Sam at Meadowbrook Stables kindly suggested I sleep in their mobile home rather than bother putting my tent,which was very generous, but didn't stop me balking when I learned the next morning that I was being charged £25 per night, per pony, for a stable without any hard food. It's the first time I've been asked to pay anything for the ponies since we set off - not that I don't always offer, but even commercial livery yards have refused to charge us, or asked me to donate the equivalent to Cancer Research. Comfortable though the stables might be, I'm unconvinced about the viability of a horse hotel which charges more than what you pay for most of the human accomodation in Scotland.
From Gedney Fen we rode east along the banks of the South Holland Main Drain, knowing full well that it probably didn't exist in droving days so we weren't being as authentic as we could, but it was the safest, easiest way to get to Sutton Bridge where I had decided to cross the River Nene. The alternative was to go south through Wisbech, which numerous people had advised me against,and not just because of the traffic and very busy roads. Magic once again excelled herself clattering over Sutton Bridge, with Micky following dutifully behind, but well out in the middle of the road as we crossed the bridge to stop the caravan right on our tail getting any silly ideas about trying to squash past and overtake. The A17 was even busier than the day before, and the parallel cycle track had barriers too narrow for a horse, so we opted for a track along a field headland. Even away from the traffic, and making comparatively good time, spirits started sinking again with the ponies only too ready to take advantage of my stiff, sore fingers which were still struggling with the reins, and both arms not a lot better. Having missed tea the night before and eaten only a few oatcakes for breakfast, I wasn't sure if I was also suffering from a crash in sugar levels, but was too tired to feel hungry, or to bother stopping to see what else I could find in my saddlebags to restore energy.
Riding into Walpole Cross keys I spotted a garage, which immediately raised my hopes. I asked the man at the petrol pumps if he sold anything but fuel, such as drinks. "Nope" came the reply. Oh well,said I, trying to be cheerful, there's a pub marked on my map just up the road. "It's shut" he said, helpfully. So is there a shop, I ask. "Nope". Thanks a bundle.
With hopes falsely raised and now dashed, I felt even more dejected than I did before, so decided to sit down for a few minutes on a bench with a convenient lamp-post and grass for the ponies. There am I on the phone trying to arrange where to stay and a car stops, out get two women and two girls, intrigued to know where I'm going, and before I know it I am back at their house being plied with a cup of tea,a cheese sandwich beautifully garnished with apple and cherry tomatoes, all enjoyed form the comfort of a camping chair which they thoughtfully produced. Thank you Sue and co. for revigorating me and for your interest and enthusiasm. I couldn't have met you at a better time.
Having sorted somewhere to stay near Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen, Micky, Magic and I cut south on quiet roads down to St. John's Highway and Tilney St. Lawrence, where to my great relief the roadsigns and wide verges suggested I was back on the trail of the drovers again. Which cheered me up enough that I really didn't care when the heavens opened and in the half hour torrential downpour we got utterly drenched. Our skin is waterproof, and there are things rain cannot dampen. Nevertheless it was a relief not only for it to be warm rain, but to arrive at Strawberry Fields to find a warm welcome and a lovely paddock for the ponies. And having thought I might well miss tea again, instead I sat and enjoyed a very welcome meal hearing about Mouse's past exploits with her lovely Dales pony Jake, including a coast to coast drive from the Solway across to Northumberland which coincided with part of my route.