Yorkshire vet Julian Norton’s call to the wild moorland tops

It was the sort of call out that Julian was dreading in the snow. Picture by Michael Hardy.
It was the sort of call out that Julian was dreading in the snow. Picture by Michael Hardy.
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The message that appeared on my phone at 7.30 on Sunday morning made my heart sink.

It was not the nature of the call, but rather its location that filled me with dread. It had been snowing all night and as I peered outside from behind the curtains, I could see a couple of inches of snow lying on the road and blizzard conditions.

Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.

Read Julian Norton's column first in Country Week, inside The Yorkshire Post every Saturday.

The ice on the inside of the bedroom window told me everything I needed to know about the temperature. The call was to Dallow Gill, right up on top of the moors above Kirby Malzeard. It was wild even at the best of times.

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I made a cup of tea and phoned the number on my screen.

“It’s our old mare,” reported the worried owner. “She’s down in the field and she can’t get up. She must have been down all night. Goodness knows why she won’t use the field shelter like the others. I think it might be time.” It was a gloomy assessment.

As my journey progressed, the roads got narrower, steeper and more snow-covered.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I reassured, “depending on the roads.”

“Oh, they’re not so bad. I’m just going to pick up my paper. If you’ve got four-wheel drive you’ll be fine,” was the optimistic reply.

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As my journey progressed, the roads got narrower, steeper and more snow-covered but, as predicted, my trusty Mitsubishi had no problems. That is, until the final turn into the yard. On a bend and on a slope and in deep powder snow, I executed a graceful ninety-degree spin before slithering to a halt and getting out.

Having introduced myself, I gathered the things I would need – syringes, barbiturate solution, stethoscope and clippers to clip some of the thick winter coat from the old mare’s neck so I could see her vein. She was some distance away, lying in the middle of a field with deep snow. It was a bleak sight. With freezing hands, I managed to find the narrowed vein in the old horse’s neck and inject two syringes of barbiturate. There was nothing else to be done, and there was no need for a deep discussion about prognosis. It was quick, painless and peaceful.

I declined the coffee that was on offer afterwards, not because I didn’t want one – far from it – but I was acutely aware that I was on the periphery of the practice area and it would take me a long time to get back while my phone had no signal.

As soon as I was back in range, another call came in. It was another one that would be made all the more challenging by this ‘Mini-beast from the East’. The phrase made me think of tiny, stick insects or crustaceans attacking the country with Russian fur caps on their heads, rather than the cold blast of weather that was making life so difficult for farmers, with sheds full of lambs, desperate to go outside.

And it was a sheep I was off to see next. A cold one, in Nun Monkton. The poor ewe had lambed in the night, then prolapsed her whole uterus, which was hanging out of her back end like a bag of tennis balls.

Down in this village, there was not quite so much snow, but the temperature was just as icy. I had to unpeel a couple of layers of clothing to allow me to roll my sleeve up sufficiently to reinsert the everted organ.

All done, I cleaned my hands in the, now distinctly tepid, water. As I waved goodbye to the farmer, I caught sight of the enormous Maypole in the centre of the village green.

Although it was supposed to be springtime, a May Day celebration seemed a world away.

Follow Julian on Instagram at @juliannortonvet.