Monday 9 August 2010

Easy rider

A day's rest did the ponies the world of good, so much so that they were (almost) willing and eager to get going again. Whether the inexplicable lumps and bumps are still due to the Spot-on I treated them with against ticks weeks ago, whether they are insect bites or what, I don't know, and to be honest they don't bother them at all, unless they are under their saddle or girth. Had the skin ever broken on Micky's back, we would have stopped dead in our tracks, but it was more a matter of rubbed fur, which never seemed to cause him any pain or sensitivity, and the raised bit which came up on Magic's back at Yarm, disappeared and then reappeared on Tuesday likewise seems not the least bit sore. There is no sign whatsoever of either my saddle, which was tailor made for Micky and Magic, or my pack saddle, causing any pressure anywhere for either of them, but I check religiously numerous times a day, and no matter how tedious it can become, I'm still sticking to a walk to avoid any risk of increased friction from trotting. I also try and get saddles off after we've been going for a few hours, which wastes a lot of time tacking up again, but I know from past experience is worth it to let the ponies' backs breathe and make sure there's no restriction on circulation. She may be very fit, and I check with my spring balance every morning to ensure my packs are perfectly balanced, but Magic remains so utterly round and witherless than unless she is girthed really tightly, the saddle or packs are inclined to lurch sideways at the least provocation.

At risk of sounding once more like I'm stating the obvious, riding through Lincolnshire is a wholly different experience to riding in Scotland. Here there are miles and miles of green grassy bypways, bridleways and other tracks, all clearly signed, waymarked, easy to follow, and if I weren't trolling along with a pack pony more than a trifle tired after 5 weeks on the trail of theh drovers, for much of the time you could bomb along at whateved speed you want. What a doddle in comparison to Scotland where there are glorious hills and mountains, very few people and blissful solitude, but no (or very few) legally recognised bridleways, and where the only way of finding out whether you are actually going to be able to get through with a horse is to spend hours in advance ringing people up, or taking the risk and then finding yourself in a bog, stuck the wrong side of a deerfence or padlocked gate. Which isn't to say that there isn't fantastic riding in many parts of Scotland, but it is hardly "Easy Rider" stuff, and unless you are on a promoted route, you can't just set off on your horse confident you will be able to reach your destination on the route you've identified - not unelss you've done an awful lot of homework first. Which of course why I had no time left to organis the latter parts of my ride because all the available time had been taken sorting out the Scottish bits.

So from Oasby, we rode cross country following ancient tree lined tracks and wide which I'm pretty sure the drovers used, linked together by wide paths through cereal fields. Where the barley has already been harvested is no problem, but for Micky one of the most challenging aspects of this whole trip has been following a bridleway up the tramlines of a crop of wheat, where he seems to think he has died and gone to heaven, or at the very least is compelled to mow a broader route for anyone who chooses to follow. Magic, being female, is much more polite and restrained. At the edge of one such field we hit a patch of wild oats, which reminded me of the wild oats my mother painted on my wedding certificate 20 years ago. I'm not sure what she had in mind at the time, perhaps links to Chris' farming background, but from her comments before I set off about how irresponsible I was being abandoning my husband and teenage children, I don't suppose she had envisaged me ploughing through fields of corn in East Anglia with two ponies.

When we met tarmac road again, the wide verges and rich flora which flourishes on them could easily be argued as reflecting droving history, but then I wonder if most lanes in Lincolnshire were this wide and perhaps I've just become so absorbed with droving that I'm deluding myself.

Folkingham has a handy shop on the side of the village green, about the fifth shop I've pssed in as many weeks with a handy lamp post sufficiently close to which I could tie the ponies, outside what was once the Greyhound Inn. It's disappointing that people don't seem to appreciate our mowing services. No sooner had I found something for lunch in the shop than there was a disapproving woman looking out from the Greyhound, presumably the officionado for the apartments into which this former coaching inn is now being converted. Perhaps it was really that she was disappointed the ponies had left her nothing for her roses.

Heading out of Folkingham, in the middle of the impressive earthworks of a motte and bailey or former castle, there were huge iron gates and a stone facade saing "House of Correction". The ponies were too busy snatching for grass to let me decipher the date, but it looked like 1820 something, which meant it would have been here during the peak of the droving days. I wondered exactly who and what it was correcting, and whether any of the drovers ended up there. Presumably not, given how they built their trade on being men of high repute.

Further east, following a bridleway we came across the former abbey at Sempringham, which now sits in the middle of a field. It was an idyllic spot to stop for lunch, with ponies tied to a tree. A sad sign of the times that the church was locked so I couldn't go in, but I enjoyed poking about the graveyard and reading various boards about how this was the home of Gilbert, Lincolnshire's only native patron saint, founder in the 12th century of a religious order for men and women. At the end of the track leading up to the church was a memorial to Princess Gwenllian, the last Welsh Princess. Amazing what you learn along the way.

The lane east from Sempringham was without doubt a former drove road, with a house at the far end built much more recently but aptly named "Long Drove House", although to by honest my appreciation of such things was by this time diminished by the blisters from my boots, the fact that I'd reached the point where my hips were too sore to ride but everything else was too sore to walk and lead, and worrying about farriers.

In my fit of organisation on Monday evening, I'd pinned down a farrier who I'd persuaded to re-shoe Magic where I'd arranged to stay on Friday morning. Except having had an unanticiapted, if very welcome, day off, I wasn't going to be there until Saturday nmorning. When I asked if he could possibly be persuaded to shoe her where I was going to be instead, he texted back saying he didn't shoe at that yard, and was very understandably unimpressed by my suggestion that perhaps he might possibly be able to shoe later Friday or early Saturday at the original place. Instead he suggested another farrier whose forge I would be riding past, who I'd spent the afternoon chasing and leaving messages for, but to no avail. Which just goes to show the real price of taking a day off and not sticking a schedule, but the bottom line was that I knew I had done what was right for the ponies' backs, if not their feet.

All of which was preoccupying me as I trudged along through Westhorpe, and when Elsa rung to tell me her exam results, a reminder of a parallel life I have on some other plants, far removed from that in which I am travelling with my ponies. While I was on the phone to Elsa, Chris' Aunt Mary and her husband Michael, to whom I was heading, pulled up in their car, and Mary offered to walk with me: welcome company at the end of a long day. I'd just finished telling her about my farrier dilemma when a van pulled up in front of us. Out gets a man who says "You must be Vyv", and there is Chris Bignell, the farrier I've been trying to get hold of all afternoon, a saint in disguise, who has come to find me,and magnanimously offers to shoe Magic right there and then on the driveway of an unsuspecting couple who came out to see why three strangers and two ponies had stopped outside their house. Once again we are able to carry on with our ride thanks to the generosity and goodwill of a superb farrier, I can only hope his wife and young baby were not too put out by his delayed return home.

1 comment:

  1. Luck is with you, you must have a black cat in your bag.
    A bit of history I found regarding the Princess
    Gwenllian was captured in her cradle; taken from Snowdonia and subsequently placed in the care of the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham at the age of just seventeen months. She would remain there as a nun until her death fifty-four years later on June 7th 1337.
    Gwenllian's story has a strange ending: in 1995 a memorial stone was unveiled in her memory on the old road leading to the Priory which was totally destroyed at the time of the Dissolution and has become something of a shrine visited by people from all over the world.