Cumbrian woman awarded over £250k for trampling by cows

Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Cows blocking public footpath on Dales Way

Scanning through some websites earlier today, I was delighted to see that a woman has been awarded an interim payment of £250k for massive injuries she sustained in 2003, when she was trampled almost to death by a herd of cows in a field near her home in Penrith. I hope this will cause the farming community, and walkers’ representative bodies, to take a long, hard look at the very real dangers to walkers–either with or without dogs–presented by cows–either with or without calves–in fields containing public footpaths.

There’s an article in the North-West Evening Mail here, and another from The Telegraph here.

Miss McKaskie, who had been walking with her dog on a public footpath, was tossed around by a herd of Simmental-cross cows, each of which apparently weighs approximately half a tonne. She needed emergency brain surgery, and was also left with a broken arm and ribs.

A judge at Preston County Court found that the farmer had been negligent in failing to erect any sort of warning to walkers to alert them that the field contained cows with calves. It was also found that he’d failed to mark the line of the footpath, making it difficult for walkers to know precisely where to go. The report states that the farmer is planning an appeal.

It’s important to note that this decision doesn’t establish that farmers mustn’t graze cows in fields through which public footpaths pass. Clearly farmers have a living to make, and their livestock must have somewhere to graze. What it does recognise, though, is that cows with calves do represent a danger to walkers, and that farmers therefore have a duty to take reasonable care for the safety of members of the public passing legitimately across land on which they’ve chosen to graze their stock. According to the report the judge concluded that the farmer could reasonably have been expected to post a warning, and in failing to do so he acted negligently, as a result of which Miss McKaskie suffered devastating injuries.

I’d be very interested to see a copy of the whole judgement, because it’s not clear from the reports referenced above precisely how Miss McKaskie’s case was put. The North West Evening Mail report states that the judge concluded that a warning should have been given, but I’d love to know whether it was suggested that the farmer should actually have gone even further than that: for instance, by fencing off a narrow path around the edge of the field, or even in choosing to put the cattle in a different field if, in fact, he had such a field available. Had I been arguing the case (in my former life as a lawyer) then those are arguments I’d certainly have considered raising.

If the case does get to the Court of Appeal then it’ll be very interesting to see what the judges there make of it. For what it’s worth, it does seem crystal clear to me as a matter of the simplest common sense that cows represent a significant hazard, and that farmers owe a duty of care to those traversing public footpaths across their land.

What a farmer needs to do in order to discharge that duty of care should depend upon all the circumstances of the particular case, including such factors as the availabiity of alternative fields for grazing, the ease with which it would be possible to fence off part of the field through which the footpath passes, and the cost involved in doing so, and the degree of risk presented by the livestock in question. At the very least, it seems to me that clear warnings should be posted at entry points when cows are present in fields, and taken down when the cows have been moved. This sort of thing…

Old and redundant sign

Old and redundant sign

…doesn’t cut the mustard. There were no cows in that field, and nor were there last time I saw it. If signs aren’t current then people will naturally learn not to rely upon them.

As walkers, I feel that we should all be breathing just a little easier if this judgement stands, because finally it’s going to be necessary for some thought to be given to how best to strike the necessary compromise between the rights and needs of farmers and those of walkers on public footpaths. Sad, isn’t it–albeit predictable–that it’s likely to be significant financial damage to an insurance company that finally kicks this debate into gear, rather than the regular deaths and injuries caused by cows to walkers on public footpaths?

Anyway… this whole issue of public footpaths running through fields containing cows is something I’ve been concerned about for years, now. My mother, who was brought up on farms in Ireland, taught me as a toddler not to be afraid of cows, but as I grew older and started walking alone I realised that had been bad advice. (I now wonder whether she was trying to get me killed…) Indeed, a few years ago one of my cousins took me through a field in Ireland containing a group of bullocks, and when we got back to the house his father (i.e. my uncle–a dairy farmer) was very annoyed with him, pointing out that they’re bloody dangerous.

Lots of the reports that get into the papers concerning walkers chased by cows refer to the presence of dogs, but it’s not necessary for dogs to be present for cows to constitute a menace. I’ve been threatened and/or chased by bullocks on a number of occasions, and these days I’m very reluctant indeed to pass them in the same field. I’ve taken many detours involving a lot of barbed wire and precipitous ascents/descents of rickety fences and dry-stone walls over the years. It’s all very well for people to say bullocks are simply curious, but their motivation is largely irrelevant when they weigh as much as a small car.

Cow-confident people also say that it’s easy to move them on by waving a stick and/or shouting and/or assuming a confident and commanding demeanour and/or mouthing warm endearments like “Cush cush, Daisy m’dear!”, but I’ve found that none of those tactics works with determined knots of malignant bullocks. Maybe they detect my fear, but that’s not something I can do anything about. Those pesky little fear pheromones are impossible to control.

On the Dales Way last week I was very anxious about encountering cows, because for the first time I was going to be walking with a dog. I read up on all the dog v. cow advice I could find before I collected my puppy in January, so I knew that The Word is to let the dog off the lead if cows become aggressive and start to approach.

The first cows we encountered were hanging around in fields just outside Grassington. I was very nervous, and I decided to pick Piglet up and tuck her under my arm, in the hope that the cows mightn’t spot her, or might possibly imagine that she was just some sort of semi-animated furry handbag. I also unfastened her lead in case I needed to put her down in a hurry–the dog walkers’ equivalent of undoing the backpack waistbelt when crossing a fast-moving stream, perhaps. Anyway, the cows watched as we passed through the field but didn’t grow agitated, or attempt to follow us. Save for the fact that my heart-rate rose to a dangerously high tempo, no damage was done.

That’s how it was all the way through Yorkshire, in fact. When we did have to walk through fields of cows they showed little or no interest in us. There was a potentially nasty moment when a ram out walking with his ewe decided to try to butt Piglet, but I was quite glad of that as a warning to Piglet not to assume that all sheep are cuddly and taste of gravy bones.

The problems began for us when we left Sedbergh and set off towards the M6. In a field near Beck Foot (the GR was approximately SD 611 962) we encountered bullocks. Once again I was anxious, but I reminded myself that we’d survived all previous encounters and set off cautiously into the field, Piglet tucked under my right arm and unclipped from her lead, just in case.

The bullocks were about 100 metres in front of us initially, and spread around a bit, so that it wasn’t possible to take either a higher or lower line through the field to avoid them. When we got to about 20 feet away a group of 5 or 6 suddenly began to walk quickly towards us. I tried to look commanding and stare them down, but that didn’t work. I shouted, and although they stopped for a couple of seconds they then came on.

By that time they were only about 10 feet away. The ground was sloping and uneven, and the bullocks formed a very threatening semi-circle to my left. I was frankly very frightened indeed, and Piglet was completely silent under my right arm. I didn’t want to move too suddenly in case I precipitated a charge, but at the same time it was clear that the bullocks weren’t going to lose interest and drift away.

I spent a minute that felt more like an hour yelling at the cows, while with my left hand I frantically struggled to get one of my walking poles out of the elastic fastenings attaching it to my Exos rucksack. Having finally managed to get the pole lose, I somehow managed to extend it, and began to wave it towards the bullocks. They didn’t back off at all, though. In fact they continued to creep closer all the time, in small lurching movements, as long as I wasn’t actively screaming at them or waving the stick. Each time I tried to move forwards they came closer, and so eventually I began to back away along the path. At that point they stopped following me, and I was finally able to escape with Piglet into the next field.

When I put Piglet down she was cowering and scared–hardly surprising, what with all the yelling, let alone the bullocks–and I had to give her a biscuit to perk her up a bit. I’d have preferred a Valium myself, but unfortunately I didn’t have any with me. When we’d both recovered our breath we retraced our steps to Beck Foot and followed the road to the point at which we were able to cross the M6.

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

Bullocks blocking the Dales Way last week

(I took the picture once I’d escaped, by the way, and from a distance.)

I’d thought that maybe we’d just been unlucky, but that wasn’t the end of it. A little later in the day we were crossing fields near Holme Park Farm when we encountered the bullocks pictured at the top of this posting. They weren’t immediately visible, in fact. I’d decided (thank God!) to stop for a wee cigarette break at the stile, and it was as I was sitting there gazing out at the field in front of me that I was almost frightened out of my skin by the sound of galloping hooves behind me. When I got up and turned round a bullock had rushed across to the stile, and it was soon joined by two of its pals.

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

Bullocks blocking access to public footpath again last week

The reason we’d stopped for a break, incidentally, was that Piglet and I had been attacked only about ten minutes earlier by a collie and two huge Alsation dogs, who came rushing out of the yard at Holme Park Farm onto the public road and began to bark frantically. One jumped up at me while the other went for Piglet, who cried out in fright since she was trapped on her lead. Fortunately the farmer heard the commotion and came out to get them. As he was leading them away he told me that this had happened because a cyclist using the public footpath that runs through the farmyard had once kicked one of the Alsations. I wonder why on earth that can possibly have happened!…

Anyway, it was quite obviously not safe to try to continue into the field, and so once again Piglet and I had to go back and take a detour round the road. For reasons that are probably obvious I didn’t want to go back through the farmyard with the bunch of savage dogs, and so we skirted up the side of the field to a point where I was able to climb over a fence. The bullocks followed us all the way, snorting and stamping up and down in the muddy grass as Piglet and I negotiated yet another batch of barbed wire to escape out onto the road. By that stage what was left of my wits almost entirely deserted me, and I managed to get us both comprehensively lost. That’s another story, though…

We did have to pass through another two fields of cows the following day. When I saw them I thought seriously about taking the road to Kendal and getting an early train home, but I decided to give it just one last try. Once again I was very scared, but on that occasion the cows left us both alone. If I ever do the Dales Way again, though, I’ll definitely be finishing in Sedbergh. I can hardly think of a less impressive introduction to Lakeland than the one that Piglet and I had last Thursday. If I’d not walked there almost all my life I’m pretty sure I’d not have wanted to go back.

I thought quite a lot about this whole cow v. walker issue as I was walking, and it seems to me that the only really safe solution is for farmers to be provided with grants to fence off a narrow track around the edge of grazing fields so that walkers–and, if necessary, dogs–can pass safely through. We did actually pass through several fields with that arrangement earlier in the walk, and it worked well. Finance is always an issue, of course, but even if it’s not feasible to protect all public rights of way in that manner then surely it should be possible at least to cover the National Trails.

In the meantime, I wish the very best of luck to Shirley McKaskie in recovering her damages, and from her injuries. She must have been very seriously injured indeed to have been awarded an interim payment of £250k, and as I read through the reports this morning, and also those relating to the recent trampling to death of vet Liz Crowsley, and Graham Dugdale‘s letter in the Lancaster Guardian about his own recent very narrow escape, I really was thinking that any one of those reports could very easily have been talking about me. Or then again, it could have been you.

Edited to say: sadly, I read today of the death this week of Harold Lee, trampled to death by his own herd of cows which had been startled by a fire engine. See here for the BBC report.

Some advice from The Ramblers

HSE Information Sheet for farmers

23 Responses to Cumbrian woman awarded over £250k for trampling by cows

  1. Laura says:

    Hi Shirley – Very interesting stuff about the cows – I couldn’t agree more about how dangerous they are (or seem to me to be) maybe it’s something to do with walking on your own (as we both do). I do have some friends who scoff at my fear of fields of cows or bullocks but that’s never lessened my anxiety about it. Like you I’ve often taken quite long detours to avoid a potential problem.
    A couple of weeks ago in Yorkshire I was prevented from using a style by a field of cows who all rushed over when they saw me approaching the fence. (I took a photo but I can’t work out how to put it into this comment box.)

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Laura,

      The buggers are dangerous 😦 I’m glad you escaped!

      I’ve not been able to work out how to put a photo in the comment box either, though there must be a way. I suspect I should have updated to a new version of WordPress software. Hmmm… Can you send me the piccy? To shirl AT peewiglet DOT com?

  2. Laura says:

    OOOOps! That should read ‘stile’ (not style).

  3. baz carter says:

    We were on the South Downs Way over the weekend and had an encounter with a herd. Passing through a field adjacent to another that had a herd of cattle feeding, one of the heffers started to track us along the field edge once we’d passed him, others started to follow suit. I noticed that once we’d pass out of this field anbd into the next it was open to the one with the herd in. I assumed that they would idle off but they continued to follow us, thankfully quite slowly so we were able to put some distance between them (despite the fact we were heading up hill). I was fully prepared to make a run for it or dive over the barbed wire fence to our left. Neither was necessary as the cattle pulled up. Possibly as we’d encountered a large flock of sheep that had scattered downhill as we approached. Harry le Chien wasnt with us on this jaunt BTW. I cant say whether we were in any danger or not but I’ve never encountered that behaviour before.

    With or without calves I always give them a wide berth.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hi Baz,

      That’s such a frightening experience! I had exactly the same thing (i.e. bullocks in adjacent field which merged further on into my field) last time I did the C2C, and I was scared stiff.

      Interesting that Harry wasn’t with you. Most of my problems with cows have been sans dogs, since I only recently acquired Piglet. Reports in the press tend to give the impression, though, that it’s an exclusively dog-related problem.

      I’m glad you survived it!

      • baz carter says:

        I wouldn’t call it frightening more worrying. As others have commented it’s difficult to determine whether they are being curious or otherwise. And given their size even curious could involve being trampled on. With Harry, a lot of the country we’ve covered is sheep territory which is a completely different bag of wool 🙂

        He’s well mannered and kept on a short lead as is required so Gwendoline and her ilk can have have their peace.

        BTW I enjoyed your input to the TGO podcasts this year. Did you manage to get that recipe for the risotto?


    • peewiglet says:

      Hi there 🙂

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the podcasts! Thanks very much for letting me know 🙂 They were fun to do.

      No recipe for the risotto yet, because Ali’s been busy with exams, but you’ve reminded me to drop her a line by way of reminder. I’ve actually thought of it several times as I’ve contemplated backpacking meals–I thought it sounded fantastic!

  4. Martin Rye says:

    No walker should be in danger or fear from livestock. Bullocks are dangerous and I have had several possible harmful encounters with them. I and a friend have had to use well aimed rocks to move them from blocking stiles in the Dales and ripped up fence posts to wave at them to ward them off. I am really sorry you had to suffer that.

    Your post is a good reminder to all of the danger cows pose to us while walking. Bulls in fields is another. It is illegal to put a Milk bull in a field with a footpath and a Beef bull has to have a warning sign. Milk bulls are very, very dangerous and the cows in my view just as nasty. As for farmers dogs report them as dangerous and state they tried to attack your dog and are a risk. Who do farmers think they are?. The law is the law and they are not above it.

    • peewiglet says:

      Howdy Martin 🙂

      In an odd sort of way I’m heartened to learn that it isn’t only me who’s had problems with the buggers. It seems to me to be a fairly widespread problem that simply hasn’t been acknowledged or addressed thus far.

      You’re right about the dog incident, really. I suppose that the farmer defused the situation by happening to be present in the yard and calling them in. He also volunteered that he should have had the gate closed, so I was simply frightened rather than annoyed.

      I’ve been meaning to contact the appropriate agency (forgotten the name) about the cattle, and I’ll get round to it next week, as they’re certainly a real and constant hazard to others doing the walk.

  5. John Hesp says:

    Shirl, since reading this several days ago I’ve been wondering if I should comment or not. I’m sad that this is spoiling your enjoyment of walking, which I know is a big part of your life. Can I try and persaude you that the threat is actually very small? It would be false bravado on my part to say that I’m not in the least concerned about cattle, but I try and let reason overcome my fear.

    For starters, the link you gave to the HSE shows 46 incidents over a ten year period. If we double that number to allow for unreported incidents we still only get ten incidents a year, and less than one death per year. Of course this is too many, but I’m just trying to point out how small the likelyhood of something happning is.

    • peewiglet says:

      Hello John 🙂

      I know you’re right, statistically, but I find it very frightening passing through fields of cows with Piglet–even more frightening than it’s felt for the last 10 years passing through on my own–so even if they don’t attack me (and normally they don’t, of course) it still spoils things a little, because I can’t help wondering when the next cow-infested field is going to appear.

      I know the numbers were small in the HSE report, but I reckon that reported incidents will only be the tip of a very large iceberg. I know that I’ve never reported anything, for instance, but I’ve had quite a number of scary incidents with cows over the years.

      Another aspect to it is that although the risk of an incident is relatively small the potential for damage if they *do* attack is very significant, so even a small risk of them chasing me is scary.

      Again, though: I know you’re right, and I appreciate you trying to reassure me ♥ I certainly won’t let it stop me getting out, but as I become more experienced at walking with Piglet it might affect my decisions about the areas we walk in.

      • John Hesp says:

        Hi Shirl

        I suppose choosing your walking areas is one way round the problem. Luckily the best walking areas (IMO) are those which are cow free – the uplands and other rugged areas.

        You’re probably right that the HSE report is only the tip of the iceberg, but I should think only if you include minor incidents. I assumed that the numbers the report gave was of people injured and requiring medical attention, which is what we’re scared of isn’t it?

        “…….as I become more experienced at walking with Piglet it might affect my decisions about the areas we walk in.”

        I hope that as you get more used to walking with Piglet you’ll come to realise that the threat isn’t as big as you first thought, and I hope your other friends will help to re-assure rather than scare you.

        I wonder if the woman who got £250k was as wary as you are, and knew what to do when things started looking ugly? I wonder how many of the five injured people a year were as prepared as you are? Two, three? That makes the probability of something happening to you even smaller.


    • Piglet says:

      Hi John,

      Oh, yes. I’m sure the HSE report will have included all the deaths, and probably all significant injuries, but the knowledge that cows, and particularly bullocks, could chase me each time I enter a field is enough to make that a frightening thing for me to have to do, each time I have to do it. They don’t have to injure me for my walk to be disrupted.

      If escape were easier it would be less frightening, but when so many fields are bounded by dry stone walls or barbed wire fences one tends to be committed, after entering, to pressing right on to the other side, watching the cows all the way. Not only that, if the walk entails journeys through a series of fields, there’s also the knowledge that if I come to a field I can’t pass through, because of cows, then I’m going to have to go back through all the others I’ve already traversed.

      I’m not basing my concern upon recent press reports, btw. It’s based on my experience of walking in cow fields for getting on for 40 years now 🙂 There simply happens to have been a spate of recent reporting about the sort of incidents–i.e. chasing–that have caused me to be concerned over many years.

      On my own I don’t really expect to run into trouble with ‘ordinary’ cows (unless they have calves, in which case I try extra-hard to keep as far away from them as possible), although it has sometimes happened. I *do* expect to run into trouble if I have to pass through fields of bullocks, though, because in the places I generally walk they’re more often a problem than not. The fact that I’ve got Piglet with me now has simply added to the problem, because now I’m going to be more anxious than I was before about the ‘ordinary’ cows.

      I don’t know how well informed the woman referred to in the title to this thread was, but certainly the woman who was recently killed was a vet, and the bloke who died last week was a farmer.

      I do think it would be possible to reduce the risk by introducing some fairly simple measures (described in my original posting), but I also think that it’s necessary first for farmers and walkers’ organisations (and hopefully also the press) to recognise that this isn’t something that only happens when dogs are present. If farmers had Minis rumbling around in their fields, programmed to home in on walkers, then nobody would ever go in. I’m not sure there’s actually a very significant difference 🙂

      • peewiglet says:

        Doh… that was me above, by the way. Forgot to log in 🙂

      • John Hesp says:

        “If farmers had Minis rumbling around in thier fields, programmed to home in on walkers, then nobody would ever go in. I’m not sure there’s actually a very significant difference”

        Mini Cowpers?

        Hopeless I know, and it took me days to think of that, but your imagination is so colourful I just had to make some comment.

      • peewiglet says:

        “If farmers had Minis rumbling around in thier fields, programmed to home in on walkers, then nobody would ever go in. I’m not sure there’s actually a very significant difference”

        Mini Cowpers?

        Hopeless I know, and it took me days to think of that, but your imagination is so colourful I just had to make some comment.

        LOL! *g*

  6. Martin Rye says:

    I have some photos from my 07 Challenge of cows chasing a dog. The estate worker was moving them on using his dog. Scary sight to be honest.

    • peewiglet says:

      I’d v. much like to see those. Could you send them in email? I can’t work out how to post pictures in a comment box here. It’s shirl AT peewiglet DOT com ♥

  7. […] I’ve mentioned in the past (here, for instance), it seems to me that it’s long past time for farmers to start making fields […]

  8. chris says:

    Hi there.

    Found your writing after a similar incident today while out walking with my parents.

    Incident 1 involved a bunch of cows slowly heading over to us (we were in the field for a while as my parents are avid ‘geocachers’). I and my mother stood off with them and just about managed to get them to hold their ground. It seemed that as soon as you’d stared one down, another would come along and come a little closer.

    Once we’d left the field, we saw a dog walker heading through the field. When she caught up with us she said the cows had “chased” her out of the field. Although she may have been exagerating slightly, the cows were all gathered around the style we had all used to leave the field.

    Next field of cows were no bother, but a second incident occured later. I totally lost my temper as they started heading over and in no uncertain terms told them to, uh, vacate my vicinity. They ran off. We had to walk around them, and then my parents being into their crazy hobby as they are (if you don’t know, it’s like a GPS-assisted treasure hunt), we once again had to hang around the edge of the field. Well, the bullocks once again start acting suspiciously. My mother actually chased them off once, but then they spread out in a line blocking our return… and then right at the end, steamed towards the side of us in some kind of bovine flanking manouvre!

    By this time I’d managed to persuade my parents to abandon their search for the God-forsaken cache, and we left the field. Once again, the cows rather menacingly were hanging around the gate we just left by. I am absolutely certain the cows were not merely curious: they were being quite the bullies! In both the cases where they were hostile, the breed was the same: classic black-white pattern (couldn’t be more specific than that).

    My one consoling opinion I’d give to you is that they are so cowardly and stupid that, even though they can be nasty, they do take a long time to summon the courage or intelligence to mess with you. So as long as you don’t hang around in cow fields for too long, you should be ok!

  9. […] don’t take Piglet through cow fields (see here for why) and so we had to take a little detour. That was easy enough, though, and some twenty or so […]

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