After years of dreaming and months of planning, things are finally coming together for my ride following in the footsteps of the drovers from Skye to Smithfield.
The first stage was identifying which routes the drovers used as they herded cattle south from Scotland to market in London, which sections of drove road still exist and which are passable on horseback. Whole stretches are now under tarmac, including parts of the Great North Road. My trusty steeds may be good in traffic, but the A1 is hardly what I had in mind riding along! So then I've had to go back to my history books to identify other routes used by the drovers, or find suitable alternatives. North of the border, deteriorating drainage is more of a problem, prompting endless phone calls to stalkers, landowners and others who share my passion for riding historic tracks to determine just how bottomless the bogs suggested by my maps, and to identify ways round where necessary. Then there are routes truncated by reservoirs, cattle grids to cross, and the locked gates which I will only get through if I find out who has a key and can persuade them to unlock it for me at the right time, on the right day.
Prompted by the imminent arrival of a journalist from the local newspaper, on Tuesday I drew a very long black line on a huge map of Britain showing roughly my 1,000 mile route from Skye, through the Highlands, over the Pentlands and Southern Uplands, down the east side of England to the traditional fattening grounds in Norfolk. I'm still deciding which way to go on the last leg through to London, but it's really exciting to see how the route for my Drovers' Footsteps ride compares to that which we rode from John O'Groats to Lands End in 2006. And as Elsa said last night, when I've marked on my map where else I've ridden, then I can clearly see which bits of Britain remain for me to explore with my ponies.