A late-September day, warm and still enough to entice dragonflies into mating flight beside Alcock Tarn. Heavy overnight rain had passed over, leaving becks and waterfalls gleaming in the sunlight. Mist swirled over the tops. Reflections of cloudscapes in the waters of the tarn on a magical day.
On a glimmering late-September day we head for High Cup Nick. A warm wind, autumnal mists and hints of sunlight that gleam off the meandering High Cupgill Beck.
Along the Pennine Way we shelter from the wind in a grassy hollow below a limekiln where we celebrate Jill’s birthday, for each of us a rich chocolate cake. Above us, moorland of shake hole and swallow hole- a limestone landscape.
Sunday morning and 39 cattle straddle the public footpath, via stile and cattle grid, via Bradleyfield Farm across Kendal Race Course. They've multiplied: from 25 to 39! That's a lot of cattle to walk through.
I meet Helen running home and she confirms the further footpath is clear of cattle, so I head over the milestone stile for Scout Scar. For eighteen years I've walked here carefree, in September enjoying the flocks of goldfinch that feed on thistles. Suddenly, I am wary and ill at ease.
Walk from Kendal on the Brigsteer Road and you reach a milestone and a stile leading to Kendal Race Course. A fingerpost points the way to Scout Scar and Barrowfield Farm. It's a much-used public footpath.
Straddled across the footpath are some of the 25 bullocks, introduced here earlier this month. The fence posts define an area of the limestone grassland where Natural England hope to promote flora and invertebrates. 'Compartments' that's what the scheme was called.
The bullocks congregate by the stile onto Kendal Race Course. This way to Scout Scar, says the sign post. If you can brave the bullocks.
'I don't mind, I'm a farmer's daughter,' says a runner.
'I'll not bring my son here, ' says a young woman with a dog.
'My wife is terrified of cattle,' says someone who likes to walk on Scout Scar.
Simply, there are those who can tough it out. And those who cannot. What are the public health implications of all this?
Cattle grazing is inappropriate on Kendal Race Course whose two public footpaths are in frequent use. For walkers, dog walkers, runners, this is the route to Scout Scar. A grazier with 17 years of experience at Kendal Race Course is certain that cattle pose an unacceptable risk here. The practice is unsafe.
We oppose this Natural England initiative that has introduced cattle to Kendal Race Course and ask that the scheme be stopped as a matter of urgency.
All was not well on Kendal Race Course this morning. There were raised voices, confrontations. The bullocks were causing trouble simply by being where they were not wanted. I feel rather sorry for them. They should be given a pasture well out of the way.
They congregated about the gate of Bradleyfield Farm, blocking one of the footpaths across the Race Course. So walkers, runners and dog walkers scattered, trying to keep out of their way. Someone came to ride a horse, saw it was impossible, and went away.
'These steps are made for six foot men,' he said as we climbed up the stone staircase to the summit of Ingleborough. Following a waterfall, I found a distraction in listening to a geologist talk of bedding planes and the ripple-effect in slabs of sandstone. From the summit plateau, we looked down on limestone pavement, grey-blue like the sea it once was.
We locals are shocked to be confronted by a herd of bullocks on Kendal Race Course- a Natural England experiment.
This week, Natural England suggested I talk to the expert on Kendal Race Course. So I did.
Brian Bowness was grazier here for seventeen years. Until very recently, we enjoyed the sense of pastoral his ewes and lambs gave in spring. Out in all weathers, every day, he explains not the theory but what actually happens here. Is our concern well-founded?
Last week, a herd of 25 bullocks appeared on Kendal Race Course, a Natural England experiment. Natural England’s stated objectives include
‘ helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy ‘
‘ promoting access to the countryside and open spaces and encouraging open air recreation.’
The government encourages us to take more exercise. That’s what we seek to do in walking from Kendal, onto one or other of the two public footpaths crossing the Race Course, onto Scout Scar. Now we are discouraged by inquisitive bullocks that crowd the stiles and follow walkers. It’s intimidating.
Step off a stile into a herd of bullocks. They surround you, follow you across Kendal Race Course. They head-but each other, mount each other. Today, I set out for Scout Scar but I didn't fancy the walk across the race course, pursued by bullocks. I was not alone. I met others who had aborted their planned walk to Scout Scar, intimidated by bullocks. Natural England's new conservation plan contravenes their declared objective: that we should be free to enjoy a landscape. No-one was enjoying this close physical encounter with bullocks. It was unpredictable, felt unsafe.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.