by: Valerie Bryant Bennett
One cool afternoon, on a visit to Whitestone with a friend, I decided to strike out through the woods across the road for a hike on one of the many trails suggested by a map of the property. My friend was agreeable (actually, she’s always agreeable…we’ve been friends since high school), so we set off through the trees and crunchy leaves on a path that was marked only by a curious wooden sign that read “Scottish Highland Cattle” accompanied by an arrow pointing up the path. Neither of us (being from Atlanta) would have known a Scottish Highland cow from a rock badger, so the sign was of little relevance, but we had been told that there was a bell we could ring once we came to a pasture, and when the cattle heard the bell, they would come toward a little shed where we could feed them alfalfa pellets from a covered barrel. To be honest, we were more about the hike than the animals, but it sounded interesting, and the woods were beautiful, so if we could make a cow or two happy along the way, why not ? It was an easy hike, and we enjoyed getting reacquainted. I had not seen my friend for years. She decided in her late 30’s to go medical school, and was accepted by Georgetown University, graduating with honors, while I changed countless diapers for years, and then became a first grade teacher whose biggest intellectual challenge was how to explain to a six year old why “a” sounds different in “apple”, “apron”, and “autobot”.
Our time at Whitestone allowed the perfect setting for reminiscing, catching up, and reconnecting, and we continued this along the trail. Sure enough, before long, we burst out of the woods into an open field, and just up a hill sat the small shed. We rang the bell. The cattle weren’t visible in any direction, and we waited patiently with our enticing little alfalfa pellets, but finally turned to go down the hill. Suddenly, we heard a rustling behind us, and turned to see a wooly head emerging from the other side of the hill. I was speechless. This was the strangest animal I had ever seen, and it was followed by others. There was only one time I remembered seeing anything resembling such creatures, and I blurted out my first thought, “Oh, my gosh! It’s Lord of the Rings and we’re on the Shire!” Both of us approached the shed cautiously, gathered our pellets again, and warily began to feed what I still suspected were make-believe animals. I seriously expected Bilbo Baggins to come trudging up the hill with a staff any minute to retrieve his missing cows.
I don’t think my friend and I spoke again for much of the hike back. We were still pondering that only a few steps away from an elegant B&B, we had stepped into what truly seemed another time and a fictional place. Over dinner in the Inn, (such food!), we relived the afternoon. I’ve often thought since that the shared experience of shock and awe that day cemented a beautiful friendship, and gave us amusement for years to come.
Go to Whitestone. Take a hike. There are numerous ones to choose from, but only this one will land you on the Shire.