides become harder.
Seeing this advance from the cows spurs us to accelerate our pace through the pasture. We’re now half-jogging toward the fence, which honestly seemed a lot closer than it now seems to be. We begin to remember the specific reason Ann didn’t want us in this pasture. Cows can become protective at times, the older matriarchs protecting their young from threats or changes in environment. It was safe to assume these cows were threatened by us entering their pasture, wanting to make sure we didn’t have anything to do with their young. I wish we could have explained how little we wanted to do with their young.
We’re running now but the cows are still gaining. That’s not all. We were forced to change our original direction through the pasture as we came upon an unexpected group of cows grazing at the bottom of our sloping hill. We’re now running in the opposite direction of the ocean, realizing that we aren’t fast enough to make the fence before these cows will be upon us.
We spot a steep and narrow ridge on the side of the slope and head straight for it. It’s about 30 feet short of the fence, but it lends a useful position while we think of our next move. By standing at the peak of this ridge we think the cows wont be able to navigate the steep face, nor stand more than one or two wide without risking an unbalanced posture. We step to the back edge, finally turning to face the 15 or so cows who are jockeying for front position.
There we stand, precariously squeezed together on the small edge of the ridge.The fishing pole clenched in Matt’s outstretched left hand, not pointed but held at width to create the facade of a barrier. The cows stand no more than 5 feet from us, heads lowered and eyes locked on. They don’t want us here. We share the feeling.
The dogs have been run off too. They’re no longer in sight and most likely running back home. If only this were a Lassie episode where their barking will alert Ann to rescue us and come riding up on her horse to take us to safety.
After a heated minute or two of shouting and shaking the rod, we have to make a move. We see the fence behind us, it’s not far. If we bolt for it, we could probably make it. But will they chase us? They’re definitely faster than us. All we’d have on them is 5 feet. We eliminate impulsive and quick actions from our options.
Despite our deliberations the fact remains, we have to make it to the fence. We need to get a border, one the cows wont cross, between us. We have to keep moving toward the fence.
We begin to look over our shoulders for the best way down the ridge toward the fence where we might be able to hop over, into the brush. Unfortunately, the fence at this portion of the pasture is not the usual single-line electric wire. This portion boasts a robust four-line barbed wire fence, plus the wonderful electric wire. Sweet.
However, once we’ve contended with the fence, we’ll be flinging ourselves into thorny brush, taller than us. Seriously. It’s over 6 feet tall. It would be a disservice to this story to understate how thorny these plants are. They’re called brambles and have rose-like thorns all over their branches. If that isn’t enough, this lovely portion of the pasture is backed up against the mouth of the bay. The pasture, at this section, sits above the crashing waves at least 40 feet high. Jagged rocks and an ice cold ocean await below. Now back to the story.
We’re goin’ for the fence.
Matt stands at the edge of the ridge, keeping the cows at bay, as Brit carefully creeps down the backside toward the fence. She will find the exit point from the pasture and get herself over the fence. Then, Matt will rush down the side of the ridge and leap over. From there, who knows.
Brit hops over the fence, immediately met by thorns and branches poking her from all angles. She calls out that she’s ready for Matt, who begins to plot his exit dash toward her. With one last shout at the cows, Matt jumps from the ridge, sprints to the fence and throws himself over. We made it.
Looking back, the cows have already begun their descent toward the fence line. They don’t seem too keen to walk down the steep ridge, so they take turns filing down the graded slope widening out as they approach the fence.
We look at each other, totally freaking out about how the hell we are going get out of this. We begin to slow down and think about what our realistic options are. It comes down to 3 different plans.
We clear the brush along the fence line and make our way toward the next border of the pasture. The fence line we’re currently behind is sketchy and backed up against a steep cliff, so we’ll have to be careful, but it means we can escape without getting back in the pasture.
We jump back in the pasture, scream, shout and jump around to scare the cows and make a break for it. This plan is not a favorite to either of us.
We wait it out behind the fence. Pretty soon Ann should get worried and will come looking for us. She will save us.
I wish I could make this a “pick your own destiny story,” but it’s already getting quite long and we want to get all the readers who have stuck around this long on their way. Thanks for your commitment to making it this far, by the way.
We went with Plan A. High-stepping the brush, bit by bit, we chipped away at the thorny branches, pushing them back, down to the ground. After about 10 minutes or so we had cleared enough brush to get to the next juncture in the fence line. At this juncture, the fence went steep up a rock-stacked wall about 6 feet or so. Above the fence was a low hanging thorny tree we had to crawl under. During the madness, we were still able to snap some pictures of us getting under the tree.
Through the brush, under the tree, along the unstable rock wall, away from the cliff and back down the wall. Looking back, our walk on top of the wall is probably the scariest part of the entire experience. Looking over the side you get a feel for the real sketchiness of our decision to go with Plan A.
Now over the wall, we saw a clearing on the inside of the fence that would help to expedite our plan to get across this pasture (not to mention away from this damn cliff). We hopped the fence again, being careful not to cut or zap ourselves. We knew we had to act quick, really hoping that the cows wouldn’t notice we had entered their pasture. Continually scanning for cows, we rushed along the fence line as fast as we could.
Thankfully, we were finally able to escape the pasture using Plan A. We ducked the electric fence on the far side of the pasture and stood for a moment looking over our shoulders, panting. Catching our breath, we began to laugh at the predicament we had just gotten ourselves into. We walked toward home half-laughing, half-frightened how close we had come to serious injury.
We arrived home to Ann sitting in the conservatory with a cup of tea, reading her book. Clearly enjoying some relaxation in the sunshine, she looked up at our beat-red faces with a puzzled look.
“Did you catch anything? ” she asked.
We explained the story in complete detail, not leaving anything out. Everything from cutting through the pasture, begin chased by cows, hoping the fence, crushing yards of brush and managing the sketchy rock wall. Before we got half way through, she burst out in laughter. Her smiling and chuckling confused us.
She explained, as humbly as she could, the cows were not protective nor aggressive. In fact, the complete opposite of both. These cows are bucket-fed by their farmer, which means they are accustomed to running up to people (and dogs) in excitement. Even more, if we had even tried to advance toward the herd, all of them would have scattered in fright. They’ll only come within 5 or 6 feet of a person before running away.
This news rocked our world.
We had literally just risked our lives to escape these agro, blood-thirsty animals only to learn simply walking up to them would have caused them to flee. Their lowered heads and frozen gaze was an act of anticipation for a hearty, grass meal.
Needless to say, this story has been shared among a few of Ann’s closest friends who have all shared a good laugh. We don’t mind, it’s been helpful to have some levity as we meet new friends.
Thinking back, we agree we wouldn’t have done it any differently. Those animals are huge and could have made short work of us, if they wanted to. This concludes the story of The Irish Cow Calamity. Thanks for your patience with the length and hopefully we can share a good laugh and a beer when we see each other again.
The below photos were taken days after the event to help tell the story. The cows were in a different pasture. However, not going to lie, we were still a bit hesitant to enter the pasture, even though we had Ann there to protect us. Enjoy.
Hopefully you had a good laugh. If you feel so inclined, we’d love to hear from you.
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Blondie and the Beard