Friday morning Mary and Michael set me off to a wonderful start, fortified with a good breakfast, armed with a packed lunch and a bottle of rosehip capsules to ease the aching joints, and a lot of encouragement. Sadly none of which persuaded the fingers which had been mangled in Micky's reins the previous evening to work, which did nothing to ease tacking up (particularly doing up girth straps - you try doing it between first finger and thumb). Bernard, around whose showjumps Micky and Magic had been happily grazing lush grass all night, generously offered to stick me and ponies in a trailer and leapfrog us forward, but it's not something I could entertain, no matter how wobbly I felt. Perhaps just as well that I had an audience while I was tacking up and my pride is such that I was determined to put on a brave face and hide the misgivings which might otherwise have prevented me getting back on.
With a long way to go on busy roads, I decided to ride Magic on the basis that she is even more bombproof in traffic than Micky, there's no risk of the pack slipping on Micky, and if I'm riding her she will not get chance to think twice about stopping to do a poo. Equally important, there are times when it's hard to hold Micky-no-brakes with two hands, let alone one with duff fingers, whereas Magic stops immediately I say "whoa" or press down into my stirrups. She flinched not an inch as the biggest tractors in the world drove past us on narrow lanes, and I consoled myself that all would be OK after all. 5 minutes later and she'd stopped and decided to head back towards Bernard's, knowing full well that my left hand was fully occupied holding Micky's rope but without looping it around anything, and my right hand was too stiff and sore to force her back in the right direction. No choice but to get off, whereupon she is docile as a lamb and says of course she will do whatever I ask. But feeling feeble already, the prospect of either walking all the way or dealing with the tantrums of two stroppy Fell ponies just didn't amuse. And once you start slipping down the slippery slope of self-pity and defeat ....
I said to Chris before I set off on this trip that it was something I so much wanted to do that I really didn't mind what happened along the way, and that if I died as a result, so be it, I would die happy. Nearly 6 weeks later, I found I had changed my mind, and had no wish to have my fun cut short or interrupted. Equally, since I fell off, I seemed to have lost my bottle and wasn't sure I had what it took to make it through to Smithfield. Which is when you really wish there was someone else there to give you a hug, lead a pony for you, or just offer some moral support.
So I rung Elsa who I knew would understand better than anyone, who said simply "You'll be fine, mum, you always are, just keep going". But I'm not, said I, my fingers won't work, I'm stiff and sore all over, and I'm feeling really wobbly and worried I can't control two ponies any more. "Oh don't worry, you know they'll be OK, they're always like that and think what you've done so far". All very well, but when two weeks before we set off Micky reared up on his hind legs and bolted for home with Elsa on board, she wasn't too keen to get back on him, which was why I ended up riding him (and two hours later got thrown off).
All those well-meaning people who've said how brave I am would not have thought that on Friday morning as I walked along a river bank with tears streaming down my face, full of self-doubt (and self-pity). Elsa's solution was to ask if I'd like to speak to Chris, who'd taken a day off to plaster the kitche and was apparently far more concerned about that than me. No suggestion that I'd chosen to do this ride so why didn't I shut up whinging, but equally no semblance of any concern nor recognition that perhaps all was not as it should be. Nothing new there. I should perhaps be glad to be married to someone who has such undying faith in me, and who is more than happy (relieved?) for me to wander off for weeks at a time, but there are times when it might be nice for them to realise that I am not infallible and for them to do more than deny that there's a problem. Oh well, nothing's going to change that between here and Smithfield, so the best I could do to stop my wobbles was to sit down on the riverbank for 5 minutes and trough the sandwiches Mary had packed for me, just in case it was hunger that was making me wobbly. No point trying to ride down the A17 with a glucose crash.
I'd debated before I left Gosberton whether I should head north to cross the River Welland at Fosdyke Bridge or south through the middle of Spalding, and concluded Fosdyke Bridge was preferable to contending with the A16 and miles of civilisation. To her credit, Magic batted not an eyelid riding over the bridge, or along the horribly busy A17 for a mile or more until we could turn off towards Moulton Sea End. Sods law that no sooner had we turned off than the traffic stopped moving on the A17 and everyone diverted down exactly the same roads I was going.
The lack of any hint that this was the way the drovers came was a disappointment, but instead I learned a lot about cabbages. To say this is cabbage country is under-statement. All day we rode past fields of cabbages - red ones, purple ones, green ones, new ones being planted, young cabbage plants growing, mature cabbage being harvested by gangs of Eastern European labour, cabbages being slung up into crates and then towed away. I never knew that enough people ate cabbage to justify growing so many, and it would be very interesting to know more about the economics, given the low value per head of cabbage. The volume of traffic, tractor and machinery movement, all rushing around tending and cropping cabbage was unbelievable. A friendly white van driver pulled over to ask where I was going and suggested I help myself (something Micky had thought of doing hours ago)but there's no way my teeth were going to be able to munch through raw cabbage.
An hour or so on saw us strolling into Holbeach, which I thought was included on my list of places through which the drovers passed. Just over the roundabout, a police car pulled in front of us. I was in no mood for a repetition of my unfortunate run-in with the police in Peebles, where they'd given me a really hard time about riding the wrong way up on a one-way street (and did not appreciate my justifying myself because there were no cars coming, there was plenty of space for me to pull over had any appeared, and for everyone concerned it seemed preferable to riding around three sides of a square and then holding up the traffic on Peebles High Street). At least this time I knew I had done nothing wrong (unless someone had reported me for whacking Magic with a twig when she was throwing a bit of a tantrum earlier on), so I smiled sweetly and when the police lady asked where I was going, just said London. She turned out to be very friendly and seemed to have stopped as much as anything to show me a picture on her mobile phone of her newly acquired driving pony, the Artful Dodger, and having confirmed I wasn't going to set up camp in the swing park or similar, wished me well on my way.
Finding somewhere in Holbeach safe to tie ponies while I went in the post office to send redundant maps home wasn't easy. The driveway next door said no parking but I reckoned my ponies weren't the same as parking a car, so I made use of the railings, thoughtfully tying them up alongside an elder bush which they could usefully trim rather than alongside the ornamental conifers or climbing plants. Before I got chance to run into the post office, out came the owners ready to move me on, but once I explained what I was doing and agreed to let their kids sit on the ponies, they raised no objection and went inside to fetch pears and apples for Micky and Magic, who unable to chew them properly with their bits in, slobbered all over their little girl.
Miles and more miles to Gedney Fen, where I'd arranged to camp overnight at what advertised on the web as Horse Hotel, still no sign of the drovers having come this way, and I realised I was perhaps too far north. Had I come south via Spalding across to Whaplode Drove and Holbeach Drove I might have done better, but then to the north of me alongside the Wash is Gedney Drove End, so there was no way of knowing, and at least we'd got safely over the Welland.