How the Beast of Woodhead ‘killed’ 20 sheep
SEVERAL readers have asked how my book about Bleak House and The Crowden Years is coming on, and I have to say ‘very well’, as I am now on 80,000 words and have only reached 1985; so it looks like being a trilogy.
I’ll pick up where I’m at, at around Chapter 10, talking about some of the farming characters in the valley, including the wonderful Rocky Howard, once of Pikenaze Farm, who, when I informed her that one of her rather large tups had escaped and was free on the A628, rushed down in her Land Rover to find I had him corralled in an outbuilding. She proceeded to ride him rodeo-style into some kind of submission, and only five minutes later they both walked calmly to the vehicle, Rocky’s hat still in situ.
Soon after this incident I received another call from a farming neighbour, ‘Morning lad, can you give me a hand to lift a couple of dead sheep?’
‘Yes of course’, I replied, delighted to help. ‘Can you bring your van?’ he added. I didn’t argue, and as we drove to Saltersbrook the story unfolded.
Apparently, a couple from Manchester had abandoned a Great Dane near the Dunford Bridge turn off, leaving the poor creature to fend for itself. Word soon spread through the farming community that the animal had turned into the ‘Beast of Woodhead’ overnight, and was decimating the local sheep on the Derbyshire and Yorkshire side of the moors,. An urgent call to arms was sent out.
Within the hour, 25 gamekeepers, farmers and assorted hangers-on had formed a posse and spread out across the landscape, shotguns at the ready. I wasn’t there but was told that it did not take long to find the big and daft lost dog, and neither am I certain that the dog had actually harmed any sheep. The Great Dane was shot dead within the hour, and any farmers who had suffered loss at the jowls of the dog were asked to bring their dead sheep to a meetingpoint near Hebden Bridge, the other side of the Woodhead Tunnel.
The sheep I picked up had been knocked over by a wagon and had been on the other side of the steel barriers a week. As I loaded the poor creature into my vehicle I smelt a rat, and a sheep actually, and asked, “You’re not going to claim for this sheep are you, it’s been there since last week and the dog has only been loose for 36 hours!”
Needless to say there was no answer forthcoming, just a big grin.
The scene that awaited us was a cross between Hogarth’s ‘Rake’s Progress’ and Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’: the huge dead dog was laid out on the floor, tongue lolling listlessly on the grass, surrounded on both sides by a long line of dead sheep, some, like the one I was delivering, blown up like hot air balloons from gas, and others mere skeletons. Only one of the 20 or so carcasses had been attacked by a dog.
There was a party-like atmosphere amongst the be-tweeded throng as an NFU Official went along the line with a clip-board, ‘tick, tick, tick’, every sheep was recorded as being killed by the Great Dane and the owners were to receive compensation in due course.
Obviously there are careless dog owners who allow their pets to worry and sometimes kill livestock, which I abhor, but this particular incident was ‘League of Gentlemen’ country long before the programme was ever aired, and I mean that in the nicest possible way!
Illustration for Great Dane story
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop