Friday, 20 November 2009
Thursday, 19 November 2009
In the winter months, we run our horses and ponies in the stubble fields surrounding the house.
There are many advantages to this arrangement: using the stubble fields (where there is plenty of rough grazing) rests our grass fields - good for the pasture and minimises parasite problems.
As the stubble fields are nice and close to the stables, it's also easy to get youngsters in for some handling, or geriatrics in for a few hours' respite from the rain which has been pelting down recently. This is especially valuable during these short hours of daylight.
We've been getting the foals in regularly for some handling - as they didn't get much over the summer while I was away. This helps to prepare them for weaning, which we'll do around Christmas, and also is preparing them for (shhhh!) being microchipped next week, as the law now requires.
We haven't as yet started supplementary feeding (bar a little bite of hay if something's in) as they absolutely haven't needed it: one or two mares are actually waddling! Tsk. Seriously, it's our only opportunity to get some weight off the Highlands before they face the spring grass again. The mild weather however, means that the grass in the stubbles is still actually growing - as I type this, the thermometer outside is registering 12 degrees (grass starts to grow at 6). I wonder if we'll end up like New Zealand, with year-round grass growth?
Another advantage - or perhaps not- of having them all near the house is that I can watch them from my office window. (I'm supposed to be writing, but hey...)
It is fascinating to watch closely the herd dynamics - who pals up with whom as a grazing buddy, who prefers to graze on their own on the fringe of the group. The foals and yearlings are getting bolder and more cheeky towards the older horses, until they overstep the boundaries and are sent scuttling by an exasperated adult.
It is a very settled herd, where each individual seems to know their place. I never witness kicking or biting (bar the foals, in play). The most aggression is the odd bit of face-pulling.
I know how lucky we are to be able to keep our animals in a semi-natural way, with plenty of space for all. I recently refused to sell a 2 yo to a buyer who wanted to keep him in a yard with no winter turnout at all. I know many horses are kept like that from necessity, but it's far from ideal, especially for a growing, boisterous youngster - probably for any horse, come to that.
We have bought in thoroughbreds out of training in the past who didn't know how to graze having been kept in stables all their life: they would just mooch around by the gate, not eating (food only comes in a bucket or haynet obviously) staring wistfully at their box door. It wasn't long before they got the hang of it and started to get cheeky about being caught though!
Monday, 16 November 2009
Saturday, 14 November 2009
She was an absolute star, taking everything calmly in her stride (in spite of literally being dragged out of the nettles with only a few days' notice.)
You might also remember that she was initially 'dumped' on us by her owner and we had to go through all the tedious legal channels to gain ownership of her so that we could decide what was going to happen to her in the long term.
Since her expedition down to the borders on the trip, she has been away being professionally schooled and is now ready to go on to a new owner, provided we can find the home she deserves. If she were a little bigger (she's 13.3) or I, alas, were a little smaller (!) I wouldn't part with her - but she needs to go somewhere where she can be used and enjoyed to the full.
She's 5, and currently has all the basics in place: walk, trot, canter and is happily hacking out on her own and with others and will go first or last. She hasn't started jumping yet, but is comfortably coping with all sorts of varied terrain out on hacks. She is of course also trained to carry packs! She has the most lovely willing nature, but due to her youth is not really suitable for a novice: ideally we are looking for a long-term home with a small adult or a confident older child who has support from a horsy family. She has lovely straight movement and excellent conformation and would show.
Her one drawback is that she sometimes cribs, probably as a result of how she was kept in an earlier life. She has been improving, especially as she has now got other things to think about, but she would be better in a home where she has full turnout. She gets on well with other horses.
She is easy to catch, box and shoe, and has the potential to be a cracking all-round pony - so if you are looking for one (or know someone who is) and would like further details, you can contact me, Kate Godfrey, 0n 01828 632463 or email me at email@example.com.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Firstly, apologies to those many many people who have been in touch to give me a hard time for leaving those poor ponies stuck on Mount Keen for so long!
Yes, we're safely home - but the combination of three months in the pure mountain air, followed by a shopping trip to Dundee, resulted in a dreadful bout of flu for me - obviously my system was no longer able to cope with twenty-first century urban bugs.
I'm feeling better now (thank you) although still a bit feeble. I rode the boys out today for the first time in company with my friend Felicity - the ponies set off as though they were intending to do the whole thousand mile route backwards - so obviously still feeling pretty fit!
There's still a lot of 'finishing off' to do on the blog, and I will get there I promise.
One of the most common questions has been ' so how much total weight DID you lose/gain'? You will remember that there was a splendid scoff for two riding on this, at the Kinloch House Hotel Blairgowrie.
The answer is we lost a total of 39 kgs - nothing at all really, given that the ponies had NO additional feeding on the trip. For those who really want to know, it broke down thus: Doogs lost 30 kg; Yeoman lost 8 kg; and I lost...well, you do the maths. All I can say is, I must have been in fantastic shape before I left. Nothing to do with the splendid round Scotland hospitality, then...
The boys were delighted to get home. Somewhat to my surprise, I haven't had any trouble catching them since we got back either! Doogs was immediately surrounded by his gingernut thoroughbred harem, where he has remained ever since. I swear I've caught him saying , "and you'll never guess what we did next..." as the mares flutter their eyelashes and look impressed.
Yeoman - well I think it's fair to say that he left home a boy and came back a man - such a change in a horse, from a somewhat dippy delinquent, to a senior and responsible member of our little equine community.
Now we're back in cyberspace, check into the blog now and again to find out about the gear we wouldn't be without (and what went in the bin); what I'll do differently next time (and what that 'next time' is going to be - very exciting!) and equally exciting (to me anyway), the full-length unexpurgated book version of the trip which is due for publication in the spring. The profits from the book will go to World Horse Welfare International Training. There are also lots of great photos to catch up on which I'll post as I go - sending pictures to the blog en route was a little challenging at times.
Hope all you grief-givers are a little happier now!
Friday, 16 October 2009
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Note that's 'fewer' and not 'none' - this can still be testing terrain, and people have died up here especially in the winter months - it is still an area which requires respect. Fabulous riding, but check out your route first! Some of the tracks are steep or very stoney in parts, and burn crossings can be impossible in wet weather.
No concerns about the weather today - glorious early autumn at its very best - in fact, quite warm. Having decided to head south via Glen Tanar we headed out of Aboyne across the bridge at Birsemore, and along the reasonably quiet B976 to the Bridge o' Ess.
One of the great advantages of riding slowly through the countryside is you see some remarkable things which you could easily miss in a car. Dawdling along in the sunshine, we passed these charming troughs:
Undoubtedly Doogs and Yeoman were starting to get tired - a couple of days' rest had put them in the mood for more. Rest, that, is.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
And it was interesting: delightful woodland tracks with expansive views over the howe (pictured) - helped of course by stunning weather. Leaving the forest, we picked up a track through waist-high bracken which I thought would lead us in the right direction to Belwade.
Monday, 28 September 2009
There is however, rather surprisingly, a pub! Adherents of the Kate Godfrey School of Wilderness Trekking will have learned by now not to ever pass a pub (or toilet), so we duly stopped for refreshment at The Grouse Inn. The boys were given carrots (but I really wanted a pint of bitter - Doogs).
Slightly sinister and added to my uncomfortable feeling, especially the Bank Farm one. I did try to find out a little more about them, and who had put them up - the general concensus was that it was during the fifties, by a fervent religious farmer - but if anyone knows any more, I would be very interested... the houses now appear abandoned.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
Monday, 21 September 2009
When I was planning this trip, in my imagination I saw a succession of sunny days (with a light breeze to keep the insects away, naturally). As we all now know, that was not the reality. Just why did I feel it necessary to lug sun protection round Scotland?
However, notwithstanding the appalling weather of the previous days, suddenly the sun had come out and it was just as I had imagined it. Still a lot of water about though, so we took the decision to cross the Spey by a tried and tested method. This meant a few miles along a quiet and rather lovely B road before rejoining the Speyside Way (again an old railway here) at Delnapot. The countryside here is lovely beside the Spey - the only detraction being the extreme proliferation of 'Strictly Private' and 'Keep Out' signs along this stretch - are they totally necessary, one wonders, particularly at what are clearly the entrance to private houses?
Riding along old railways can be a mixed bag: long and straight (of course), they can sometimes be rather dull, especially if you go through many cuttings with no view. Sometimes the going underfoot can be flinty too. This is a good section though, with nice footing, and excellent views of the Spey. Just one minor obstacle - this suspension bridge (too narrow for Doogs with his packs on) which, though well-constructed and perfectly safe, it doesn't half get a fair wiggle on when you're half way across! I landed lucky with a passing walker, who, having seen me unload, picked up ALL Doogs' packs (not quite in one hand, but you get the idea) and manhandled them across the bridge for us. Show off - and where was he when I was labouring over those mountain passes, eh? - Doogs.
The other lovely thing about this stretch is passing all the distilleries - the boys simply loved these! I assume it was the smell of the malting barley and not the thought of a large dram. Doogs insisted on posing next to this one at Knockando.
We left the Way, somewhat reluctantly at Carron, to locate friends of friends who lived nearby - somewhere! I got directions in the village from a woman - we were somewhat humphed to find there was about another four miles to go following her complicated directions - not what you want to hear at the end of a longish day.
How wonderful then, to find, on asking again, that my first informant was clearly some sort of escaped lunatic, and our destination was in fact only a mile or so - oh joy! That mile was one of the quickest we've ever done, notwithstanding that we were tired and it was all uphill, as passing a stud of ADHD galloping Shetlands didn't half get the boys fired up.
The Scotts at Archiestown were kindness itself and made us so welcome. The boys were given extra time in a hayfield too, while I did a couple of interviews with the BBC and Horse and Hound. We were all mightily reluctant to leave...by this stage of the journey, packing up routines were beginning to slow down altogether. Today though, we were to turn our last 'corner' and start heading south - towards home.
Friday, 18 September 2009
No, we didn't attempt to cross these: the ponies will cope with deep water - they are good swimmers - but the force of the current here made it far too dangerous, in my opinion. (And mine.)
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Generally they are just wide enough to get a (careful) loaded packhorse through. Those utterly stupid 'chain gates' (pictured) are not - in fact it is pretty dangerous to try to get an untacked horse through. The centre posts are fixed at the bottom while the top swings apart: they need to be tied open at the top, in which case you can just get a slim horse or pony through, but a pretty good way to have an accident, I'd say! A really dopey design, common on parts of the Speyside Way, which I hope is no longer being put in. Quite apart from horses, even getting a large dog or rucksack through would be a pain.
The third option is a gate (or preferably several old ones lashed together with barbed wire) that hasn't been opened since the dawn of time and which appears to have grown organically from the earth - at least it seems that way when you try to move it. This is the time when I am so grateful to have ponies with built-in parking brakes (aka teeth) who will happily wait while I wrestle with the wretched thing.
There is a fourth option - the locked gate - which riders dread. I met surprisingly few of these ( although lots of 'locked' gates which if you search around, you can find a key, usually on a nail on a nearby post, or you may find that the chain has an open link at the back, the lock being for show). Sometimes you can find a way around, by going across a field or two. I know the locked gates are not there to stop me (well, rarely) - more to stop trail bikes, or 4x4s loaded with poachers, but a nuisance all the same. I only came across two VERY locked gates, both on publicly-funded tracks and both of which had been locked by - horse owners. "We don't like horses going past, as it upsets our own animals in the field," was the excuse on both occasions. I expect it does, if they never get the chance to get used to it!
Crossing the Haughs of Cromdale was a bit of a gate-a-thon. The Haughs of Cromdale (scene of a battle in 1690 which marked the effective end of the Jacobite uprising) meant a detour off the Speyside Way for us, due to a severe rash of 'bad' gates. The Way also runs between two sets of barbed wire here, in places about 4' apart. Yuk, no thanks. I can appreciate the sense in keeping walkers to a clearly marked track across farmland, to help people find the track or stop them disturbing stock but barbed wire? Welcome to the countryside (or Auschwitz).
So we had to take to the hills - shouldn't be a problem, but I had a rendezvous with Robin Pape, friend and farrier. Luckily (for once) there was mobile reception, so I was able to contact him to say that, although I was nominally only half an hour or so away, I had had to divert up hills, through pastures, through burns and round woods - and still couldn't see a clear way down to him. Eventually I had to retreat and follow a track down to where I had been a couple of hours earlier, bugger it. (The main difficulty was avoiding the very busy A95 nearby - and of course, all that barbed wire.)
Anyway, finally we met up at the new rendezvous: Robin came waving wine and lots of carby goodies - yum. After a good yarning (no surprise to those who know and love Robin) he prepared to leave. 'Where will you stay tonight then?'
'Oh I'll get somewhere to camp'.
'What about asking at that house there?'
'That house there' would not have been my first choice. I flatter myself that after years of camping I can pick likely-looking houses to approach, and this just didn't tick the boxes: electric gates, a lovely garden with specimen shrubs, and in the conservatory, I could just see some folks gathered for what looked like drinks and nibbles. Still, not many to choose from in this neck of the woods, so perhaps worth a try. We couldn't go up the drive (electric gates don't seem to recognise horses) so I stood on the road and waved at them until the guests came piling out.
'Blah blah blah Kate Godfrey..blah blah thousand mile ride...blah blah looking for grazing overnight.
'Oh no problem - why don't you tether them on the lawn overnight?' said the charming hostess, Carol. (Shows you can't judge by appearances).
'Er, thank you' (glancing the immaculate grounds and having an instant mental picture of how Somme-like it would look after two 600kg horses had been on it overnight). 'I'm not sure that's totally suitable - I would hate you to remember us for ever for all the wrong reasons...perhaps you know the farmer who has the fields opposite?'
'That's James. I will go and ring him up at once.'
And so, thanks to Carol's intervention, the distant James provided us with a barn (with water and light!) which was fenced all around, with plenty for the boys to munch on. Luxury, after tenting it in the rain.
But...the evening wasn't over - just as I was settling in for the night, there was a knock at the door (!) The delightful David and Jackie, guests at the drinks party, were heading home, and 'couldn't bear to think of me all alone there with the rats'. So, at their insistence, a bed and breakfast at their house, and a chance to admire their handsome pointers (David flies falcons over them for grouse.)
What lovely people ... and it just goes to show - yet again - how little I know (about anything, really...) They absolutely didn't have to do that, yet this was the kind of hospitality I met over and over. I suspect that what helped me was a) the horses (people being more likely to approach you than if I was, say, on a bicycle) and b) travelling alone.
For whatever reason, I'm grateful.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
I, too, am a fan - indeed have lots of it on my kit and person: pannier closures, saddlebag straps, hi viz waistcoat, glove fastenings, saddle pad fasteners etc etc. It's good stuff.
The only down side to this miracle material is that it's not in the least choosy as to what other piece of Velcro it will mate with. So, if you're not careful, within moments you can find yourself trussed up in bondage like a Christmas turkey, attached to all sorts of things in the manner of that Twister game so popular in the seventies. Still, it's a step up from baler twine.
Leaving Grantown to ride east along the Speyside way through the forest is very pretty. For us it was marred only by our eyes being assaulted by an impossibly bright light from the sky - what could it be? Aliens landing? No- for the first time in over a month, the sun had come out!!
We were heading east to catch up with Mark Stephen from Radio Scotland's 'Out of Doors' for an interview ( on iplayer for the next few days, if anyone's interested). First up though, a more important rendezvous...
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Enter my friend Vyv, an indomitable Long Rider who doesn't consider a little drop of rain (or even a month's rainfall in one day which we were to experience) to be any kind of barrier to having a great time.
Together with Vyv and her Fell pony Micky, we rode together into Speyside and through Rothiemurchus and Abernethy estates and on to Grantown on Spey. And we DID have a great time, just the boost the boys and I were needing!
Despite the weather (rivers bursting banks all over Moray and Speyside) this is a fantastic area to ride in. An excellent network of tracks through attractive forestry (much of it Scots pine, so much lovelier than Sitka), hill tracks and the disused railway track of the Speyside Way, we rode through together as far as Grantown. We can vouch for the excellent drying room at Glenmore Lodge!
Vyv isn't ultra-keen on camping (& certainly not in the rain) so we had a few nights' b & b in various (excellent) establishments. Hmmm, could get used to that...
This is a fine area for riding, with good grazing possibilities for horses (though I'm not sure the boys fully appreciated being put up next to the slaughterhouse in Grantown.) I DARED Vyv to ask directions to the slaughterhouse from the first passerby we met as we rode into town, just to enjoy the stunned reaction.
High point (in more ways than one) had to be the Ryvoan Pass (pictured) but the whole area is delightful. I especially enjoyed meeting a couple on Nethy Bridge whom I'd first met when I was riding through the Bowmont Valley in the Cheviots a couple of months ago - they couldn't believe I was still plodding (or should that be wading) on.
It's certainly somewhere I intend to come back to explore some more. At this rate, I'm going to need more than one measly lifetime (and so are Doogs and Yeoman).
Vyv came along at precisely the right time - although I do enjoy riding alone, it's also great to have company sometimes. And as Granny always said, an ounce of help is worth a cartload of sympathy- and Vyv is nothing if not experienced and practical, (as well as entertaining).
After parting company, the boys and I headed east along the Speyside Way. I HAD intended riding northwards and along the Moray coast, but the flood devestation experienced in that area over the last day or two suggested that might be heading for trouble.
So instead, a reroute and we were off to the land of distilleries, excellent!!
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Unbelievably, he didn't have a broken leg- indeed, barely a scratch.
We made our way down to Clashgour: the rivers were high to wade but in retrospect I think all that cold bathing would have been good for Doogs, minimizing swelling. OH YEAH? DOOGS.
The door opened. 'Bloody Hell, it's Kate!' came a voice- which turned out to belong to Calum, who'd had stalking ponies from us years ago, when he worked in Wester Ross.
A small world, and one in which errant vandalism was rewarded by supper and a bed for the night, as well as excellent grazing for the boys. Calum also said that, once he'd repaired it, he would put up a sign: 'Doogs' Bridge'- perhaps it will end up on a future edition of the OS map, along with other local landmarks like Victoria Bridge and Bridge of Orchy!
Now that WOULD be a fitting tribute to a brave (and very lucky) pony.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Bill told me this once, and I believe this saying comes from the world of National Hunt racing, where you have to learn quickly to survive!
I am always open to advice (I hope). NOT FROM ME, YOU'RE NOT - DOOGS. Stalkers are invaluable for this: not only do they know their ground intimately, they are up to date with the latest weather and river conditions.
I do have to factor in that they are usually braver, tougher and-alas- often younger than me; so "you'll get through there no bother" may not mean exactly what it says!
The other difficulty is that all too often potential problems come well into the day, so you've already covered 20 miles or so before you discover that the river is, in fact, impassable. This is one of the reasons I like a packhorse, so if the need arises I can camp and hope water levels drop significantly overnight, as they will often do (provided it's stopped raining, of course.)
Having spoken to the stalker at Glen Kinglass, then, and been told that one of the rivers was 'very difficult' at the moment, and having heard the weather forecast predicting the tail end of Hurricane Whatever, is was with some mild trepidation that I set out eastwards from Taynuilt.
I took the decision to go anyway, because the difficult river was close to Glenkinglass Lodge: if it really proved to be impassable, I thought I could probably get permission to camp near the lodge, where there would possibly be a bite of grazing for the boys. Even with a corral, grazing can be sparse in this area, with areas close to the track offering only soggy impenetrable bog.
However, one hurdle at a time. First up was negotiating a couple of miles of the A85 to access Inverawe and Glenkinglass beyond. The amount of water coming down the Awe made fording it an impossibility, so we had to find a bridge, meaning sharing a main road with timber lorries, buses, White van men and motorcycles - never a good start to the day!
However, no problems today with a vehicle escort from Frank and Helen, and we trotted down to the junction and crossed the Awe.
The track then wound on through woodland as far as Glen Noe, where it takes to the shore of Glen Etive, in places clinging to the hillside high above. This is very beautiful, with dramatic views up moody Loch Etive. I had considered riding all the way up the loch: on particular I was keen to see the remains of an old church ( no houses around) which I had been told used to be for the spiritual benefit of the itinerant woodcutters and charcoal burners who used to work on the shores. Well, I like stuff like that.
However, yesterday's advice was that Glen Kinglass would be more sheltered and straightforward, than riding up Etive, given the predicted weather.
So we 'hung a right' at Ardmaddy Bay to follow the river Kinglass. The foot of the glen is very sheltered and beautiful, with mixed woodland above a woodland floor of glorious moss, lichens and ferns.
Today the Kinglass was roaring - hard to believe I have forded it, almost dry shod, on a previous ride! Not today, you wouldn't.. From the bay at Ardmaddy to the lodge is about 8 miles, all on a good landrover track. We wandered up, not seeing a soul today, although I expect we were spotted by others: climbers on the ridges (this is a popular 'Munro' area) or stalkers out looking for stags.
From the point of view of estates, we cause little disruption by sticking to tracks and established paths: this doesn't interfere with stalking- and in any case, where possible, I speak to them first...although we were to cause some disruption later on in the day - but I'm getting ahead of myself...
After the lodge, the landrover track ends, to be replaced with a beautifully-constructed stalker's path, partly using natural rock outcrops and partly careful cobbling with river stones.
We went up as far as 'tricky river' to have a look. Mentally I had been prepared to be stopped here, but as it turned out, it was fine: plenty of water, yes, but as an established ford we didn't have to scramble about among boulders, which can be hard on the ponies. So, onward...
You used to have to ford the Kinglass a mile or two further on, but there is now a solid bridge, luckily! Unfortunately it now crosses into boggy ground which the boys had to carefully negotiate before we picked up the path again to Loch Dochard. This area wins the prize for the midgiest place in Scotland, definitely! (NOT THAT YOU'RE ONE TO COMPLAIN OR ANYTHING: DOOGS) a flat area of boggy ground beside a river, coupled with still, claggy conditions and low cloud- yecch. Normally keeping moving is enough to deter them, but not here, not today!
Anyway, we weren't disposed to linger: the boys had done really well today and it was only another few short miles to the safety of Clashgour. What could possibly go wrong?
Friday, 28 August 2009
There is a feeling now of autumn creeping on: the bracken is starting to turn gold; the rowan berries are ripening; lots of brambles now (yum) - it seems like only a few days since we were munching on wild strawberries!
On telephone wires the swallows gathered briefly and were gone, showing no inclination to linger longer and who could blame them?
More wood ant nests along Loch Awe: I do hope for their sake the water levels don't get any higher, although water can be discharged from the barrages into the river if necessary.
Taynuilt is where we were now headed, through Glen Nant. There is a hill track via Loch Nant but by now the weather was atrocious: pouring rain and high winds so we stuck to the relative shelter of the woods.
I wanted to get in touch with my hosts Frank and Helen in Taynuilt to let them know about the hill track (they were planning to unlock a gate for me).
My mobile didn't work ( as an aside to anyone travelling in the west who is, like me, on 02 which is rubbish over here) - get yourself a cheap mobile on Vodaphone or Orange. I wished I'd had one as the service is much better. Yes, yes, I know all about 'never rely on a mobile phone.'
Instead you can rely on phone boxes (marked on OS maps). Hahaha. The one marked at Inverinan could only be accessed by crossing a deep ditch and scrambling up a bank. I tied the ponies to the village notice board while I discovered a) the box didn't take coins; b) it refused to read my credit card; c) it wanted to charge £3.90 for a reverse charge call to Taynuilt, about 12 miles away. C'mon BT, not exactly a service to be proud of, is it?
As I was encouraging the boys back down the steep bank and over the ditch (Badminton, here we come) a kind soul came past and offered me the use of her mother's phone across the road - problem solved. She even held the ponies for me.
We followed the River Nant down to Taynuilt, riding beside the boiling torrents all the way. Luckily we didn't have to cross it, but admired the swirling powerful waterfalls from a safe distance. A bit of a surprise to come across - a ballet school! Ballet West is a thriving dance training centre supported by Billy Connolly, I was told, although picturing him in a tutu made Doogs feel quite ill.
Then a pants-peeing dart across the main road (yikes) and the relative safety of a minor road to the village of Brochroy. Our timing was slightly out, ducking under the railway bridge just as a train was going over it: the sudden acceleration of the ponies down the road at least meant we didn't suffer from plodding lastmileitis, about which I have written before. Doogs and Yeoman were turned out in a silage field (mown!!) courtesy of the local farmer, while the next day ('rest' day) was spent trying to separate - and dry out - mouldy soaking items in my packs. I've never excelled at housekeeping and pack-keeping seems to be the same. I'm with American comedienne Joan Rivers: "Housework? Doncha just hate it? Make the beds , do the dishes, and six months later you've just gotta start over..."
And use them as you ought, man
Believe me, happiness is shy
And comes not aye when sought, man.'
I am a keen reader, and it was a challenge to select just one book, Desert Island Discs style, to carry round with me.
Eventually I settled on the rather appropriately-named 'Wherever You Go, There You Are' by Jon Rabat-Zinn.
It's a thoughful little book about mindfulness and meditation, which stresses the value of living 'now', rather than projecting forward into the future or wallowing about in the past, which (like most people) I am rather prone to do.
It also has nice short chapters (!), perfect for tent-reading by torchlight.
The reason I mention this is one of the recent reporters who caught up with us said, 'your trip sounds quite contemplative'. And yes, it is: mile after mile on tracks with nothing much to do EXCEPT contemplate. Sometimes I practice my navigation: at the moment I am practising
contours, visualizing what a hill or other feature depicted on the map will look like when I get there and seeing if I'm right. But often I have the luxury of just 'being'.
I know I'm fortunate in currently not having the daily clamours of most people: late for work, get the kids' tea, find time for Tescos, renew the car insurance, blah de blah...
Idyllic really, as long as you don't confuse ' idyllic' with 'easy'. What I notice is a changed attitude to time. I don't wear a watch; I rarely feel hurried; and increasingly I DO 'catch the moments as they fly.'
Many things I notice: the subtle changes as the year wears on; the dart of an electric-blue dragonfly across our path; which direction the wind is coming from; a nest of wood ants beside the track (did you know the queens remove their wings after a brief mating whirl? Like a
pretty bride removing her party dress and putting on an apron and rubber gloves, I always think); the huge array of fungi which are starting to appear...
Well, you get the idea- nothing earth-shattering or uncommon and yet very satisfactory. We're pretty content, most of the time, and each day has its own quiet rhythm. Occasionally I catch a snippet of news on a tv somewhere - it all seems to come from a fairly far-off and not very relevant place!
Of more interest is the sun setting over Dunadd near Kilmichael Glassary (pictured), the original crowning place of ancient Dalriadan kings. Or watching (from above) an efficient sheep-gather in
Kilmichael Glen. Or being invited into a kids' party in Kilchrenan Village Hall for a cup of tea, just when it wasn't possible to get any wetter. Or meeting the lovely Heather, aged about 13, who stood with us in the rain and told of her longing for a Highland pony...
Although I do try to be reasonably organised (don't like running out of coffee- or food!), I don't attempt to manage every detail...I often don't know where we will spend the night, and on the whole don't worry about that as it always seems to work out somehow.
Which was the case at Loch Awe, where, just about lousing time we got the offer of an excellent field from the quietly efficient and interesting Bill (and Alfie the cat). Yet better, I was also able to sleep in the porch of the house Bill is renovating, rather than pitching my tent. Lying snug and warm, listening to the rain battering off the roof and windows: is that not happiness?