Elsa and Vyv successfully reached Lands End on Mikado and Lancer on Saturday 19th August 2006.
Total 1,335 miles from John O'Groats to Lands End by the off-road route over the hills!
Our last day's ride from Lelant Downs to Lands End was as good as any on the rest of our trip. We'd talked of riding through the middle of Penzance and my sister Bea had gone to a lot of trouble making the necessary arrangements with the police and sorting out people to shake buckets to help raise funds. But when we looked at the map, this left little choice but to ride for the rest of the day on the horribly busy A30, and we'd learned earlier on our trip that people are reluctant to donate unless you stop and explain what you're doing and why, which could have taken forever through a busy town with no guarantee of significant contribution to Cancer Research.
Instead we finished in the spirit of the whole of our epic journey, riding cross country westwards across the Lands End peninsular, on ancient tracks past with specatacular views across St. Ives Bay, past old mine shafts, boundary stones, quoits and other archaeological features. In the morning Jenna rode with us on her Exmoor pony Eddie, and after Chris and Jake met us with a picnic lunch, Jenny joined us on Bella the 26 year old Fell pony who is Rowan's double. On the final leg, riding across the moors looking out to LongShips Lighthouse and the Scilly Isles, more and more riders joined us on their native ponies. And then waiting to greet us at Lands End were our cousins from around Cornwall. It was a brilliant and joyful end to an incredible trip, and if I seemed detached it was only because I couldn't really believe it was happening - nor did I want it ever to end.
Thankfully Chris persuaded the brass band who were busking around Cornwall to delay their performance until Lancer had moved out of earshot or there is little doubt we would have been on our way to America.
Sadly today it's back to reality. Elsa has gone back to school this morning, she was looking forward to seeing all her friends and having a break from riding. But then there's a pony club rally tonight so she's going along on Rowan.
After 8 weeks away, I need to get back to work and earn some money to pay for our trip! I have had to excavate through mountains of paper to be able to get on my computer to announce our arrival on the web. Constantly battling with lack of sleep, my brain has been struggling to keep up with my body throughout our ride. The long drive home overnight on Sunday, the last few hours virtually aqua planing up the motorway through torrential rain, has done nothing to help my powers of concentration , but needs must.
Lancer and Micky stepped out of the trailer at 4.30 a.m. Monday morning as though they had just driven 5 miles up the road,. By the time we woke up, they were standing at the gate, apparently ready for action again (although it could have been waiting for food!). Dare I say me too?
I genuinely thought that if I spent the whole summer riding, all day every day (and often well into the night), I'd be happy to knuckle down to normal life. I'd promised Chris I really would hang up my saddle for the rest of the year, re-wire the house and do everything else which has been put on hold in favour of this trip. Sadly, it isn't like that at all . True, I am looking forward to catching up on some sleep in my own bed, and it is good to be reunited with Chris, Jake, my dogs, cats and other ponies , but to be honest, where I really want to be is still out there on the hills on my horse.
Monday 14th August
About midday saw Elsa and Vyv cross their final county boundary over the Tamar and into Cornwall. On the previous day Elsa had been interviewed by Radio Devon about the trip and in response to " what do you think you have gained from the trip?" she said, " a better relationship with her mother....ish!" -that after having not spoken to Vyv all day! I can confirm that the silence is over and conversation is back. The interview on Radio Devon and one the previous day with Vyv on Radio Cornwall have genereated a huge amount of interest with people stopping them en route to donate money to Cancer Research UK and to speak to both of them. Thanks to Bea Vyv's sister and Barbara Hall ( a Fell pony owner and fan from Cornwall) for their efforts to attract media interest and make the end of the trip a memorable as the beginning.
Tuesday will see Elsa and Vyv ride over Bodmin Moor to a day off at St Tudy with Bea and an evening pub quiz in the local inn attended by Robin Hanbury-Tennison who was one of the original inspirations for Vyv when he and his wife rode across France with Chamargue ponies they had seen and fallen in love with in southern France -a bit like Fells, but white and a little bigger! Bea is joining them on her Welsh Cob Teagan who has ridden many miles with Lancer in the past on the Ridgeway and through Shropshire.
Friday 11th - It drizzled on and off all day but Vyv, Elsa and the ponies were glad as it was a lot cooler
They have slowed right down to conserve the energy of the ponies -lancer in particular is showing his ageand whilst he shows his normal desire to keep going he is keeping the speed down.
They were due to meet a farrier to show Lancer up on Exmoor but he did not arrive, Lancer has since been seen by another first thing on Saturday morning
Elsa is really enjoying seeing the Exmoor ponies in their natural habitat and thought the Quantocks were great but due to tiredness did not enjoy them to the full.
Thursday 10th -the first time that Vyv and Elsa had put on their fleeces since leaving Shortrigg!
Tuesday 15th 25 miles Teneglos to St Tudy
Monday 14th 18 miles Clawton to Teneglos
Sunday 13th 22 miles Monkokehampton to to Clawton
Saturday 12th 25 miles South Molton to Monkokehampton
Friday 11th 19.5 miles to South Molton
Thursday 10th 22 miles to Exford, Exmoor
Wednesday 9th 10.5 miles to Crowcombe (other end of the Quantocks)
Tuesday 8th 25.5 miles to Broomfield (Quantocks)
Monday 7th 14 miles to Compton Dundan
Tuesday 8th August 2006
25 miles ridden finishing at the eastern end of the Quantock Hills and staying overnight with Boffin's original owners, Tim Liddon's parents.The day has been spent riding across the Somerset peat lands- hard after the long period of dry weather and a far cry from the deep and treacherous peat of northern Scotland.
Monday 7th August 2006
Compton Dundas, near Street, Somerset
Total to date 1,090 miles. Still no idea how many we will do in total, we reckon we could run a sweepstake on it to raise more funds! Elsa reckons 1,500, I reckon 1,350 perhaps. Apparently about 180 on the most direct route by road, but by the time we've taken in the Quantocks, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin we know full well it will be more. Still on schedule to finish Saturday 19th August, although absolute priority is to do what is right by the ponies, and if that means resting the ponies for a day or two instead of the major detour to take in Dartmoor, so be it.
For the last week, Sarah has ridden with us. Both Elsa and I have really enjoyed her company, and the ponies seem to have enjoyed Johnny (Sarah's horse, which technically I own but is on permanent loan to Sarah) just as much. Sarah being with us has also ensured that we have stayed somewhere proper every night, and got to a pub for tea most nights - I value Sarah's friendship far too much to risk her ex-communicating me for having to sleep rough or missing too many meals. Elsa says far more important is that when my sugar levels drop I am the one who is unbearably bad tempered (as if) so it's more a matter of having to make sure I eat so I don't lose it with them. I could counter that by saying that there's no chance of Elsa's sugar levels dropping as her survival strategy seems to rely increasingly on bags of wicked sweeties stashed in her saddle bags and feeding the healthy apples I buy for her to Micky. Sarah went home this morning, so it's back to just the two of us, riding Mikado and Lancer (explanation below as to where and when we swopped again), who should be with us to Lands End.
Monday 7th August - Evercreech to Compton Dundas 15 miles
A short day, much appreciated by both us and ponies, and more to the point which means we've actually arrived somewhere in time to try and update the web site, courtesy of the farm B&B where the ponies are staying. Sadly they were fully booked so Chris has booked us in a couple of miles down the road. All of the bridleways between Evercreech and here seemed to run north-south so we were mainly on quiet lanes this morning, but still an enjoyable ride. We;ve down into orchard country, we've crossed our first linear drain, signifying our drop onto the Somerset Levels. I've found it really hot and close all day but Elsa says it's just me whose thermostat is so adjusted to Scotland that anything over 20 degrees is a culture shock. Hoping to meet my sister Julia tonight.
Sunday 6th August - Combe Hay (south of Bath) to Evercreech 21 miles
Trudy picked us up from the pub we'd stayed at in Hallatraw and took us back to our ponies at her farm. She'd already been up and fed them at 7 a.m. We are just so grateful for how kind she has been but I feel horribly inadequate at being not even 10% as genuinely nice as she and Phil are. Elsa says this is just pathetic on my part but it is honestly so humbling to meet people who are so unquestionably generous.
Much refreshed for a good night's rest, we made good time across bridleways, RUPs and along quiet lanes, combines thrashing away in fields alongside. Our very good friends Kate and Mani met us with a picnic for lunch, which made us realise how this trip could have been - it was just so good to see them, eat properly at lunchtime, get the ponies saddles off and relax for a few hours before riding the last 8 miles or so to our friends at Evercreech who had kindly been persuaded to put us up overnight. To be greeted by a cup of tea, G&T, offer of doing our washing and a shower as well as fantastic meal was just so welcome.
Saturday 5th August - Sherston to Combe Hay 25 miles
Drizzling soon after we set off back down to the Fosse, which we followed in a straight line, mainly as a byway but in places now upgraded to a minor public road , under the M4 following the border of Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire and Somerset down to Bathampton where we crossed the River Avon, A4 and canal. To save miles we went through the middle of Bath, a slow trudge, traffic whizzing past in every direction, ponies tired in the heat, Lancer dragging his toes downhill and struggling with his dodgy hip to maintain power up hill. Near disaster at one point when Micky's saddle slipped round under his belly (again) , I was in front leading Lancer and didn't hear Elsa shouting over the sound of the traffic, putting Lancer's silliness down to kids messing around on the ground above.
As we climbed the hill south out of Bath, we realised that Hallatraw where in desperation we had booked in for the night was just too far for all of us, so for the first time on our trip we knocked on a door and asked if they had a field for the ponies. Someone somewhere was smiling on us, the family we had asked not only immediately assured us that the ponies would be OK but insisted we stay for tea and then drove us miles to where we should have been staying.
Friday 4th August Elkstone to Sherston, south of Tetbury 34 miles
To overcome crisis of missing maps and urgent need for over-reach boots, we decided to hit Cirencester. From the looks we got, they are not used to people riding through the middle of town, or tying up outside Waitrose, but we got everything we needed, and left again in style, galloping through Cirencester Park, Micky and Johnny racing along the grass ride, Lancer - who has no need to prove anything to anybody - following more sedately at a canter behind with me trying in vain to take photos of the flying hooves in front. Credit to Bathhurst Estate for allowing horses free access throughout the park. Shame that on leaving the path miles further south our way was blocked by a padlocked gate which meant backtracking and detouring for more than an hour, as a result of which it was nearly 10 p.m. and just about dark before we eventually reached the farm B&B we'd persuaded to accommodate us south of Tetbury.
Thursday 3rd August Tirley to Elkstone 28 miles
Over the River Severn (a major hurdle in route planning), north of Cheltenham, Lancer determined to prove he was definitely feeling himself by trying to throw me off on a verge with traffic whizzing past. Still don't know what his excuse was but the closest I have come to being unseated since last he pulled that trick nearly a year ago, difficult to feel sympathetic for a horse of his years when he is still so horrid at times.
Over Cleeve Hill, fantastic views down across Cheltenham and the Malverns to Wales beyond, south on the Cotswolds to Elkstone.
Wednesday 2nd August Alfrick near Worcester to Tirley
Lancer set off on top form, walking out really well., leading the way south to the Malvern Hills, where we had a lovely picnic. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face to be back on board my boy.
Tuesday 1st August Kyre to Alfrick 18 miles
Boffin re-shod before we set off, but having spoken to Chris who assured me that Lancer's back was now healing well from a rub behind the saddle during his previous stint in the heat, we agreed that it made far more sense for him to bring Lancer back down today rather than at the weekend given that he and Jake were away for the rest of the week at the Scottish Tetrathlon (Jake came second nationally in Junior boys, hugely well deserved after all his determined training). Sadly the fur on Rowan's back is only just beginning to grow back so although she has brand new shoes and is incredibly fit, there was no choice but to leave her at Shortrigg and continue on Mikado. Elsa isn't too heartbroken - she has loved riding Boffin and is also very fond of Micky, and in the end Rowan's health and happiness matters far more than riding her before her back is fully healed.
Chris drove down in the evening, met us in the pub and we did a swop of ponies and maps in the dark at 10.30 p.m. Which is why I only realised several days later that the map between Bath and Evercreech was in the pile Chris sent on to Evercreech for me - not a lot of use when we had to ride that section to get to the maps. My mistake, too tired, too much going on in my brain, or perhaps not enough. Still feel as though my brain has not caught up with my body.
Monday 31st July Wilderhope Manor to Tenbury Wells (Kyre) 29.5 miles
Sunday 30th July
Monday 24th July
The PDA was finally officially declared dead by the O2 shop in Rochdale. So it will not be possible to email Vyv directly for the balance of the trip although you can of course send messages which I will pass on on a regular basis.
Today was too hot for going over the tops on the Pennine Bridleway so Vyv and Elsa have followed the Rochdale Canal towpath down towards Lilttleborough from Todmorden. Those who know the canal will realise that there is a big long tunnel in the way which did require a diversion down the edge of the main road. A break in Littleborough to allow for the diagnosis of the phone and then on over the Denshaw and from there heading to Padfield near Glossop. All familiar territory from my past working for Oldham Groundwork where one of the main projects at the time was sorting out the towpath on the Rochdale Canal-whether the fruits of my labour are what Vyv was riding on I don’t know-probably not after 20 years.
Yesterday’s distance was 24 miles-today we are not sure about yet and as they started yesterday on 701 miles the previous day (Saturday) must have been 16 miles-a bit of a rest for the ponies!
Wilderhope Manor, Wenlock edge, Shropshire- 893 miles from start.
Unbelievable, a whole day off! Ponies are happily ensconced in their paddock and we have had a relaxing day catching up on ourselves, and on Jake, just returned from 2 weeks in Tenerife, and Chris, who has been working literally day and night to finish a major Heritage Lottery Fund application for his work-hence the lack of updates on our website, also frustrated by the death of my fancy mobile a week ago. It seems I am getting through phones as fast as ponies, but no email, although Chris relays messages from home.
We’re bang on schedule, somewhere between half and two thirds of the way down from John O’Groats and Lands End. As Elsa said yesterday “ well we’ve ridden more miles than most people who walk or cycle on the whole trip so does that mean we’re finished?” If only we could read the thought balloons from the ponies heads. It’s difficult to know exactly how much the total will be until we’ve done it, but all being well, we still hope to finish on Saturday 19th August.
We’d hoped Chris might bring us back Rowan and Lancer this weekend but the fur has yet to re-grow sufficiently on Rowan’s back to withstand the daily pressure and we concluded that Lancer would also be better for another week to recuperate, so the plan is now for Chris to drive down next Saturday to Bath, with Rowan and Lancer so we can ride the final fortnight with them. Boffin and Mikado can go back home to Scotland for a well earned break. They are doing really well, partners in crime, Boffin allowing Micky to eat grass from his mouth and both showing common obsessive interest in their stomachs, water and waistlines, but there’s no denying the long miles in the blistering heat have been tough going all round.
In the last week we’ve broken our own previous record for arriving late. On Monday night it was 11.10pm before we arrived at Padfield near Glossop after a 36 mile day, having only just made it off the hill as darkness descended at 10pm. Just as well we had head torches to read the map in the gloaming long before that, and that the helicopters swooping to get water from the reservoirs to try and quench the burning moorland had been forced to stop flying by the dark by the time we got off there!
Chris is heading home so more will have to follow later. Suffice to say we are well, if tired, neither Micky or I have lost a single millimetre off our waists despite missing meals, and Elsa has 2 new books so just as well Sarah has joined us tonight to ride with us for the next week through Somerset.
Milages Shortrigg to 30th July
Sunday 15th July - 10 miles - Shortrigg to Flowdens
Monday 15th July - 24 miles - Flowdens to Bank
Tuesday 16th July - 28 miles - Bank to Melmerby
Wednesday 19th July 27 miles - Melmerby to Newbiggin on Lune
Thursday 20th July – 20 miles - Newbiggin on Lune to Hardraw
Friday 21st July – 21 miles - Hardraw to Ribbledale
Saturday 22nd July – 21 miles - Ribblesdale to Gisburn
Sunday 23rd July 06 24 miles - Gisburn to Todnmorden
Monday 24th July – 36 miles - Todmorden to Padfield
Tuesday 25th – 16.5 miles - Pennine Bridleway from Padfield to Rushop Hall
Wednesday 26th – 22 miles - Rushup Hall to Hartington
Thursday 27th – 24 miles - Sabrina Way Hartington to Hollington
Friday 28th – 36 miles - Hollington to Wheaton Ashton
Saturday 29th – 33 miles – Wheaton Ashton to Wilderhope Manor
The event in Gisburn yesterday evening raised £1282 which was split equally between Ride -For -Research and Bob Champion's cancer charity. The additional £641 takes the fundraising for Vyv and Elsa over halfway to their target of £10,000.
Friday 21st July
Chris’s update-yes the PDA is on a go slow again but more of go slow’s later. I went over yesterday evening and collected Lancer from the Green Dragon at Hardraw (well worth a visit if you are near Hawes). When we set off he appeared to be back to his normal self-three shies and a spin on a test ride-Mr Horrid and a big grin on Vyv’s face. For the first 50 miles this proved to be the case but whether it was the hottest day of the year or just a post tick infection problem we are not sure but he was back to a total go slow and Vyv was walking more the riding. The trip is not about killing or injuring the horses and on setting off Rowan was left at home after a clegg (horse fly) bite infected under her saddle and would not have been comfortable for her for a short trip never mind 25 miles a day. They are also constrained by time as we can’t afford to keep Elsa out of school for any longer than we have already done and therefore the 'take a few days off' option was not possible.
We have been lent Boffin by Liddons, friends from Pony Club-Elsa had been riding Boffin at Pony Club camp on the rest week and he does get on well with Mickie -sharing an interest in maintaining their prodigious waistlines-to the extent that they had rapidly sussed out that horse food was being carried yesterday and how to open the pannier to get into it. We looked at taking Donald down-my black and white cob and did get him shod at short notice but in the end just before loading him Elsa felt that he was too unfit and would not have been able to cope not having had the training that the others had before setting off.
Since setting off again they have covered another 120 (685 in total) miles and tomorrow will be the somewhere near the halfway point. They stop off at End House Stud courtesy of Kara-Jane McGill who has arranged a charity fundraising evening at the local pub with the famous stallion Redoubtable leading off down the street and Bob Champion, the champion jockey in attendance. The press reception as at 6pm and the pub event at 8pm Support for the event will be welcome I think but as I don’t know the name of the pub it may be worth emailing the stud firstname.lastname@example.org .
Tuesday 18th July
2.30pm and we are sitting in the River Gelt upstream of Castle Carrock in Cumbria trying to cool off. We've come down off the Pennines from the path we intended to follow between Hallbankgate and Newbigging in search of shade and water. It was just too hot on the open hill for us and ponies - couldn't be more different to Scotland!. After drinking their fill, Lancer and Micky stood in the river while we sponged them down. They're now tied in the shade of a tree waiting for the worst heat of the day to dissipate before we carryon. Need I say we still have most of the day's miles ahead after a frustrating morning. Which together with horse flies, is why it is not just as idyllic sitting here as you might imagine.
Knowing we had a long way to go on a blisteringly hot day I was keen to get off early but Elsa wasn't going to be rushed anywhere. The time I'd planned to spend fixing her saddlebags at home disappeared amidst work and haymaking, so it was very predictable that when overstuffed with books and clean clothes they would collapse big time. So there were 30mins of running repairs to do before we went anywhere. Then a photographer came from the regional paper and with very minute that passed the temperature rose.
As we rode through Lanercost the primary school was holding its sports on the cricket field. Hearing the cheering, Lancer couldn't decide whether to jump the hedge and join in or beat a hasty retreat to ... Well anywhere really. I reckoned any horse with enough energy to be so silly must be feeling ok.
It seems we are the only people to have ridden past Castle for ages: beyond it the gate next to the cattle grid onto the A69 was buried in waist high nettles.
We welcomed the leafy lane to Hallbankgate, the climb would have been punishing in the searing sun. The ponies appreciated a drink half way up ina burn not far from the open field gate. We couldn't imagine the farmer would begrudge our trespassing on animal welfare grounds. Or that the parish council would mind us lolling on the village green with a cold drink and ice lolly.
It all sounds so easy and such a skive from work but believe me, reality is a different thing! A couple of miles on the gate onto the track I had noted as part of one of the routes recommended in North Cumvria on horseback was locked. Why was I so surprised after similar problems with impassable routes from the same guide? Undeterred, but uttering a few choice words, we opted for the next bridleway. Which conked out in the middle of a quarry. Back to the drawing board, at least I was, while Elsa read her book and Micky trolled along immune to my worries about what would happen if we had too many other detours which then mean pushing the ponies and ourselves even harder.
Eventually nearly an hour later we found a functional bridleway up to the track we wanted. We could have saved hours, and miles, had we headed straight to Castle Carrock by road first thing this morning. Pah.
Monday 17th July
Flowdens to Banks, near Brampton
18 deg c by the time Chris dropped us off at Flowdens at 8.45am. I anticipation of such unaccustomed heat, we had planned to set off mush earlier but when I climbed out of the bath at 1.20 am this morning, Chris was still trying to download the Photos from my camera and getting up again at 6 am just wasn’t going to happen.
Lancer is on fine form. Just to prove that his alter ego Mr Horrid is alive and well, he’s done a few suicide dances in front of tractors to their disgust, but for once almost a relief to me to see him so full of himself.
Mikado is too fit for his own good- that or he has eaten too many oats for breakfast. Having had a go at me for berating Micky last week for his silly pranks, Elsa also finds her patience tested. Today it’s anything metal on the left verge/hedge which prompts stupidity, so as you can imagine, there’s plenty of scope for deviation as we canter along the roadside verge to Chapelknowe. No orchids, but beautiful blue and purple vetches, giant bistort and fluffy meadowsweet. The hedges are full of fragrant honeysuckle, the perfume concentrated by the heat.
Barbara has telephones ahead of us so that at Chapelknowe someone is waiting to offer water to the horses and money for Cancer Research. A mile or two on and Barbara’s sister comes out of a farm with her grandchildren to sponsor us.
Crossing the border into England is a disappointing non-event. There is no sign, only my map tells me that the bridge over a small burn marks our national boundary. However we are less bothered by this than the fact that we would give anything for a swim in the burn.
Sunday 10th July 2006
Three weeks after we set off, and we've made it 557 miles to our home (Elsa riding with brother jake and friend Kirsty on the final leg of the trip to Hoddom) at Hoddom, south of Lockerbie, not far north of the English border, where we're snatching a few days to give the ponies a break, get them reshod, backs checked etc. while we try and sort out the phone - and the missing daily diaries! Although I have reached Dumfriesshire in body, my brain feels as though it is still somewhere on a path between John O'Groats and here, yet to catch up. So it may take another day or two for the full story so far to hit the web - meanwhile a quick resume.
We're over a third of the way, and apart from Lancer having to be invalided out last weekend, difficulties finding emergency farriers after completely trashing the horses' shoes in the first 13 days, and rain every day bar two, so far so good. Yes you might well ask why if we only clocked 350 driving to John O'Groats by road we have covered so many more on our trip. Let me assure you that this is due entirely to our determination to keep off-road as much as possible, and the difficulties of finding places to stay with our ponies, rather than any errant map reading. And that after swopping to Mikado, we retraced our steps to where Lancer had finished so we didn't miss an inch of our trip.
Apart from being VERY tired, Elsa and I are in revolting good health, and in a masochistic way, we are enjoying ourselves. As everyone, but everyone, asks about our bottoms, at risk of Elsa crucifying me on the grounds of "too much information", I feel obliged to report that other than a brief bout of nappy rash on the very wettest day , our posteriors are unimpaired. I must quickly add that this is because of our supreme fitness rather than the amount of padding! The only fall outs between us have been if and when I dare suggest that Elsa might have been better going to sleep than staying up reading, or that perhaps she should admire the scenery (or communicate with me) rather than reading her book, and listen to the birds rather than her music. But even after a long frosty silence on Saturday, Elsa still assured me that there is nothing on earth she would rather be doing than our ride. The only tear she has shed was when Rowan accidentally trod on her hand, which is more than I can say. Pushing ourselves constantly beyond the point of exhaustion, with daily trials and tribulations picking our way through treacherous bogs and wondering whether we will make it to our destination before it goes dark is a real test of spirit.
We knew before we set off that we were setting ourselves an ambitious pace to complete our trip before Elsa has to go back to school, but I don't think we really appreciated just how relentless it would be. We've had only one day off, last Thursday, to go to the funeral of a friend who died from cancer. Desparately sad, but a reminder of why we're doing this trip.
Elsa's pony Rowan, who having spent a month at the stud farm before we set off was much less fit than Lancer, is truly remarkable. Although slimmer than ever before (more than can be said for some) , her rippling muscles and gleaming coat are clear evidence of her supreme fitness and health. I struggled at first not to resent Mikado for not being Lancer, but even those most critical of the pranks he pulls to keep you on your toes cannot fail to be impressed by his boundless energy and enthusiasm for forward motion, food, slurping from muddy puddles and snorting like a pig at anything he isn't sure about. He is apparently tireless, shooting off for three laps around the field on return home with not a single concession to the week's hard slog he'd just completed. Lancer has seen more vets in the last week than he has in his life, and after various antibiotics, electrolytes, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, back scrunching and a lot of TLC appears to be on the mend. Endless blood tests have proved he was not suffering from azoturia but have failed to determine the underlying problem. Infection from the dreaded ticks seems the likeliest cause. Getting over whatever he has been suffering is bound to take time and Lancer still has a long way to go before he'll be ready to ride again., so for now it looks as though I'll be continuing south into England on Micky , but it's up for daily review.
Sunday 18th June
On The Road
1.40pm and we’re off at last, after all these months of planning. If you look at the map-as I did as we left our B&B this morning –you’ll see that John O’Groats isn’t technically the northern or eastern most tip of Britain. So to get it right we started at Dunscansby Head, and called in at John O’Groats a few miles later.
Lancer is high as a kite; thank goodness we didn’t get organised with the Cancer Research balloons Elsa had in mind for our send off. As we pose for our picture at the John O’Groats signpost, Lancer threatens to jump off the cliff onto the ferry in the harbour below. Within the next mile he has jumped in front of a car and nearly killed us both.
5 miles on and Elsa is on her first Mars’s bar and me my first Snickers -lunch never happened. 10 miles on and Lancer is at last calming down relishing the job in hand, but Elsa and I find it hard to think we’re off on anything more than an afternoons hack.
As we ride past Loch Watten, I bore Elsa with a lecture on its ecological significance and the the threats of livestock farming – the subject of one of my many contracts last year.
Its 8pm and raining by the time we reach where we are staying on the far side of Watten with a friend of Maureen Coghill whose son does tetrathlon with Jake. How kind can you be to put up to total strangers and their ponies overnight, feed them and make them so welcome?
We feel a bit guilty jauntily trotting and cantering through the orchids on the roadside verges, but need to make up for our late start, and there are so many wildflowers that does not seem disrespectful to as it might at home.
Al the animals we ride past cavort over to see us. Whether they have some sixth sense of the occasion or simply aren’t used to horses I can’t tell, but I feel sure that if Elsa had her flute and we opened the gates, we would soon have a huge drove of cattle, sheep and horses following behind us.
A man in a camper van stopped to chat, bringing a 60 year old snapshot of him aged 15 show jumping some national champion who I ‘m ashamed I‘ve never heard of. My passion has always been riding over the hills and far away rather than competing but he doesn’t seem to understand.
As we ride past Loch Watten, I bore Elsa with a lecture on its ecological significance and
Monday 19th June
Watten to Forsinard 32 miles
Elsa’s pink saddlebags are already demonstrating the limitations of fashion before function, so we’re delayed setting off while I do a quick fix with my woefully inadequate needle and thread and a bit of the belly band from Lancers bags. Sadly the delay didn’t encourage the rain to stop so we set off with heads bowed and ponies walking sideways like crabs to try and keep the rain off their faces. Not conducive to full steam ahead.
By 12.30pm we’d reached Westerdale, where we’d intended to start today but been unable to find accommodation. We knew the ponies would go better for a break but it was so cold and wet that we agreed we’d all get chilled, so trudged on, munching on the move.
I’m sure the army doesn’t march on mange tout and jelly babies, but it was a treat for us knowing that fresh food for lunch wouldn’t happen too often o out off road route through Scotland. Lancer and Rowan voted with their feet, insisting that the four of us were in this trip together for better or worse, that meant they got to share everything we ate. As soon as they heard a bag or wrapper rustling they stopped dead, demonstrating amazing flexibility in their necks until given their fair share of our tucker.
The sandy track to Altnabreac Station was relatively good going, and Elsa enjoyed jumping the horse-stile gates (which Lancer stepped over suspiciously) but after 10 miles, in constant rain and drizzle, it was really tedious. Ponies were tired and my hip felt like someone was sticking a red-hot poker through it. When it got too sore, I got off and walked, until that hurt even more than riding.
Resorting back to how I used to distract her to get up steep hills or while away long journeys, Elsa suggested we play I Spy, but all we could see were trees, mist and a short distance of track in front, it was somewhat limited. She jollied us along for a few miles going through the alphabet naming something relevant to our trip for each letter.
Miles and miles we dragged on through the forest until we met John proprietor of the Forsinard Hotel, where we were heading, who’d come to rescue some guests stranded miles into the forest with a flat battery. “You’re doing well,” he said. Oh praise be for someone to be positive instead of all those doubting Thomas’s who said we couldn’t do this trip. At least it was too cold, wet and windy for the midges locals had delighted in telling us would thwart us in the first few days.
It was still another few hours before we emerged from the forest at Forsinarn, anxious to get to the hotel before they stopped serving food, but ponies too tired and footsore to trot the last 4 miles up the road.
Before bed I checked the ponies in their paddock behind the hotel, Lancer being eaten alive by the midges and when I anointed them both with fly repellent, I found large pressure sores on Rowan’s back, sufficient to stop us in our tracks.
Elsa meanwhile had found that we had the wrong mobile phone charger with us. She fell asleep regardless while I lay in bed sick with worry about Rowan’s back, Lancers sweet itch and what we’d do in an emergency with flat batteries on our mobiles particularly when we’re about to had up a mountain. Simply can’t believe our trip could be over by the third day, but I am so utterly exhausted that I can’t think of any solutions to our problems.
Sunday 2nd July
The email on my PDA has given up the ghost, all the diaries I have written stuck or lost on the phone, and every attempt to remedy it and have proved in vain. Instead I’m scribbling a quick note to send home with Chris who has met us for the night at Callander. Apart from being great to see them it made us realise how vastly different – and how much easier - a trip like this would be with aback up team. Food is guaranteed for us and the ponies, there is someone to else to talk through problems with. And most important, someone who can do something to overcome the unforeseen. Just as well….
375 miles in 13 days without a break through some of Britain’s most challenging country, on the move for up to 13 hours a day, countless bogs, lack of food and sleep have really taken their toll on Lancer. The disastrous night at Rannoch Station was probably the last straw, and despite a restful night with perfect grazing at Milton Conon in Glen Lyon, by Friday morning Lancer was really struggling up the hill we had to climb over to Loch Tay. We offloaded his saddlebags onto Rowan, and I did everything I could to coax him on, but instead of his usual ears pricked following me happily he dragged behind looking miserable. The rain didn’t help, and although it sounds horrible, after a lifetime of playing Mr Horrid and at times being a real hypochondriac, I really couldn’t tell if Lancer was crying wolf. There wasn’t much I could do anyway, and I took great reassurance when he started messing around because of a shepherd working sheep with a dog.
Stopping to by lunch in Killin was disastrous. The cancer research balloons attached to Rowan’s bridle helped to boost fundraising, but standing outside the co-op, Lancer threatened to keel over. It was a very wet, long walk on the cycle route to Balquidder.
At such a snails pace we were 2 hours late for our rendezvous with the farrier, and Lancer kept trying to fall over while he was being shod, so much against our better judgement, we conceded to putting him into a trailer for the last 3-4 miles to our friends at Immerion.
Yesterday morning Lancer was still very depressed and lack lustre, refusing to eat or drink, and while his glossy coat and toned muscles looked better than ever, he was clearly far from well. Talking to David I really worried that Lancer’s symptoms mirrored those of red water fever in cattle, a tick borne disease. So the vet came and listened to lancers heart, took his pulse, noted his high temperature, took blood tests and administered pain relief and anti-inflammatories until we can find out exactly what is wrong. It may be azoturia, a build up of lactic acid in the muscles, we hope that rest will set him right.
So Lancer has stayed for his second night in the tender care of Marianne and David at Immerion, whilst I have ridden on south to Callander on Mikado, who Chris and Jake brought up as a substitute. It is a huge disappointment but most of all I am so worried about my beloved Lancer. Provided he is fit to move Chris will take him home and keep a careful eye on him.
Chris's update 29/6/06
Vyv and Elsa are now off the northen Scotland map and onto Southern Scotland. 340 odd miles down and what is probably the longest day of the trip now behind them. Needless to say the technology is still not quite up to speed so the real diary entries will have to wait a few days yet. Yesterday saw them ride from Ardverikie Estate (Monarch of the Glen) starting early on fantastic tracks (Elsa has now mastered that morning thing) that after about 12 miles turned to hard grantite, better than the 3 hours of peat that followed as they neared Rannoch Station but difficult for the horses. The accomodation was good for the people but disapointing for the horses-the paddock turned out to be a 12 foot a side patch of rushes over yet more peat-not even big eneough for a roll and pestered by midges to boot. A bit of Alpen had to make up for the lack of grazing overnight and a relativly short 24 miles today has taken them to Bridge of Balgie and a very rare civilised finish time of 6 pm. The horses this time in 6 acres of lush grass and making up for lost time on the eating front. Vyv and Elsa conversly spent an entertaining evening picking ticks of each other- the result of miles over the hills.
Sunday 25th June
10pm and we are still a couple of miles from Tomich, in Glen Affric, where we are staying tonight. Missed tea again, ponies pretty tired after 8th consecutive day of riding 9-11 hours/day, but at least Lancer no longer has energy to misbehave (it's taken 18 years!) and both are gleaming with fitness (and fly spray) and wholly sound.
We've covered nearly 250 miles, which should be 25% of the total journey, but with quite a lot of zig-zagging to go cross country I suspect we will do over 1,000m by the time we get to Lands End so we daren't get too excited. Bottoms fine, fingers perforated by daily repair of Elsa’s pink saddlebags, (a triumph of fashion over function) Elsa finished her book, e-mail eventually working but can't persuade to send pictures. Always feel like there is a gun at our heads to be somewhere sooner but we're all fine really.
Lancer and I are vying for who has the sorest hip, his arthritis exacerbated by straining his back and pelvis in various bogs we have struggled through, mine threatening dislocation every time I get on or off because I have to swing my leg so high to clear my saddlebags. We plod on regardless, never very fast but show me who would on this kind of unremitting regime.
It's taken a week for Elsa and I to fall out, which is nothing short of a miracle given sleep and occasional food deprivation. I struggle with Elsa's lack of appreciation of urgency or the concept of getting a move on; she then resents my chivvying. And I'm sure she would welcome company her own age but regardless remains cheerful.
What does not come over are the daily dramas, the ponies wallowing through peat bogs, us wading through thigh deep burns and rivers in horizontal rain at 10pm on mid summers evening en route to a mountain bothy. 8 miles from the nearest fence -and the prospect of having to wake every hour to make sure the ponies have not got stuck in the surrounding bog or damaged themselves on their hobbles-the only way to keep them in place . That’s without the collapsing bridges- all taking more time than anticipated. The daily diary –or the lack of it is the result- Chris will post an elongated text message in lieu of the more detailed diary that will have to come later on in the trip as time, food and sleep allow.
We are also really grateful for all of the people who have supported us to date, whether it has been through sponsorship-now standing at nearly £3,500, accommodation, messages of encouragement, or unexpected and wonderful packed lunches- this is what helps make the hard and unrelenting bits of the trip bearable.
Wednesday 21st June: Day 4 - Chris's stop press update.
The full story of the first four days has yet to be told but unfortunately Elsa and Vyv have been so busy riding, fixing panniers, wading through peat bogs on the top of hills in near darkness ( in the midst of torrential rain) that there seems to have been little time for the upkeep of the daily diary. This Vyv assures me will be rectified as soon as the opportunity arises.
At present Elsa and Vyv are over 10% of the way down having covered nearly 113 miles in 4 days, 26 on day one, 32 on day two, 30 on day three and about 25 today. The horses seem to be suffering less sore bits than their intrepid riders but keep checking hear the real story.
Sunday 18th June; D Day Vyv's diary
Feeling very sick as I scribble this just before we set off. Yesterday I felt nothing on the 9 hour drive north; it seemed though this was what I had been waiting for all of my life and the most natural thing in the world to be doing. Elsa said she was excited but as she didn’t know what trepidation meant she couldn’t feel it. Her biggest fear is being shouted at ” because her ears are sensitive” – no acknowledgement (on her part) that perhaps the answer was to avoid winding me up!
We’ve spent the last hour and a half parked at Dunscanby Head lighthouse, weeding down our mountainous piles of gear into what will fit into very small saddlebags. Our biggest dilemma is knickers – I know you don’t want to know that but if you only have space for 3 pairs and they have to last you weeks on end, it matters that they are just right. Elsa says socks are less of a worry as they get more comfortable when they are dirty. I didn’t dare ask more.
The horse’s bottoms are sore from sitting on the tail gate of the trailer for 9 hours yesterday. I have anointed them with Sudocreme, knowing that the tables will soon be turned and it will be our bottoms which are sore.
My hands stink of horse muck, plus Elsa’s jodhpurs are already filthy, but as Chris says, this is how it’s going to be for 8 weeks. It’s 4 days until we pass a shop so we’ve stuffed in as much trail mix as we can.
12 noon, time to tack up and hit the road. Lancer has already tried to break his neck and his headcollar pulling back from the rope on the trailer. The white sandy beach and the Orkney isles which lie before me suddenly seem more appealing that setting off on a 1,000 mile journey.
From the horse’s mouth!