“It’s okay, they’re just curious,” said my husband, reaching out to rub the nose of one of the dozen or so young male cattle — bullocks, they’re called — that had trotted over to see us, standing on the far side of their fence. “The path wouldn’t go across this field if it were dangerous.”
I wasn’t so sure. Maybe it had something to do with the way they were pawing the ground and tossing their heads. These cattle seemed restless, a little too energetic. We had our 5-month-old daughter with us, strapped in a baby carrier on Oli’s chest, so I wasn’t looking to take any chances.
But it didn’t seem as if we had much of a choice. We were on our way back to our B&B, walking along one of the many public trails that crisscross the Cotswolds, an idyllic little corner of England that’s known for its green hills and rich farming heritage. Dusk was falling, and the path that we needed to take cut straight through this field of cows. So face them we must, unless we wanted to get stuck out of doors in the dark.
“They’re just cows, right?” I said, feeling very much like an awkward urbanite. “They’ll probably wander off once we start to walk past them.”
We opened the gate and stepped through. The animals didn’t seem fazed by our presence in their territory, but they weren’t getting out of the way, either. Oli clapped his hands and shouted, and they backed off. But then the group broke up, and a few of the young bulls pivoted and started to run toward us. My heart thumped.
“Come on, let’s move.” Oli’s voice was tense.
We struck out across the field, doing our best to run on the uneven ground. We didn’t have too far to go, maybe 100 yards to the fence on the other side. Shouting and waving our arms at the cows that came close, we moved as fast as we could.
Panting, we made it to the far gate and quickly let ourselves through. My hands were shaking as I closed the latch behind us, but our little girl was as happy as ever, cooing to herself as she gnawed on her finger. Danger averted, we continued on to our home for the night.
Our little adventure with the cows aside, our visit to Bould Farm, a 350-year-old working farm on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, was as peaceful as we could have hoped. We’d come to get a taste of life in the countryside, but the countryside, as it turned out, wasn’t quite what we had expected.
We’d come up on the train from our home in Oxford earlier that day, an easy ride that took us past rolling green hills, stone farmhouses and countless flocks of grazing sheep. A 10-minute bus ride from the train station in Kingham delivered us straight to the door of our farmhouse, where Lynne Meyrick — “the farmer’s wife,” as she later described herself to me — was waiting to greet us.
Lynne showed us to our room on the second floor and quickly helped us set up the baby bed for Alice. I made a cup of tea with the little electric kettle on the dresser and pushed open the window to admire the flower garden below. Birds were chirping in the tree branches a few feet away, and a cow and her calf were resting quietly in a field just on the other side of a stone wall at the bottom of the garden. We had been at Bould for only about half an hour, but I already felt fully immersed in the rural quiet.
Later that afternoon, as we sat for a chat in the garden, Lynne told me about Bould Farm. It encompasses 400 acres, she said, and the main crops are oats and wheat. The livestock consists of about 100 cattle and nearly 1,500 sheep. There were chickens and a rooster until they were all “demolished” by a fox, Lynne said, with a shake of her head.
“It’s a proper working farm,” said Lynne, 67, who grew up on a farm in Wales, as did her husband, Gwyn. “The B&B we started to help the finances, because farming, you know, it’s just up and down all the time. The B&B actually helped save the farm when prices were very low.”
The farmhouse itself — which is home to Lynne, her husband and their adult son, Robert — dates to 1650. In fact, the stones that line the floor of the downstairs have been in place since the house was built, and the shoulder-high fireplace in the living room is also original. There are a few rooms for guests upstairs, which Lynne manages herself. The place gets plenty of visitors, many from overseas.
I asked whether we could see the farm at work — I’d imagined chipping in by shoveling manure, feeding livestock or maybe even milking cows — but Lynne hesitated. The farmers have their work to do, she said carefully, and visitors can get in the way, sometimes with unfortunate results. She described one guest who insisted on having her grandchildren watch the birth of a lamb. It was stillborn, and the children were devastated.
“It’s a dangerous place, the countryside,” Lynne said. “The reality isn’t like you see on the telly.”
There are plenty of things to do beyond the farm, though, which makes an excellent base from which to explore the Cotswolds. There’s hiking along the Oxfordshire Way, a 65-mile trail that passes within a mile of the farmhouse. Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town, is 45 minutes away, and there are several gardens and historic stately homes within easy driving distance. The nearby villages of Burford and Stow-on-the-Wold are full of antiques shops and cozy tearooms.
It was already midafternoon by the time Alice had finished her nap, so Oli and I decided to stay close to the farm for the remainder of the day. We strapped the baby back into her carrier and, following Lynne’s directions, walked to a little nature reserve that sits adjacent to the Bould property.
It was mid-May — bluebell season in this part of England — and the indigo-colored flowers were in full bloom, thickly covering the shady forest floor. There was a little map at the entrance to the reserve, but we just followed our noses along the network of trails. Oli spotted a deer before too long, and I saw a fox slide across the path up ahead.
We wound our way through the woods for an hour or so before making our way back to the road. It was about 6 o’clock by that point, so we decided to stop in for an early dinner at the King’s Head Inn, one of several local gastropubs that Lynne had recommended.
Even older than Bould Farm, the King’s Head is a 16th-century pub that has hosted Prince William and Kate Middleton on more than one occasion. We were there early in the evening in the middle of the week, but the bar was already full of locals by the time we arrived. We settled into a table in the corner, and I dove into my venison burger, which was made from a deer that had been shot within a 10-mile radius of the restaurant, our waiter told me. Oli enjoyed his fish cakes and pint of lager, while Alice kicked in her high chair and chewed the edge of the table.
It was walking home from dinner that we had our encounter with the cows. Apart from those few minutes of panic, it was a beautiful evening walk, with the setting sun casting long shadows across the rolling wheat fields and pastureland.
The next morning, we enjoyed a classic full English breakfast, courtesy of Lynne: two pieces of sausage, two slices of bacon, an egg, roasted tomatoes, fried mushrooms, and toast with butter, jam and marmalade. And, of course, tea and coffee.
When Lynne came to check in, I mentioned our run-in with the cows the night before. She nodded and bit her lip.
“There have actually been a few incidents lately,” she said, adding that a man had been trampled to death on a farm in a neighboring county a couple of weeks earlier. “The countryside isn’t a park, you know.”
My stomach did a little flip upon hearing this, imagining how things might have ended differently the night before. I asked Lynne what she would have done in our situation. She said that she would have walked across the field, but taken a large stick to warn the animals off.
Our bellies full, we ambled off to explore the village of Kingham, just a few miles up the road from Bould. We strolled past cottages with thatched roofs and walls made of honey-colored Cotswold sandstone. We wandered through the graveyard outside the 800-year-old St. Andrew’s Church and poked our heads into the Wild Rabbit, a high-end gastropub that opened last year.
We spent the whole morning on foot, enjoying the warm spring sunshine and giving Alice some fresh air. As we walked out of Kingham, we passed a field filled with buttercups and lacy white wildflowers. A few cows sat in the middle, placidly chewing their cud.
There was an inviting little path cutting across this picture of rural bliss. But this time, we stuck to the road.
McClanahan is a freelance writer based in Oxford, England.
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