Emma Bamford: I never thought a cow could take me by surprise

Perhaps the cows in Derbyshire are particularly keen on unsuspecting ramblers: the bend in my father's telescopic walking pole, gained from whacking an animal across the head in a last-gasp attempt to see it off, is testimony to how dangerous they can be. And I have stared death by cow in its hairy, bovine face and lived to tell the tale.

Readers familiar with the New Forest will know that one of its charms is that animals are able to roam freely there. Horses, ponies, donkeys and, yes, cows. Which is all very lovely and picturesque during the day but is another matter entirely at night.

One minute I was driving on a pitch black evening along a road with no lights, lines, other cars or any form of illumination. The next, what seemed like mere inches in front of the windscreen, my headlights revealed the white of a cow's eye. A hulking black beast, camouflaged by the October night, had decided to cross the road just feet ahead. My passengers screamed and I hit the brakes, closed my eyes (not the cleverest of moves, I admit) and prayed.

There was a bang and at first I thought we'd hit it. Then I realised if a Peugeot 106 ran into a half-tonne cow at 40mph, I'd probably not still be breathing. Luckily we were all OK, including the cow, who turned around and slowly mooched off into the night.