Friday got off to a good start with Mike,on whose farm I had camped the previous night, insisting he get out his barbecue and feed me Lincolnshire sausages for breakfast. with a lace tablecloth on the picnic table in the garden, no less. My sense of self-indulgence at enjoying good company and a lazy breakfast was made all the more so when Mike told me about his wife's death from cancer 8 years previously. Like so many of the people I have stayed with, he wasn't aware I was raising money for Cancer Research when he agreed to let me pitch my tent. I left feeling just how lucky I am to be doing something I've wanted to for so long, while there's still chance, never knowing what tomorrow mgiht bring.
We rode down quiet lanes, between fields being cut for turf, and others of carrots being irrigated, of linseed and wheat, wondering how different this part of the country was several hundreds years ago. Sitting by the side of the Trent while the ponies had 5 minutes grazing some lush grass, I asked the man who came over from a neighbouring house if he knew when all the drainage had happened. Late 19th century, pretty much at the end of long distance droving, so the drovers had only the River Idle to cross, not its wonderfully named "mother drain" and all the other tributary drains which make it possible to farm this area so intensively. Sitting on a wall chatting over a cup of tea he had generously brought over, we were laughing at the Environment Agency warning sign which said "Danger, steep drop", when the wall was about 18" high, and the drop into the River Trent some yards distant was so obvious it was hard to understand why anyone would put a sign up. Anyway, our discussion about litigious societies, court cases and exposure to risk led onto discussion about how many of the most worthwhile things in life involved some risk - in his view (perhaps my mum had been onto him) my riding alone from Skye to Smithfield, which he put in the same category as him sailing around the world, which he'd done alone many years ago. Riding through Britain could hardly compare, but what a fascinating man, and what a fantastic way to pass half an hour, hearing about somebody else's life and passions. And how his last wife died of cancer and now his new wife was too ill, also from cancer, to come across and chat with us.
It didn't leave me morbid, but really happy with my lot, realising that as the poster I used to have on my office door said, happiness is not a station you arrive at but a manner of travelling. I might not have felt or said the same thing the previous evening, but I realised that as the days, weeks and miles have passed since I set off from Skye, my contentment with life has grown. I don't mean to go all philosophical, but there really is a lot to be said for travelling on horseback, or with horses, at a snail's (or drover's) pace through the countryside, with time to take everything in, to think, to meet people, watch the world go by and put back into perspective all those things which bug me at home. I'm sure it's also to do with paring life down to the bare essentials: carrying everything you need with you, on your back (or your horse's), knowing that you are completely self-suffcient (provided kind people appear every so often volunteering cups of tea or offering unanticipated meals). And realising how cluttered I have allowed life, and my brain, to become.
I knew I was hassled in the few months before I set off, not least trying to get everything organised to take a couple of months out of life, and off work, but I wasn't aware that I was particularly low. More to the point, I set off in pursuit of the drovers, rather than happiness, but I keep thinking of the title of a book lying by my bedside back home, waiting for me to find time to read it "cycling back to happiness" and I realise that without me realising it, a sort of all pevading happiness has crept up on me. Everyone who knows me who's seen me in the past few weeks has said how well I look (which I'm sure means fat, no matter what they say), and that I'm happier and more relaxed than they've ever seen me. Or perhaps I'm just so tired and punch drunk that I'm immune to feeling anything else any more. Whatever, I'll just keep on going the way I am and make the most of it.