There’s a cat called called Snowy who lives on a farm on the Somerset Levels, in south-west England. He’s only four years old, but he’s managed to pack a lot of adventures into his life, including a trip to our farm as a stowaway. Here’s his story (so far!):
Snowy went to live at the Popham’s farm when he was a kitten. Mr Popham buys and sells straw, which he stores in big barns. Snowy made one of these barns his home. It was warm and dry, and there were plenty of mice to hunt, although he only hunted for fun because Mr Popham’s son Tom fed the farm cats every day. Snowy appeared to have landed on his feet (as cat’s often do).
All was well until the winter of 2013-14, when it rained a lot. In fact, it rained so much that before long Snowy found himself on an island of soggy bales surrounded by water. The Somerset Levels had flooded, and he was stranded!
Every day, until the floods subsided, Tom paddled a canoe to the barn, hauled himself up with ropes and fed Snowy. He did that for several weeks, whatever the weather.
As life returned to something like normal, Mr Popham cleaned out his sheds, restocked with fresh bales and began trading again.
One morning in September 2014, he set off for Exmoor at daybreak with a lorry-load of straw he’d prepared the previous evening, aiming to beat the rush hour traffic in Taunton and arrive at West Ilkerton Farm (our farm) at around eight-thirty.
The journey went well, and he arrived to find Chris (my husband) waiting in the field next to the moor, where the bales had to be unloaded and carted back to our barn because the lane to our farmyard is too narrow for large lorries.
“Hang on a minute!” Chris shouted as Mr Popham started to push the bales off the lorry. “I think you’ve got an illegal immigrant on board – look!”
The face of a white cat peered out between the bales.
“Oh no, it’s Snowy! He must have gone to sleep on top of the load last night. I bet he had a shock when it started moving this morning!” Mr Popham exclaimed. “Tom’ll kill me if I lose him, after all he went through last winter. Can we catch him, d’you think?”
Chris and Mr Popham tried their best to catch the cat, but he was obviously traumatised by his unexpected road trip, and as soon as his feet touched the ground he scampered away onto the moorland. The two men searched for him in vain amongst the gorse bushes, but eventually they admitted defeat and Mr Popham drove back to Somerset to break the news to Tom.
“What’s the matter?” Tom’s twin sister asked him when she saw how upset he was that evening.
“It’s Snowy,” he replied.
“Oh no, has he died?” she asked.
“No, it’s even worse – he’s gone to Devon!”
Perhaps Tom was right. Lost and alone in a hostile world, Snowy probably experienced several fates worse than death in the weeks that followed: extreme hunger, terrible weather, being chased by dogs. . .
All our neighbours were watching out for a white cat, and there were occasional sightings, but after a while the telephone calls stopped and we had to face the possibility that Snowy had died.
But one morning, as we were turning our horses out in their field, our daughter Sarah spotted something white moving slowly between the gorse bushes on the opposite side of the farm. Chris fetched his binoculars, and confirmed it was a cat – a very thin, bedraggled white cat. It had to be Snowy!
Chris rode the quad bike to the gorse bushes, and left some cat food there. A few hours later it had gone – eaten, we hoped, by a cat rather than a fox or badger.
Every day, morning and evening, Chris put cat food in the same place, and before long Snowy was waiting for the quad bike.
By this time the weather had turned wet and cold, so Chris used food to lure Snowy back to our farmyard. Soon he’d made himself at home in the same straw bales that had been his downfall in the first place.
With regular feeds, Snowy became fatter and tamer by the day. Before long he was allowing us to stroke him while he ate, and he became very loud and demanding when he thought it was time for the next meal!
The Pophams were delighted that Snowy was safe and well, and said they’d collect him next time they were in the area. We knew he wouldn’t be with us forever, but even so it was a bit of a shock when Mr Popham phoned to say he was visiting friends nearby, and could he drop in to pick up the cat?
Chris caught Snowy easily, with the help of some food, and bundled him into a travelling crate – much to his fury! He growled, hissed, bit and clawed at the sides of the crate as he was carried back to the Popham’s car.
Good luck, Snowy! See you again next autumn?