near Loch Eriboll, Scotland
On a three-day road trip through the Highlands I finally came within spitting distance of a highland cow. A herd of them crossed the road in front of our car and began munching the grass near the pavement, so we all got out to have a look. I picked the most oblivious looking cow and approached it very slowly. Once I’d gotten within a few feet of it, it trotted off, but only for another ten feet or so before stopping, as if maintaining that exact distance would save its life if I had any intention of making a shag carpet out of it. It chewed and stared and stared and chewed while I took some photos and returned to the car. One of my friends was cleverer than me and convinced one to let her pet its hair for a bit before it bolted, taking most of the rest of the herd with it. We concluded that the only thing funnier than a highland cow is a highland cow tryin’a run.
Everyone loves highland cows because they are hysterical. Sometimes it’s hard to believe they weren’t bred just to look funny on Visit Scotland brochures. But many a Scottish farmer will tell you the breed is over a thousand years old, developed in the Highlands and Western Isles to withstand harsh winters better than other European cattle breeds.
Wild cattle do exist, but most of the herds we came across were domesticated. Even when not fenced in, the cows were tagged or de-horned. And I think it goes without saying that you should save your mission to pet highland cow fur for the animals that have been de-horned.