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Who was the Countryman?

 

The Countryman was my dad, Peter N Walker (aka Nicholas Rhea), who died on 21st April 2017 from prostate cancer.

He was a full-time writer for more than 35 years, and before that, wrote in his spare time from his job as a policeman. He wrote stories based on his experiences and they were turned into the hugely successful TV series Heartbeat. But he also wrote much more, including crime novels, detective novels, short stories, local history books, collections of folk stories and tales, and also columns for local papers.

When he was younger, he used to read the Countryman’s Diary in the Darlington and Stockton Times by a well-known writer and local history expert, Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough. The Major had always been an inspiration and source of encouragement to my dad, who dreamed of taking over his column, so when he passed away, Dad was thrilled to be invited to take over. He continued that column for 41 years, and another (Rural View) for around 30 years in the Malton Gazette and Herald. Despite his success, he had a huge sense of loyalty and would not give up the weekly columns, continuing right up until a couple of weeks before his death, although towards the end, they were a struggle for him.

After his death, I began to wonder what would happen to his columns, and felt it would be a shame for them to simply disappear after so many years. With support from my family, I called the editors of the papers who readily agreed to my taking them over, even though I don’t have Dad’s writing pedigree, nor his extensive knowledge of all things country and Yorkshire. But, as my brother pointed out, I do have access to my dad’s archive, 40-plus years’ worth of columns to draw upon.

So I decided to take each column from the same week 40 years ago and see what I could use to inspire my column for today. What I have found is not only a wealth of material, but that it is bringing back some memories that were long-since forgotten, memories of my dad, and of our family, of which he was so proud. And it feels like I am getting to know my dad in a way I never expected nor thought possible. It’s an honour to be able to do it and, step by step, week by week, it is helping me make my way along the long road of grief that his passing has left behind.

Sarah xxx

Lessons from Dad

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The photo of my dad, aged 65, on the inside cover of his novel, The Sniper
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My dad’s 1992 novel, The Sniper

4B929846-7F8E-412A-93FC-FD8234D6083CThis Sunday 21st April was Easter Sunday, and by a rather poignant coincidence, it also marked two years since my dad Peter Walker (aka Nicholas Rhea) passed away. It barely seem possible that 24 months have gone by, and yet the memories of that period are still vivid.

These days, when I think of my dad, it usually starts with a smile, then morphs into sadness as I’m reminded of his loss, and often, a few tears will follow. Grief is a funny old thing. It never leaves, but it does change in nature. You might recall last year’s anniversary when I wrote about being reduced to tears over little things that unexpectedly reminded me of him, such as making mashed potato or eating pizza.

Today, I am happy to report that I can now make mash and eat pizza without having to reach for the tissues.

But I do still have my moments where the gap he has left hits me hard. I have just started to read one of his crime novels, ‘The Sniper’, and on the inside back cover is a lovely picture of my dad taken in 2001 when he was 65. He still looks young and vibrant, and very much the dad I remember growing up.

Looking at that picture reminded me of the chats we would often have about stories he was writing, what was going on in the latest episode of Heartbeat or projects I was working on, and I always enjoyed being able to talk with him about that sort of stuff over a cuppa. And so of course, when I looked at that picture in the back of the book, the familiar process started, with the smile, then the sadness, followed by a few tears at knowing I would never be able to chat over a cuppa with him again.

But those feelings are not as all-consuming as they were in the early days, and although I can’t imagine this sense of loss will ever go away, I know that each moment of sadness will pass. They are just part of the healing process and when they crop up, it’s fine to just let them happen.

One thing that always cheers me up is when I read his column from the corresponding week forty years ago in preparation for my column today. I can’t talk to him in person but he is still teaching me things I don’t know, expanding my knowledge in ways I never imagined possible, and never even considered two years ago.

So this week, true to form, Dad has taught me about a right old mish-mash of subjects from his column of 21st April 1979.

I have learned some folklore relating to long-range weather predictions, namely that if rooks are building their nests high in the trees, it bodes well for the rest of Spring. I must check if they are doing that this year!

He also added notes about the Yorkshire Dialect Society and their newly-released LP which was entitled ‘First o t’sort’. Costing £3.50, it celebrated our county’s ancient tongue through readings and poems. You can still buy the recording direct from the society, either on cassette for £2.50, or CD for £5. The price hasn’t gone up much in 40 years, has it, but sadly I can’t buy a copy as I no longer possess a tape recorder or CD player. Does anybody?

Dad then mentions, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the infamous (and fictional) Ryedale Henwatching Society, and how members were agitated about the fact that Easter eggs were taking over from real eggs.

And then, lastly, I learned that there was once a greenhouse inside Lincoln Cathedral. It was used as an office so that the vergers could go about their work, sheltered from the cold and draughts, while keeping a watchful eye the cathedral’s treasures. Dad says: “It seems such a brilliant idea that I wonder it has not been more widely used in similar places.”

These days, I think the idea has been adapted by clever architects and engineers as I have seen purpose-built glass office structures within cavernous buildings like cathedrals. I can’t find any reference now to a greenhouse ever being in Lincoln Cathedral, but would love to hear if anyone actually remembers it.

So, having been suitably educated this week, I wonder is there anything that your dad taught you?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdauG

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 19th April and the Gazette & Herald on 17th April 2019

A beastly kind of tart

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A mother cow and her calf. Mum produces ‘beastlings’, otherwise known as bovine colostrum, in the first days of the calf’s life

As is often the case when I’m looking back at my dad’s columns from 40 years ago, I have come across a word that is new to me, but that has been used in various ways in the north for many years.

That word is ‘beastlings’. At first glance, those unfamiliar with it might think it refers to ‘little beasts’ and indeed, there is a connection, but in the context in which my dad was writing it was something else.

In his column from 14th April 1979 a reader had contacted him about the word. At first, Dad reminded us of a similar word, ‘beatlings’, which were the toasted scraps of fat that were eaten with salt on pig killing days.

But ‘beastlings’ referred to the first milk of a cow that has just calved, before the normal milk comes in, otherwise known as bovine colostrum. When my dad was young, this creamy yellow milk was considered too rich for the newborn, and so the farmer’s wife would instead use it for curd, or beastling puddings.

It makes me wonder why a cow would produce milk that was too rich for its own young. We know that colostrum in mammals contains essential antibodies that help to fight infections and bacteria, and that it is full of nutrients which promote growth and give a baby a healthy start in life. So why was it considered too rich for the newborn calves? Maybe someone reading this knows the answer.

Dad grew up in and around Eskdale on the North York Moors, and there it was a custom to give a bottle full of ‘beastlings’ to friends and neighbours who would then turn it into various desserts, such as rum pudding or cheesecake, which Dad recalls his grandmother calling ‘chissuck’. It seems using colostrum in this way is not unique to this country, and I have found recipes from all over the world for various curd desserts and hard cheeses with this milk as its main ingredient.

There was also a Yorkshire superstition associated with the bottle in which the ‘beastlings’ was delivered. Recipients had to return the bottle, unwashed, to the original owner, otherwise some misfortune would befall the calf.

I do have access to a phenomenal resource of information, and decided to consult it on this occasion to find out more about ‘beastlings’. I am, of course, talking about my mum.

When I asked her, she did know what ‘beastlings’ was, but her family, who came from Lealholm, referred to it as ‘bislings’, and her own mother used it to make ‘bisling pudding’, which was rather like a steamed pancake which they ate with golden syrup.

My own research has revealed a number of alternative spellings. I looked up ‘beastlings’ in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it wasn’t there. However, ‘beestings’ was, and it is another name for bovine colostrum. Other searches threw up ‘beastings’, ‘beeslings’, ‘bisnings’, ‘beastung’ and ‘beisten’, the latter coming from Scotland. I’m not sure from which parts of the country the other words originate, but I presume the spelling is linked to how it is pronounced in the differing regions.

My mum also mentioned that her mother used ‘bislings’ to make Yorkshire curd tarts. These are not to be confused with custard tarts, but are a particular delicacy of our fair county. They are more like a baked cheesecake (or ‘chissuck’), with currants, allspice and sometimes flavoured with rosewater.

The Yorkshire curd tart was a particularly favourite of my dad’s and as a child we would go to Helmsley on market days where a trip to the bakery to pick one up was obligatory. Traditionally, this tart would be baked for celebrations around Whitsuntide, which is the week following Whitsun (or Pentecost), the seventh Sunday after Easter.

I spent a lot of time on a farm in my youth and, as on many North Yorkshire farms, the farmer referred to his cows as ‘beasts’. Therefore it is not a far stretch to assume some may also have referred to their calves as ‘beastlings’, although I can’t remember him using that particular word. However, it is just possible that a quirky term like ‘beastlings’ for bovine colostrum comes from this connection with the young beasts.

Can any readers remember using the colostrum in the ways I describe above or, in fact, still use it to this day?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on12th April and the Gazette & Herald on 10th April 2019

Clever old ewe

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Mum with her lambs in the degradable jackets (Pictures from agrimin.co.uk)
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A lamb is kept warm with a degradable jacket

I’m hoping that as we are now into April we have seen the last of the really cold weather, and that there is no more snow to come, particularly as the moors and hills of North Yorkshire are scattered with lambs.

Snow is a particular threat to young livestock, as my dad explains in his column from 7th April 1979 which followed a couple of weeks of really wintry weather. Apparently, the arctic conditions had led to a significant loss of life among sheep and their recently-born offspring.

He talks about one dales farmer who bought a large quantity of plastic jackets which were designed to protect the lambs from the cold and wet. They would wear them for the first critical hours, after which they ‘melted’ in the sun (the jackets that is, not the lambs).

This to me sounded quite far-fetched, but when I looked into it, I found that it is absolutely true and these little jackets are still used today. We wouldn’t use the word ‘melted’ nowadays when explaining how they break down, but of course when Dad was writing his piece, words relating to environmentally-friendly materials were not in such common usage.

After a lamb is born, the farmer or shepherd will dry it and clean it up, then put on one of these polythene jackets. The lamb then wears it for the first few days that it is exposed to the open air until it naturally sheds, or bursts out of, the jacket. As they are made from degradable materials, they decompose within a few weeks thanks to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight.

Although the are some reports of ewes rejecting or even attacking lambs wearing these coats, on the whole they are a very effective way of helping the youngsters survive during their first few days of life. The jackets also have the added benefit of deterring foxes who might fancy a lamb chop for tea. It seems that foxes, unlike humans, don’t like their food when it is wrapped in plastic. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.

Another interesting thing Dad mentions is an experiment carried out by scientists who wanted to determine how ewes and lambs find each other again once they become separated. Do they recognise each other by sight, or by sound?

In the experiment, three ewes were were taken away from their three-day old lambs and placed in pens at the end of a paddock. The lambs were kept out of sight for half an hour, mixed in with a pen full of other ewes and lambs, all bleating and baa-ing. Then, one by one, the lambs were released to see if they would find their way back to their mothers at the other end of the field. The test was then repeated with more than 50 lambs, and over 70% of them had no trouble finding their way back to their mothers.

Of course, in this instance, we still don’t know whether the lost lambs used the sight or sound of their mothers to guide them, but in a second experiment, the ewes were hidden by a tarpaulin. So the lambs only had the sound of their mother’s bleating to go on, and 60% of them found their way back to the right parent (I’m not sure of that counts as success or not!).

Sheep have an undeserved reputation for being rather stupid, when in fact they have shown they have brain power equal to that of monkeys and have been known use clever ways to seek out better sources of grass. In fact in 2004, some were spotted rolling over a cattle grid to get to the tastier pasture on the other side (my children display similar tactics when seeking out junk food).

A quick thank you to Maureen Dillon who contacted me about my piece about clover and shamrocks from three weeks ago. She says that clover has a white speck at the centre while shamrocks are all green. Does that apply to all species of clover I wonder? If you know the answer, do get in touch.

By the way, I’m very excited to be guest-presenting ‘God’s Own Countryfile’ on BBC Radio York on Wednesday April 10th from 7pm-9pm. Do listen in if you can, or catch up on the BBC Sounds app.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 5th April and the Gazette & Herald on 3rd April 2019

A foolish thing to do

This Monday will be April Fool’s Day, and my dad absolutely loved to spot the false and outlandish stories that journalists would come up with to attempt to trick their audiences.

Dad was well practiced in April foolery, using his columns to try to hoodwink his fans into believing some very daft stories. It was certainly the case in his piece from 31st March 1979, where he claimed that the Home Office had announced that we would be converting to ‘metric time’ in the near future.

This would mean that one second would become known as a ‘milliday’, a minute would be a ‘centiday’, and an hour became a ‘deciday’. Although a day would stay as a day, a week would become a ‘decaday’, a month a ‘hectoday’ and a year a ‘kiloday’.

He describes how the the new system would be implemented, along with the impact it would have on working hours, pay, pensions, holidays and the like, and that the Government estimated that it wouldn’t be fully up and running for five years, with the anticipated launch date being 1st April 1984.

I’m not sure children these days perform many April Fool’s pranks, but in the 1980s when I was a teen, teachers across the land must have dreaded it because we always used it as an excuse to play tricks. Most teachers took it in good faith, and the jokes were pretty harmless, like hiding the board rubber or chalk (yes, it is that long ago!), or taking away the teacher’s chair.

But I do remember an occasion when one teacher was not impressed at all, and I was the one who bore the brunt of his wrath. Our maths teacher, Mr O’Donoghue, wasn’t the sort of teacher you would normally choose to prank as you couldn’t be sure he’d take it well, but in our third year (or year nine in new money), he became our form teacher. So we would all congregate for register each morning and lunchtime, and it was in these pockets of time that we got to know him a bit better.

On April 1st 1981, after Mr O’Donoghue had been our form tutor for around seven months, we thought we’d bonded well enough to be able to play a trick on him. So we decided to leave the classroom door ajar just enough to balance a wooden blackboard rubber on the top, so that when he walked in, it would drop on his head. It was a well-known, tried and tested prank.

It worked like an absolute dream. He strode into class, only to jump back as this unexpected missile hit him from above.

We all collapsed in fits of laughter for the first few seconds, until Mr O’Donoghue erupted like Mount Etna.

‘RIGHT, ON YOUR FEET AND STAND BEHIND YOUR CHAIRS!’ he bellowed.

I was miffed that he’d had such a sense of humour failing, and begrudgingly got to my feet. I was the last to do so, and as I grumpily and noisily shoved my chair under my desk, the clatter of it of it echoed around the otherwise silent class.

This act of defiance incensed him even more, and he immediately issued me with a detention which, for someone who hardly ever got them, was the highest of humiliations.

Thing thing about Mr O’Donoghue, though, was that despite the odd angry outburst, he was a kind and gentle soul who didn’t really like handing out punishment. Later that day, he saw me in the school corridor and beckoned me over.

“Forget the detention,” he said, “I know you didn’t do it on purpose.” I felt like a convicted criminal saved from the gallows. And also a convicted criminal who got away with it, because, of course I had done it on purpose.

Funnily enough, that wasn’t my last run-in with Mr O’Donoghue. A couple of years later, a friend and I were play-fighting at the top of some stairs when I lobbed a pencil case at her and it missed and went flying over the bannister, and guess who’s head it landed on? In almost an exact copy of the incident two years earlier, Mr O’Donoghue bellowed at me, issued a detention, then withdrew it later in the day.

So if you’re reading Mr O’Donoghue, thank you for the reprieves, and I promise not to throw anything anywhere this April Fools day.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 29th March and the Gazette & Herald on 27th March  2019

Mother used to say

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Me at prime teen tantrum age 

As I write this, I’m listening to the March winds blustering and howling in the trees outside, and thinking that the month’s reputation as a windy one is justified.

There is plenty of folklore surrounding wind, which is understandable when you think that our distant ancestors needed to find some explanation for this invisible weather phenomenon. They would have had no idea of the origins of a force that could gently dry their washing one day, then destroy their homes the next.

Obviously, wind was an extremely important source of energy in the days before motorisation, and early explorers of the high seas had a number of charms they used to summon it when needed. You’ve probably heard of whistling down the wind (which now refers to something being done fruitlessly), but woe betide you if you were caught whistling on a boat at any other time, as you risked attracting a hurricane.

Witches used to ‘sell’ wind to sailors. They would give them a piece of string with three knots tied in it to take on board, and when wind was required, they’d undo one of the knots. But they always hoped to not have to reach the last knot, as untying that would summon a gale.

In his column from 24th March 1979, Dad recalls parents telling their children that if they pulled a face when the east wind was blowing, the ugly expression would be fixed there forever.

It made me think back to other things that our parents, especially our mothers, would tell us to scare us into doing what we were told. One was if you sat too near to the TV you’d get square eyes, or if you looked at the sun while cross-eyed, you’d stay like that. Another was that if we swallowed our chewing gum, it would stay in our stomachs forever, and of course, if you eat your carrots, you’ll be able to see in the dark. I’ve eaten plenty of carrots over the years, but can’t say that I ever noticed an improvement.

There’s a whole host of sayings which, pre-parenthood, you swear never to use yourself. Then along come your children, and before you know it they’re tumbling out of your mouth like marbles down a hill. It’s a cycle that will never be broken, words and phrases we pass from generation to generation, because in the heat of an argument with your child, when they are pushing you to the outer extremes of your patience with never-ending cries of “But why?” or “It’s not fair!”, being able to pluck that ready-made conversation-ending logic out of the air is a blessing.

Think back to how many times your mum or dad said “Because I said so!” or “Life isn’t fair” after one of your teen tantrums. It’s only when you’re a parent yourself on the receiving end of such a tantrum, and after you’ve exhausted all your reasons for refusing whatever the request was, that you then understand why “Because I said so!” comes so easily to the lips.

I’ve lost count of how many times over the years I’ve informed my sons of the poor starving children in various nations who would be so grateful to have a plateful of broccoli and green beans, or asked them, “How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t even try it?”

Another phrase I carried with me from childhood, was “Don’t speak with your mouth full” and that regularly echoes around our dinner table. But I’ve just thought of one that I don’t use now, but was told as a child, and that is “Don’t put your elbows on the table.” I’m not sure why you shouldn’t do that, apart from the fact it was just seen as bad manners. But our table is often the scene of lengthy after-dinner chats, and it’s natural to lean on your elbows while listening. I still wouldn’t put them on the table while others are eating though (well, not if my mum is looking anyway).

When I was little, I was self-conscious of the hairs on my forearms, until I was told that having hairy arms meant that you were strong. To this day, I have a reputation on the tennis court for hitting the ball rather hard, so I think of all of them, that one must be true.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 22nd March and the Gazette & Herald on 20th March  2019

The Luck of the Irish

I mentioned some time ago that one of the things I have started doing since my dad died is to make my way through his substantial back catalogue of books. As many of them were written when I was very young, I only ever read a few.

In June last year, I was about a third of the way through his tenth novel, Carnaby and the Saboteurs, when, turning the page, I found a pressed four-leaf clover. I must admit, I was rather overcome at the sight of it, as it felt like my dad was sending me a message of good luck from beyond the grave.

The book was published in 1970, and so it made me wonder whether that little clover had been hiding between the pages for almost 40 years. I have no way of knowing, but that tiny, dried and flattened weed suddenly became very special to me.

Some people, myself included, are confused over the difference between a clover and a shamrock, and on Sunday 17th March, there will be many a trefoil displayed both in Ireland and further afield as the Celtic nation commemorates the death of their patron, St Patrick.

As my dad writes in his column from 17th March 1979, St Patrick, who is believed to have been born in around AD385, is credited with bringing Christianity to the country and is said to have worn the three-leaved plant as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. The story goes that while preaching to pagans, he used the leaf to explain the concept of one almighty God, but with three entities within him – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. In the same way, the shamrock had three separate small leaves that joined together to make the whole.

He chose the perfect symbol, as the shamrock was already sacred to the pagans, and some cite it as the reason why he was so successful at converting them to Christianity.

But going back to my four-leaf clover, I decided to find out what the difference between a shamrock and a clover is, if there is one. Its name comes from the Gaelic ‘saemrog’ which means ‘little clover’ and having done some digging, I now know that a shamrock is definitely a member of the clover family. But as there are many species of clover, the burning question is which family does a true shamrock actually come from?

It seems that even experienced botanists differ over that question and they cannot agree which family of clovers the true shamrock derives. We do know that all shamrocks are clovers but not all clovers are shamrocks, and the general consensus is that a four-leaf version can never be a shamrock.

That might come as a surprise to some of our Irish-American friends, who have been known to show their pride in their Celtic ancestry by displaying a four-leaf clover on St Patrick’s Day, believing it to be a shamrock.

And there is even some confusion among the Irish in their homeland as, according to a 1988 survey by the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, there were four different species that people displayed as shamrocks, only three of which were actually clovers with the potential to be true shamrocks (white clover, red clover and hop clover). The fourth wasn’t a member of the clover family at all, but a lookalike called the black medick. This one can be more easily grown as a house plant, and therefore florists and shops stocked up on it so that eager consumers would buy them as a convenient decoration for St Patrick’s Day. I wonder if the purchasers realised that the verdant main feature of their patriotic display was actually an imposter?

I would be interested to hear from any Irish friends whether they have strong views, or a definitive answer, on what species of clover constitutes the ‘true’ shamrock.

In the meantime, I have made sure that my special four-leaf treasure has its own protective box so that it doesn’t come to any harm. It’s such a delicate thing that I’m terrified it might disintegrate if I handle it too much. And hopefully, with my dad’s blessing from above, it will bring me some good fortune in the future. I’m not asking for much, but something along the lines of a huge lottery win will do (Are you listening, Dad?).

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

ENDS

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 15th March and the Gazette & Herald on 13th March  2019

A wolf in dog’s clothing?

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My three boys at one of our favourite spots on the North York Moors where our normally placid canine companion chased a sheep

Lambing season is in full swing and whenever I’m out and about, I love spotting the little lambs gambolling about the fields like excitable toddlers in a playground.

I don’t think the North York Moors are unique in having sheep and lambs unhindered by walls and fences, but it is still pretty special to see them grazing freely across the land, or meandering along village greens in places like Hutton-le-Hole and Goathland.

The beauty of the moors and the Yorkshire Dales means they are a magnet for tourists and many visitors bring their pet dogs with them. Sadly, that can also bring with it a problem that is particularly distressing at this time of year – sheep worrying.

It saddens me to read that the issue has not improved with time, as my dad was writing about it in his column from 10th March 1979. A reader had had his dog shot in front of him by an angry farmer after it had run into a flock of sheep. He was highlighting the fact that, according to the law, a dog doesn’t actually have to attack sheep, but merely has to pose a possible threat, for the farmer to have the right to shoot it. Although I do pity the owner losing his pet, I can’t help but think that if it was on a lead, it would never have happened at all.

It’s not just visitors that are causing the problem though. Apparently, there has been a rise in unaccompanied dogs running amok among sheep, which is being put down to country residents letting their dogs out of their houses, unaware that they are finding their ways to areas of grazing livestock.

Educating dog-owners is one answer, and bodies like the North York Moors National Park, the police rural crime teams and farming and sheep organisations repeat the message each and every year.

But even though owners hear the message, some don’t think it applies to them. They fail to appreciate that their lovely, docile family pet can be a killer where sheep are concerned. All animals have the potential to be unpredictable, and when it comes to sheep, dogs can undergo a complete personality change. And I mean, ANY dog. Even yours.

I know this because I was once one of those people and have witnessed this unexpected, and quite shocking, personality transformation first hand. I was looking after a friend’s dog while she was away and, as it was a warm sunny day, decided to take my boys and the dog up to a lovely spot on the moors by a stream where we could picnic and the children could safely splash about in the water.

The dog was a quiet and submissive soul who I’d known since he was a puppy and I’d never seen an ounce of aggression in him. There were a few sheep about, but they were at a short distance away and as the dog had not shown any interest in them, I assumed it was safe to let him off the lead while we ate lunch.

I was wrong. A ewe on the search for fresh grass pottered into the dog’s view, and suddenly, he was off, snarling and barking at the poor startled sheep. I leapt up and after him and thankfully managed to get the dog back before he caught the ewe. Although no damage was done that time, had it been lambing season, the stress of being chased could have caused the ewe to abort if she’d been pregnant. That taught me a valuable lesson, that as well as you know your dog, there is something about sheep that can make them go a bit crazy.

I have seen pictures of sheep and lambs that have been caught by dogs, and the injuries are horrific, sometimes resulting in the animal being euthanised. Others have drowned after throwing themselves into rivers or lakes in a desperate attempt to escape.

We are not talking about just a few sheep here and there either. According the the famers’s insurance body, NFU Mutual, 2018 saw a 67% rise in attacks over the previous two years. Apart from the obvious distress of losing animals, the financial loss to farmers can run into many thousands of pounds.

So if you have a dog, no matter how docile and calm they are, remember, around sheep, they could be a killer.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 8th March and the Gazette & Herald on 6th March  2019