Why me?! Why can’t my ewes and lambs that are now grazing a luscious 11 acre field down by the river just stay put? Over stocked? No. Over grazed? Definitely not.
I was walking along the bank of the river Tale, which forms one of the boundaries to the farm, with my sheepdog, Kit, to check the stock – it’s beautiful at this time of year with the pungent smell of wild garlic filling the air and swallows nearly taking my head off as they follow us. The river winds its way for some 600 metres beside our longest and largest field providing a haven for wildlife of every description, from the dreaded heron to otters, brown trout and water voles to name a few, and, today, added to the list are a ewe and two lambs. Given sheep don’t like water (and cause me real grief in the winter moving from one field to another through waterlogged gateways), why the devil did they decide to go for a swim today?
What ensued was not a pretty sight and caused me to use extremely bad language for a lady. A Black Welsh Mountain ewe and two lambs had somehow squeezed through a gap in the dodgy fencing onto my neighbour’s land, thinking ‘the grass is greener’. The ewe had meandered down my neighbour’s field towards the river, obviously saw her other comrades through the stock fence and decided to join them – but, sadly, she was unsuccessful.
Bleating lambs gave the game away. Not one to engage brain before action, I dived into the river (not literally, as I would have died hitting my head on some tree trunk (must chastise Edward for not dragging it out of the river before) and grabbed the two lambs, which where clinging to some undergrowth in the river bank. My beautiful new birthday present, expensive Aigle wellies filled right up with water and successfully lodged me at the point of entry – I was stuck! The ewe, bless her, had scrambled up the bank, goodness knows how as her fleece was weighed down with water – just as well, as I would never have been able to shift her.
I needed help and blinkin’ quick as I couldn’t heave myself and the lambs out of the water. Mobile phone – oh, s**t, I’ve probably just drowned that as well.
Tried it and it worked: “Edward, I’m in the river with two lambs, get here quick before I end up with them in Budleigh Salterton” (the Tale meets the Otter which goes into the sea at BS!).
I waited and waited, starting to shiver as the water was so cold, struggling to keep hold of two lambs desperate to be reunited with their mum. Stupid sheep! What the heck was taking Edward so long? The lambs started to panic, the dog jumped in to help, which was no help whatsoever and he was quickly told to sod off. I couldn’t hear the sound of the quad – was there a more important problem at home? Couldn’t be. Next thing I see Edward sauntering and I mean sauntering, like he was taking a walk up the Champs Elysée on a sunny spring morning. Well, it was a sunny spring morning, but not for a stroll, when I was certain me and the lambs would soon be goners! When he was within screaming distance, I screamed. He soon quickened his pace then.
“Where the b***y hell have you been?”
To which he replied “I thought you just had a problem with a couple of lambs, didn’t realise you were in the river.”
“Yes I am in the stupid river and these lambs will die of stress unless we get them out soon.”
The lambs were pulled to safety, joined with the now much stressed ewe and they were ushered quietly back into the field. Retrieving me was another matter. The boots were the problem, but weighing what seemed like 20 stone now, Edward hoisted me onto the river bank where I definitely felt like and resembled a drowned rat.
Body, soul and mind were all intact as was mobile phone, but where were my glasses? Can’t function without them! They must have sunk to the bottom of the river when I jumped in. They were designer ones as well. What a costly swim. But it could have been costlier if I hadn’t decided to go for a walk when I did. All survived – except my glasses.
If you are ever on Budleigh Salterton beach, the glasses have green arms and half lenses.
Illustrations by Jim Stanes ©