Monday 2 August 2010

South from York to Selby

I've no idea why Magic threw such a tantrum when she saw the exercise cart. She's well used to seeing me driving my other ponies, and excels herself pulling tyres around the field, so I can't understand what it was that so offended her, nor was I really interested - if you were sandwiched between a bus and a lorry on a horse on its hind legs who had wrapped the lead rope around your other pony, I suspect you too might loose patience.

Suffice to say that after a serious discussion on the pavement about the wording of an advertisement for Magic to go on the Fell Pony Society sales list, she behaved impeccably for the rest of the day, utterly responsive to my voice, leg and every whim, and (thankfully) totally unresponsive to the endless traffic. Even the fire engines, ambulances and police cars which went past with sirens blaring and lights flashing failed to phase her. Micky trolled along behind with his nose tight on her tail, happily lost in his own little world, and secretly gloating that he had stood still and put not a foot wrong when Magic lost it with the exercise cart. Those who knew Micky in his whirling dirvish days of no brakes at Pony Club (or come to that, those who met him galloping loose up Gypsy Glen only a few weeks back, or cantering up A&) would never believe that this is one and the same pony who veryone keeps saying is so laid back and docile - hardly a word I could ever previously have associated with Micky. I am not deceived as I know what lurks under that long forelock and that he's only biding his time!

What really hit home to me as I rode from York was not just how fast everyone else was going and wondering why, but the fact that in this day and age there seems to be no place for horses on the road, even for those prepared to risk life and limb to contend with the traffic. Horses aren't legally allowed on the pavement, and in places like York where Sustrans have so successfully developed cycle lanes along which endless push-bikes whizz at similar speed to the cars, the actual carriageway is now so reduced in width that there's hardly space for vehicles, let alone two fat fell ponies. A far cry from the days when cattle were driven through the streets - or Black Beauty come to that.

I celebrated having survived riding through the middle of York with a can of apple juice at a handy off licence I found which conveniently had a door right on the corner from which I could shout my request without letting go of the ponies. Micky and Magic's treat was 5 minutes grazing on York Race Course. That was until a security guard appeared, of the "now then, now then, what's going on 'ere?" type, who failed to be impressed by my saying that the ponies had taken literally the sign saying "Please help us keep York Race course tidy" and were doing their bit by mowing the grass. So on we went.

Some of the Scottish cattle never went further than York, being sold in the market there, but many of them continued south via Selby and Doncaster on their way towards Smithfield. No-one has been able to tell me exactly which way they went, and to be honest there isn't a lot of choice when you take account of the limited river, canal, motorway and railway crossings. The Trans Pennine Trail was perhaps a bit of a cheat, but I told myself was still relevant given that the railways were what caused the demise of long distance cattle droving. The number of bikes and joggers confirmed the popularity of this long distance route with cyclists and those on foot, and we even met a couple of horse-riders (whose horses spooked at the sight of a pack pony), but Micky, Magic and I found it pretty tedious walking along a confined surfaced path camouflaged between hedges along which it's easy to loose touch with the surrounding countryside.

Having travelled 28 miles since we set off that morning, it was a relief to get to Glade Farm at Escrick, which officially does horse and rider B&B, but because I hadn't got my act together sufficiently in advance already had a house full. That didn't mean I wasn't made welcome. Vicky was only too willing to let me pitch my tent in the garden and insisted on cooking me a slap-up meal instead of the packet of Doritos which were destined for my tea. To be honest crawling into my sleeping bag under a glorious full moon, I was much happier outside than in, all the better after the luxury of a hot bath.

Guilt returned next morning, not just at having eaten well, but at the generosity of complete strangers, which I really dont' feel I deserve, but hugely appreciate. After telling her how Micky's back was improving but I was still being very careful to keep to a walk rather than risk aggravating it by trotting, Sue (who keeps her horse at Vicky's) sent us on our way with a lovely soft brown natural sheepskin rug which I've put straight on his back under the huge felt and other pads which I use under the pack saddle. Only because Sue gave it specifically to Micky have I resisted putting it on top of my riding saddle or using it to sleep on at night.

Wednesday last week we followed the Trans Pennine Trail again down towards Selby, stopping to post a bundle of used maps home at a village shop with a convenient driveway next to it in which to park M&M. I came out of the shop feeling very smug, only to find that Magic had done a Houdini trick with her lead rope and was anxiously trying to find where I'd gone. Just as well there hadn't been a queue or I don't imagine the cut flowers for sale outside the shop would have survived much longer.

Selby wasn't exactly the prettiest of places, with its huge flour mills now redundant and the credit crunch having halted plans to develop them into a new shopping centre, but having persuaded M&M to practice their gymnastics around some barriers, we got onto a canal tow path which we walked idly along for a few miles before rejoining the Trans Pennine Trail across a disused airfield. All of which was calm before the storm. As we diced with death walking several miles down the A19 I tried to distract myself with an alternative to "As I was going to St Ives I met a man with 7 Wives". I only got as far as "As I was walking to Smithfield Market, I sometimes thought that I would cark it ..."

We turned off at Eggborough Power Station, which together with Drax and another close by has at times generated 15-20% of the UK's electricity. Now the local mines have closed apparently it is being fed with coal imported from Australia, the logic of which defeats me.

We stayed overnight with friends of a friend, embarassed once more by hospitality from people who had never previously met me but who didn't hesitate to make us welcome, or to ring friends of theirs to arrange somewhere for me to camp the following night beyond Epworth, an area where I had anticipated (rightly as it proved) difficulties finding anywhere to stay because most of the land is intensively cropped, with the small bits of grass there are stocked to the limit with herds of black and white travellers' ponies, always accompanied by stallions eager to have their wicked way with Magic.

1 comment:

  1. There is a good reason we live up here then! Sounds a terrible place to be.uhh!

    Still doing well!