On the 6th July, 2020, I was walking a very familiar footpath, in the far west of Cornwall. I was with my daughter and two grandchildren, and we had our two dogs on leads. The path was very well-used. All of us including the dogs were very used to country walking.
On entering the field, we did see a small, weathered poster detailing generic rules on using the footpath, e.g. keep dogs on leads, respect the country code, pick up litter, don’t worry the livestock, etc.
The footpath ran through the middle of a farmer’s field, which contained Limousin cattle and calves. On entering, all the cows were to the left side of field. My daughter later told me that there was a bull in the field too. I was the last in a single-file line, with my daughter and grandchildren, aged six and nine, walking sensibly and quietly in front.
Before I knew otherwise, I had been surrounded by cattle. My daughter screamed at her children to run for safety – and then I recall her shouting for help.
I was kicked, butted constantly, and knocked to the ground. I remained conscious but became increasingly confused and dazed. I soon realised I was in dire trouble.
I vaguely heard a man shouting and sensed him entering the herd of cattle and then I was aware of my daughter also being there to help him.
My normally timid young dog escaped from being safe with the children and ran into the herd. Evidently, the dog played a vital role as he distracted the cows momentarily, creating a small window of opportunity. I remember the man saying something along the lines of, “Quick, we need to drag her out now – they are about to charge again.”
The man and my daughter somehow got me to my feet and carried/dragged me to safety over the stile. I then collapsed to the floor unable to breath properly.
My daughter rang 999 and I remained mostly conscious as first responders, the coastguard team, ambulance and the air ambulance arrived. I was initially conscious in the helicopter – but have no recollection of arrival at the hospital in Truro.
Injuries and recovery
I was initially in ICU at Treliske for five days. I was diagnosed with bi-clavicle fractures, multiple rib fractures (both sides), with flail ribs on the left side and left pneumothorax and haemothorax.
After the first few days my condition deteriorated and I began to have delusions and hallucinations as a result of all the strong drugs. I had to have a chest drains inserted, was sedated and ventilated, and then transferred to ICU Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, on the 11th July.
In ICU, I remained unconscious and had an operation for reconstruction of my left chest on the 11th July. I regained consciousness but required a second operation to repair my left clavicle on the 13th July.
On the 28th July after a tough three weeks, I was discharged home, but with an additional diagnosis of atrial arrhythmia which may or may not be the result of bruising and trauma. My lung capacity is reduced and I face a long term recovery plan which will include orthopaedic, cardiology and thoracic checks at hospital. I will also require regular physiotherapy, occupational therapy, psychological therapy and GP checks.
My dog was unharmed.
I am fully aware that I initially came within a couple of seconds of not surviving the initial incident. By chance, someone was coming the other way and his intervention saved my life. My daughter was also incredibly brave in assisting him. My dog also played an important role. I will be forever grateful to the three of them. I was also lucky to survive when my condition deteriorated in hospital. I cannot thank the wonderful NHS enough for what they did for me.
I was so lucky, but I constantly relive the nightmare, not just for my situation but for what might have been – thank goodness my grandchildren and daughter remained unharmed. The flashbacks, and trauma of it all, are utterly terrifying and extremely distressing. My daughter is having a difficult time with the whole event -and the aftermath too.
The incident has been fully reported to all the relevant authorities. We now await the outcome of a full HSE investigation. The Ramblers Association has also been informed. We have been advised to consider possible legal action
- Any footpath through a field of cows most definitely requires additional protection for walkers – electric fences or higher, strong fences.
- If cattle are in a field, then additional clear signage and warnings are most definitely required.
- A footpath should never cross at the centre of a field of cows. The footpath should ideally be alongside a field boundary.
- Without additional fencing, cows with calves -and in this case also a bull -must never be free in the same field as a public right of way. The footpath should be temporarily closed and an alternative footpath detour set out.
- The Limousin breed of cattle is clearly implicated in other incidents. This is a cause for concern and the general public are generally unaware of the dangers that a field of cows can present.
This was a terrifying life threatening and life changing event and farmers, Local Authorities and The Ramblers Association need to do everything they can to prevent such a devastating incident happening again.