Finding somewhere safe to stay overnight, ideally with grass for the ponies, has been one of the hardest parts of this trip. There are parts of the country - such as Exmoor and the North Norfolk Coast - where there seem to be umpteen horse and rider B&Bs or farm B&Bs which can be persuaded to put up a pony as well as humans, but the route I've been travelling seems to miss them all, and given that I set out to follow the footsteps of the drovers rather than just go for a plod around Britain, I've wanted to stick as close to the right route as I can. In an ideal world I would have had it all planned before I set out, but hey, ho, we don't live in an ideal world, and when Elsa and I did that riding from John O'Groats to Lands End four years ago, it put a gun against our heads the whole way to keep to schedule. There just wasn't time to get it all together before I set out: fulfilling work commitments and satisfying my conscience that I had done right by my kids and the rest of the menagerie before deserting them for the summer necessrily took priority,and I trusted that I could sort the rest out along the way.
As Monday was quite a short day, I had the evening to myself to organise the week ahead. Having decided on my route (most of which I had marked up on my OS maps with highlighter pens before I left home) I worked out 20 miles from where I was staying south of Lincoln, which would take me to Oasby, and then searched on the internet with my laptop for suitable accommodation. After half an hour searching first under farm B&Bs, then livery yards, riding schools, and eventually for any accommodation whatsoever within a 10 mile radius, the only place I could find was a holiday cottage to rent, which mentioned it was on a farm. So I glibly rung to ask if they could suggest anywhere with some grass I could put the ponies. How lucky was I that with barely a second's hesitation, the owner of said cottage had not only offered a field for the ponies, but agreed to me putting my tent in his garden, adding that he would have invited me to stay in the house but he thought it was perhaps improper with his wife away. But whether it's because Micky, Magic and I arrived looking quite so exhausted or because he is one of the most chivalrous gentlemen I have ever met, Nigel insisted that I must stay in the house, reassuring me that I would be completely safe as he would be the other end of the house. And that we dine at a local pub instead of my sitting in my tent eating the squashed packet of oatcakes I had planned for tea. And as the lump which had mysteriously appeared on Magic's back at Yarm 10 days ago looked a bit tender, perhaps I might consider staying over an extra day to give us all a rest.
There can't be many people who are prepared to welcome complete stranger sinto their house and horses into their paddocks, and then go off to work leaving the stranger with the run of the place. The fact that it was pouring down on Wednesday morning just reinforced the fact that it was like a haven in a storm, welcome respite, opportunity not only for ponies to enjoy a day at good grass, but for me to write a tender for work which I hoped to secure for my return home, which I freely admit had been defeating me when I'd tried to write anything suitably inspired at midnight after a long day in the saddle. The collusion certificate I e-mailed through with my tender for Chris to print and post did not declare that I was helped in preparing my tender by Michael Jackson, a gorgeous young tabby cat, who purred to me all day and helped tap the keys with me.
With my tender out the way, time to think about droving again. It was only when I looked closely at my map to plan my onward journey that I found my ponies and I had been staying at Cow Common, from what I can work out, bang on the route of the drovers. Whoopee.