How the Beast of Wood­head ‘killed’ 20 sheep

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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

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