THE SOUTH WEST TRIP

Following my first successful journey on horseback to Land's End, it wasn't long before Iwas planning another adventure: a 400 mile loop of the South West, covering six counties. This time I decided to travel with two horses, Taliesin and Oisín, and, of course, with Spirit. The journey, which ended up being just under 300 miles, was both physically and mentally challenging and a lot of hard lessons were learnt.

 


Read about the adventure in my blog below: 

 

Saturday 02/07/2016

We set off from the field in the pouring rain at about 2.30 in the afternoon. I was riding Taliesin and leading Oisín with the packs. The horses went well in spite of a few spooks at pigs, charging cows and one hairy incident with a tractor that nearly saw Spirit trampled! Taliesin made a few attempts to head for home when we had to back track to a passing place for traffic and Oisín was doing my head in for most of the ride hanging back and trying to eat from the hedges and verges and nearly pulling my arm out of its socket. When not doing that, he was biting Taliesin's bottom or trying to chase Spirit. It was quite frustrating and they all got called a lot of names. 

The weather cleared up a bit, although it was still grey and overcast. 

As we neared Brentor I chickened out of trying to ask people for somewhere to camp - put off by my previous experiences in the area the year before when overnighting with Taliesin. I'd asked a farmer for a field and he'd gotten the wrong idea entirely, had made some rather inappropriate suggestions, and had caught us up further along the road and absolutely terrified me. And everyone we'd asked after that had been less than helpful. So, with that in mind, I decided to sneak into a patch of woodland where I'd camped the year before, hiding from the yokel farmer. I didn't think anyone would mind the horses grazing a patch of lush grass under some beech trees tucked well away from the road. We'd leave nothing but a few droppings behind us! Besides it looked like cattle were occasionally let into the woodland. 

When I untacked the horses I found to my dismay that Oisín was already developing a sore where the girth was rubbing him on one side and Taliesin had some mysterious bumps on his withers and behind the saddle, none of which boded well, but I'd just have to play it by ear. My inner coward was already telling me to give up and go home but I silenced that voice and told myself I'd have to get at least as far as Glastonbury before calling it quits. 

I fenced off a bit of grass in the woodland for the horses, went and found some water for them which I carried in an empty mineral lick tub that I found in the hedge. There were loads of midges about which were doing Taliesin's head in!

 

 

Sunday 03/07/2016

I awoke to the sound of crashing undergrowth outside the tent at about 2:00am. Thinking that one of the horses had become entangled in the fencing I stuck my head out of the tent and found Taliesin straddling a small bush scratching his legs! I went back to sleep. 

At 6 am was woken up by the sound of the horses playing - charging around their tiny enclosure rearing, kicking and squealing.

I packed up and hit the road by about 8.30, skirting the foot of Brentor, with its little windswept church perched on top of a craggy hill to our right and beyond it lay the vast expanse of Dartmoor. 

The horses seemed happy, despite Taliesin's obligatory attempt to head towards home when we first set foot on the road.

Oisín was back to his usual ways, snatching anything and everything from the verges - his lips grabbing constantly, in the hope that he'd get something to snack on before he got dragged onward amid a volley of curses.

We struck out across the moor at North Brentor.

Crossing the busy A386 we continued down across the open moorland following faint tracks in the boggy ground down towards a track leading to some sort of military base. There I decided to stop and give the boys an hour's rest and fill up on grass.

The midges were horrendous! I had to wear my snood right up over my head, trying not to let the horrid little creatures get in and bite my face. Taliesin wasn't impressed either. I dozed off for a while, as did the horses between mouthfuls of grass. 

The weather was clearing up a bit as we set off again at 1:00. We had to ride a stretch of the A386 and it was typical that one of Oisín's boots kept coming undone. After getting off to do it up a few times only for it to come undone again I gave up. It stayed on. 

The cheap saddle bags that I had used on little excursions the year before and which Taliesin had already half trashed, had continued to tear and I wondered how much longer they'd survive. This was good going! Only half way into our second day and already our equipment was giving up. I decided to worry about it when it really fell apart.

Leaving the busy main road behind us we struck out across the moors again and came to a small stream. To cross the stream Taliesin would have to step down into it. He refused. I kept asking, he kept refusing. Oisín stopped paying attention and started looking about for something to eat. Suddenly Taliesin decided to jump across the trickle. He leapt, but Oisín didn't move, and I found myself wondering in mid air what was going to break: the lead rope, the head collar, or Taliesin's neck rope?
It was the head collar. We landed on the far side of the trickle and turned round.
Oisín stood on the opposite bank thinking about crossing the stream for a minute, but then turned round and started marching off back the way we'd come. I leapt off Taliesin, got his head collar off from under his bridle, managed to pursuade him to cross the stream again. Then we set off after Oisín who thought it was a great game and started trotting every time we caught him up. I was cursing. Luckily a man out walking his dog managed to stop Oisín just long enough for me to catch up and get the head collar on him. Meanwhile Spirit went and had a go at the man's dog. What a way to repay his kindness!

We managed to get back across the stream again without any problems and continued on our way. 

The going was slow along the rough, stony tracks.
I'd decided to see how far we could go barefoot because Taliesin has wonderful feet and Oisín does well in his Easy Boots, but rough stony tracks were no good for either of them and made them go very cautiously indeed so I was glad to get off the moor just up from Belstone reservoir.  Oisín kept refusing to cross streams the whole day, which made the going even slower still and I walked, leading the horses most of the way.

We finally made it to our stop for the night with Nicola, the niece of a friend of mine. She showed us into a cow stall in their barn where it was obvious from the blood-stained straw in the corners that it had recently been used for calving.  She put some hay in the stall for the boys but they didn't seem impressed.

I set up my bed in a sheltered corner of the cow stall next door to Taliesin and Oisín on the cleanest bit of floor I could find. The evening was spent trying to fix Oisín's head collar with bailing twine. I hoped it would work.

Emotionally, the day had been very up and down - from pure enjoyment at the stunning views on Dartmoor and the lovely weather in the afternoon to complete panic and despair - wishing I hadn't decided to embark on this lunacy. 

Monday 04/07/2016

I slept well in the cow stall but woke up with a stiff neck and shoulders. 

I ate, got packed up, and left just after 9. 

To cut down the mileage on what was going to be a rather long day, I decided to brave the main road into Okehampton. I was riding Oisín and, as usual he was being a pain to keep on the left side of the road. Taliesin seemed happy enough as pack horse and it would give him a bit of a break as he seemed quite tired. The road, although an A-road, wasn't too busy and we made it into Okehampton in one piece. We did get some funny looks riding through the town centre and stopping at traffic lights along with the cars. 

We had to stop and ask some people at the bus stop for directions as the OS Landranger maps aren't very clear when it comes to towns with lots of streets. Oisín decided he was not going to stand still and as we rode on through the town he began to get a bit silly-obviously there was too much traffic and too many people for his liking but he settled well when we got out of town and back onto the country lanes again. Taliesin didn't seem to care either way.

The road we were taking was a B-road and I was worried about traffic but it turned out to be a very narrow, quiet lane where we hardly met anything. Perfect!

As we rode rode past a row of bungalows on the outskirts of Okehampton, a grey-haired man with glasses wearing green overalls and wellies asked me in a very camp voice if I'd like a freshly brewed cup of tea. I was sorry to turn that down as he seemed nice it would have been fun but there really was nowhere to put the horses where they couldn't get into mischief. He offered me one to go. I couldn't take it, but the encounter cheered me up immensely! 

The day was overcast but dry, and the scenery was beautiful; green rolling hills, lots of little copses and thatched cottages abounded. The horses seemed happy too - Oisín was clearly enjoying being the lead horse and was nice and forward going, though still a pain to keep on the left!

I stopped frequently to let the horses graze and sometimes tried to lead Oisín to give him a rest, but he walked so fast that I couldn't keep up with him!

The going was much better than yesterday as the roads were mostly in good condition and easy on the horses' hooves so we made good time. I was in a cheerful mood for the most part.

The day had started off overcast and dull and when we reached Bondleigh it poured with rain for an hour but later in the day the weather cleared up and it became quite hot and sunny. 

We finally arrived at Boldtry stables, run by the lovely Celia Brend where the horses were tied up in the immaculate yard, untacked, washed off, watered and taken to their stables where they had clean beds of straw and piles of lovely haylage. The stables were next door to each other but Oisín decided he didn't like it at all and became rather stressed and panicky, so we put them into a big stable together where he soon calmed down. I took his stable and set up my bed for the night. 

Celia's daughter, Pink, was lovely and couldn't do enough for us. We were offered pretty much everything we could wish for which was truly touching.

Oisín's girth sores had become worse over the previous few days. He'd developed one on the other side too and worse still, he had a massive lump on his back under the saddle. Celia thought it was the saddle rubbing. She gave me some witch hazel and arnica to put on it. Pink offered to drive my things on to my next stop if the lumps and sores were no better the next day. How lovely of her. They knew the people I would be staying with.

Celia invited me into her house for coffee and let me cook some pasta for my dinner. She also offered me a shower which I gratefully accepted. 

The horses had plenty of haylage and water and even had a feed. They seemed content. 

 

Tuesday 05/07/2016

I slept quite badly. I think it was from drinking coffee too late the night before. I got to sleep before 11 but woke up at 00.45 needing a wee and couldn't get back to sleep until gone 2. Was woken up just after 5 by a swallow chirping very loudly in the rafters right over my head. It was pretty but really not appreciated at that hour!

Period started too which was not a welcome development…

Work on the yard began at 6.30. I helped with some of the mucking out and sweeping. The yard was forever being swept - the place was immaculate! 

That finished, Celia's horses were brought in and mine turned out while I finished packing up my stuff before going to the house for breakfast. I had some toast and black tea.

I brought the horses back in, tacked up ready to hit the road, and Pink kindly gave me a head collar to replace the broken one. The whole family were so lovely and generous I was really touched by how kind and hospitable they had been!

Oisín's bumps had gone right down which was great though he was being a terrible fidget to tack up, raring to get on the road again, and on to the next bit of our adventure!

We set off at 9.50 and headed off through Chulmleigh. I'd decided to give Taliesin the packs and to walk as much as I could to save Oisín's back - which also meant I could keep the girth a bit loose and hopefully not exacerbate his girth galls. 

Once out of Chulmleigh we hit a very, very, very long, flat road that went on for miles. The traffic was intermittent, with a few big lorries and some rude drivers. The day was pretty hot and dry and the only water we came across was in muddy puddles at the side of the road which none of the animals seemed too keen on.

Norman, Celia's husband, had looked over my route with me the night before and had advised me to avoid the A361 trunk road, which I had planned to cross at a staggered junction as it was the most obvious and shortest route. Norman said it was a horrendous road and there was a fly over we could ride across, though it looked like a bit of a detour. He gave me the number of someone called Vicky who live near the junction and who had offered to help me get across the road or find the flyover if I needed it.
At about 2pm we were getting close to the road so I called Vicky who appeared on a quad bike and led us down to the A road. She said crossing at the staggered junction was the shortest way and that they do it on their horses all the time. 

Vicky led Taliesin and I took Oisín and Spirit. The road was busy, but we managed it no problem. Vicky then advised us on the best way to get to our next stop, sending us a different route to that which I'd planned saying she wasn't sure what state the bridleways were in but that the road was good and definitely shorter. We took her advice and arrived and Partridge Arms Farm at Yeo Mill on the edge of Exmoor at 4 o'clock. 

There was no-one around. I called out. Nothing. So I rang the number for Banger Milton, my contact who had said we could stay. I heard a phone ringing in the big farm house outside of which we were stood. A man answered the phone, said Banger was out but could he take a message? I told him I was outside with two horses and was meant to be camping there that night. A few minutes later a young man appeared from the house, one of Banger's sons, and showed me to a yard where I could unload the horses, put the tack away and give the horses a wash off. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lumps under Oisín's saddle had virtually disappeared, but his girth galls were worse and he also seemed slightly unsound. 

Another of Banger's sons showed us to a field where we could camp. It was well away from the farm but that suited me just fine.

I'd not long set up camp when I saw two people long reining a young Exmoor pony along a track just up from the field. They stopped to chat. The pony was 11 months old! I thought it a bit young to be in any kind of work, but bit my tongue. The man's name was John and the woman's Jilly. They invited me up to the old railway carriage that they were converting for a cup of tea.They were nice people and we chatted for hours and soon realised we knew people in common as Jilly had grown up in Liskeard. They also told me about the issues surrounding the Exmoor ponies, the ridiculous standards that the breed societies expect from ponies to register them (they're not allowed any white hairs at all) and how many of the ponies that don't meet the standards then have no value at all and end up going for kill. The local people, they said, didn't value the Exmoors and saw little use for them, despite them being one the oldest and toughest breeds of horse in the world, great for endurance riding due to their strength and stamina. John and Jilly had two youngsters that they wanted to train up to show the locals that Exmoor ponies are actually good horses and can be used for almost anything, although they're notoriously hard to contain and even harder still to train, they said. They were very passionate. They also had a keen interest in off-grid and alternative living and one day dreamt of taking a horse-drawn gypsy wagon and travelling the world.

I got back to the tent quite late and made dinner then fell gratefully into bed.

 

Wednesday 06/07/2016

I slept like a log. Had decided to have an impromptu day off (which was fine with Banger) as I was exhausted and I thought it would probably do the horses good. 

Oisín's sores were still bad. He had sores on both sides and underneath his belly. I decided I'd have to ditch the saddle and ride him bareback, using Taliesin as a pack horse. 

I rang my best friend Chris and asked him to bring me up my saddle pad and a surcingle.

I spent the day lazing about in the field in the hot sunshine, watching Oisín wandering about with his nose to the ground, stopping occasionally to dig the ground and then he'd start eating something. I wondered what he was doing, but when I saw a squirrel going round checking the holes, I guessed he'd found it's stash of nuts. Taliesin soon cottoned on and would wait until Oisín had unearthed a stash of nuts, then he'd barge him out of the way and tuck in. Clever boy. 

I wandered down to the stream that ran through the bottom of the field and washed my socks as they were beginning to smell, hung them on the electric fence to dry and then I fell asleep in the shade of an old oak tree on my air bed. 

Chris arrived at 7:30 and we went to get chips from the fish and chip van that was parked up opposite Banger's farm. The owners were lovely and fed Spirit a whole pile of cake, mushy peas, chips, and salami.  

Chris and I sorted out what I was sending back home (I decided to send the Australian stock saddle back and use the treeless saddle for packs as it was lighter) then Chris and I  spent the evening relaxing and chatting about adventures we'd like to go on

 

Thursday 07/07/2016

I woke up late (7:30) had a massive breakfast of things that Chris had brought me and which I couldn't fit in the saddle bags - bread, hummus and salad mostly - then I packed down camp and got the horses loaded up. Banger helped me by holding Taliesin and Spirit while I clambered onto Oisín from a wall. It wasn't going to be easy riding bareback from here on but I was determined not to give up just yet. 

The horses seemed quite keen as we headed out along the edges of Exmoor through rolling green hills and wooded valleys with quaint little thatched-roof cottages. It was very picturesque! We got a lot of funny looks and one lady stopped to ask what we were doing. 

We picked up a main road near Dulverton which was fairly busy and the drivers clearly weren't expecting to see horses on the road but the bridleway I'd planned to take had looked far too stony for my liking. Everything nearly went tits-up when someone shot a gun in the valley below us and both horses went flying off up the road. It took a while to get them back under control and poor Spirit was not impressed. 

I was enjoying riding bareback (I prefer it to riding with a saddle anyway!) but the packs on Taliesin's saddle kept slipping which meant I had to get off frequently to readjust them and that did my head in. 

We picked up a bridleway on Exmoor and ran into some curious horses who followed us for a while. Luckily Taliesin and Oisín weren't too bothered. 

Leaving Exmoor behind, we picked up a bridleway across a field of lush grass that brought us out onto a road. Both horses were doing my head in trying to eat all the time and just as I'd get Oisín's head up from the verge, Taliesin would stick his head down to graze and while I was getting his head up, Oisín would start grazing again. Spirit was all over the place too and wouldn't stay out from under the horses' feet. It was very frustrating and they all got a telling off.
Then, as I was trying to manoeuvre them, Taliesin stood on one of Oisín's hind boots and the gaiter, which held the boot in place, tore right off and the boot wouldn't stay on.

After a few miles on quiet lanes, we came to a forest where we should have picked up a bridleway that would bring us out at Westcott Farm, in Luxborough, where we'd arranged to camp for the night. There was a maze of tracks in the forest, and none of them were marked so we soon became disorientated. It wasn't long before we were plagued by nasty, biting horse flies, too. Finally, after much traipsing about, we came out on a busy road not all that far from where we'd entered the forest so I decided to follow the roads after that. Of course the packs were still slipping, and the horses still trying to eat the verges all the time. Spirit was still all over the place, too, so I was feeling quite grumpy and stressed. I was very relieved to arrive at our destination and get the horses unloaded and turned out into a field full of rich grass. 

The area was stunning - I'd failed to notice that in my grump earlier. There were steep, rolling green hills and the earth was red and it was all rather beautiful.

I set up camp in the field with the horses on the only level bit of ground by the river. Unfortunately I then got mobbed by swarms of flies. 

 

Friday 08/07/2016

It was quite mizzly when I got up. I packed down and lugged my things all the way back up the stony track to the spotless barn before bringing the horses up. We loaded up and hit the road, making our way up and down the huge, steep hills, past drives and gateways where signs with big red letters screamed "private property - keep out!". What strange and paranoid people must live here to be so fiercely protective of a few fields and drives, I thought.

We plodded through a quiet, pretty little village and then followed a lovely road that ran through a woodland next to a river all the way to Roadwater; there it meandered along the side of a valley with some spectacular views across the rolling wooded hills and fields where the ploughed earth was bright red.

We passed through Leighland Chapel and chanced a road that said it was closed. Luckily it turned out not to be. We then picked up a bridleway which led through pleasant fields and woodlands, bringing us onto a road with views across to the Quantock hills. We followed little lanes all the way into Monksilver and out the other side where I decided it was time to start looking for somewhere to stop. I'd not organised anywhere and was more than a little nervous of asking people. 

I flagged down some passing people to ask, but the first few weren't from around there. I then asked a woman out walking her dog whether she knew of anywhere nearby that we might camp. She looked quite affronted, though I'm not sure why, and said no, there were no campsites around there, and certainly none that would take horses! Trying to keep my temper (she really was being very rude!) I asked if there were any stables or livery yards, but no, there were none of those around either apparently! I said never mind, it was worth asking and she mellowed a bit and told me to try the farm a little ways up the road. 

We came to the farm but I couldn't see any signs of life so we pushed on and at the bottom of a hill I found a farmer with a tractor and stopped him to ask. He said he lived in the farm we'd just passed and said we were welcome to camp there, but if we didn't want to go back, a little way further along there was a livery yard and that Julie - the owner - would be sure to help us out. Not wanting to backtrack, I decided to try Julie first, then backtrack to the farm is we had no luck there. 

We found the yard, but there was no one about. I called out and a girl appeared who said Julie was out but she'd be back soon if I didn't mind waiting. 

Ten minutes later, Julie arrived. She was lovely and seemed completely unfazed at finding us on her doorstep. Of course we could camp! The horses could pick about at the grass around the yard if they didn't mind her free-range Shetland who also grazed there at night. Otherwise they could have a field if I preferred. Would I like a coffee? 

I let the horses pick around while I set up camp. They didn't know what to make of the Shetland pony and tried to chase and bite it, but it was having none of that from them. It squealed and let fly with both barrels so they soon backed off.

Then Taliesin found things to scratch on. He's not gentle when he scratches and I was worried he'd destroy something so I moved them to a paddock for the night. 

I sat and had some couscous for dinner, contemplating the kindness of strangers. I'd been so nervous about not having anywhere to go, and having to find a place to stay. I was completely bowled over by Julie's openness and unquestioning willingness to put us up for the night. I went to bed feeling elated, with my faith in humanity at an all-time high. 

 

Saturday 09/07/2016

I woke up early and checked the horses. They were fine and thankfully hadn't destroyed anything in the night. 

I packed up and went to find Julie and her husband at the house. We sat and chatted over coffee and looked at my route. They were kind people and although probably well into their sixties, they had just fostered a young boy.

Julie offered to ride out with us, but I warned her we would be very slow next to her leggy Warmblood. By the time I'd got the boys in from the field she was already tacked up and ready to go. As we left the yard she was already on her way home - her horse marching along at a spanking pace, puffing and sweating after a hard ride. The day was going to be a scorcher. 

We followed the foot of the Quantock Hills, plodding along quite little lanes. The horses were still trying to pick out of the hedges and graze the verges but by now I was getting used to it and it didn't bother me quite so much.
As we descended from the hills heading towards the M5 the land began to level out and become flatter. We crossed the A38 at Adsborough and crossed over the M5 just beyond. From there we made our way to the A361, a busy A road along which we'd have to ride for several miles.

It was 5pm now, which was not the best time of day to be hitting a main road but with no other option, we just had to lump it. Actually, for all my apprehension, the road was OK. It was quite straight for the most part so the drivers could see us, and most people passed us politely. I managed to stop Taliesin from eating the verges and Oisín was behaving like a pro. Spirit was just trotting steadily on. We were nearly at Lying when a white car came flying past us and skidded to a halt a little further down the road, hazards blinking. It nearly caused a pile up. I muttered some curses under my breath as the driver got out, phone in hand. This was not a sensible place for photos! And then I realised it was April: my rather bonkers friend with whom we would be staying that night! It wasn't really a good place to stop for a chat but April can be a bit scatty at times. I garbled a "Hello! Can't stop! Horses will try to eat! I'll ring you when I'm nearly there!" and we carried on. 

I was relieved to turn off onto a quieter lane that brought us right into Burrowbridge. I rang April and she showed us to the field that belonged to her neighbours who had kindly offered to let the horses stay for two nights. They were in a paddock full of lush green grass and it was all I could do to get them untacked before they were down rolling and stuffing their faces. 

We loaded my things into April's car and drove the last few hundred yards down to her house where I sank happily into a bath with a pint of water while April conjured up a delicious dinner of nut roast with roasted vegetables. I raided her extensive wardrobe for something comfortable to wear and put all my sweat-soaked travel clothes into the wash. This was bliss. 

A lovely evening was spent chatting with April. She's a wonderful person, very wise and incredibly strong, a great listener and solver of problems and there's not a lot that she doesn't understand about life. Being with her in her little flat there on the Somerset Levels felt wonderfully peaceful and healing. It was a much-welcomed respite from the daily hardships and challenges of the road. I was glad we'd be having a day off there.

 

Sunday 10/07/2016

In the morning I wandered down to check the horses who seemed very happy indeed in their field full of lush grass.

April was out teaching for a few hours (she's a vocal coach and a musician and she used to sing in west end shows). 

I noticed that Spirit's paws were getting sore where they were wearing down on the tarmac with all the walking she was doing. I wasn't sure what to do but thought maybe we could improvise some boots for her. I'd also read somewhere that superglue could be used to create a skin-like layer over a sore. When April returned she dug out some superglue. It turned out to be a terrible idea. I ended up sticking Spirit's toes together and making the whole thing a great deal worse! I was mortified. Poor old Spirit. Feeling very guilty, we headed into Glastonbury to the Tor, drank from the springs and went into the temple by the white spring to look at the shrines there. The temple was dark and damp, lit only by the candles burning in the shrines. There were pretty offerings on many of the altars and some beautiful goddess artwork. There were people chanting and some people stripping off to bathe in the water. 

Next we wandered into town to browse the shops. I found an old leather handbag in a charity shop that we thought we'd chop up to make some boots for Spirit. 

I felt strange wearing April's leggings and dress with my only footwear: my trusty old wellies, leading a wolf on a frayed piece of orange bailing twine. But it was Glastonbury so really no-one bats an eye. 

We went home and chopped up the old handbags to make pads for Spirit's paws. She was definitely not impressed.

 

Monday 11/07/2016

I packed up and April dropped my belongings down to the horses, who both greeted me with a nicker. 

I chatted a while with Cheryl, the woman who had so kindly let us use her field. She was such a lovely, warm person! I got the horses ready and hit the road, waved off by Apirl, Cheryl, and Cheryl's husband, Julian. I was sad to leave.

We headed out along the A361 again for several miles before turning off onto flat, straight lanes across the levels. On either side of the road were ditches full of green algae and willow trees growing tall. It was easy going. We crossed a few main roads, plodded through Shapwick, out across the nature reserve to Westhay and eventually we arrived in Easton where we had arranged to stay at Redmond Bottom Livery Yard. The levels were lovely; Glastonbury Tor rose up to our right, and I admired the pretty little knolls that sprang at random intervals from the otherwise flat landscape as we neared the Mendip hills. 

Tired and ready to stop for the night we plodded down the long drive that led to the yard where we asked for  the yard owner, Anna, who had so kindly said we might stay. She was a quiet woman, practical and down to earth, if a little reserved - but she was kind. 

Oisín's boots were disintegrating rapidly and I knew I'd need to get him shod soon. As luck would have it Anna's farrier was coming in the morning and would just be able to squeeze Oisín in. I could't have asked for better timing.

I set up camp by the sand school, below the field where Taliesin and Oisín were happily grazing. 

 

Tuesday 12/07/2016

I got up early and had my things packed down and the horses on the yard by 8. Oisín did not behave well for the farrier and kept rearing up and snatching his foot away. I got them loaded up and strapped Spirit's make-shift boots onto her feet. She wasn't amused. 

We set off into Wells. The traffic was quite heavy and both horses were a little jumpy with big lorries trundling past. I was glad to get off the main roads and back onto lanes where we could relax a little more.
We headed out towards Frome on back roads at first, but those gave way to roads that were used by lorries and tractors to access some quarries. Neither of the horses was impressed but they handled the situation admirably and didn't spook or bolt - for which I was grateful. After a few miles, we turned off onto a slightly quieter road but the traffic there was fast and the drivers ignorant. Once, as we were rounding a blind bend a white van came hurtling up behind, pulled out onto the opposite side of the road to overtake us several hundred yards too soon. The driver made no attempt to slow down even though he was unable to see what was approaching around the corner. At that moment a car came flying round the bend towards us, slammed its brakes on when confronted with a white van in the middle of the road, and the car behind that didn't stop in time. There was a loud crash, the sound of crumpling metal and glass, and a hiss as a cloud of steam burst up from the engine. A pool of liquid spilled out onto the road. The horses jumped, but somehow managed not to bolt, the white van squeezed through the wreckage without stopping, and sped off into the distance. Luckily no-one was hurt. After making sure everyone was alive and well, I decided the best thing for me to do would be to carry on. Stopping on that blind bend would only have caused more problems. 

My nerves were thoroughly shaken by the accident and all I wanted was to reach our stop for the night and get away from these hellish roads. How the horses managed not to panic was beyond me!

Eventually after some more miles along hair-raising roads we arrived at our destination: a B&B near Trudoxhill where I went in search of my contact, Joss. She was a nice enough lady who had had horses all her life. She showed me where the horses could go out into a field of lush grass. The only issue was that she and her son, who ran the B&B, didn't want me camping on-site as they thought it might offend their guests who were paying top prices to stay. I asked would they mind my camping in one of their stables? They felt this was more acceptable - just so long as I didn't make it obvious to the guests. I would be allowed to use the loo in the house too if there was no-one around to see me. 

I thought it all a bit odd, but went with it anyway. They were good enough to let me put the horses there overnight and as long as the horses were happy and safe, Spirit and I could get by.

I set up camp in an empty stable on the yard and removed Spirit's makeshift boots. Rather than helping her sore paws, they'd actually made them worse! I was not amused. 

 

Wednesday 13/07/2016

I slept badly and woke up feeling nervous and apprehensive.

I was not looking forward to the day's journey as I'd have to navigate Frome with lots of busy roads and potentially a lot of people which would probably make the horses skittish. On top of that, I had nowhere sorted to stay that night. This was not a good situation, and after the previous day's close call I was more wary than ever.

I found Joss and asked her about the best way to get across Frome. She looked at the maps and then suggested I ride the horses down the A361 which was the main bypass for Frome and heaving with lorries! I was amazed that someone with a lifetime of equestrian experience would even consider recommending riding down such a busy road. After a great deal of deliberation I chickened out and asked could I spend another night there so I could organise transport to get us across Frome and Devizes and the busy, built up area in between. To my relief Joss and her son agreed so I spent the morning ringing round horse transport companies until I found one to take us. Transport sorted, I wandered down into Nunney and mooched about the ruined castle there, picnicking on the grass by the moat and thoroughly enjoying another day off, trying not to think about what lay ahead.

Thursday 14/07/2016

The transporter arrived early and we loaded the horses. Taliesin went in like a pro but Oisín took a little persuading. Driving some of the roads that Joss had suggested I ride and seeing the amount of traffic and big lorries on them, I was glad I'd not taken her advice. I was glad I'd decided not to ride this stretch at all as we were passing through very built up areas, where one town seemed to merge into the next. The roads were busy and there weren't many little lanes. I didn't think we'd have coped, never mind found somewhere to stay!

We arrived at Hampsley Hollow, a livery yard which also ran a glamp-site.

I went in search of Jo, who ran the yard. My contact, Krystal, was at work. 

Jo showed me some stables where I could put the horses until there was an empty field and we unloaded the horses. Oisín was dripping with sweat. It looked like someone had thrown a few buckets of water over him! I unloaded all my things and put away what I could in the tack room. Oisín was not happy being in a stable on his own and kept bashing the door and trying to get his front legs over it so Jo kindly shuffled a few horses around in the fields and we turned them out. Then Jo took me to the camping field where there were three bell tents set among flower beds and young saplings. There was a wooden gazebo with a hammock and views up to the nearby chalk downs.

Jo said I was welcome to stay in one of the tents. 

I went and looked in them, they were beautiful! Each one had coarse matting on the floor and three beds: a double and two singles. They were spotless. There was no electricity, but there were battery operated fairy lights in all of them and each tent had a small selection of books.

At the top of the field was a shower and toilet block and little shed that served as a kitchen with pots and pans, utensils, a kettle, and best of all: coffee! It was luxury!

I unpacked, made myself a coffee and had a look over my route for the next few days. I had nowhere to stay on Salisbury Plain or in the New Forest so I spent the day ringing round, organising stops and working out the route. 

I had a phone call from Mitch, an old farmer who I sometimes helped back in Cornwall. He said him and a friend were out for a drive and were coming to find me. They were at Yeovil, where was I? He was concerned I wasn't eating enough. 

Mitch treated everyone like bullocks that need fattening and you never got away from him without a whole pile of food. My vegan diet confused him a great deal, and made him worry that I didn't eat properly. 

He arrived in his friend's sports car and it really was lovely to see him. He was well into his eighties and walked with crutches because this knees were bad. It took him a good ten minutes to get out of the car and shuffle round to the boot from which he produced a carrier bag loaded with bananas, oranges, apples, biscuits and nuts. He didn't want to come and see the horses or our camp, I think the walk would have been too much for him, so we chatted at the car for a while. There was no news from home, except that horses were selling well at Exeter market and that he'd taken Jan (a mutual friend who I sometimes helped with her horses) out for lunch on Wednesday. Then they were gone. It was a fleeting visit, but a lovely one. How amazing that he'd come all this way from Cornwall just to bring me food!

I decided to take Spirit and climb the hills behind the hollow. It was a steep climb up King's Play Hill but it was worth the views. The land on three sides was flat and we could see for miles across a patchwork of green, yellow, and brown fields, broken here and there by patches of trees. The shadows cast by the slow-moving clouds added texture to the landscape. 

Over to the east the chalk hills of the North Wessex Downs stretched away into the distance, Salisbury plain rolling away to the south-east. 

I loved the grass-clad chalk downs of Wiltshire with their hummocks and hollows in which nestled little groves of ash and hawthorn trees. I sat down and breathed in life, content. 

 

 

Friday 15/07/2016

Because we'd arrived a day early we had another day off. I spent most of it reading a book I'd found in the tent. Something about a girl growing up with a chimpanzee for a sister. Krystal came and found us. She was a lovely, friendly person. She had done a lot of travelling and was very laid back. I couldn't thank her enough for letting us stay. She said if I ever did my ride to Scotland she could put me in touch with her in-laws who lived up there. I thought if I ever did the Scottish ride, I'd take a lot more days off as so far on this journey it was the days off I was enjoying the most!

I went to scout the route for the next day and see what the roads and bridleways were like. 

The bridleways looked like they were hardly ever used and many were quite overgrown. There were a lot of gates too, many of which looked difficult to manoeuvre. Not good with two horses, a dog, and riding bareback!

When I returned to camp Jo said the horses had known when I'd gone out and had been restless and standing at the gate calling, only relaxing when I'd returned. She said they'd been the same yesterday when I'd gone to climb King's Play Hill. My heart melted a little. They were such faithful boys.

Krystal had left me a whole pile of food for my dinner before she'd gone to work. There was a courgette, green pepper, spring onions, garlic, a bag of spinach, toasted sesame oil, an avocado, and some parsley. I cooked up some of the veg with tikka masala sauce and rice and made a wonderful salad with the avocado and spinach. It was a feast!

 

Saturday 16/07/2016

I was packed, loaded, and on the road by 11 after a chilled morning. We didn't have too far to go so there was no rush.

We headed out of Hamsley Hollow along a quiet lane and then some stony tracks. The stones hurt Taliesin's feet so I put some boots on him, but they kept coming off and he seemed reluctant so I decided it would be easier on his feet to take the road. 

The day was scorching and we plodded gently along the foot of the North Wessex Downs. It was beautiful! The road was surprisingly busy, everyone was out on their bikes or out for a drive it seemed, but the road was relatively flat so visibility was good. 

We were coming up a small hill just by a junction. There was a car waiting to pull out, some cyclists were just cresting the hill and there was a car behind them waiting to overtake. Suddenly a car came flying up behind them and the next thing I knew, it was spinning across the road. It hit the bank and flipped over. I remember seeing the underside of the car in mid air. I don't remember hearing anything but all of a sudden the horses had spooked, spun round and were galloping off back down the road the way we'd come. I'd been riding Oisín, leading Taliesin on my left, but as they both spun round, Taliesin was to my right, his rope around my waist, pulling me off Oisín. It was also tangled up in the neck-rope that I used to stop myself being pulled backwards off Oisín if Taliesin stopped suddenly. I couldn't get the rope undone quickly enough, and I was unbalanced, being pulled sideways off Oisín, down between the two horses. Unable to stop them, and unable to right myself, I let myself fall. How I didn't get trampled was beyond me! 

It was one of those situations where you act first and think later. I don't clearly remember how it all happened, but I picked myself up, grabbed Spirit and leapt into the car that was pulling out of the junction, ordering the slightly startled driver to follow the horses who were disappearing at a steady gallop back the way we'd come. He didn't argue. 

The horses were on the wrong side of the road running into the incoming traffic. The saddle had slipped under Taliesin and bits of my packs and all my belongings were scattered over the road. The horses were heading full pelt for a blind corner and on the wrong side of the road. This was not going to end well!
Luckily we managed to overtake them before they reached the bend on the road. We stopped a hundred yards ahead of them and I leapt out and grabbed hold of them, slowing them to a standstill. They seemed relieved to stop. I took off the saddle that was hanging from Taliesin's belly and led them into a nearby field to let them calm down and pick at the verge. 

Suddenly there were people there, taking the horses from me and sitting me down, giving me water. They'd seen the whole thing and had followed to make sure we were OK, picking my belongings up off the road as they went and piling them up on the verge a little way off. The cyclists arrived too. Someone rang the police. No-one knew what had become of the car that had flipped over. 

I was in shock and utterly fed up. Two car crashes in a row! I'd had enough of this travel lark and I wanted to go home. It was too dangerous. The roads were horrendous. It was definitely time to call it quits. But I was still a few miles from my stop, and miles from Hampsley Hollow and there was no way I'd get my equipment loaded up and the horses back on the road. All of us were too shaken. What to do? 

I rang Krystal, told her what had happened and asked could she help? She said to ring Jo, she had a horse box. Perhaps she could help? I then thought to ring my hosts for the night and see if they could help. 

Margot answered the phone. Yes, they had a trailer, but her husband, Dick, was out turning hay, no, they couldn't pick us up, the hay was important. That was the final straw. I broke down in tears. Margot must have realised the urgency then and said she'd see what she could do. 

Then the shock hit me. I couldn't see properly; my vision had gone all fuzzy in both eyes - like an oncoming migraine. But somehow when the police arrived to take a statement and asked me if I wanted the see the paramedic I said no, I needed to sort the horses out, I was fine. I didn't feel fine. 

A lady who lived up the road had all my things. She also had a field where the horses could go. Someone bundled me into a car and drove me there while other people led the horses up. 

Margot and Dick soon arrived with the trailer, we loaded the horses and all my things and drove the rest of the way. We stopped at the site of the accident and the police asked would I sign a statement and fill in some forms so that they could prosecute the driver for reckless driving, saying she'd had 800 yards with full visibility in which to slow down, but had failed to do so. He said he'd send me the forms in an email later on. I was in no state to be making decisions. 

 

Still shaken and a bit dazed we arrived at Huntley's Farm House B&B where we unloaded the horses. Oisín's hoof was bleeding where he had a tear in his heel bulb. I guessed from where he'd over-reached in his panic or perhaps Taliesin had caught it with his hoof. Fortunately he wasn't lame so we washed it out and slathered it in sudacreme. We got the horses turned out in a nice field and then I was shown to a shepherd's where I was to spend the night. Finally I sat down to look over my gear and assess the damage.

All the saddle bags were torn but the holes were small. The food bag was a mess as the small bottle of oil I carried had leaked everywhere and seeped into my cereal, but that wasn't the end of the world. Some of the clips for attaching the saddle packs were broken, too, as they had only been made of plastic and the gaiters on the hoof boots were torn beyond use. All in all, it could have been a lot worse. 

I had a bit of gravel rash on my shoulder and a gash on my thumb and ankle but that was the extent of it. I realised we'd all come off pretty lightly and things could have been a whole lot worse. But that thought didn't cheer me up, it only made me think that perhaps next time we wouldn't be so fortunate. I didn't want there to be a next time! I'd lost my nerve now after two car crashes in a row. I wanted to go home! But Dick and Margot, who had invited me in for a drink, sat me down at their kitchen table and told me firmly that I was not to give up. Margot had done some rides of several hundred miles in her time, Dick had sailed a lot, and they had both read many of the books written by people who ahd travelled a lot on horseback, and both knew of the Long Riders' Guild, my main source of inspiration. They asked me what Christina Dodwell (one of my heroes, and theirs) would have done in the same situation. Get back on the horses and do one more day, they said.  If I got to the end of the next day and still wanted to go home then so be it, but if I didn't get back on, I'd never be able to do it again! I was in such a state of shock and looking for reassurance and some parental guidance, that I took them at their word and agreed to continue in the morning. We spent a lovely evening chatting over a wonderful meal that Margo had prepared. Talk was mostly of travelling and adventures and I left feeling refreshed and ready to take on the road and all its unknowns again.
 

Sunday 17/07/2016

Dick escorted us along the first bit of road in his Land Rover and set us on our way on a bridleway that led out onto Salisbury plain. I'd noticed that both the horses had been jumpy when cars had approached us on the first stretch of road. I'd decided to ride Taliesin as I felt I had a bit more control that way, but I had lost my nerve a bit. 

It was nice being off roads and we started along a bridleway that was easy to follow and we seemed to meet people just when we needed them to open the few gates we encountered. The track was quite stony and Taliesin's feet were becoming a little sore now. Without the boots I was going to need to find a farrier soon.

We made our way through some trees, crossed a road and struck out over the plain along one of the many tracks that crossed it. It was scorching weather and there was no water anywhere for the animals, but the plain was lovely. Gently rolling grassland covered in wild flowers with little stands of trees here and there. Most of it was used by the army and we entered a few restricted zones, but luckily they weren't being used that day.

It wasn't long before I became disorientated, lost in a maze of hundreds of tracks that weren't marked on my OS Landranger maps and had no idea which track I was on or which to take so took a reading on my compass and struck out in the general direction of Bulford Camp and somehow that's where I arrived. 

We plodded through, getting funny looks from the locals and headed out towards the A303 where I needed to cross. The first road, the main road out brought us onto the dual carriageway just up from Solstice park and there were barriers across the middle. No getting across there. We went back and picked up a bridleway. It looked barely used and right at the entrance to it someone had dumped the body of a palomino foal. It turned my stomach. 

The bridleway came out opposite a road we needed and we somehow, goodness knows how, made it across that hellish, busy road and struck out towards Allington where we picked up a bridleway that followed the railway tracks to Porton. The track was nice and grassy under foot but the horses panicked every time a train came. They both seemed tired so I got off and led them. 

In Porton we followed roads for a while and then took a bridleway to cut out a large detour, but that bridleway had clearly not been used in a very long time and was horribly overgrown. It became increasingly narrower to the point where we couldn't have turned around if we tried! We pushed our way through the weeds and low hanging branches, with Spirit nearly tripping me up every other step and Taliesin walking so fast he nearly trod on my ankles. 

At long last we came up by the A30. It was a very busy road I didn't fancy my chances on it. My map said there should have been a bridleway just over the road from where we stood that would bring us out near our stop for the night. There was no signpost to say there was a bridleway, and I wasn't sure about risking it. Luckily at the moment a young man pulled into the driveway on which we were stood so I flagged him down and asked him if he minded going to check if there was a way into the field opposite and whether there was a sign. Yes there was a way in, not locked, no there was no sign post. I decided to risk it. I got the poor man to stop the traffic while I got the horses across as we were on a blind bend and the traffic was fast there.

It was a bridleway, I found out when we reached the gate on the far side, but clearly no-one used that either. I was told as much when we finally arrived at my host's. 

Terry, my host for the night, was not horsey. He had a farm and rented out paddocks to horsey people, and his farm buildings were let for storage. He also had some polytunnels that were all lit up with a warm orange glow all night. He said he rented those out to someone too. I didn't ask what for. 

He'd been a dairy farmer but now only farmed a few beef cows. He said his cows went all the way down to Bodmin to be slaughtered. I was shocked. The company he sold his cattle to would only use that slaughterhouse, he said. 

Terry's partner, Tracy, offered me a shower, which I gratefully accepted. She also offered to wash my clothes, which I accepted too! And while the clothes washed and dried she cooked me some chips and let me use the kettle to make up some couscous for dinner. We sat and chatted until my clothes were done and I headed back to camp. Both the horses were sound asleep. 

 

Monday 18/07/2016

We had a slow start. All of us were still tired from the day before. 

I tried asking one of Terry's liveries about the road and bridleways around there to get some much needed advice on my route, but she was unwilling to talk and seemed rather annoyed at my attempts to engage her in conversation. Weird lot, horsey people!

We headed out on roads, then a lovely bridleway through the woods, some nice shady back lanes that gave us respite from the already hot sun, but not from the horse flies that plagued us. We came out near West Grimstead and were just heading through the village when a pick up truck slowed to a halt next to us and someone called me by name. It took me a few minutes to register that it was my friend Jan's daughter, Julie, with her partner who kept sheep in the area. We chatted a bit and then they headed off. I set off up a small lane which came out onto a main road that we'd need to cross to get onto a bridleway. A Land Rover came up behind and slowed down when we pulled in to let it pass. The man driving it said the road was a dual carriageway (even though it wasn't marked as such on my map) and that he didn't think there was a bridleway on the far side. He also didn't think we'd get across it and remarked what a waste of a 'hot thing' it would be if I got hit by a car. My stomach churned. Sleaze-bag! Not particularly heartened by this, I turned round and went in search of a different route, but still we met some crazy drivers including one woman who pulled out onto the wrong side of the road on a blind bend and stopped her car to ask us what we were doing!

We found a flyover across the busy road, and picked up a bridleway across some golden corn fields, ripe for harvesting, and soon joined the track on which we should have been that led along tracks around corn fields into a pleasantly cool and shady woodland which offered a nice respite from the oppressive heat. 

It wasn't long before we entered the New Forest at Woodgreen. There were cattle grids to manoeuvre, and then we were passing through quaint little villages where the New Forest ponies wandered about quite happily picking at the verges.. Every driveway had gates or cattle grids to stop the ponies coming in and eating the gardens.

We made our way through the village, into the forest and finally found our destination: Folds Farm, where my host, Victoria Delville - a loud and very confident woman - took us to the yard to untack and wash off the horses, but the horses had to stay outside the gate. She didn't want them on the yard as she had eventers worth £30,000 and didn't want to risk anything. She then showed my horses to a field where there was plenty of grass to keep them happy. Taliesin was really struggling without shoes by this time. Victoria had informed me he'd not make it without shoes, that her farrier was coming in the morning and that he'd put shoes on Taliesin for me. She also said she'd organise my next stop for me, as I still hadn't found anywhere for the next night or two. I felt very 'taken in hand' but didn't argue with her. I needed a stop and I needed a farrier and if she wanted to arrange those things for me, then I certainly wasn't going to stop her.

I set up camp under an oak tree in a field by the River Avon and then called my friend Guy, who didn't live far away to see about going out to dinner somewhere. 

I'd met Guy when playing at a festival in the Netherlands with a band a year or two earlier and a nicer person you couldn't wish to meet! He was one of the kindest, warmest, people I knew and an absolute rock. I had been really forward to seeing a familiar face again on the journey. 

He had another mutual friend, Steef, staying with him at the time. Steef was the stage manager at the festival where we'd met, so a wonderful evening was spent catching up with both of them over a delicious meal at a local pub after which I collapsed into my tent and slept soundly.

 

Tuesday 19/07/2016 

I asked Victoria's daughter, Claudia, what time the farrier was due - between 11 and 12 she said. I went to check on the horses, who were being driven mad by the flies. I plastered them with fly spray and then went down to the river. It was only 9:00 but already hot. I was glad we were having a day off again. 

I spent the day relaxing and Claudia appeared a little later to inform me that the farrier hadn't had time to shoe Taliesin but that she'd get her mum to organise another one. 

I saw no sign of Victoria and began to wonder if she'd be any use at all for helping me find somewhere to stay, never mind find a farrier! 

I set to work looking for possible stops and managed to get somewhere that was two days ride away. It was a start. 

Later in the afternoon Claudia said I could go up to the house and Victoria would look over my maps with me. 

After ringing round some of her horsey friends in the area she finally found a field where I could put the horses, but I wouldn't be able to camp. However, there was a pub just up the road and I'd be welcome to pitch my tent there. Perfect. Victoria then rang a few farriers none of whom could help. In the end she gave me a number and said to try that. She told me she'd fallen out with him but he was a good farrier. 

I managed to get through to him and he said he'd shoe Taliesin but not at Fold's Farm. I told him where we'd be the following night and it turned out he was their farrier so he agreed to meet me there. I breathed a sigh of relief. 

That evening I met up with Guy again and we drove through the Forest, parked up and went for a nice walk with Spirit before stopping off at a pub for dinner. It was a wonderful evening in the best company and I felt refreshed and ready to get back on the road again.

Wednesday 20/07/2016

I was up and packed early. We set off back to Woodgreen. The horses both marching on nicely, keen to be on the move again. Half way through the village, a bicycle, that had crept silently up behind us, decided to try to overtake us on the gravel which sent the horses flying off down the road in a panic. I could have slaughtered that cyclist. After that, the horses were very jumpy. 

Crossing the busy A338, we struck out on nice quiet lanes in the growing heat, passing beautiful little cottages. 

On one road, a policewoman stopped to warn us that the road we were on was a rat run and that she'd had several near misses there. That was not what I needed to hear, but we were already on the road so there wasn't much we could do. 

At about 2pm, feeling hot and thirsty, we passed the entrance to a nursery where I saw a woman out working. I called out to her and asked if we could have some water. She brought us a bucket for the horses and Spirit and I downed two pints of cold water.

We picked up a bridleway in Alderholt that led across some fields. Some massive flies the size of hornets appeared, which sent both horses into a frenzy. It was all I could do to hold them and stop them galloping off again. We came to a woodland and had to cross a boggy patch to reach the gate. Taliesin followed nicely, Oisín didn't and his head collar broke. Again! 

We traipsed about in the woods, me leading both horses and Spirit. We got lost several times and finally made it out into Verwood, navigated the busy town and picked up some more stony bridleways the other side, coming out eventually onto a busy road where the drivers did stupid things like overtake at speed on blind bends and I worried that there'd be yet another accident. 

By the time we reached our stop for the night near Horton I was more than a little fed up. 

Guy came out again for chips and a pint of coke to cheer me up after I'd set up camp in the pub car park. It had been a very tough day. 

 

Thursday 21/07/2016

The farrier arrived and put shoes on Taliesin, who behaved unexpectedly well! Oisín, although only a hundred yards away and in full view of us, got into a panic thinking we were going to abandon him and came bursting through the electric fencing. 

Once Taliesin was shod (with his first shoes ever), we hit the road. The first part was busy but soon we were off on quiet back lanes where the traffic was polite and sensible for a change. 

I stopped in Witchampton to readjust the packs in a gateway by some paddocks and a woman appeared to ask what we were doing and where we were going. She brought us a bucket of water and offered us somewhere to stay for the night which was lovely. Sadly I couldn't accept as we had somewhere organised but she gave me her name and telephone number in case I was ever passing that way again and needed somewhere to stay. The rest of the day went quietly and saw us mostly striding along pleasant bridleways through green fields and through acres of golden wheat, oat, and barley crops, then through a quiet and beautiful woodland and eventually we arrived at our stop: Abbots Court Farm. I realised it had been the first day in the whole trip that had gone smoothly, and where I'd not reached the end of the day wanting to pack it all in and go home. 

I found my hosts who showed me where the horses could go and where I could store my things in their tack room. I noticed it had a sofa and asked if I could sleep there instead of having to set my tent up. They didn't see why not. It was raining for the first time since we'd left Wells. 

Elaine offered to cook me some dinner of pasta and veg, which I happily accepted, and she said I could use the shower too, which was also a blessing. Elaine's husband bandaged up my arm which was red and weeping with puss from the accident. I thought it was probably time to tend to it as it wasn't getting much better on its own.

After dinner I made myself comfortable in the tack room and it wasn't long before I fell asleep.

 

Friday 22/07/2016
We left Abbots Court Farm and headed out of Winterbourne Kingston on bridleways through wheat fields and stubble where the crops had already been harvested.
I was riding Oisín for the first time since the accident as his girth area was sore again. He was very jumpy.
Mostly the going was pleasant but some of the bridleways we were using were not marked which made navigation difficult and involved a lot of guess work, but we managed alright.

We picked up one bridleway near Dewlish that was incredibly over grown. Oisín was up to his belly in weeds but eventually that gave way to wide grassy tracks around some wheat fields.

I stopped and got off to let the horses graze a little and within seconds they were plastered with horseflies. Taliesin lost his patience with them so we carried. He became so agitated by the flies that I couldn't get him to stand while I tried to work out where yet another unmarked bridleway began. He was in too much of a tizz. I decide to put his bridle on to be able to hold him more easily, but broke away from me and set off at a spanking trot back along the grassy verge the way we'd come. Oisín then became incredibly anxious and it was all I could do to hold him as he neighed frantically after the disappearing Taliesin. I knew if I let go of Oisín I'd never catch them both but while I had Oisín there was still a chance that Taliesin would come back. He did eventually but only after I led Oisín into a woodland. I tied Oisín to a tree to catch the still agitated Taliesin and Oisín pulled back so hard he broke his reins (I'd not managed to replace his headcollar since he'd broken it a few days earlier). I tied both horses up and had a melt down. I couldn't cope with any more of this! I would get to our stop for the night and I would call a transporter and go home. It was all too much. I sat in the woodland for a good hour or so, reluctant to go anywhere in case I lost Taliesin again. Too much had gone wrong on this trip. In fact the day before had been the only day where something hadn't gone wrong or caused me a load of stress and worry. I decided this equestrian travel lark was simply not for me!
Then, realising that sitting there was getting us no nearer to our destination and that we still had some miles to cover, I swapped back to Riding Taliesin as I had more control that way and we braved the journey once more.
We followed miles of bridleways across rolling seas of golden corn, then across steep hills. As we rode up a long drive towards a road a man driving a posh car pulled up and said angrily "Do you mind not riding on the lawn? There's damned great hoof prints all over it!" I'd only been trying to get out of his way to let him pass. I wanted to point out that it was a verge and not a lawn. I also wanted to call him all sorts of names because I really wasn't in the mood to deal with this sort of silliness but I bit my tongue and muttered curses at him under my breath instead.Eventually we made it to our stop for the night: a field by a slow flowing river near Notton that belonged to a livery yard a little way up the hill over a main road. Anna, the owner was lovely and said the horses could go in the field of long grass they saved for the winter as it was too rich for the other horses. The boys were delighted. I set up camp and after a lovely chat with Anna, who said she wanted to do a horseback adventure at some point too, I decided I could probably manage to cope with another day travelling before giving up to go home. It wouldn't look good if I quit now!
I'd just set up camp when a woman stopped by the field to check her horses in the other side to mine. We started chatting. Her name was Lisa Walker and she was lovely. She asked if we needed any supplies which was really kind of her.
Guy arrived that evening with a new headcollar and reins for us. Always Guy to the rescue! What a legend that man is. We headed to the pub for a pint of coke, but no chips served that night!

Saturday 23/07/2016
I decided to wash some of my clothes in the river and as it was going to be another hot day again I hung them on the fence to dry in the sun while I went for a walk with Spirit. The walk was lovely but ended up being a good 10 miles which we didn't really need on our day off. Poor Spirit. When I got back to the tent Lisa had been and had left me a loaf of bread, a pot of marmalade with a knife and some cereal bars along with a danish pastry.

 

Sunday 24/07/2016
We were up and off early heading along bridleways and then along the roads towards Bridport.

I was riding Oisín again to give his girth galls a break but he was still being very jumpy and at one point he bolted off down the road at a cyclist. It took me a while to get him back to a walk, he really was not happy being in the lead. I got off and walked after that, navigating Uploders and Loders. We crossed the busy A3066 and there we met up with my good friend Chris who had decided to join us for a stretch of the journey. Our mutual friend, Reza, had been good enough to drive him all the way up from Cornwall.
He took Taliesin and led him, very slowly under his heavy burden of equipment. I wondered what he was carrying on the pack frame!
The day became cloudy and then misty, a refreshing break from the horrendous heat of the last few weeks.

We picked our way along a bridleway that clearly hadn't been used in a long time and had become horribly overgrown. I pushed ahead through the thick undergrowth with Oisín and stopped to wait at the top for Chris and Taliesin to catch up. At one point I thought they must surely have run into trouble they were so long in catching us up.

We abandoned the idea of using bridleways and stuck to the roads after that, steep hills and then one long stretch of main road until we reached our stop for the night at Woodhouse Stables where we were met by Lee, the owner.
He was a lovely man, very practical and knowledgeable about horses. We turned the boys out into a field with some hay to pick at as there wasn't a great deal of grass. As we turned the horses out I noticed Oisín was lame on the hoof where he'd torn the heel bulb in the accident over a week before. He'd been sound up until then. I wondered if he'd caught it on something while struggling along the overgrown bridleway earlier that day. I washed it out well with hibi scrub and poulticed it. Decided to wait and see how he was in the morning.
Chris and I then settled down to make dinner in the tack room.
A woman who lived on site in a log cabin kindly offered us the use of her caravan for the night which we gladly accepted. Anything not to have to put a tent up! And Chris and I spent the evening chatting and dreaming about mad adventures in the wilderness as we always did.
It was nice having a familiar face along but I found it odd after so travelling alone for so long.

Monday 25/07/2016
I went to check on the horses. Oisín was still lame. I didn't know what to do. Lee arrived and said we were welcome to stay until Oisín was healed and ready to hit the road again. I'd have loved that but I had to be back to go on tour with the band so it wasn't really an option. Lee then told us he'd just bought a horse lorry the day before and said if we liked he'd drop us back home to Cornwall.
I thought about it a while. I couldn't continue with a lame horse and I didn't have the time to stay put and let it heal, also what were the chances of being offered a lift home again? Besides, I was very, very tired of the trip. It was exhausting, so much had happened. I was ready to call it a day. And anyway, if there were complications with Oisín's hoof I wanted to be home for a while to make sure everything was OK and get a vet out before heading off on tour for a few weeks with the band.
We spent the morning talking to people on the yard, chatting with Lee's children and the grandchildren of the woman who had let us stay in her caravan.
Eventually Lee arrived in the lorry and we loaded the horses and all our gear and set off all the way from the far side of Axminster to Cornwall with Lee, his children and their chihuahua, Bob, along for the ride.
We pulled up at the top of my drive and unloaded the horses. Oisín marched out of that lorry as sound as a bell. I could only laugh! Spirit dropped gratefully into the familiar dirt of the drive and looked thoroughly exhausted. It all felt quite surreal of me to be pulled out of my journey so abruptly and dropped back home to normality like that. I'd managed a good 300 miles out of my planned 400, but the journey felt in no way complete. I felt a bit of a failure, if truth be told, for copping out so easily, but I knew it had been the right thing to do for all of us. We'd all had enough and even 100 miles shorter than planned, it had been some adventure alright!