On the 1st of April 2016, I finally mustered up enough courage to undertake my first little long distance journey on horseback. Following the Kernow Way for 100 miles from my home near Bodmin Moor all the way to Land's End, I spent 6 days getting a taste of life on the road. Although I'd planned on doing the journey with Taliesin, a hoof abscess left him unable to complete the ride, so I took Oisín instead, along with my wolfdog, Spirit. Oisín had never done any overnight camping trips before and took a few days to settle down.
Read about the adventure in my daily blog below:
A bit of history
After moving to Cornwall in 2010 I decided I really ought to give this equestrian travel lark a go, having been inspired by the numerous adventurers I'd read about on the Long Riders Guild website. In the summer of 2012, having spent a few practice nights out camping on Bodmin Moor, I tacked up my little Haflinger mare, Ailbhe, crudely tied a few bits of camping gear onto the saddle, and with Spirit, and some reluctant boyfriend or other in tow, we set out on what should have been a 300+ trip around the Cornish coastline.
We lasted a day and half.
At the end of a lovely sunny day in which we'd covered about 18 miles we decided to camp in a field near Blisland, just off the Camel Trail. When we woke up the next morning it was raining. The forecast for the coming days was awful, with amber weather warnings being issued for the coastal areas which we were about to hit. The novelty of the adventure had worn off and the reality of blistered feet and aching legs was kicking in. We made it as far as Wadebridge before turning around to go home.
Feeling thoroughly deflated, I abandoned the idea for a few years but, once the trauma of the first failed attempt had worn off, the desire to travel on horseback came creeping slowly back.
In 2015 I took Taliesin for a few overnight trips around Bodmin moor, planning to attempt the Land's End ride once again in September, even though I was recovering from a broken collarbone (thanks to Dakota's antics in June).
I had nothing planned apart from the route - which was going to be the Kernow Horse Trail. After a 2 night practice expedition over to Dartmoor - which saw most of our equipment fail, and revealed a lack of willingness on the part of the local farmers to let us camp (apart from one dodgy one who thought he'd be getting a whole lot more!), I once again gave up and decided I had better put some more effort into the planning of the trip before trying to do it a third time.
By December I had recovered from the Dartmoor debacle enough to start trying to organise the trip properly. I sorted out places to stay in advance so that we didn't end up in a situation where we were looking for somewhere to camp with a tired, grumpy, hungry horse, and a tired, frustrated me. I emailed livery yards, alternative communities, eco initiatives, farms and B&B's that looked promising on Google and that were between 15 and 20 miles apart and on or near the Kernow Horse Trail. The emails all bore the subject line "A Strange Request" which is where the blog derives its title.
We had some positive responses, a few negative responses, and from most places we had no response at all but eventually we had every night covered and this time there was no backing down.
I spent the early months of 2016 getting both Taliesin and Oisín fit. I planned on doing the ride with Taliesin as I knew he camped well and I had never taken Oisín out overnight - but I thought it best to get both fit just in case something went wrong.
And it did go wrong.
Taliesin got a hoof abscess at the end of January and was laid up for weeks, and unable to be ridden. I had no choice but to appoint Oisín my trusty steed for the trip.
Day 1 - 01/04/16
On the first of April 2016 we set out. I thought it quite apt that it was April Fool's Day. I felt like a fool. I was a bundle of nerves wondering what on earth I was doing this for and wishing secretly that I could find some excuse to back out without losing face. I couldn't though, as I had organised each stop and people were expecting me to turn up.
The days leading up to our departure my mental and emotional state had been all over the place - ranging from high spirits and pure, ecstatic excitement to sheer panic and dread, and then to an absolute blankness in which I didn't think of anything at all. Mostly I was scared…scared of what might go wrong and more than that I was worried that the journey wouldn't live up to the years I'd spent building it up to be some sort of epic ride in my imagination. What if it was awful? What if I didn't actually like travelling on horseback and had to abandon my dreams altogether? Was I even ready for this? And how were Oisín and Spirit going to cope? This trip was the big mental block I'd created for myself after several failed attempts. If I didn't manage it this time I would be so disappointed in myself and the mental block would become an even greater obstacle to all the trips I wanted to do. A lot was riding on this little 100 mile, week long jaunt down to the end of the country.
And so we set off.
We left home at about 10.00. The sky was grey and there was a strong wind blowing. Oisín was being a bit naughty and full of himself which didn't help my already fragile mood, and to make matters worse the packs kept slipping no matter how many different ways I tried to attach them to the saddle.
We rode along the side of Bodmin moor up to Minions and followed the main road along and down to Redgate where we turned off at Golitha Falls. The main road had been quite busy but luckily all the drivers we met were polite and sensible.
I took Oisín down to the river at Golitha Falls to see if he would drink but he wasn't thirsty. He was very agile jumping back up the bank though!
My mood started to improve now that we were off the beaten track and on roads I didn't know so well.
As we headed towards Draynes, a massive tractor pulling a trailer that had passed us back up at Minions came up behind us while I was letting Oisín enjoy the fresh spring grass on someone's drive. The tractor stopped and the driver opened the door to speak to us. He was very well spoken (not a yokel), and not at all bad looking! He asked us where we were going and where we'd come from, complimented Spirit, said he thought the whole thing sounded "excellent" and wished us luck. A little ways further along the road we saw the same tractor ahead of us, pulled up at the side of the road. The driver came over and said that if we didn't have anywhere to camp that night that his father and step-mother lived just the other side of Mount. I told him where we were headed and it transpired that his father and step mother were Robin and Louella Hanbury-Tenison at Cabilla Manor where we were staying anyway. He was Rupert Hanbury-Tenison, whom I'd read about in White Horses Over France when he was just a child. The encounter cheered me up thoroughly.
The rest of the ride to Cabilla Manor was pleasant and quite enjoyable. Traffic was polite and Oisín seemed happy. I finally managed to sort out the slipping packs but then found that the woollen blanket I was using as a saddle cloth by day and for extra warmth for me by night, was slipping under the saddle and needed to be frequently pulled back into place.
By 5pm we had arrived at Cabilla Manor where we were met by Robin who showed us down to a small yard with stables where Oisín was to spend the night. He also had the option of going into the adjoining paddock. There wasn't much grass there but he was happier out picking what he could find than being up in the yard eating hay.
I was offered a room in the house but dogs were not allowed so I opted to sleep in the other stable in the yard that was full of hay as I wanted to be near to Oisín and couldn't leave Spirit out by herself all night. A hay barn was certainly a step up from a tent and Oisín kept coming up to check on us and eat our bedding for the night!
I left Spirit in the stable to go in for coffee, toast and a chat with Robin and Louella who were lovely hosts and very interesting company, having travelled all over the world and done some amazing long rides themselves!
Louella was a little sceptical about my vegan diet and wanted to know whether I'd cook meat for my future husband, or would I inflict my principals on him too. I pointed out that I didn't really have any intention of marrying and if I did, surely he could cook for himself? This seemed to shock her deeply.
I went back to my stable to get things ready for the night, but was invited back in for dinner and a hot bath later on.
Oisín called to me and came galloping across the field when he saw me return, and Spirit was complaining loudly at being left tied up in a stable.
After dinner with my hosts, I indulged in a hot bath and the offer of a bed in the house was made all the more tempting by the fact that it was now freezing cold, pouring with rain, and blowing a gale outside, but I felt guilty leaving my animals out in it and anyway compared with sleeping in a tent the hay barn was pure luxury!
Day 2 - 02/04/16
I didn't sleep well. I kept waking up cold and uncomfortable and listening out for Oisín. I didn't hear him shouting at all, but the wind may have drowned it out.
It was still raining and miserable in the morning but Robin assured me at breakfast that it was supposed to clear up later on.
When tacking Oisín up, I noticed that he seemed a bit tender behind the saddle where the packs had been so I decided to walk for a few miles and put the packs on the saddle to give his back a rest.
We walked down to Cardinham, opting not to follow the Kernow Horse Trail to Cardinham Castle as the traffic on that road was quite heavy and every time a car would come past Oisín would stick his head down to eat, which was quite irritating. We opted for some quieter back roads over to Cardinham woods instead.
The rain eased up a bit when we got into the woods. There was a mist hanging over the trees on the tops of the steep, forested hillsides and it was lovely and quiet as we followed the tracks along the river. Two ladies stopped to ask where we were going and why. One said she'd always wanted to walk the Michael Mary ley line from Norfolk to St Michael's Mount. I told her about Janet Bradshaw who we'd met a few years ago walking that route with her Gypsy Cob mare, Lottie.
We also saw two horse riders, and Oisín got quite excited and tried to catch them up.
Surprisingly we managed to navigate Cardinham woods without getting lost (despite there being a number of tracks there that did not appear on my maps, which was quite confusing!) and make our way into over some fields into Bodmin, crossing the A30 which was almost at a standstill.
We slipped along back roads through Bodmin, passed the cemetery where Oisín sampled the grass while I checked the maps.
And around the back of the rather bleak and foreboding Bodmin Jail.
Then we followed the Camel trail for several miles.
I didn't like the Camel trail. It was too "manufactured" and quite boring. Grey stone chipping path with scraggy, litter strewn hedgerows. Perhaps that's a little harsh. It's clearly a well maintained multi-user, off road trail which is great but it seemed a bit, well, soulless. There were lots of people out walking dogs, or cycling with children. It was a bit crowded and I was glad to get off it at Boscarne where I decided to get on and ride, having walked the best part of 10 miles.
The countryside opened up and became quite bleak with huge open fields and lots of wind turbines.
While most of the roads were quiet lanes where we saw hardly any traffic, one road turned out to be the main drag from St Columb Major to the A30 and was quite fast and busy, but luckily most of the drivers were polite and sensible.
We were heading for Springfields Fun Park and had told them we'd be arriving between 5 and 6. It was 6.30 when we finally arrived, tired and hungry. There was no sign of anyone around and when I called Laura, my contact, there was no answer. I walked round the back to see if I could find anyone, but the place was quiet. I left a message for Laura and eventually she called me back to say she'd completely forgotten that we were arriving, that she was out but that she'd send her dad down to see to us.
A Brummie bloke and dour woman appeared. They were short with us, but polite and seemed a bit clueless about horses really. They offered us a field that had no grass or water near their horses. It was also unfenced one side, but there was electric fencing there which I thought would be fine. I could camp anywhere I pleased. The ground was very wet. We went to get water from the yard which was quite a way off. As the woman was filling a bucket and I was trying approach the subject of perhaps getting Oisín some hay to eat, Steve, Laura's dad suggested putting Oisín in the paddock they used for the ponies during the day which was much closer to the yard where the toilets were, was fenced and had water. I thought it was a good idea so we moved him and all my stuff there. I asked for a hay net for Oisín, offering to pay for it and the dour woman appeared with a hay net with half a slice of haylage in it asking if it was enough. I said it wasn't, offered to buy the whole bale and filled the hay net right up.
I set up camp on a nice flat bit of ground near the paddock and made dinner, during which time Oisín started pacing the paddock, pawing at the ground and trying to climb the fencing, which was intended mostly for small ponies and therefore not very high, or very sturdy. I hoped he'd stop and not cause any damage but decided to string up some electric fencing just in case.
It was only 8.30 but I was knackered. All I wanted to do was go to sleep but all I could hear was Oisín working himself into a tizz in the paddock. He was covered in sweat and I thought if he carried on he'd give himself colic. He seemed happier when I was with him so I had no choice but to drag all my bedding under the shelter by the paddock and sleep out with him.
The shelter was open on 4 sides and the roof was quite high so when it started raining in the middle of the night it wasn't much use but Oisín had settled down and was eating now so I just had to lump it.
Day 3 - 03/04/16
I slept ok, but kept waking up cold and uncomfortable. The self inflating bedroll wasn't very good.
I decided to get up at about 7 and began packing up. As soon as I began moving about Oisín started pacing, pawing and having a go at the fencing again. It was still raining and I was tired and very grumpy now.
I tried bringing Oisín out of the enclosure and to graze a bit, tied to the fence posts which worked for a while but as soon as I tried to go more than a few steps away he'd start fidgeting and pulling on the rope again. I put him back in his paddock but he wouldn't settle.
I managed to get packed up and the staff began arriving on the yard at about 9 am so I moved Oisín onto the yard to get him tacked up while I charged my phone in the feed room. His fidgeting got worse and apparently when I went to use the loo he got really bad.
Despite the absolutely pouring rain I decided it was best if we left sooner rather than later. I paid them for the haylage and hit the road…Spirit decided it was appropriate to do a massive poo in the car park, but they said they'd clean it up. I didn't argue.
Oisín started out very tense, wound up and forward going. He calmed down after a while and things got easier.
The rain stopped by about 11, the weather brightened up, and by 1 o'clock the sun was shining, which put me in a better mood. After Oisín's antics the night before and earlier that morning I was feeling slightly disillusioned by this whole equestrian travel thing. I half wanted to go home as I wasn't sure whether Oisín's behaviour was going to get worse or improve. But I decided I might as well see how he was for another night and then decide what to do.
We had to cross a few busy main roads and even ride up the B3285 for just over half a mile but traffic was sensible fortunately and we made it off onto the quieter back roads to Zelah in one piece.
We arrived at Chyverton Estate Equestrian Park at about 4, walked down the drive looking for signs of life but the place seemed deserted. Eventually we found a house and I called out until someone appeared who called Nick, the yard manager, to say we'd arrived. He appeared on a quad and led us down to a barn full of stalls. Oisín had the stable at the end, there was an empty stable and then a stable with a big coloured gelding in it and another bay horse further down. At least Oisín would have company and he could see the other horses so I hoped that would keep him calm for the night!
Nick had given Oisín a nice bed of straw and a pile of lovely smelling haylage. Nick said I could sleep in the empty stable next door if I liked, so I did.
A nice girl named Dominique, who owned one of the horses in the barn, offered Oisín a small feed which he thoroughly enjoyed.
Although distance-wise it wasn't too awful a day (about 15 miles) I was shattered from 2 nights of poor sleep so was out like a light long before 8.
Day 4 - 04/04/16
I slept well in my stable. It was the first night of proper restful sleep I'd had so far on the trip and luckily Oisín was calm and quiet. I did wake up at 4am and refilled Oisín's bucket of water as he'd knocked it over and gave him more haylage to keep him happy, then I went back to sleep until about 7.
We had a bit of a lazy start as we didn't have too far to go (about 12 miles) and it was drizzling so I was in no rush; plus I was waiting for my phone to finish charging.
At about 9 a girl appeared on the yard, I guessed she was working there doing the mucking out etc, and Dominique appeared shortly after. She owned the big coloured horse on the other side of my stable.
She gave Oisín a small feed again.
I decided to muck out Oisín's box so I moved him across to another empty box just as Dominique took her horse out to ride in the school. As soon as the other horse left the barn Oisín started pacing up and down the box, pawing the ground, kicking at the door, and rearing up to get his front legs over the stable door a few times. Moving him down near the other horse didn't calm him down, either.
I managed to finish mucking out the box and tacked Oisín up though he wouldn't stand still which was quite frustrating. The only thing that seemed to temporarily calm him was having his belly and fetlocks scratched.
There was no sign of Nick, who I wanted to pay for the haylage and bedding etc and as I couldn't leave Oisín to go looking for him I decided to just get moving. We met him a little ways along the road so I flagged him down to thank him. He didn't want any money but I insisted.
It was about 11 o'clock by this time.
Time seemed a bit meaningless really but I'd noticed that hours seemed to go by quite slowly and distances seemed much longer, probably because we were in unfamiliar places.
The day looked like it would clear up but I was tense again after Oisín's antics which left me wondering if it would be best to just call the whole thing off as he seemed not to be enjoying it at all. He was fine when we were on the move and fine to ride, apart from trying to constantly stop and graze the verges. Occasionally he thought he knew where we were going better than I did - usually in the opposite direction to the way we were supposed to be going! We had a few arguments and to add to my frustration, the top pack was unbalanced and kept slipping over to one side.
My thoughts of calling the whole thing off were only added to by the fact that our stop that night was at the Eco Park. It was not an equestrian place and therefore was not really equipped for horses. I doubted whether it would be set up to contain Oisín should he get into a tizz, try to climb out of whatever enclosure he was in, and head for home. In spite of that, I decided I might as well turn up and see. If it wasn't suitable then I could always try somewhere else if I had to.
I was feeling a bit sorry for Oisín having been dragged away from his friends and his comfy little routine at home for 100 mile long walk without so much as a "by your leave". Who could really blame him for being so insecure, and for objecting once in a while?
The area around Chyverton and up to Callestick was really lovely - lots of woodlands and nature reserves and pretty little cottages nestled in pretty valleys. Leaving Callestick and following a bridleway up through Healy's Cider Farm, the countryside became much more open and bleak again.
Heading into Silverwell things became a bit confusing and I missed a turn onto a green lane, mistaking it for a footpath (it was very overgrown!). Luckily I found someone to set me back on track again.
It was getting on for lunch time and there was a pub marked on my map not far off the route up by Chyverton Cross Roundabout so I decided to detour up there for some chips and a pint of coke. Walking up the road towards the pub I noticed one of Oisín's back shoes was clinking. It had come loose, even though it had only been put on a few days before the trip!
When we got to the pub I accosted a man who had just come out and asked if he could send someone out. The waitress took our order and I tried to tie Oisín up to a telegraph pole by the wall separating the pub car park from the road as it was the most sturdy-looking device I could see. He wouldn't stop fidgeting, pawing and walking from one side of the pole to the other.
The girl who brought out my chips and coke mentioned that she had horses and when I told her about Oisín's loose shoe she tried to ring her farrier to see if he could help us but got not reply. She gave me his number before we left saying that he might also be able to help us with a stopping place if the Eco Park turned out to be no good.
We left and my mood plummeted, despite the sunshine. Between a loose shoe, an uncertain stopping place, slipping packs, and an unruly horse who thought that every time a car came past us on a very busy main road he could put his head down to eat grass and swing his bum into the road I was not feeling all that happy. To top it all off, I missed the turning onto another green lane/bridleway and ended up having to back track a good half a mile to find it.
There followed a succession of green lanes, each narrower, muddier and more overgrown than the last. It was so bad I ended up leading Oisín for most of the way. I was worried about the packs getting ripped on some of the overhanging branches but miraculously they all survived.
We were walking through the outskirts of Skinners Bottom by now, not far from our destination. I was still quite down, and once again thinking that maybe I should call the whole thing off. I noticed it was quite a horsey area so thought that maybe I could try there if the Eco Park wasn't suitable. Climbing the hill out of a valley I heard the unmistakable sound of a farrier shoeing a horse in a yard just off the road. I called out to him and told him my predicament. He said he'd tighten the offending shoe and even refused payment.
My faith in the Universe was restored by that simple, yet perfectly timed encounter, and we continued on. We made it to the Eco Park, which was on the top of a hill by the sea.
We were met by a young man named Ollie who said my contact, Tim, wasn't there as he and his partner had just had a baby. Ollie showed me some of the fields, all full of grass with good hedges, but there were no gates on any of them. We settled finally on one large field that only had one gateway which Ollie said he'd put some small Harris fencing across as a barrier. I pitched my tent in front of it, with some electric fencing in front of that. The rest of the field looked secure and there was loads of grass. Oisín actually seemed very happy.
Ollie was lovely. We chatted about travel and he said he'd quite like to do some walking adventures. He lived in a caravan on the other side of the valley and said he had some friends in Zennor who he thought would probably put us up if we wanted.
Feeling much more positive I decided that despite all the problems I would probably do such a thing again but perhaps it would be easier with 2 horses rather than one as then they'd keep each other calm and we wouldn't have any silliness or getting worked up.
Day 5 - 05/04/16
I had another good night's sleep. Shortly after dozing off I had a vivid dream in which a lady outside a cottage was unfurling the spring across her front garden - like pulling up a carpet - and singing a strange and beautiful melody. I opened my eyes to see Oisín silhouetted against the night sky. I had left the tent open to be able to check on him in the night if I needed to, but he seemed fine now.
I woke up at 7 and began packing up and getting breakfast. Most of my food on the trip consisted of muesli and water for breakfast, trail mix and ginger biscuits for lunch and couscous of various flavours for dinner. It wasn't very appetising!
The weather looked set to be nice and Oisín was quiet to load up.
We saw Ollie as we were leaving. He didn't know what to charge us but said to email my contact, Tim and sort it out with him.
I led Oisín along some quiet little back roads around the top of Porth Towan, heading towards Portreath, and up through Illogan to Tehidy Country Park.
Oisín seemed quite content and I was in a good mood. Spirit was, well, Spirit! Just getting on with it and occasionally stopping in silly places to sniff things and tripping both of us up.
By the time we got out of Tehidy at Coombe my feet were becoming a bit sore so I decided to stop and let Oisín graze and put some calendula cream on my heels to help prevent blisters. As soon as I let go of him he started off back into the woods along the way we'd come. I caught him and decided to get on and ride him but he got silly about letting me get on and kept trying to go back into the woods so I walked him a ways up the road until he calmed down enough to let me mount.
The countryside which had been lovely all morning near the coast and in the woods became bland again as we headed inland. We went under the A30 on the outskirts of Camborne and along side it for a ways, down to a very busy road which we managed to cross, then followed a succession of bridleways that were quite stony underfoot and in some places completely overgrown so I ended up leading Oisín again. We crossed a railway and picked up another bridleway down behind a massive factory. A lot of the bridleways we used were poorly marked and there seemed to be a lot of tracks that weren't even on the map but somehow we managed not to get lost.
The roads weren't particularly fun either…most of them being narrow, busy and fast with a lot of tractors. We had one hairy encounter with an idiot tractor driver who decided to sit on our tail whilst waiting for us to find a passing place. Luckily Oisín kept his head screwed on and behaved sensibly.
I was glad when we got off the roads again and onto some nice bridleways somewhere behind Hayle.
The bridleways became worse - thick mud, overgrown and no signposts but we pushed on through. When we got to Trewinnard Manor I decided to take a short cut up to the road along their drive as taking the bridleway would have added on at least half a mile extra. Luckily the little gate next to the cattle grid at the end of the drive wasn't locked.
I had an email from Lou, my contact for our stop that night asking for an eta. We weren't far off by my reckoning so I said we'd be there within half an hour.
It was more like an hour and half!
We crossed the A30 at Cannons Town (we had to push our way through slow traffic as no-one was going to let us cross!) and followed a road a little way. On my map it looked like there was a bridleway leading off to the right half way along that would bring us out just opposite Old Mill Stables where we were staying. The path was sign posted as a footpath but I was tired and decided to try it anyway. It was narrow and there were a lot of low hanging branches. When we got to the bottom there was a very thick stone wall, about 3 feet across. I climbed over it, Oisín followed, climbing over it with surprising agility.
I didn't think this was a bridleway but thought we had just as well push on and see. The other side was steep and overgrown with gorse and brambles but we pushed on.
We followed one path and came to a locked gate. We couldn't turn around so Oisín had to reverse back down the path, which he did very well! I was getting stressed now but tried another path which brought us out in a field full of young cows. I thought it best to call Old Mill Stables for directions.
Nick, Lou's husband set us on the right track which involved back tracking over the style/wall, back up to the road and doing a bit of a detour along bridleways but we made it. As we approached the road off the last bridleway a pick up appeared and the woman driving it introduced herself as Lou. She gave us final directions to the stables and said she was going out for fish and chips, did I want some.
We finally arrived and were shown to a small paddock with lots of grass for Oisín. There was an aged mare next door for company, which made Oisín very happy, and there was a lovely patch in the garden next to the paddock for me to pitch my tent.
Lou brought me over a cup of herb tea, a flask of hot water and some tea bags. She then brought my chips which tasted amazing after a long day's travel!
Nick came to set up some electric fencing and started chatting. He was a very interesting man who had worked with French heavy horses doing forestry work. He recognised Oisín as a Breton and said he'd once ridden an Ardennes barefoot for 500 miles from Wales to Hampshire. He said they had a 3/4 Ardennes gelding at the stables for the RDA they do.
I went to bed very happy to have met such lovely people.
Day 6 - 06/04/16
I slept very well. Oisín was quiet and happy with his new friend the old mare.
I woke up and started packing up. Had a breakfast of couscous to shake things up and was just brushing my teeth when Nick appeared to invite me in for coffee.
I went in, bringing Spirit with me (they kindly shut their dogs out) and we chatted about long rides, heavy horses, and fox hunting. He said he was an anti-turned-pro and was telling me his views and his reasons, which he seemed to want to share. They were all very sensible and well thought out arguments, though I'm afraid he completely failed to convince me. He also trims horses feet and does many of his own horses. He maintained that all horses can be barefoot given the right time, conditions and diet. We had a lot of things to talk about and a lot of common interests. He seemed to have done a lot of research into all of the subjects that really interested or concerned him and had spent a lot of time thinking them over and weighing up all sides of the argument before forming his own conclusions which seemed a very logical way of doing things.
I met Jake, their 3/4 Ardennes who was lovely. He was a bay roan, smaller than Taliesin but very well built.
In return for staying they'd asked me to leave a donation for their RDA programme. I wasn't sure what was appropriate and being pretty strapped for cash by this time I left what I could afford, which really wasn't anywhere near enough. Too embarrassed to explain that I was pretty hard up, I promised myself to send more when I could afford it and hoped they wouldn't feel in anyway insulted!
After thanking Nick and Lou profusely, we hit the road.
The weather was nice: sunny but wind; and our route led along some lovely little lanes down towards Nancledra and up the other side towards Amalveor where the land became increasingly wild and there were more and more patches of open moorland.
Soon we were heading off along bridleways over the moors.
The bridleways became quite boggy and muddy so I got off and led Oisín.
Out on the open moor so near the sea it was very windy.
Navigation was going well so far and Oisín and Spirit seemed happy. I was happy too. Even when it began to rain.
Oisín was proving quite agile and sure footed, clambering over rocks and avoiding puddles and boggy areas.
Soon we ran out of bridleway markers. As with most moorland areas where on the map there are one or two official bridleways marked, in reality there are loads of different tracks that people walk or ride and no way to tell which are the official ones and which aren't.
We headed in the general direction we needed to go but on seeing a Cornwall Council van parked up by an old engine house in the distance I decided it was worth asking directions. As we headed towards the van Oisín suddenly bucked and managed to launch his packs from where they were sitting behind the saddle up onto the saddle. Thinking something might have spooked him, I stopped and straightened them out before continuing.
After being quite calm and happy all morning I was starting to get a bit stressed out from having lost our path on the moor. Oisín was starting to get a bit tense, too, and kept snatching at grass, obviously getting hungry. We got to the van where the man gave us directions so we headed off again. I was still leading Oisín, walking in front of him along a narrow track. Suddenly he leapt forwards into me, bucking.Turning around I found that the saddle and the packs had all slipped round under his belly making him panic. I hadn't done the girth up tightly enough. What a stupid mistake! I managed to calm him enough to get the girth undone and get everything off him. Miraculously nothing was damaged.
I saddled him back up again but couldn't get the blanket on as it kept blowing off in the wind. Carrying the packs to a nearby gate, tied Oisín up and loaded everything onto the saddle.
After that I decided we needed to get off the moors as soon as possible. If something happened again I might not be able to hold Oisín and there was nothing to stop him running back the way we'd come. At least on the roads he might be more calm. I certainly would be anyway!
The maps I had didn't cover the area where we were headed and none of the people I asked for directions were much help. One told me there was no way to get to Bosavern without going on very fast, busy, main roads that weren't suitable for horses, another tried to send me on a very long detour via the coast road which would have added several miles to our day, and the last person we asked gave us some very unclear directions.
Luckily I'd downloaded the Ordinance Survey app and relevant maps onto my phone so I soon found an alternative route on back roads and bridleways that wouldn't be too much of a detour.
As we headed off the moor we could see St Michael's Mount in the distance behind us. It wasn't far to Land's End now!
We followed some very quiet roads for over a mile down towards New Bridge where we had to walk along a main road for a quarter of a mile. The road was awful, the traffic fast and heavy but we were soon off it onto bridleways and back roads again heading towards a place called Grumbla - a name which I felt rather aptly described me at the time!
Heading up the hill away from Grumbla I noticed a man walking behind us who soon caught us up and started talking. He said he owned a load of horses and had a 100 acres further along the road. He thought I was crazy doing this trip and offered me a gratefully received cigarette. He walked with us for a few miles and his company soon snapped me out of my grump. His name was Liam and he was very easy to talk to which was nice. He even offered us a place to camp.
When we came to his fields he gave us directions to our stopping place and offered the animals water and gave Oisín some pony nuts.
Coming out onto the main road we saw a sign post that said it was only 5 miles to Land's End! - we turned up towards Bosavern.
We finally arrived at Bosavern Community Farm, a small farm that grows and sells produce and who take WWOOFers. I'd planned on having a day off there to do some volunteering before finishing the trip.
I found someone in the farm yard who went to fetch Pete, our contact. Pete's first reaction when he saw us was "You didn't say you were bringing a dog!" and then said he'd have to speak to his partner Nikki about it as their dog didn't get on with others. This wasn't the reaction I needed at the end of a very long, tiring and stressful day. Especially considering that I had mentioned the dog in every correspondence I'd had with him! Pete said they'd thought I was coming in May - despite my also having mentioned the date in all the emails I'd sent to them. They didn't seem very organised.
With the dog issue resolved, Pete led us through the yard and farm buildings to a field where he said I could put Oisín for the night. It had no gates! He said he'd assumed that I would be tethering Oisín "or something". I was too tired to be anything other than direct about what we needed (polite direct let me add). This would not do. Pete racked his brains and finally remembered a field on the outskirts of the farm that was well fenced and had gates.
The field was far away from the farm but there was a tap with drinking water nearby. Pete said I could come down to the house to shower etc and to socialise with their WWOOFers once I'd pitched the tent, but I knew I couldn't leave Oisín on his own. Even when I went to fill up my water bottles on the far side of the hedge he began to get agitated and shout for me.
I pitched my tent in front of the propped gate to stop Oisín trying to break out. Unfortunately it was in a very exposed spot and the wind which was blowing strongly but it couldn't be helped.
I walked around the field to check the hedges and fencing. There was a gate at the far side leading out onto the main road that wasn't secured. Luckily there was a big rock by it that I could push against to hold it shut, the rest seemed pretty horse-proof and there was enough lush grass to keep Oisín happy.
It seemed silly to have a day off at the farm when I couldn't leave Oisín or Spirit unattended. I didn't want to sit around there for a day doing nothing either, when I could just as well have a day off at home. Poor Oisín had probably had enough by this time, too. I rang the horse transporters whom I'd booked to pick us up on the 8th to see if they could pick us up a day early. They could.
That sorted, I cooked my dinner then lay back in the tent and allowed myself to indulge in thoughts of a long soak in a hot bath, clean clothes, by own comfy bed and a hot dinner of anything that wasn't couscous!
Day 7 - 07/04/16
It was a very windy night, the tent was billowing all over the place, but luckily it was dry. I slept well till about 3 and then lay awake for ages thinking about the next trips I wanted to do, contemplating what I'd learnt from this one, and thinking how I could improve on it.
I decided I would definitely be taking 2 horses next time. While it might be more difficult for me to manage, I felt it would make things easier for the horses, who would be more settled and happy being together. I think a lot of Oisín's problems on the trip would be solved by having company. It was interesting to realise that although it had been a tough week, I hadn't been put off future trips in the slightest!
The transporters had arranged to pick us up in the Land's End car park at 2 and as it was only about 5 miles I didn't need to leave in any particular hurry. I lazed about for most of the morning before packing up and leaving the farm at about 11.30.
I'd also arranged to meet my friends Chris and Jax and their family at Land's End at about 1.30.
We had to follow main roads all the way to Land's End, so I'd decided it would be best if I didn't ride at all and just led Oisín the whole way.
We'd gone about 2 miles down the road when the transporters called to say they were on their way and would be there in about an hour! - it was just gone 12 at this point so they were considerably earlier than we'd arranged. I decided to just deal with it when we got there as there was nothing else I could do.
We followed the B3306 for the first few miles, past the Land's End airport. Luckily Oisín was fine with the planes and didn't twitch an ear at them taking off and landing next to him.
The B3306 joined the A30 which we couldn't avoid. I had hoped that this far down it would be quiet but it wasn't and there were a lot of idiot drivers on it who were passing us too close, and too fast. One moron towing a caravan even thought that overtaking us on a bend was a great idea! Oisín, bless him, was being very sane and sensible.
As we were coming down the hill into Sennen I saw a Range Rover pulling a horse trailer coming up behind. They pulled along side us - it was the transporters. They asked if we should load up here. I explained that I wanted to get to Land's End and at least get a picture by the signpost. They seemed a little put out by that but honestly I didn't see the point in making it this far to just load up and go home without getting to the "finish line".
As we got closer to Land's End it started to hit me that we were nearly finished with the trip. It made me really emotional! It wasn't relief at reaching the end of our journey - in fact it was almost a sadness. I was immensely proud of Oisín and Spirit, and also of myself for finally having completed this trip that I'd been dreaming of doing for so long; a trip which - having given up on it twice already - had become a sort of mental block to realising my dreams of equestrian travel. But at long last we'd done it!
Walking into the Land's End car park a Shetland pony next to the road scared Oisín into a silly fit. It was just at this moment Chris, Jax and family turned up. The transporters were waiting for us in the car park, too. I said we were just going round to the famous sign and wouldn't be too long. They still seemed grumpy.
The place was quite crowded; it was the start of the Easter holidays. I couldn't find Chris and Jax and Oisín was in no mood to stand still so we started to head round the side of horrendous "Theme Park" to the signpost - trying our best to avoid people. By this time Oisín was in a bit of a tizz, probably due to the amount of traffic, all the people, a lack of grass and the Shetland pony incident so he refused to stand still. Jax caught up with us, but I was so caught up trying to calm Oisín down that I barely even managed a "Hello" to Jax and the kids.
Jax took a few pictures of us in front of the sign…Oisín refusing to stand still and behave, despite being given carrots as a treat for having made it.
Photos done, I decided it would be best just to get Oisín loaded up as I didn't want to keep the transporters waiting any longer. As soon as we started back the way we'd come Oisín started pulling like a train - probably thinking we were finally heading home.
We were, but not in the way he thought!
I managed to stop him heading back out the entrance and directed him down the car park to the trailer.
I tied Oisín up to the horsebox, got him untacked, and took him up the ramp into the trailer. He followed me willingly and I tied him up while the transporter shut the ramp. Spirit who was outside started yelping and whining and wouldn't shut up and as soon as I exited the horsebox Oisín started freaking out - rearing up and getting his front legs over the breast bar. The transporter went in to disentangle him, Spirit was shouting her head off, and it was utter chaos!
The transporter was looking rather anxious now - worried that Oisín might trash the trailer - so I hopped back in to calm my horse down.
It worked a treat and Oisín stopped panicking. In the end, the transporter suggested I ride in the trailer with Oisín to stop him having a meltdown. I'm sure it was highly illegal, but there was nothing else for it. Spirit travelled in the trailer with us too, and I kept over on the opposite side just in case Oisín did something silly. He was fine once we got moving - although he was dripping with sweat, poor mite.
Watching the landscape flashing past as the trailer rattled up the A30, I marvelled at
Somehow it seemed a more fitting end to our journey that I should ride in the horsebox with Oisín and Spirit, who had been my faithful companions for the last week. It was also far less awkward than travelling in the Range Rover with the grumpy transporter.
The ride home gave me time to think about what we had just achieved. Although perhaps not a particularly long trip in terms of time or miles, it really felt like I'd overcome a massive obstacle. The feeling was magic.
Arriving home, we unloaded Oisín at the cross roads at the top of the lane leading home. I paid the transporter and set off with Oisín along the road. Realising where he was, he suddenly relaxed. The sun was shining low over the moors and pretty yellow spring flowers adorned the banks against carpets of rich green. The three of us walked the last little bit of the way home, together, in silence. I felt elated, free, like a massive weight had been lifted. It was blissful, beautiful, deeply calm. It felt like the perfect final chapter, a great ending to a strange and wonderful adventure. I was happy.
When we reached the field, Oisín saw Taliesin and Dakota and whinnied at them loudly. I turned him loose and, after having a mouthful of hay, he wandered sedately down to greet his friends. After sniffing him, Dakota tried to play but Taliesin was having none of it and wouldn't let Dakota anywhere near Oisín - he was going to keep him all to himself after a whole week apart! It was the first time those two had been separated for more than a few hours since they'd arrived from France over seven years earlier!
The contentedness and deep sense of calm lasted all of the following day. It felt like so much had happened and so much had changed in those few short days. I had started to realise that it was possible to travel on horseback, that I was capable of doing it, and that I even quite enjoyed it! The prospect of other adventures now opened up before us, and everything I had ever dreamt of over the years lay within my grasp.
Three days after arriving home I began planning the next trip...