Saturday night and the pub I was encouraged to go to for tea has a special deal with the B&B I'm staying at in Yarm offering a main course and drink for £6.95. Great, except without asking how big a drink I wanted, they served me a pint of cider, which even though I failed to finish it may not bode well for what I write!
It's a week since we crossed the border into England, so to say that Magic, Micky and I are in another country may sound like stating the obvious, but it really is a world apart from where we've ridden through Scotland for the previous three weeks. Having left the orchid strewn verges and ditches lined with yellow flag iris some 400 miles behind us in the Highlands, this week we've ridden down narrow country lanes lined with bushy hedges studded with gooseberries, and instead of the mountains and moorland we've trogged over, we've been riding between cornfields fringed with poppies. If all that sounds too idyllic and easy-going, then perhaps I should point out that the down side to England (even relatively remote Northumberland)is the volume and speed of traffic. And the fact that whereas in Scotland everyone, but everyone, waved and smiled, for the last week most people have driven past stony-faced and refused to acknowledge my waves. Whether it's because so many people in Scotland were aware what I was doing from TV, radio and press coverage, or just that south of the border so many people seem in such a rush to get who knows where, I don't really know. It's certainly not that there aren't warm and welcoming people here - it's been my good fortune to meet and stay with numerous already.
Tuesday was my birthday, which Zoe and Sally got off to a wonderful start by opening all the gates for the first few miles. I could get used to that, but once we hit the disused railway through to Wark they couldn't get through in the car so we were back to our own devices and Magic's masterful gate opening. From Wark we followed the minor road which the drovers used to travel, along the north (or east?) bank of the North Tyne, through to Barrasford and Chollerton. Every mile I expected Chris to appear with the picnic (and Jake, Elsa and my beloved dogs) he'd promised to bring to celebrate my birthday but as time ticked by and there was still no sign of them, my temper deteriorated in direct proportion to my growing hunger, and by the time they eventually appeared well after 2 pm I wasn't in the mood for conviviality. However it did mean that by then I'd turned off the road and we picnicked on an old drove track, ponies tied either side grazing where the cattle once snatched a bite on their way south. Which for a sad anorak like me is as good as it gets. (And once I'd blown out the candle on the cake Elsa made and porked out a bit, I was able to appreciate seeing my family for a brief while.)
Jake's card was signed "Your son". Whether he thinks because I was away for his birthday the previous day I've completely given up on being a mother, I'm not sure. It was a shame to have to send my cards home again but other than Elsa's suggestion of stringing my cards along my reins, I couldn't really see what I was going to do with them on my way to London. And by then it was chucking it down again anyway.
Tacking up to hit the trail again, we found Micky had a lumpy bit on his back. As Lancer nearly died with tick fever on our ride to Lands End, I couldn't risk not treating Magic and Micky this time, so after talking with the vet, before I left home I treated them both with Spot On, which isn't licensed for horses and some can have an allergic reaction. I did Magic first on the basis that she was more expendable, and as she was still standing after 24 hours, then did Micky, with apparently no ill effects. For a week. Then he came up with lumps all over his back only days before we set off. If I'd treated him earlier, then it would have worn off before we were through the worst tick infested areas, so I felt like there was no option. Whether the lumps we found on Tuesday are more of the same, whether they are from the different saddle Maggi was riding in, uneven stirrups or the incessant rain which has allowed little chance for ponies' backs to dry out, I don't know, but I set off again with heavy heart knowing that if his back isn't right, I can't continue with Micky to London. Even though it felt like cheating, logic dictated that I let Chris take the pack saddle and drop it off for me where I was staying that night.