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Cows swim across Lough Erne in pilgrimage to fresh pastures

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The cows on their pilgrimage

The cows on their pilgrimage

The cows on their pilgrimage

Cows at Crom estate in Co Fermanagh have embarked on an annual pilgrimage after swimming across Lough Erne to graze fresh pasture.

Twenty cows undertook the voyage to the island of Inishfendra, where they will stay until swimming back to the mainland for the winter.

It's part of an old tradition that was been ongoing for many years since Crom Estate was founded as part of the Plantation of Ulster in the early 1600s.

Matthew Scott is a National Trust ranger who works at Crom, where parcels of land are rented out to local farmers. His job is to maintain the grounds look after the wildlife on the estate and work with farmers who rent land.

"It's quite unusual to see cows swimming - it's about 100 metres they swim and there usually isn't too much resistance," he said.

It's part of a process that begins a few days before the swim, when farmers will electric fence a small parcel of land for the cows to graze in for a number of days before being herded towards the water.

"There are always a few cattle within the group who have done the swim before and they have a bit of memory of where to go and what to do and they lead the pack and the rest will follow.

"If there are any calves in the group, they usually get a bit of a shock because they're just following their mothers and next thing they're up to their neck."

The cows are usually supervised and farmers and rangers make sure there are no passing boats on the narrow channel on Lough Erne the cows have to swim across. "Ideally, we don't want it to be windy or waves on the water," said Mr Scott.

"Going way back this would have been a traditional practice, not just in Fermanagh but in Strangford Lough. I don't think there's anywhere else in Fermanagh now where it happens," he said.

Belfast Telegraph