I am no stranger to the seaside town of Llandudno, and even though the story has hit the headlines worldwide, nothing can quite prepare you for the sight of familiar landmarks populated not by tourists and townsfolk but by four-legged invaders.
The exotic Kashmiri goats first came down from the hills in the first lockdown and stayed. Now there are more of them than ever, still smelly and even bolder.
They’ve popped into a local hotel, queued up outside a care home at dinner time hoping for a meal, and visited the local service station, as well eating any vegetation they can get their teeth on.
I’m here to find out how the locals in the North Wales resort are coping.
And where better to start than with the mayor of Goat Town.
Angela O’Grady says the animals are unfazed at sharing the streets with people and are comfortable in front of the camera.
“You can go right up to them and take pictures,” she says. “They’re not bothered – they just carry on posing.”
The Kashmiri goats hit the headlines last spring when they invaded the town during the first lockdown.
They were popular visitors and brought much-needed cheer as the nation got used to life under coronavirus restrictions.
But now there are more of them, because the nanny goats did not get the contraceptive jab they were due last year – resulting in three times as many kids as usual. As their numbers increase, the goats are getting bolder and cheekier.
I have been a lifelong regular visitor to the elegant town, but pulling up in sight of the seafront I do a double-take at the sight of a herd tucking into someone’s prized hedge.
The billy goats have been rampaging around town – dawdling in the Asda Car park, chilling out near Primark and even flash-mobbing the Mostyn Broadway Service Station, to the disbelief of worker Rukhsar Yaseem.
One care home found 25 of them on the doorstep, drawn to the smell of that night’s dinner. One particularly sophisticated goat even checked into a hotel…
“It’s surreal to go shopping and see them in the supermarket car park,” says Mayor O’Grady, 62.
“They don’t seem frightened of us any more. But it’s their town really – they were here long before us.”
The goats have been in Llandudno since the late 1800s when Queen Victoria gave local landowner Lord Mostyn a pair.
He brought them to the Great Orme headland, which towers over the town – but now they are branching out into new territory up to two miles further than usual. Well, the males are.
Councillor David Hawkins says: “The nannies and the kids stay on the safety of the Orme and the billy goats come into town – they’re the ones gallivanting around.”
Sound familiar? Mr Hawkins is speaking yards from the police station, where a herd are merrily munching away on whatever vegetation there is, before moving on the to the nearby courthouse.
The goats are so popular that when local hospice charity St David’s launched a range of T-shirts featuring the animals it raised record amounts of cash. Now there are cuddly toy goats too. But in real life you would not want to get too close to them.
While the billies are not aggressive, they do have scary-looking horns which could do some serious damage.
And, well… they don’t smell great.
The website llandudno.com describes it as a “rank odour…strong, musty and compelling (a bit stinky)”. Or as councillor Francis Davies, 66, puts it: “They’re lovely goats, but you can smell them before you see them.”
There is no doubt that the residents of Llandudno love them, though. (Well, most of them do, anyway.) Hilda Davison, 55, deputy manager of Brigadoon Care Home, shows off a photo she has just taken of a goat on a nearby main road.
“I’ve got more pictures of the goats on my phone than I have of my family,” she says.
“I saw this one on the way to work. He was just standing there. Didn’t move.
“A man with a dog came past and we thought the goat would be terrified of the dog and move. No way! Didn’t bat an eyelid.”
Her colleague, senior carer Ceri Jones, 27, recounts the Friday when they were mobbed by hungry goats.
She says: “We were cooking fish and chips, and they could obviously smell it. “
About 25 turned up outside the front door. The residents loved it. It’s entertainment on your doorstep.”
Ceri has been one of the main chroniclers of the town’s goat invasion.
Her only complaint? “They poo in my garden,” she says. “That’s not good.”
The goats are certainly making themselves comfortable – sometimes perhaps a bit too comfortable.
One night Tracey Staerkle, 53, owner of Belle Vue House holiday apartment complex, was woken by a loud noise.
She and her daughter Joey, 24, who was also at the seafront property, immediately went to investigate.
“It was around 2am,” says Tracey. “I could hear footsteps and movement. I thought it was an intruder. I was terrified. My daughter was in another room so I called her over. She grabbed her phone and stood behind me, ready to call the police as I slowly opened the door to see what was going on. I opened the door slowly…and there was the goat.”
The lone animal had strolled through an unlocked door into the reception area as if looking for a holiday let.
He was about to climb the stairs when Tracey and Joey shooed him out. “They are actually very tame and slightly on the dopey side really,” says Tracey.
“So I just stood in front of him and said ‘come on, out you go’. He left a few droppings and just calmly walked out.”
Though this is the biggest invasion by the goats, they have been frequent visitors from Great Orme.
Tracey’s property is at the foot of the limestone headland, and she is used to seeing them. And, having won Llandudno in Bloom several times, she is aware of the havoc they wreak for gardeners.
“I’ve seen over 30 in my garden at times,” she says. “One year they munched loads of my flowers and stamped on my plants three days before the judges came around. I had to dash to the nursery and replant at top speed.”
She adds: “I know they can be a right pain – they’ve damaged my garden and hedge so many times. But they are nice to look at.”
But now they are damaging gardens further into town and in bigger numbers – and other residents are not so welcoming.
I see one elderly gent banging a spoon on a metal saucepan to shoo invading goats away. Gardens are full of chewed-down shrubs and plants.
Ayad Mawla, 52, who works in computing, looks resignedly out at his wrecked garden. “They’ve eaten all my tulips,” he says. “I’ve planted rosemary, lavender and oregano instead as I’ve heard they don’t like them.”
Nearby, pensioner Mike Hamlett watches the goats rampage through his garden.
He says: “We’re fighting a losing battle here. In the 25 years I’ve been living here I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The council is well aware of the problems. One major concern is that one herd of goats have travelled as far as two miles away to the Craig Y Don area on the other side of the town, and appear to be settling there.
And when lockdown is lifted there are genuine fears for the safety of the animals when tourist traffic returns, if the herds do not retreat voluntarily.
Cllr Davies says: “Our biggest worry is if one has an accident and gets killed.
“We don’t mind them roaming, but now is the time to act.”
Meetings to discuss how to get the wandering goats to go home – and stay home – are now under way.
Mayor O’Grady says: “We are getting a bit concerned for their safety so we’re discussing the best way to get them back to the Orme safely.”