We left Hawick on Saturday morning, ponies a mite too refreshed from their day off - cantering down the A7 with Micky and Magic racing two horses galloping around in the adjacent field wasn't on my agenda, particularly not with two motorbikes trying to overtake and an oncoming coach.
I'd planned to ride down the Waverley Way, a disused railway line, but Sheila's neighbours quite rightly said it had to be worth trying to follow exactly the way the drovers went, even though no-one could tell me how passable it would be. Knowing that I am following exactly in their footsteps has been one of the real highlights of my ride so far. It wasn't straightforward getting there, the path shown on the map no longer existing in places, but well worth the effort to reach Peelbraehope, the remains of a steading in the forest with a plaque on a stone plinth confirming that here once stood the home of the Elliott's, and that this was for many years a key meeting place and overnight stance on the drove route south from the Highlands.
On through the forest, both the drove road and the path marked on the OS map disappeared altogether, not into bog but dense conifers. Magic knew full well that scrabbling under low branches was not what a responsible pack pony should do for fear of losing her load, but there was no other way to get up above the trees, and with a bit more encouragement she trustingly followed me and Micky with her eyes closed. It was worth the struggle to find ourselves on Maiden Paps with fantastic panorama across the Borders.
Just as well it's been so dry, or perhaps we wouldn't have negotiated the deep peat hags beyond that through to Sundhope, which my research before I set off told me was the way the drovers went. Then down the road to Hermitage in a rare glimmer of sunshine, lightened still further by realising that I was watching not a huge buzzard but a golden eagle.
We camped overnight at Hewis Bridge, where Debbie and Peter had been persuaded to provide a field for two ponies and a nutter they had never met before. What a treat to be fed as well as made so welcome before we climbed up to cross the border into England at Bloody Bush yesterday, and down through Kielder Forest to Falstone. The huge reservoir limited just how authentic our route could be, but we enjoyed trotting across the dam (and a surprise picnic provided en route by Sally and Zoe and a wonderful evening with Mary - bet the drovers wished they had met such welcoming people).
This mornin we've followed the twin dykes which mark the old drove road through to Bellingham. I've ridden through Slaty Ford years ago, but it took on whole new meaning now knowing that huge herds of cattle had paddled through the ford and up the grassy track. Stopped at Lanehead to take a photo of Drovers House, just near the crossroads, a man told me that this was indeed another renowned stopping off point for the drovers. whoopee.
Over 400 miles behind us, overnight with friends near Bellingham, on to Hexham tomorrow.