Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Days 40 - 45

(Sorry about the lack of photos for various reasons: rain, relatively dull scenery, even more rain, forgetfulness and still more rain.)

Day 40, 14th June

A boring day; I slept an hour longer than usual and took it very easy in the morning with packing up because we were going to a place where I knew somebody, it was only just over 30km and she was not going to be in till at least six o'clock.

The farmer came round quickly in the morning to see that we were all okay and showed me how to get clean tap water out of the pipe for the cattle. It was easier than using the filter bottle and quicker to drink, though I did find through the see-through bottle later in the day that there seemed to be algae in the water – whatever, my stomach is getting tougher by the day.

We had to continue parallel to the motorway for a few miles and then went through Gretna before heading out into the countryside. Everything was flat, we would have had a nice, though slightly hazy view of the Lake District, but it was not worth a photo as there was always a power line in the way. We even had a beautiful scenic view of a half dismantled nuclear power station that we went round. The ground did not seem to glow, but then it was mid afternoon as we went by, so who knows what happens at night.

Despite taking our time, we arrived at just after five, but were luckily not the first. The horses got a little grassy paddock while Maggie and I got a mobile home with a cosy bed for the night and I enjoyed the few hours of sleep that were left after lots of chatting and a good meal.

I got a lot of information on routes in Scotland – and came away quite demotivated about the whole trip. Basically, in the northern part, it boils down to A roads or offroad tracks that may be only designed for hikers and impassable for horses due to width, rocks, styles or locked gates and other places that may be fine to go along for many many miles until you get to a locked gate, which you have to arrange to have opened in advace, and then, in other places tracks are unsuitable for horses as they are dangerously boggy – and possibly more so as Scotland had had the wettest May for many years.

Day 41, 15th June

And another boring day. After a short night, I allowed myself to sleep in till 6.30, quickly put the new routes I had planned out the night before onto the GPS and got ready. It was raining, but at least the forecast for the next two days looked quite promising – though terrible for the ones that followed.

We left at just after nine and went through mostly flat countryside along little roads between fields, saw a couple of small villages, went through Dumfries, which was fun like most towns and round a farm where the ponies could stay on a lovely large field for the night while I put the tent in a perfect spot quite high up and could overlook everything from there.

People, though said to be the most friendly in Scotland, were somewhat more reserved, it seemed. I had cards with information about what we were doing printed before leaving and had handed out five to ten every day to people we had met along the way during the first part of the trip. But in the first few days of Scotland, I needed close to none. Nobody stopped to chat like they had done in Wales and England, some people at least waved out of their cars, but lots looked unfriendly as if we did not belong on their road. It was strange. People we spoke to for any reason were very friendly, but they were not as open as the rest.

Day 42, 16th June

Getting better boredomwise. There were some hills, less power cables, very few villages, lots of friendly people. Something had suddenly changed after passing Dumfries.

We left the friendly farmers' field at about half past nine, I filled my water bottles at the yard and set off after a nice chat. He was about to wash and prepare one of his Highland Cattle for the Highland Show, which was soon to commence, so had a busy morning.

Along the way, a man stopped us, who had a bag of carrots for the ponies and gave me another hand full of doggie treats for Maggie – yum!
On entering Castle Douglas, I was delighted to find a Tesco, though not at the best time as we had done all our shopping just a few days before, but it was lovely to be able to get the essentials there, too. I found a tree in a very practical place outside where the team could wait and graze a bit while I went inside. People were very friendly and a few of them came over to give me a donation before they finished their shopping.

Unlike in many other parts, especially in Wales, the farms we passed were often enormous and few and far between. The farmers were getting in silage and, despite having passed 30km, I just could not really see anywhere directly along our road where I felt like asking whether we could stay.

Finally we arrived in Twynholm, where David Coulthard's father lives and he has a museum with all his cars, and really needed to stop. It was getting late and we had done 42km, so definitely plenty for the day. We went past a field at the start off the village, but it was not clear who it would belong to, then there was a smallholding with lots of sheep, so I was a little apprehensive about asking because the grass was not very long. What decided it was then the fact of the cattle grid across what seemed to be the only entrance, wo we went on down the lane to the next big farm, where we were told they had lots of cattle movements and were about to make silage, so there was unfortunately nothing free. He did, however call his neighbour further down the lane, but he didn't have anything either. The only field he had was currently occupied by donkeys. He sent us up to the village again where there was apparently somebody with lots of smaller bits of land. I never found just who he meant, but a neighbour came out and told us to ask at the sheep place as they also had the field on the other side of their house – one with long grass and only two rams.

I had to tie the ponies to a sign post along the road while I went up the drive to ask as the cattle grid was of course in the way and unfortunately got a “no” because they had had bad experience with horses and their sheep in the past. But the lady did go to ask her husband, who thankfully said “yes”, so we had at long last finally found a good place for the night. I put the tent up in the corner with a wall on one side and a hedge on the other and felt quite pleased with myself, and was then invited in for tea and a bite to eat. I shocked the poor lady by being veggie, but was lucky and still got some nice food and a good cup of tea without milk, of course.

The next morning I woke up to two things: feeling as if I would be sick any moment – though I never actually was sick – and lots and lots of rain. I stayed put reading Sense and Sensibility and dozing in turn till around midday, the gentleman whose place I was at came round onto the field with the Landrover to pick us up and take us to the nice cosy house and feed us. How very kind! So I spent the rest of the day in their house, got lunch and tea and cups of tea and nice conversation.

At the end of the day, I still planned to leave in the morning, but the weather forecast looked horrible and we were all doubtful, so nobody looked very surprised when I went round to the house at 9ish and was then invited to share breakfast and the rest of the day with them. Oh, and a SHOWER (!!!), which had by then become quite urgent, and allowed me to wash the most important clothes at the same time, so I came away not at all smelly any more... niiiiice!

My stomach played up all the time, but we did manage to leave the next morning, on day 45 of the trip with the weather looking better than the forecast had said and my stomach somewhat better.

Day 45, 19th June

With a horrible weather forecast for many days to come, I could not muster the motivation to do the tiny extra loop round the Galloway Forrest Park, that I had decided to do before heading home. Scenery is invariably not so special in the rain and cold and accommodation might be more difficult to find there, so we did a 180 degree turn and went straight back the way we had come the day before.

The ponies were motivated and walked faster than often, though not to their “at home” standards when they know we are heading for home, so I spent all day wondering whether they had really tagged on or whether it was just that they were well rested after two days off. They clearly knew the route backwards, but it did not become evident that it was totally clear to them until we turned off to go to our overnight accommodation and Artax immediately reduced his speed to half of what it had been before.

We were stopped by the police in Castle Douglas! We had just been followed and overtaken by one police car and then, two minutes later, another overtook. I wondered what on earth they could be up to on a quiet Sunday afternoon and then began to have all sorts off thoughts along the lines of “Oh no, what do they want?/I'm not doing anything wrong./They are not going to find a fault in 4 animals with one person and none with a bit, are they?/...” when it became evident that they were more on a social visit. Their car wasn't parked as they would probably on a “normal” visit, they didn't get out together and looked just too friendly.

The lady, as it turned out, lived a few miles along the road we were going to take and she had a field of her own and a friend with lots more where we would be able to spend the night. It was a perfect place for us and only about half a mile off the route, so we were very happy to take up the offer.

The ponies got a field for as long as they wanted and spent the night in a dry barn where I also put the tent to let things really dry off. Even if it was going to rain in the morning, it would be a lot better to start it dry!

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