I switched off the gas and popped out onto the foredeck, in time to see the last of a herd of cattle and calves hurry along the towpath. The two speed skater walkers who go by every morning, arms swinging wide, appeared from the trees. "We hid in the bushes!" they said, and continued westward, arms a-swinging.
I watched the receding herd, and pondered. No question of heading them off at the pass- the towpath was entirely filled with cow. But- what was this? They were getting bigger again. They had turned back! I jumped on my bike and pursued the speed walkers, tinkling my bicycle bell furiously. "Can you help get them back into the field?" I asked.
They looked a bit uncertain, but were game for giving it a go. At the swing bridge, the gate into the field from which the cattle had escaped was closed, and had been closed for years by the look of it. There was a gap by the stile where the cattle had evidently pushed through. I parked the bike across the swing bridge, and we three made a line across the path, using our most dauntless expressions, as the lowing herd wound swiftly up the path, pursued now, I saw, by Craig, my boating neighbour and one to whom dauntlessness comes naturally.
It became obvious that the cattle were not going to push their way back through the small gap, so we revised the plan. I moved the bike out of the way, and shooed them towards the swing bridge. There were a few anxious minutes as they shuffled uncertainly, and a calf and a cow jumped into the canal. But then the first adventurous cow advanced to the bridge, and crossed. And then the rest followed. The cow in the water made her way over and clambered up the bank of the winding hole. Finally the calf scrambled up onto the towpath and Craig shooed it across to join its mum.
Presently the farmer and his hands appeared, and after much running up and down, flicking of sticks and shoutings of "Hup!", got the herd back into their field.
The Wiltshire Times covered the story, but our part in the business was, naturally, unsung...