A RETIRED butcher ran the gauntlet of animal rights activists as he exercised an ancient right to drive a flock of sheep across a London bridge.

Bryan Cockburn, from Bedale, North Yorkshire, was one of 17 members of the Worshipful Company of Butchers (WCB), all Freemen of the City of London, who took part in the charity fundraising event at the start of an architecture week.

Accompanied by ten shepherds, the Freemen, in full regalia of hats and gowns, drove 30 Herdwick sheep brought from the Lake District along a two-mile route that took them from Borough market, near Southwark Cathedral, across the pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge to Smithfield market.

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But the event was marred by about 30 protesters who hurled abuse at the drovers and tried to block their progress.

Also taking part were the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev Dr Thomas Butler, one of the Sheriffs of London and his wife, and bridge architect Lord Foster.

Mr Cockburn said: "They caused quite a commotion, but we eventually made it to St Paul's Cathedral and Smithfield, where the sheep were penned up. Coming from North Yorkshire, we had never seen anything like it. I think people were under the impression that the sheep were going to be killed, which got them upset, but they were returned to Cumbria from Smithfield.

"I had no idea so many people would be interested in it. I thought we would be going sedately across the bridge, but there must have been 20,000 to 40,000 people with us."

Mr Cockburn, 70, took part in the drive despite having had a replacement artery implanted in his right leg.

He said the 17 WCB members raised about £15,000 for three charities. Mr Cockburn raised about £630.