Incidental tourist

Today I woke up feeling as if I had not slept. This is not true: but I had spent the night dreaming about wellington boots and the lack of them.

I had left the matter of Felix’s kit until the very last-minute. Today was his class’s school trip, and they were off to a farm. We all know what happy, squishy, smelly places farms can be. Children on farms can end up just as happy and squishy.

Wellingtons are the thin red line – between you, and a mudmonster getting off the coach at the end of the day, and calling you Mummy.

We tracked down the kit and packed a lunch, and trundled down to my sister’s to begin the day.

And that was the last I heard until a pleasingly well-presented young man tapped my arm and announced that his coach had returned, and he had had an ace day.

The weather had behaved, and each child had a range of experiences I, being a townie, have never tried.

There was the electrocuted pigs phenomenon. A great Henry VIII style Mummy pig was nursing a brood of little ones. The pen was surrounded by an electric fence. Every now and then a little piglet would charge up to the fence and experience a buzz which resulted in a very surprised piglet. It would potter off, but within a minute some other small soul had done it all over again.

The frightening giant sheep had quite an effect, it seems: almost as tall as Felix and his friends, and with a glassy stare to chill the heart.

There was the match-the-poo-to-the-animal competition, where defused stools, immortalised in resin, could be used to identify their four-legged creators; and the chickens who shot around people’s feet acquainting themselves anew with their customary chaos.

But his favourite moment had a bizarre twist to it. For he and his best friend met a herd of baby bisons.

Felix liked the bisons. He said they had big eyes, as they drank from a bottle he was holding, and regarded him levelly.

A bison? On an English farm?

Back in those crazy days in the seventies there was one student at Cirencester College of Agriculture who was obsessed with the creatures.

According to an article in the Independent, Colin Ellis laid bets with his college chums that one day, he would become a bison farmer.

And he did, in the late eighties.

Now he has a thriving herd of the shaggy giants at Bush Farm in Wiltshire, and attracts his fair share of interest. They are bred for their meat, but for the tourists love them.

Back in 1996 he told Hamish Scott of the Independent: “I don’t think that what I’m doing could ever be described as sensible, it’s just that this is what I’ve always wanted.”

It is good to know what you want in life. Farmer Ellis manages 30 acres of woodland on which the bison roam, and now provides an exhibition for visitors to chart the history of the bison alongside a Native American Art Gallery.

Bison can be quite profitable, it seems, even on this sceptered isle.

But the pace of life with bison must be slow, mustn’t it? Strange, then, that someone who had previously lived life in the fast lane took up with them after forsaking his Ferraris.

He began humbly, the son of a Renault dealer, growing up in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. But Jodi Scheckter had always been obsessed with driving, and by the age of 20 he was racing for Europe. Ferraris in the Grand Prix were his destiny: he was known as a difficult character: the Washington Post described him as ‘distant’.

He retired after 112 Grand Prix races, at the start of the eighties. For a while he made a good living from firearms. And his love of a good woman – his British second wife, Claire – brought him to Hampshire and Laverstoke Park. 2,500 acres of rolling counrtyside in the heart of England.

His dream was to grow and farm great food for his family. But when he began to farm it quickly became an obsession. Now he farms water buffalo and rare breeds: pedgree cattle, sheep and wild boar. His buffalo milk makes ice cream and mozzarella cheese. This is lateral thinking brought to extremes.

And, of course, he makes some money through the inevitable curiosity he arouses: he has his share of tourists.

One of his visitors today was about four feet tall and shod in wellies, and he fed a baby bison. And his name was Felix.

What goes around, comes around. I wonder if Scheckter devised the match-the-poo game?

Image courtesy of


32 thoughts on “Incidental tourist

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the match-the-poo game was devised by Scheckter, Kate – poo-know-how is a good skill to have in the African bush – knowing what’s about could save you from being eaten by a lion or stomped on by an ele πŸ™‚

  2. One of my husband’s specialties, back when he ran the kitchen, was bison burgers. They were quite good, but I always felt I was eating a National Treasure. Then it occurred to me that the Native Americans ate them. But that seems a different thing.

    For continuing study in the field of poo identification, check out The Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit, by Werner Holzwarth. Guaranteed to reduce anyone below the age of ten to a howling blob of gelatin. Boys, at least.

    1. Bison burgers….here in the UK that sounds like a huge joke! But, from my research on tonight’s post, I hear they have arrived in England and are delicious. And their milk is quite good too…

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I ‘m off to reduce Felix to a blob of gelatin.

  3. America’s other great shame besides slavery was the planned extermination of the buffalo herds to hasten the extinction or at least the catastrophic reduction of the American Indian population who depended on the animals for food, clothing, and shelter.

    1. That is just shocking, Carl! The Germans did a similar thing to the Herero people in what was then German South West Africa. So shameful 😦

  4. I can just imagine a 10 year old lad feeding a baby bison.
    Now, our two daughters were such that they, too, would have been enamored with matching to poo.
    I enjoyed hearing about the kids’ adventures today, Kate, and the turn in the road the Jodi Scheckter took to the bison farm.

  5. Lucky Felix! Another super post, Kate. Who’d have thought that was where Jody Scheckter was hiding… well,well. And it sounds like he is living his dream. What more could anyone want? I always loved the look of bison and, from a food point of view, they look as though they would supply more meat than a cow and, maybe, tougher too.

  6. Now there’s a name from the past. A comment from him about how he was the fastest driver through the tightest corner at Kyalami racetrack (at some sports car event) and how he used his knowledge of physics to do so made me always come out of the bend on the way to the airport a lot faster than the other cars around me!

    Go in slightly slower and there is less inertia to fight, accelerate out and you are flying ahead while the others are still pushing against the direction (or words to that effect)

    He had a good mind and seems to have applied it to everything.

    Of course the bison meat is lessfatty than domestic cows. Although if they don’t roam for the hundreds of kilometers their wild counterparts do, one wonders if they are developing that fattyness as a trait?

  7. β€œI don’t think that what I’m doing could ever be described as sensible, it’s just that this is what I’ve always wanted.”

    If ever there was a person who knew himself, this is him. I love him.

  8. If only I knew what I’ve always wanted!
    In my youth, the family budgie was named after Jody Sheckter- there were hours of peering up against the cage, each of us having a little burble of ‘Jodyjodyjodyjodyjodyjody’ until the poor animal replied. Sometimes I still feel at that level of conversation…

  9. What fun! I love thinking of bison roaming about in England! We saw them on Catalina Island, just off the coast from Los Angeles. They shipped a bunch of them out there for a movie decades ago, and I think the scene was edited out. Not as easy to edit the bison off of Catalina, so they just left them there. They roam around wild in the middle of the island and when they herd gets too big, they ship some of them off to South Dakota where there’s a lot more room. My husband enjoys photographing wildlife when we’re out hiking and he went in a bit close for his shot of a baby bison – at the time, our daughter was right there with him, riding in a backpack, and as he went in for the shot, he heard a whisper over his shoulder, “Daddy, I’m a little bit scared.” So he backed off a bit.

    1. I don’t know where to start with that wonderful comment! Bisons there as a relic from a movie which never even gave them screen time….and a hairy experience terminated from some timely interjection from your daughter. Fantastic stories and I’ve learnt something new πŸ™‚ Thanks Patti!

  10. Loved it . . . especially “One of his visitors today was about four feet tall and shod in wellies, and he fed a baby bison. And his name was Felix.”

  11. This calls for the inevitable joke. Are you ready?

    “What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?”

    “You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo.”

    As Basil Brush would say
    “Boom Boom”

    ON another matter do you know about the stool chart? I didn’t belive it when I first saw it, but a jolly useful tool !

      1. Phew!

        IN my line of work sometimes it’s just not right to enquire too deeply with that line,
        “and what did you get up to today?”

        But today was a day off, so you’re fairly safe.

  12. There is a bsion farm just a few miles up the road from us. A bison is a truly majestic, and enormous, being. For those of us who indulge our carnivorous side, bison meat is delicious and very lean. Although I can’t eat anyone I’ve actually met. As for sheep, I recall when I was little visiting a sheep farm where I was promptly pinched by an irritated ewe. Gave me quite a bruise!

    1. Ouch! Sometimes ewes have no manners, Elizabeth! I can’t imagine what it must be like living down the road from a herd of bison. I think, though, that after reading your comment I might like to see one in situ…

  13. I have often wondered what became of Jody! Thanks for that.

    I imagine Felix does know that the batty farmer is the only South African F1 World Champion – 1979?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s