Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cowpats and turfing irons ...

During the 1980 season we were digging mostly on the National Trust part of the site. There was a herd of cattle grazing the National Trust land. For part of the season we removed the post and wire fence that divided the County Council land from the National Trust land, rolling it back into place at night. We also secured the cuttings last thing at night with an electric fence.

This was for three reasons: first, we did not want the cattle to hurt themselves by falling down half- dug features; second we did not want the cuttings and the stratigraphy to be damaged by the cattle; and third, cowpats aren't the pleasantest items and ruin the photos.

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley, / An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.":

True for diggers who set up cow-wire too.

Most nights the electric fence performed according to plan but on the odd night the cows just carried on walking and invaded the cuttings. They managed, as far as I can recall, to avoid the postholes and didn't kick the cuttings to pieces. Inevitably, however they did leave their calling cards. Large stinky wet heaps everywhere.

One morning John Boden and I took it upon ourselves to clear the cuttings of fresh cowpats: we had to hand the perfect tools - turfing spades, or as JP would call them turfing irons. You will see from the photograph below just how well fitted to the task of lifting a cowpat a turfing spade would be.

John and I set to work: there were quite a few cowpats. After a while we must have got bored and decided to have a competition to see how far we could hurl a fresh cowpat with the aid of a turfing iron. I evolved a technique a little like a hammer thrower. I discovered that if you span round once or twice, with the cowpat on the end of the turfing iron before release, a satisfyingly long trajectory was the result. The competition continued a few minutes.

We were taking a bit of a run up, spinning and then hurling the cowpats off the side of the scarp on the north side of the hill towards Cold Slad. The Cotwold Way path runs along that side of the hill: I got a very large, very wet, very smelly cowpat right up into the air and was admiring its flight north just as a man walking his dog along the path emerged from invisibility behind a blackthorn bush. There was nothing I could do: a vision of horror crossed my mind as the trajectory of the cowpat and the man's face appeared to be on a perfect collision course. I was incredibly lucky. How it missed him I will never know: it seemed to pass his nose at a range of only 6 inches or so. He never missed a step nor glanced in my direction so I've no idea if he ever realised what an unpleasant fate he had just avoided. But the thought of it still makes my blood run cold.

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