Monday, 30 May 2011

Maps of what we have done so far

I'm just sitting in the tent looking out at the horses that have spent the last ten minutes racing around their field bucking and immensely enjoying themselves - let nobody say I overwork my horses on this trip :o)

Here are the maps of what we have done so far and then there are a few days along the Pennine Bridleway. We'll be leaving it by Sedbergh to go over to the Lake District.

Days 1 & 2, 47 miles
We did about 20 on the first day and camped in a field and spent the second night at Lluest Horse and Pony Trust.

Days 3 - 7, 46 miles
The first day of this part, we only went about 7 miles and camped out in the Brecon Beacons, then there was a very wet day with 21 miles and another short one of only about 8

Days 7 - 10, 34 miles
Here we had the lovely "outdoor shower" and a day off

Days 10 - 13, 58 miles

Days 13 - 17, 45 miles

Days 17 - 19 and onto the Pennine Bridleway, 37 miles

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Days 22 - 24

Here we are again and today I am actually doing just about exactly what I had imagined doing of an evening while using the computer, but have never done until now: sitting in a corner on the straw with the gadgets plugged in :o)
Having not been able to upload any sensible amount of pictures last time, here are some better ones, I hope. Today it's more about looking at pictures than reading. Just click on them to enlarge.
After that wet night, we barely managed to set off in the morning without getting wet while packing. The tent went in the pannier soaking wet, though I managed to cover everything else and only the stuff designed to get wet actually did.
Wonderfully, in the morning, I was invited in to have a very welcome shower - thank you! The last one had been a while before... and of course I didn't want to disturb people on passing them too closely :o) Okay, not that bad (at least that's what my nose tells me).
We have now been in the Peak District for a few days following the Pennine Bridleway. Or at least we were until this afternoon when it suddenly stopped at a road and there were no more signs to be found. A good search on the GPS showed me that it did indeed continue, but that we first had to go along a few roads and through a town before we got back on it. Supposedly those are the bits of the bridleway that they cannot promote because they include roads, so they just choose not to mark them at all?
Dino has developed a keen sense for his width with all baggage included and is negotiating the gets superbly. Artax, on the other hand, needs to be clearly guided so that he doesn't try to damage his baggage. He has unfortunately already torn a strap off his saddle bags, so I must see about getting a replacement in the near future or try out my sewing skills and hope they work.
The Peak District is really nice with some good paths to go along, luckily not quite as many gates in general as on the first day - though I am now walking 90%, which may be why I am not feeling them as much as I was when I had to get off and on every time something was in the way.
A few days ago, I intelligently sent part of Dino's harness that had not been needed and was just unnecessary weight - the bit to stop the saddle from slipping forward when going downhill - home with my parents... and, just imagine, with all the hills at the moment, his saddle moved horribly much yesterday. :o( Today it started off the same, so after 10km with a thick lead rope round his back and still a little movement, I decided to change pack horses. Artax got the pack saddle on for the first time and Dino got to take just the saddle and the small bags and seemed very happy while Artax didn't seem at all unhappy about having to take the pack saddle. He has got used to all sorts of crazy things in his life from pack bags to children and teenagers doing vaulting on him, so it would have been strange if he had complained.
It is amazing how much smaller everything seems when it is on big Artax! I think we will do the same again tomorrow, even if that means I cannot ride at all. Well, will make me fitter! :o)
One of the amazing things about the Pennine Bridelway - sorry if I sound like the total tourist I am - are these amazing equestrian crossings at roads. Just have a look at these pictures. In some places the buttons to press are even at horse height and you have to stretch to press them if you are walking at the time.
I think that is all again for how. Once again, please don't go looking for typos, I don't always manage to proofread. And many thanks to everybody for all your kind comments, which I alreays enjoy reading!
P.S. Notice how nicely Dazzy can just go on his own when there are no cars around? He is really well behaved and always stays close to his friends, but can take the opportunity to eat a bit on the way and then catch up. when we are about 50 feet away.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Days 17 - 21

Just a quick update on the last 20% of my battery life... although I might just manage to get it charged up again a little later - hopefully.

Having left the place on day 17, we ended up in beautiful countryside again by the afternoon and began to climb up into the Peak District. Roads were quieter again and there were not many houses about. Fields had few animals and countless acres were being grown for silage - which worried me a little as that doesn't help when you're looking for a place to spend the night.

We got to Waterhouses in the evening and I decided to ask at the first place where I could see horses, but unfortunately they only had the one field, but the lady phoned around and found another place where she took me to have a look in the car while the ponies waited at her place... but it was 3 miles in the wrong direction and had hardly any grass. So we tried the local livery stable where nobody was to be found. Finally she managed to find me a place in the village where the ponies could have been on a lovely field with the cows, but I left them in a little field where normally the chickens and geese go, but it had lovely grass and they had a good night while I camped between the trees. I also got my first chips with salt and vinegar of the trip hmmmmm, that was a welcome change. Combined with beans it they even made for a not completely useless meal.

The next day we went further into the Peak District towards where my GPS planning ended and where the Pennine Bridleway should have crossed our path - but it didn't. I decided we should go a little further eastwards where there was a promising looking bridleway that turned out to be what we were looking for. The bridleway in that area is a disused railway line that has been made into a path and is good to ride on. A little boring maybe, but nice enough.

We were stopped by somebody at the visitors' centre and advised to ask at a certain farm about 3/4 mile off the route, but unfortunately they didn't want to have us for the night. Going back along the road towards the bridleway, however, we stopped at another farm where we were received very warmly and allowed to use their large camping field for the night. Then the night turned into two nights because the ponies were in need of a rest. They enjoyed the calf pellets they were given and we all enjoyed an easy day.

My Mum and Dad even came round - 5 hours in the car - to say hello and do a little equipment change now that we knew exactly what we needed and what not. It was great and they brought some really tasty food with them! :o)

The evening brought rain and it rained off and on throughout the night... and the morning... and the whole next day for that matter. I woke up at 6, as usual to get us all ready to go, but couldn't bring myself to do the job with the rain falling outside. Everytime it stopped and I started to get ready to go, it would inevitably start raining again. So I spent another three hours in the tent reading Pride & Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy is about to ask Eliza to marry him for the first time haha, until there was an acceptable break in the rain and I dived out of the tent in order to really set off.

It must have been quite good timing as it just got worse from the moment the horses were saddled and ready to go. We popped down to the farm to thank the kind people again and were on our way.

Today I refreshed my hate for gates! Gosh, they are horrible! I mean, they are annoying enough when you are alone on one horse without luggage, but with three of them and a dog and panniers, they are just plain annoying! The ponies do a really got job of going through them, but why do British bridleways just have to be covered in them??? We actually came through a place where they sent you through four extra gates and through a field full of cattle and sheep just to save you a few hundred yards of lane - which you had to go on for a mile afterwards anyway. I hope it doesn't continued like that - though I am sure it will - as I will not get to ride for the next week if that's the case!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Days 13 - 16

These have been good days again.

Finally the much desired rain fell last night in large quantities, though I slept though most of it. I did wake up for about five minutes to hear it rain, but woke up in the morning thinking that had been all.

The riding area has not been especially nice lately. We have left Wales and the border area and are now well and truly in England and near big cities. People have changed somewhat, the cars on the roads tend to be big, new and shiny, the villages are quieter during the day because presumably everybody is at work and there has not been very much to look at.

The trip has gone well, though. On Thuraday morning I had a radio interview about the trip, which as exciting, and in the evening I managed to get a good field with sufficient grass in the village of Morten Corbet where there is the ruin of an old castle.

That evening I got visitors and did not spend my weekend alone as usual. Andy and Julien accompanied me for a while and made the whole trip funnier and made a welcome change. In the evening, we asked whether we could stay on the field behind a pub and were made extremely welcome.

The next day it was just Andy and me and we trekked all day until we got almost to Stafford and found a lovely farm with Hereford cattle, but there was nobody to be seen. They did, however, have a list of phone numbers on the door. I rang one of them and the very friendly man said we could stay, explained where the field was and what to be careful of and let us stay on his property without ever having seen us. It was a mysterious place with large trees, good grass and a special sort of look about it and we loved it to bits. It was a pity that there was nobody in the next day to say thank you.

Today has been good. We had to go through the very centre of Stone, which was fun and ended up at a nice horse stable in the country, where I am being very well looked after with a shower, washed clothes, horse food and a good place to charge up all the gadgets!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Days 10, 11 & 12

It seems that it is about time I wrote again. Nothing sooooo special has been happening and the scenery and weather have not been amazingly stunning, so the camera has not had much work lately.

Here is a picture of one of the many friends Maggie has made along the way. She is having so much fun meeting other dogs that she can play with.

It was not so easy to set off from Elizabeth's in the morning. It was so nice and I had to pop into the house for a last cup of tea before the journey continued. Imagine, dear English people, I drink my tea without milk (I am allergic to it) and often enough without sugar. I am just making exceptions now to get more energy. To my way of thinking it does not even taste very good with milk, but that's just me. So, what do you think about what a friend of mine said a while ago? "Isn't it funny that a nation calls a drink its national drink, but has to mix in loads of milk and sugar to make it drinkable." Very interesting thought, I thought.
On day 10 we went up high into the hills again, to Stonewall Hill where they seem to be planning a wind farm and lots of the neighbours are against it. Many have put up signs in protest. As I learnt, the biggest and most obvious yellow one of them at the foot of the hill actually stood somewhere else and seems to have been "moved" by the people who live lower down. They must have liked the look of it and put it in a prime position in their garden.

We were wanting to find a place to stay as we climbed the hill and went for the first place we found having just gone down a little from the peak. There was evidence of horses in the field by the house, so I of course had to go and look. We were immediately allowed to stay, the horses got the meadow and I got to put the tent up in the more wind-protected garden. I even got invited to traditional Sunday dinner with Roast Potatoes and Yorkshire Puddings and the lady was so kind as to do some extra pasta to cater for my veggie needs - so kind!
Day 11 was unspectacular, cool but at least dry all day we ended up going into a town quite late where I had a) wanted to go shopping for some dog food and b) there was a castle that I had wanted to visit. Both of which didn't take place as it was already after opening hours and time to find a place for the night. I thought of staying near the town and doing the above the next morning, but could find nowhere to stay. There were masses of nice land, but seemingly no farm(s) that it belonged to and other fields were clearly almost due to be cut for haylage and co.
Having given up on the idea of staying near the town, we headed up the hill on our planned route and soon found a farm where we were made extremely welcome. The horses got a field that had had sheep in it, but was already growing quite well again, I put my tent up in a sheltered corner and then - hold on - I went and had the BATH that I had been offered on arrival! Wow, how it is to feel like a new person again and also to wash some clothes that were then even perfectly dry by the morning, suspended along the fence on their bungee.

Also, I don't know why I was ever worried about how this ride would go. I had heard so much about fantastic French hospitality on such rides. That part is true, but somebody forgot to mention that the British hospitality is just soooo much better. Imagine, I told the lady we stayed with last night that I had to go to the shops to get some dog food and she offered me their car to go shopping, which I of course didn't want to accept. In the end, she gave me a bag full of their food, she wouldn't let me pay and she gave me enough for a week! So kind!
And something else: yesterday we were walking along a lane when a 4x4 passed us and waved - so far nothing unusual. A moment later the same car came up from behind us and the man said there was a field in the next village where I could let the horses rest. He described where it was and went drove off again. Then, another minute later, he was back with some extra description to really make sure I would find it! And then, as I was sitting on the field eating an apple and a roll, a man came over to me from a company on the other side of the road to offer me a cup of tea. We are really lucky, it seems.

Today has also been nice, we are walking through the countryside of Shropshire and almost at our turning point where we will start heading east over to the Peak District. It is not as hilly as in Wales, but there have been some lovely views. Talking of hills, we are on an extremely hilly field tonight, I have the tent in the neighbour's garden as it has the only flat spot! Photos tomorrow...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Days 5 to 9

We are back again with a little more news.

Having been a little out of touch due to lack of connectivity and blogger being out of action, now everything is working again on our first day off.

It is Saturday and we are at a lovely place with some very nice people and the horses are on a big field with lots of grass, a salt stone and even some muesli, which Dazzy is especially pleased about.

After leaving Sue's wonderful place where we were on the day of the rain, we left late and did just a quite short distance to a village in a valley where we found a place to stay at a farm/campsite. It was lovely to use their utilities and get a good clean up again. The horses were happy on the field with the sheep - surprisingly unafraid sheep that came to greet and then follow them around immediately. Dino, on the other hand, wasn't especially happy about it and chased them away... but then chasing smaller animals is his idea of fun, especially if they are dogs.
Maggie had developed a slight limp the evening before, which worried me a bit. Her first steps in the morning were not very good but, with her boots on a little later, she was fine for the majority of the day. After the short day and another night's rest, she was totally restored and her usual self again. Possibly she had twisted something while playing with another dog as she had been fine all day and her pads cannot have suffered so badly or it would not have been just one leg.

Day six was again short for good measure. We continued through the valley to Crickhowel and climbed up the hill on the other side. Very shortly after, a lady stopped us and offered us a place to stay where she lived and had horses, but it was unfortunately a little off our route. She had a think, made a call, and in no time had another place organised which lay just along the road we were taking anyway.
We stayed with Harry, a friendly farmer of eighty, with a full head of hair and not so many grey ones, who does a lot of charity work himself, and I was pleased about the welcoming cup of tea and use of the bathroom while the ponies got the meadow, Harry's best field with loads of grass at their disposal. We slept wonderfully, Maggie made friends with the farm dogs and had a good play, at last off her lead, and we were up early in the morning to pack up and go on a slightly longer journey again.

We headed further eastwards to the Welsh/English border and then changed direction to go straight northwards along the borderline. After two days on it, I still have not seen Offa's Dyke - it is seeming like quite a myth at the moment, though I have crossed the official footpath numerous times and had it right or left of me at others. As yet, we have clearly not found the mere 37% of it that are apparently open for horses and I am not sure whether we will even use them. If the paths are like most British bridleways, the gates will be so numerous and small, that it will be a nightmare to get Dino and his panniers through them... watch this space.
During the day, which we spent mostly walking alongside a river on a very quiet lane and passing lots of farms with horses and trekking stables offering rides out in the Black Mountains, I finally decided that we would go to the next one in no more than a couple of miles to ask for a field to stay the night. It did not come, at least not soon. We found ourselves going uphill again and ended up in one of the wild rugged and beautiful places where the sheep and ponies live freely.

It was freezing cold despite the sun that did its best, but the wind rendered all its attempts in vain. I began to contemplate spending the night on the hill as I really did not want to make the ponies and Maggie go too far, but decided against it due to the lack of grass and the freezing wind that would definitely have killed the romance of wild camping. The advantages of a good field later on far outweighed any advantage of stopping sooner.
We were delighted to find that the first house on leaving the hill was actually a place with horses and immediately asked whether we could stay. That must have been one of the quickest "yes, of course"s yet and we were given the choice of two fields, one by the house and one a little further away, so we chose the one further away with more grass and a little stream running through it.

Maggie, supposedly tired from a long day's walk, fell in love with Tam's dog, Meg, and spent ages playing with her. Tam was lovely, she is very interested in all sorts of alternatives to the standard pony club methods, iron shoes, dressage and jumping and organised our next night, too.
That was a short walk of 21km again. We went through Haye-on-Wye around midday arousing the usual interest and smiling for the tourists who took piccies of us as we passed through the town and again went up into the hills where we had been sent.

The person whose place we stayed at had had to be contacted in a roundabout way, or rather, she had not yet as she was working. She had a message on her phone, which she heard the next morning, but Tam's niece, who keeps her horse there made the preparations, asked the neighbours to look out for us and to take us to our place. Liz, the owner, found out about our arrival about 30 seconds in advance as she had just passed us while we walked along the road with our goal already in sight.

Having received a lovely warm welcome, tea, food, a barn to put the tent where it was dry and wind protected and with the ponies on a good field, we decided to stay a day longer. I have been riding - no, it seems I don't get enough of it - a couple of times on Liz's trotter that is of course able to tolt, so that has been quite a pleasure. You don't see many gaited horses in this country and most poeple don't seem to know much more about "the fourth or firth gear" than that Iceland Ponies have an extra one. Look out for it, people! It's extremely comfortable and there are lots of breeds that can do it. Actually, Artax can also tolt!
Oh, and this is the best bit - have a look at this shower!
I was offered a bath inside (I don't really like baths) or a shower outside. Well, yes. One normally thinks of a shower outside as being in a little kind of hut, right? I was told where to find it, so grabbed my towel and stuff this morning in order to make use of it... walked round the house and this is what I found! I might mention it was cool with a very cool wind this morning and I had wrapped up in my scarf, fleece and three kinds of t-shirts underneath. To top it, my towel was blown off the nail where I had hung it and was suddenly lying next to me half in a puddle when I opened my eyes after washing off the shampoo! Damn!
But, guess what - it was great! :o) The water was really nice and warm and I am sure the sheep didn't care about what they saw :o)

So, end of stories for now, I should be outside with the boys and not sitting at the computer all day.

Thank you to everybody for reading and please don't mind any typos, I have limited battery life on the laptop and don't really have much time to always proofread.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Days 2, 3 & 4

Apart from a lot of rain yesterday (day 4), it has been absolutely awesome!

On day 2, we were met by a friend along the way, who brought us tea and biscuits which we enjoyed sitting inside a busstop while the ponies happily munched outside. Thanks Julien, great call that! :o)

We spent a lovely 2nd night at Lluest Horse and Pony Trust where we were wonderfully looked after and fed and then set off in the late morning planning to do quite a short day. What I didn't realise was that it was to be even shorter still as we entered a wild part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and were just so struck by the beauty of riding in such a wild area - we have sadly never done that before!

When we came to a picturesque little valley with a river running through it, it was decided - we were spending the night here! Thus the day ended at not even 3pm with the big ones in their paddock by the river and Dazzy a little higher up the hill overlooking everything.

The following morning started with showers, but we eventually managed to pack up everything between the various downpours, but got wet all day long with just little bits of sun in between.

After being sent on twice, we finally found a wonderful little farm where we have been made wonderfully welcome with the ponies getting good food and a field with vast amounts of lush grass for the night. Maggie and I slept in the house and have thoroughly enjoyed it! Many thanks! :o)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Day 1

33.5km today from Beulah to a wonderfully enormous field just after Llanpumsaint, a little village about 7km north of Carmarthen. The horses will surely enjoy every bit they can possibly eat of the grass on the field and Maggie and I are in the tent having eaten and almost thinking about sleeping. Well, I am, she already is in a deep sleep.

There is even a great Internet connection for the netbook here and the second farm I asked at immediately directed me to this field - super, hope it continues like this... :o)

Just a little photo of today... one of our field in the morning as it was already too dark for good pics on arrival.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Thank you!

Just a little break from packing before setting off tomorrow morning... Possibly I'm just starting to get the very first signs of nervousness... Just a little.

Maggie is lying here on the floor next to me dozing peacefully, wholly unaware of what lies before her, and the horses will be happily munching grass and putting on more fat to give them some reserves for the way. I think they enjoy touring, in the end it is quite natural animal behaviour. In the wild they would all cover similar distances in a day, albeit witout a rider or baggage, but it is still more natural than spending their entire time in the same place.

Before leaving, I'd just like to take the opportunity to thank everybody for their support so far.

Thanks to Trelawne Equine for the hoof boots; thanks to Accapi UK for the RuffWear gear for Maggie; thanks to SatMap for the GPS and also special thanks to the staff at Cotswold Carmarthen for their great help, advice and patience. It's not in every shop that they spend two hours with you, even till after closing time! - as you try on boot after boot and moan that your right foot is being squashed... and finally come away with the very first pair you tried. In the end it was actually the left foot that had trouble, the right was perfect from day 1, but they have fixed that now, too.

Well, I'd better get back to my luggage and will write again from the road.

If anybody is along our way - see rough map at the bottom - maybe we can meet up? We would be very grateful for some grass and a place to put the tent at night :o)