Sunday 15 August 2010

Slip Sliding around Norwich

The flip side of finding someone (i.e. John) who talked exactly the same language as me was finding myself the following day totally incapable of instilling any sense of understanding of what I am currently doing in the people I spoke to at Norfolk College of Agriculture at Easton.

My plan from North Elmham was to continue east, via Horsford, to Horsham St. Faith's, just north of Norwich, which was where so many of the Scottish cattle were headed. Apparently there's been a cattle and horse market at St. Faith's since the priory was established there around 1100. By 1720 there were over 20,000 Scottish cattle a year passing through the market, which started each year on 17th October, and went on for up to three weeks. During the 1800s the numbers increased much further, until the market closed in 1872 - quite why, I don't yet know, as this predates the demise of the Scottish fairs and trysts which coincided with the coming of the railways.

Since that time, much has changed around Horsham St. Faith's, not least the construction of the airport immediately south of the village, and the development of many of the surrounding villages as dormitories for Norwich. Partly because of this, I had really struggled to find anywhere for me and the ponies to stay, and because it is now so built up, I felt I was really pushing my luck to ride through without having fixed something in advance, particularly if at the end of >20 miles in a day I found we had no choice but to push on much further. John and Mary rung everyone they could think of, without success, not least because so much of what usd to be grass is now cropped for cereals. I concluded that in the end I might just have to accept that I couldn't actually ride across to St. Faith's, and would have to make do with visiting it on foot instead. To which end John drove me through there, and I got terribly over-excited finding Bullock Hill and Calf Lane, one and the same as the very site where the fair was held for all those hundreds of years.

I really did convince myself that was enough, and went to bed exhilerated by tales of riding through South America, by visiting Bullock Hill and having such a good time with John and Mary. It was only after I set off again from John's the next morning that doubt set in. With each mile that passed I felt more and more like I was cheating. Any rules for my ride, such as there are any, are set by myself, and there was never anything hard and fast to say I had to ride to St. Faith's itself. However as I rode along the pretty little lanes east of Swanton Morley, as each mile passed, it hit home more and more how much it mattered to actually ride to St. Faith's. Surely that was why I'd ridden across Norfolk, to follow as closely as possible in the footsteps of the drovers? There may not have been anything left to show for it, but Micky, Magic and I have ridden across what is now the golf course at Falkirk Tryst in the pouring rain, we rode right alongside the site of Stagshaw Bank, again in the pouring rain, and now having come all this way, I felt that if I wasn't actually going to ride up Bullock Hill then I'd failed. But equally that if I didn't keep going and turn up at the friends of John and Mary's who they had very kindly arranged for me to stay with tonight, then I risked offending everyone who had been so kind and helpful. It wasn't that John had tired to scupper my plans. Far from it, he and Mary could not have been more helpful and encouraging. It was me who had said that I'd be happy if I got within a few miles of Horsham St. Faith's with my ponies and then had to do the last few miles on foot then I would be happy. Except now I definitely wasn't. Call me fickle, call me Jekyll and Hyde, call me what you want. More fool me for having got so wrapped in the everyday trials and tribulations of a long distance ride that I had lost sight of what mattered most to me.

Wracked by inner turmoil, I stopped alongside a signpost on a triangle of grass at Elsing and rung to regale Chris with my predicament. He was on his lunchbreak walking up the high street in Dumfries - bet he was really glad to have to wait to buy his sandwiches. Chris told me not to give myself a hard time and to accept that it wasn't as though I hadn't made it to St. Faith's at all, and that if I'd tried but failed to sort out anywhere to stay nearer St. Faith's which allowed me to ride there, I should stick to what John had arranged. So I plodded on, but for someone who lives very much by intuition and is wholly committed to doing what I believe to be right, I was not a happy bunny.

Once I'd got over the A47, I knew I was getting to the point of no return. I'd already strayed well off the route I would have taken had I gone straight from North Elmham to St. Faiths, but there was still a chance of cutting back across, if I could find somewhere to stay midway, but once I went any further south, then I would already have started on the last leg of my journey to Smithfield. The ponies were glad of the opportunity to graze the verge while I dug out all my maps again. Only then did I notice that Norfolk Agricultural College was not far from where I was, and my spirits lifted as I hatched a plan to stay there tonight, and then ride to St. Faith's in the morning, and down to Kimberley the next night, which I hoped wouldn't offend anyone too much and would appease my conscience.

When I rung the college to explain what I was doing and ask if they could possibly put the ponies up for the night at grass on in a stable, the very helpful girl on reception said that as it was the vacation there weren't many people around so it would be better if she asked around and got someone to rung me back. Credit to their efficiency that 10 minutes later I got a return call from another girl who sounded helpful but was on a different planet. The conversation went like this:

"I'm sorry but we can't possibly accommodate your ponies here tonight (no reason given, but mine is not to question why, and I have already reinforced the fact that they are in prime health, vaccinated etc.). However, I have two other suggestions for you" (Not that I said so, but I was thinking, oh well, that's helpful).
"I ride at a riding school out on the Yarmouth Road and I think they might put your ponies up".
Hang on, isn't that on the east side of Norwich and wouldn't it involve riding through Norwich city centre? Which I try and say as politely as possible.
"Oh no, you just keep going on the A47"
But as I explained already, I'm riding one pony and leading another and the A47 is a dual carriageway which I can't ride miles along .... even if the riding school weren't another 20 miles away in the wrong direction and by the time I got there, if I ever did alive, I'd be worse off than I was now.
No matter what I said, no matter that she'd already commented on being able to hear the clip-clop in the background, I couldn't get her to understand that I was on horseback rather than in a trailer (drrrr... that's the basis of riding from Skye to Smithfield ...)and that the whole point of asking to stay at the college was because I could only travel so many miles in a day etc. etc. And yes it was in aid of Cancer Research and it mattered so much to me to go to St. Faiths because I was following drovers etc. etc.

I suppose if you've only ever ridden around in circles in an arena, then perhaps you can't begin to imagine that someone might actually be riding through the countryside, or that riding around the Norwich ring-road is a non-starter.

Her other suggestion was the Redwings Horse Sanctuary at Horsham St. Faith's. I was surprised I'd never found anything about it, but she insisted that's where it was and only when I rung Redwings did I confirm that no they didn't have any facility near there, nor had there ever been one.

So it was with heavy heart that I turned south, too soon in my book, instead of carrying on east, having got very close, but with no-one but myself to blame for having failed to reach Horsham St. Faith's on horseback. Whether it was because my mood rubbed off onto them or the type of tarmac I do not know, but Micky and Magic dragged along, hind feet slipping and sliding, which I felt is what I'd let happen to my hopes and dreams.

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