Tuesday 10th August we set off again from Abbey Farm refreshed from our day off, and with Micky in his element - a belly full of good grass, and oh so chuffed to find that for the first few miles we were riding through the most massive outdoor pig unit. We've met the odd pig or two along the way, but in his wildest dreams Micky never imagined he was going to meet so many thousands of other animals who snorted just as loudly and happily as him. Magic, who was pack pony, took it all in her strideand kept whatever she was thinking to herself.
From West Acre we picked up the Nar Valley Way which follows old tracks and quiet lanes through to Castle Acre. I'd like to think they were one and the same the drovers used, but there's no way of knowing. At least they were picturesque, with fords across the river from time to time to add a bit of a variety. I'd confidently told my friend Barley that fords weren't an issue for us because riding from home my ponies ford a river without batting an eyelid virtually every time they go out. Typical therefore that having happily waded through various earlier in the day, it was only when we had a large audience and Barley was waiting on the other side on her Dales mare Ruby that Micky decided it wasn't safe to step down the concrete step on our side of the ford and with my right hand still stiff and sore from falling off and my left hand fully occupied with Magic, it wasn't as easy as it might usually be to persuade him otherwise. So we trit trotted over the rickey bridge instead, which most ponies would have considered far more scarey.
A real luxury to have Barley to keep watch over the ponies in Castle Acre while I went into the post office to send home my used maps. Perhaps just as well given the mentality of the shopkeeper who insisted that he couldn't accept my envelope for another 10 minutes until 1 o'clock precisely, even though he was selling everything else over the same counter.
The castle from which Castle Acre gets its name was really impressive and well worth the detour to admire it, a welcome interjection of some alternative history. This is Barley's home patch and her own family history, as well as her knowledge of the area, enriched our day considerably. The huge girth of the oak trees which lined the roads, the delightful stone churches with their squat round towers and parkland around the hall at Lexham are all so different to what we've ridden through previously. And then another windmill to compare with the stone windmill tower we have at home at Shortrigg. Time, and the miles, really fly when you're having fun, even when you're going no faster than a walk. And after so long riding alone, no matter how much I have appreciated having only myself to answer to, it's been great to have some company. Micky wasn't complaining either at having Ruby to show off to.
Various people have asked why I haven't syndicated sections of the route to offer other people the chance to ride with me part of the way, and to raise more money for Cancer Research, but it would have added a multitude of extra layers to the organisation, and just because I am an anorak about ancient tracks and droving in particular, it doesn't mean it's everyone else's cup of tea. And I know only too well that the distances and speed I'm riding at don't necessarily suit everyone. So yes I have forefeited the pleasure of company, someone else to share the enjoyment and to buck me up when the going gets tough, but there's no-one to get exasperated about my quest to follow in the footsteps of the drovers instead of taking the easier or prettier bridleway, no-one (other than me) to whinge that they are tired or sore, or that they think we should be cracking on instead of stopping to chat. And equally I am well aware that travelling alone you meet far more people than you do when you're riding with someone else. So on balance I'm really glad I've done it my way.