At last having dropped off the hills into much more civilised (some would say!) country, my mobile broadband has decided to work, now the challenge is squashing the whole of the last week into the limited remaining battery, and limited time before sleep overcomes me. I was interrupted yesterday by the arrival of Chris, who after a very last minute arrangement after he finished bringing in the hay at midnight on Friday, drove down from our home near Lockerbie to take me to a friend's birthday ceilidh last night. Micky and Magic have enjoyed the weekend off at Trentfield Farm,Laneham, between Gainsborough and Lincoln, where we arrived on Friday night soaking wet. Elaine and John don't usually accommodate visiting horses, and my sturdy Fell ponies are very different to their smart Irish Sports Horses, but they could not have made us more welcome, insisting I stay in their plush horsebox rather than pitch my tent in the pouring rain. It would have been rude to refuse!
Micky, Magic and I have ridden over 600 miles since we left Skye 5 weeks ago. From Yarm we followed in the foosteps of the drovers from Yarm to Swainby, from where we climbed up Scarth Nick onto the North Yorks Moors. A plaque on an old lime kiln by the side of the road provided a welcome excuse to get my breath back, and to ponder whether the lime kiln was there when the drovers walked this route with their cattle. I concluded only in the latter years of droving.
Micky and Magic remain more interested in stuffing their faces than in their cultural education or the history of our countryside, but that does nothing to deter my attempts to educate them. Only four years ago Elsa feined disinterest in the history of the routes we rode from John O'Groats to Lands End, but by the time she set off riding with me for the first week of my trip this year, I was amazed how much she knew and how interested she had become in where the drovers went and why, old buildings we passed along the way, the underlying geology and flowers it supports. I'd get a mighty shock if my ponies turned round and spoke, but I live in hope they too will one day show a bit more interest than they have so far when I discuss things with them.
My excitement at hitting what I thought was the Hambledon Drove Road up on the moors was such that I forgot to look at my map. Or it could have been the sweat dripping into my eyes. Either way, it was only when I'd fought through 200 yds of bracken on a narrow track that I saw what was really the old drove road and had to retrace my steps back to the road, where I met a man who asked where I was going. When I told him I was headed for London, via Norwich, following old drove roads, he said he knew all about me. To be honest, in Scotland I'd got well used to people who'd seen me on TV, heard about my trip on Radio Scotland or read about it in the press stopping me to say that they knew who I was that I'm afraid that I took it less than seriously when he said he was a famous psychic who had received a message saying he would meet a woman with two mules heading for York. Magic clearly took very seriously that anyone dared call her a mule, and decided if that's what they thought she might as well behave like one for the rest of the day. I just wished said man's psychic powers had told him that while I was talking to him, the ice cream van down the road in the car park was driving off depriving me of the lolly I'd been looking forward to.
It was great to be back on a "real" drove road in the form of an ancient track across the hills, with spectacular views across the Vale of York, but after the mountains of Scotland the Hambledon Drove seemed rather tame. Most disappointing of all was the lack of anything to tell anyone about the history of this route. A small plaque on the wall next to the old pub sign at Chequers tells anyone who dares ignore the large Private signs that this was for many years a droving inn, but otherwise the information boards I passed referred only to breeding moorland birds, and none of the numerous people I met along my way had any idea that thousands upon thousands of cattle had walked this way to market over many hundreds of years.
As we crossed the Helmsley Road above Sutton Bank by the Hambledon Inn, I bid fond farewell to the moors, realising that these were the last real hills I'm likely to see between here and London. As in places over the moors, the old drove road which leads down off the hills is down to bedrock in places, little changed from how it must have been years ago, although much either side of the original track is very different.
Having walked all the way on foot on Sunday to make it easier for the ponies, on Monday I opted for a short day. What a treat to stop for a rest at lunchtime by the side of a memorial chapel in the company of five lovely ladies from Redcar out for their weekly walk. And people ask if I get lonely. Instead travelling alone seems to be a recipe for meeting interesting people, all the better when I'm not in a rush and have time to learn more about them and what inspires them in life.
Monday night was a treat, staying at Thornton Lodge near Easingwold. Neither ponies nor I were up for trying out the UK Chasers course, but we thoroughly enjoyed meeting proprietor Sue, who (unbeknown to me when I rung two days previously to book) had recently ridden across New Zealand inspired by one of her close friends who had died very suddenly of cancer. A fancy meal out courtesy of Angie, my good friend from Pickering, was also a real treat after crumbled oatcakes for tea the previous night.
Tuesday we rode on down the quiet lanes and tracks used by the drovers. If only every lunchtime stop on a bit of grass when I took the ponies' saddles off to air their backs was accompanied by a cup of tea and a piece of home made cake volunteered by the owner of a nearby house who knew that this was where the drovers used to halt for a rest before hitting York.
Having been completedly unphased by the busy road we rode down into York, Micky took exception to some balloons bouncing around outside a kids' play area, and Magic then threw a complete tantrum when she saw a traveller and his trotter in an exercise cart.