…in the Monnow valley on the Welsh-English borders. Sounds far more dangerous than it really was, but that’s not to say there wasn’t an element of danger.
We were staying at The Bell in Skenfrith, a lovely old coaching inn about 40 minutes from where we used to live in the UK. When we were there, we used to say wouldn’t it be great to have a night or two and go on hikes in the local countryside? Well, many years later, that’s exactly what we did!
The pub is great, with good food and beer, comfortable rooms, and really friendly staff. After eating a breakfast larger than your normal calories consumed in a week, you have to go for a wander in the surrounding area just to work it off, and work up an appetite for your evening meal. Oh dear…
There are any number of circular hikes that take in old churches, ruined castles, ancient rights of way, and beautiful scenery. Many of the public footpaths cross farmland, with fields full of crops, sheep and cattle. Overhead, red kites circle, riding thermals and calling across green and gold valleys enclosed by high hedgerows and dotted with woods. It is very pleasant country to hike through.
Our particular route wound along the Monnow valley, following the river that marks the boundary between England and Wales. On a warm and humid day, we walked a couple of hours before encountering some other hikers. They were a group of about twenty senior citizens, well equipped with walking poles and old school hiking boots. Almost all greeted us with a cheery “good morning” and almost all issued a warning about a bull in the next field:
“But don’t worry, ‘e didn’t bother us, and ‘e won’t bother you!”
Hmm. Perhaps because you’re in a large group and you descended into his pasture from above the tree line?
We thanked them for the warning, waved farewell, and tramped up the hill and over the crest to the next stile. Oh. Yup, there was a young bull, and he was in front of a small herd of fifteen or so cows. Mrs PC let me go first.
I clambered up onto the stile, stood at the top and looked down at the bull. We shared a moment, eye contact, where I projected that we meant no harm and would cross his field quick-smart and with no harm done. Peace, love and understanding, and I wouldn’t order the steak that evening. He took two paces closer to the stile. Not to be deterred, I stepped down onto his side, exuding confidence. It was a public right of way, after all! He took another pace towards me, then stamped his front hoof and pawed the ground. Exuding fear, I leapt back up onto the stile. He pawed the ground again, and took another step forward. I gave up, and we went the long way around. Ole!
We backtracked to a small church, where we sat and ate our picnic lunch. Of course, the group of senior hikers were also enjoying a stop, and they were most amused that we’d turned back. They were further amused to learn we lived and hiked regularly in Canada:
“So you hike there? Yes? But don’t you have bears? Wolves? Moose? And you were turned around by a bull?!”
Happy to have made their day, we carried on and finished our hike, going the longer way round, and without further bovine stand offs. If I ate meat, I’d have ordered a steak that night…ah, yes, running with the bulls…
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