Friday, 20 November 2009

Horses Welcome


I've been working my way through what my granny used to call 'bread and butter letters' , thanking all those who helped us, put us up, and supported us in so many ways on our trip.
It's a courtesy (although if I was as courteous as all that I would have done it before now - if YOU haven't received yours yet - it's a-coming!)
It's been a joy, actually, as I have relived all those wonderful memories of the great people we met. There are over 300 to write, so it's taking me a while. What was astonishing was that in all those miles, we didn't meet a single person who was less than friendly and hospitable.
Why was that? Most riders have tales of grumpy landowners or gratuitous rudeness, but there was no sign of any of that.
I don't have a definitive answer...but I do have some ideas about it. Firstly, where possible, I did contact people in advance. I've blogged about this before - in spite of the Land Reform Act, I do still believe that is a reasonable courtesy where horses are involved, unless the tracks are actively promoted for riding. My experience has been that, on the whole, landowners prefer to have some notice, especially if there's a gate to be unlocked!
Having said that, I didn't always do it - either because I simply couldn't find out who to speak to
or because I had to change my plans at the last minute and go a different route - usually as a result of flooding. So I did sometimes meet landowners unexpectedly but didn't have any problems, perhaps because I made an effort to be polite, including getting off my horse to explain the situation to them. (I remember reading in a newspaper article about how, during the lead up to the hunting ban, huntsmen were advised not to speak to the tv reporters etc when they were sitting on their horses - the difference in height automatically made it look as though they were looking down their noses in a superior kind of way. I think there may be a grain of truth in that, especially when speaking to the non-horsy).
Every rider's dream is probably to be able to ride along any tracks without having to ask permission - and in some places that is quite possible. For riders planning some sort of cross-country route, as I did, I don't currently believe that it is. I would also add that, for me, a huge part of the pleasure of the trip was in interacting with local people, learning about the area (and in many cases, scoring somewhere to camp or a bed for the night as a huge bonus.) In addition, it's this interaction which (hopefully) improves communication and understanding between riders and land managers.
Quite a few people have asked for my precise routes. That, to me, is a slightly difficult one - I think there is a difference between me - or anyone - riding a route (with the landowner's blessing) and then suggesting it's ok for anyone to do it - I simply don't feel I have that authority. There is an additional practical problem, in that I crossed some areas where a more novice horse could easily get into difficulties, and I wouldn't want that on my conscience either.
However, I am keen to share what I have learned with other riders! Other long distance riders were very generous to me with information. Perhaps a possible practical solution is to get together to create some sort of database to easily access who to speak to regarding access: a lot of this information is traceable on the internet, and BHS and Council Access officers and the like can be helpful, but it doesn't half take a lot of digging around: it took me a year to prepare for a three month trip. I would be very keen to hear what you think about it, and I expect this topic will resurface!
Going back to why I had so few problems, I also suspect that, because I was travelling alone, people felt more inclined to talk to me, which might not have happened had there been a group of us.
I might get some snark for this one, but I also suspect that native ponies are less threatening to the non-horsy than gleaming bay hunters - they're sort of a cross between a horse and a dog! Most people wanted to cuddle them. Really, they should have been prostrating themselves in awe and wonder - Doogs.
Today's picture is a quick watercolour sketch - I did quite a few of these on the trip, but due to the weather conditions, mostly there was a lot of 'water' and not so much in the way of 'colour'! I don't believe the boys thought that this particular tint was quite manly enough, either. And you've made me look fat - Doogs.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Herd Dynamics


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

You Talking to Me???


Over the weekend Yeoman was invited to take part in an animal communication and training workshop, at a local yard.
Now, I don't know what you think about animal communicators: it's not something I have any experience of, and I really didn't know what to expect. I must say I had visions of some poor communicator squinting at Yeoman and saying 'I'm sorry, I'm not picking this up clearly...he seems to be claiming he's just been ridden for a thousand miles...!'
There were about ten equine 'guinea pigs' there, who were 'communicated with' - if that's the right terminology - by two tutors and their students in two groups.
I must say I found the day very interesting: undoubtedly they could pick up on lots of verifiable truths about each horse, including old injuries (of which there was no visible sign) and according to the owners, were also very accurate in reading the horse's personalities. They picked up on one horse's extreme grief (his old stablemate had just been put down a few days ago) and other things which they couldn't possibly have known.
Yeoman showed every sign of thoroughly enjoying the experience. Both groups 'read' him in very similar terms. According to them he has a huge spirit and has been a horse many times before - he has always worked very very hard. One communicator said that he has an infinite capacity for work - as I've blogged about before, that is certainly true - he is tireless.
Interestingly, they pointed out that he has until recently always been in the shadow of another horse, which I would also accept, since he's often been compared to Doogs (and not always favourably, I regret to say). She said that he would be a fantastic RDA horse as he has a strong desire to help - not a career I would necessarily have put number one on his list of possible jobs!
However, it did set me thinking: because he was difficult to start under saddle, I have always thought of him as a bit of a delinquent. When I really thought hard about it, though, it must be at least two years since he ever put a foot wrong - perhaps it's time I updated my view of him!
He had no physical issues at all, unlike most of the other horses, who seemed to have very long lists! According to the communicators, he is very politely spoken (so I should hope).
He is apparently also becoming much more confident in himself. One slightly spooky thing was when he got home and was turned out, he did something which he has NEVER done before, which was to (politely) round up all the mares in the field. Doogs just stood and watched - there was no altercation of any kind.
So - a bit of fun? Or perhaps a glimpse into something a bit uncanny? Jury's out, but still a most interesting day.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Ladybird Update

Followers of this blog from the start will remember how game little Ladybird stepped into the breach for the first three weeks of the trip, after Yeoman went on his self-harming jag.

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 inverquiech@aol.com.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Don't Fence Me In


Ok - good gear, bad gear!


Before I left, you may have read on the website www.afinehorse.co.uk that I was trialling a corral kit from Electric Fencing Direct. Obviously, keeping the boys contained overnight was a major priority - not just in the wilds, but also when we camped near to roads or other hazards.


I would like to say (with absolutely no pressure from the manufacturers I should point out!) that this was a cracking piece of kit, which survived being put up every night (and sometimes at lunchtimes too) in wet and windy conditions and only weighed 2.5 kg. It took less than 5 mins to put up.


The posts fold down (a bit like tent poles) so the whole caboodle makes a neat little package for carrying. You use bungee cords to stabilise the posts, and they never fell down. I carried 200m of 10mm tape: normally I prefer the 20mm variety for visibility, but when travelling the 10mm tape packed down smaller and lighter. Sometimes I would use an existing fence for one side of the corral, to give them more grazing room - or if I was in a secure field anyway, I would use the corral to surround my campsite and fence the ponies out, to stop them eating my tea or trying to climb in my sleeping bag.


The whole thing is powered by a little 'Shrike' unit which, though powered with torch batteries which are easily available when you're travelling, still has a hearty sting. Doogs and Yeoman are very respectful of electric fencing, which meant I only actually switched it on when I was going to sleep to conserve power - but the batteries lasted for the whole trip anyway.


I couldn't have done the trip the way I did without this corral - it meant that we were completely free to stop wherever there was suitable grazing, and I never had to worry about them not being there in the morning or getting tangled in rubbish fences and pulling shoes off in the night.


Definitely good kit: more details from www.electricfencing.co.uk

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Tail End - and a Ticking Off!


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

We Bag a Munro





The track up Mount Keen from the north starts innocuously enough: a well-graded surface with excellent cross-drains, and today, the Angus glens were looking so fine that I wondered why we had gone anywhere else. Now she tells us - Doogs.


The boys were fittingly 'keen' - there is no doubt that they knew exactly where we were, as they stomped cheerfully up the inviting track.


As you have no doubt come to expect from these adventures, it was too much to hope that this would continue -and guess what? As we climbed higher and higher, the track got steeper and much rougher - in fact, it was easier in places to make our way up the side than to pick through the ankle-turning boulders.






The weather was also starting to deteriorate somewhat: although not actually raining it started to become quite clammy as we puffed our way up into the cloud which covered the top of the mountain.


In one way it was a benefit as it kept us cool (you certainly wouldn't want to linger though), although how sad to lose those stunning views towards Lochnagar and the Cairngorms.


One of the most isolated of the Munros (its nearest neighbour is 17 km away), it is generally considered one of the easiest. We still found it tough enough (it would be less so for walkers than with horses - the rocky terrain as you near the top was a mite challenging in places) as there is a relentless climb to its conical summit.



The cloud began to thin as we neared the summit, allowing Doogs to pose manfully as he stopped for a breather, claiming altitude sickness.


The higher we climbed, the more dramatic it became. The view became like a Chinese painting, as tops of surrounding peaks shone above the cloud around us.


The path, which is easy to see and follow, splits near the summit, giving you the option of following the old Mounth drovers' road, or climbing to the summit. As this was to be our last major 'up' on this trip, there was no contest - the summit it had to be! Other free-range riders I know claim that once you've been 'high', nothing else quite matches up, however pretty it may be - and I tend to agree.


As we huffed to the top, we disturbed a couple of large groups of ptarmigan - just magical, and well worth our panting effort. Oh, really? - Doogs.


Just as we reached the summit, the last of the cloud cleared and suddenly we could see for miles and miles, including many of the places we had been on this journey. I sat down beside the ponies and together we gazed and gazed at this wonderful land spread out before us.


I haven't yet quite found the words to describe this moment (no doubt you will - Doogs). It truly did seem to be the summit of all we had achieved together. I sat on in the now-warm sunshine and thought about the places we had seen, and the people we had met, as well as all the challenges we had faced and overcome. For an ordinary, middle-aged (and hardly athletic) woman, this was the best of times. I looked at the boys and almost burst with pride (not forgetting the brave little Ladybird too). How blessed I felt to have had this opportunity - and how lucky to have shared it with them.


You're not going to leave us here, are you, while you drivel on? We want to go home! - Doogs
Ah, yes, boys - home it is...now how do we get off this mountain...?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Peaks and troughs

To get from Deeside to the Angus glens, the horse traveller has a marvellous range of options, poularly known as the Mounth tracks: old drovers' (and smugglers') routes through the hills. This is familiar territory to us, but none the less lovely for that. On the whole the tracks are straightforward and well-marked: awkward in parts, there are fewer bog issues than in the wetter west.



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:

















The inscriptions read: "HONEST WATER: NEVER LEFT MAN IN THE MIRE" and "Drink weary traveller in the land, And on the journey fare, As sent by God's all-giving hand, And stored by human care."

At the dramatic Bridge o' Ess we turned south into Glen Tanar. This is a stunningly beautiful and well-maintained estate with a great network of tracks for riding. As there's a trekking centre on the estate, it's polite to let them know you're coming if you want to explore, just so's you don't end up in the middle of a group of novice riders...


Although we had decided to head for Glen Esk, there were still options.










Given the glorious weather, I decided to go home over Mount Keen - Scotland's most easterly Munro at 3081 feet - it's name means 'Gentle hill'.

(The ponies instantly renamed it Mount NotveryKeen - which doesn't.)

Oh for heaven's sake, boys, people cycle over it! - well, push their bikes, anyway.


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.

No hurry now, though - let's take it steady and enjoy every last moment. And that's what we did - ambled through the delicious Glen Tanar forest with plenty of stops:
















Once we exited the forest though, Doogs showed every sign of knowing exactly where he was and really decided to get a tramp on. The white dot in the distance is him - marching for home!




Our slow progress earlier though meant that it was not a good idea to tackle Mount Keen today. By this stage in the year, it is starting to get dark earlier, and the last thing I wanted was to be navigating over even the 'gentle hill' in the dark.


So, time to find somewhere to camp. This is where my lightweight corral has been invaluable on this trip. It has meant that we are free to travel at our own pace and spared having to hurry on in the dark - something I dislike doing, even though I know that the boys have far better night vision than I do.


Looking at the map, I could see a couple of old homesteads marked just up ahead. In the hills they are often abandoned, but years of use means that there is usually some decent grazing and sometimes shelter from trees or old buildings. Rather better pickings than the moor around us anyway!


We arrived at the house at Etnach: it wasn't abandoned, in fact it looked as if it had had some work on it recently, perhaps as a holiday house. No-one about, but lashings of good grazing round the back on the hill. I was just about to set up camp when the stalker arrived.

'Would it be possible for us to camp here overnight?'

'No problem,' said the lovely man, 'but you'd be more comfortable in the bothy' - which he then proceeded to unlock for me, explaining that it always used to be open but they had had a lot of problems with vandalism, so sadly, they have had to lock it.


This was so typical of the kindness which we have experienced on our journey, and a chat soon established that we knew plenty of people in common. A very comfortable night, marred only by the ponies' attempts to come inside too.
Thought we were supposed to be a team? Anyway, we've just spotted that bloomin' mountain....












































Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Belwade farm

Those who have followed this adventure will know that whatever happens, we have never been stuck. Excuse ME? I have - Doogs.

Ah, well, yes - but apart from that little incident, whenever we have needed help, it has arrived. Standing looking at the locked gate (complete with threatening sign), the phone rang. It was Eileen, centre manager at World Horse Welfare, wondering where we were.

When I explained we were jammed between a rock and a hard place (or a locked gate and the ultra-busy A93), she jumped in the car with a couple of staff and came to meet me, shepherding us along the main road and through the back street of Aboyne until we were in the woods backing on to the centre, where we followed tracks to Belwade Farm, arriving just as it was getting dark.

With a little help from our friends (again) we'd made it - and in time for some media coverage the next day. I am very grateful to Caroline, the head groom from Belwade, for taking some excellent photos of us. As I look through my own collection of pictures from the trip, it does look rather as if the ponies did the entire thing on their own, as naturally I'm not in any of them! (Probably would have got on better - Doogs)


We posed for the press:





















and met some of the inhabitants of Belwade. This is Spud, who is being prepared for rehoming. This is one ot the features of Belwade (and indeed, World Horse Welfare generally) which makes me such a great supporter - that the horses in their care need to find a job in life. Naturally, not all will be eventually be suitable for riding - although many are, and go on to find secure and loving loan homes, where they are inspected regularly by a team of Field Officers. I have met several loan horses in the last thousand miles - all thriving in their new homes.


Foals and youngstock which come in are handled and eventually broken to ride - they too, go on to lead useful lives. There are some very high quality horses and ponies there, looking for good homes. Sad that, through no fault of their own, they have ended up at Belwade - but they are the lucky ones.
The premises are very impressive. Naturally they have good buildings and well-managed grazing, as you would expect - but the thing that struck me most was how very settled and happy the inhabitants are. I might have guessed that horses which had been through sometimes traumatic experiences would have been far less settled, but it is a testament to their management by the staff.
I saw some of the 30-odd animals which had come in recently in a shocking welfare case which you may have read about in the papers and which are doing well. Belwade is well worth a visit if you are in the area: they are open to the public on Wednesdays, weekends and bank holidays 2- 4 pm or by appointment. Admission is free and there's lots to see!
Belwade is such a relaxed and healing environment that we stayed an extra day (they were quite lucky that it didn't turn into a week...) Could it be that I was putting off going home? Not exactly - part of me was longing to get home - but another part just wants to keep riding on and on. Our excellent adventure was coming to an end. However, as we clopped sadly out of beautiful Belwade we were not to know that the highest of highs was yet to come...


Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Things My Mother Taught Me



A few years ago, I cared for my mother and my aunt at home, both of whom had Alzheimer's. For anyone who has been in this situation, well YOU KNOW. If you haven't, it is one of the hardest things I've ever done (as well as one of the most worthwhile).



Indirectly, they are responsible for me doing this trip, at least partially. During those years, there was little time for horses, and I watched them growing fat and sleek in the field. Each day I would hang out the washing from incontinent old ladies. From my washing line, I can see the foothills of the Grampian mountains, and I vowed that one day I would again ride those hills, (and every other one I could find). So here we are.


I have thought about the 'grannies' frequently on this journey. They would, I think, have been quietly proud, although in best east coast farming tradition wouldn't have said so of course! Although neither of them were particularly 'horsey', they were of the generation which knew about keeping going even when things got difficult, about appreciating the small things in life, and about doing what you said you were going to do - all lessons which have come in useful over the last while...

Now we had to get to Aboyne, and the World Horse Welfare Centre at Belwade. Those who have patiently stuck with this blog - an amazing number of you - will guess that following the road would be a bit tame - how much more interesting to cross the Hill of Coull, don't you think?

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.


Sneaky track - although it started out in the right direction, it soon began to curve round too far west - at this rate we would land plump in the middle of Aboyne - not what we wanted. However, we might as well follow it and see where it came out.


After dismantling a gate (we 'mantled' it back together again of course), picking our way through the bracken, along the side of a golf course and round the loch, we found ourselves in a compound - our progress blocked by a locked gate. Yeoman's expression clearly expresses just what he thinks of my navigation.
Water ski-ing? She's even madder than we thought...
Ha, but the crack team were not to be defeated - not having come all this way! The country club lawn next door offered an escape route (sorry, we did tiptoe) and we were on our way to Belwade - now only a couple of miles away.
Spirits high, we scooted on, only to meet - another locked gate blocking the track. Would we make Belwade in time (or indeed, ever?)

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Beginning of the End






In defence of the gloomy Cabrach, at least it was a lovely day. So when we saw a tempting hill track over Clayhooter Hill - well, just worth a little look! And it WAS lovely - with expansive views over the Correen hills. Yet another area to explore further at a later date!

Oh, great. - Doogs.
















Mind you, it was a little rough in parts (probably due to the unseasonable rainfall we have all been

'enjoying').


Still fairly easy going, though. There's always the slight fear when you're stravaiging that you're going to come across a locked gate or some other insurmountable obstacle, or get shouted or shot at - but it doesn't happen very often. The track eventually came out at a rather smart house - Clova - so we tiptoed down the front drive, trying not to leave prints or droppings anywhere. Well, you might have been trying - Doogs.


We knew we were starting to get closer to 'oor ain country' as, for the first time on the trip, we saw fields of barley - and as they were being combined we could smell that oh so familiar scent. Such mixed feelings about getting close to our journey's end - especially as the weather was now absolutely gorgeous. We meandered down a quiet back road, fetching up for the night at the charmingly-named Honeybarrel Farm, where Kenny kindly allowed the boys and me to have a corner of a silage field.


As night fell, I lay in my sleeping bag and watched the ponies. Each night, after they'd finished eating, they would come and stand as close to my tent as possible. To me, it showed what a close team we had become during our adventure together.
Actually, we were just wondering if you had any more of that muesli stuff.

Abrada - cabrach!

From Dufftown, I decided to follow the Cabrach hill road, with an intended diversion down Glen Fiddich. We had left ourselves quite a lot to do in order to get to the World Horse Welfare Centre at Aboyne in time for media stuff which had been organised: in addition GMTV were wanting to film us on the move and needed to be able to find us hopefully!


Although a tarmac road (not our favourite), the Cabrach is very quiet - we only saw about half a dozen vehicles. There are some charming haughs beside the Fiddich but the rest of it is pretty bleak: partly because of the windswept location, but also due to the number of derelict small farms and houses. In fact, much of it smelled of quiet abandonment. I met a PhD student from Aberdeen conducting a heather study: 'Where are all the people?" he asked.
Certainly there were a few keepers driving about, but not many other signs of life. In my imagination there seemed a sadness over the area somehow, too many years of trying to make a living on this unforgiving ground. A historical record which I looked at suggested a good year was when only the bottom half of the barley ears got destroyed by frost...

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).

Suitably fortified, we had got a bit bored of the road and started to look for other options. Luckily we stayed on the tarmac long enough to see these extraordinary signs:



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






Our media frenzy meant it was lunchtime before we set out from Archiestown. First challenge was to recross the Spey (preferably avoiding the busy A95.) We wiggled down through the woods to cross via the old 'Telford' Bridge opposite Craigellachie (pictured) , attracting cheery waves from fishermen in the Spey. I thought they were cheery waves anyway - Yeoman thought they were waving lunge whips so we clattered across it in fine style!

You can then go along a narrow walkway beside the Spey (eek) under the road bridge (very noisy!) and sneak across the playpark in Craigellachie, which brings you out onto the Speyside Way. Phew, made it. But what's this? A warning notice from Moray Council, stating that due to landslides the path is now suitable 'for walkers only' (underlined and in capitals). Oops.

No immediately apparent alternatives, so we - I - decided to give it a go anyway. My enjoyment of the pretty path was slightly overshadowed by worrying about the landslide bit (which naturally enough was at the Dufftown end, a couple of miles further down. Old railways can sometimes be very difficult to get off (they were naturally not designed with crossing places) and I could see from the map that this section was steep on both sides. The worst that could happen was that we would have to retrace our steps but infinitely preferably not to have to!

A chat with a passing cyclist about the fearsome obstacle (well he wasn't walking, was he - Doogs) allayed my anxieties slightly. What he actually said was, 'if you've ridden nearly a thousand miles you'll know exactly what to do.' Thanks, mate. Visions of belaying Doogs over the edge on a leadrope?

Eventually we came to further warning signs. Somewhat unbelievably (but much to my relief) the track doesn't really get much narrower than what you can see in the photo. Admittedly, you wouldn't want to fall over the edge (wasn't planning on it - Doogs), but it does seem extreme health and safety paranoia on behalf of the Council. I suppose they are frightened of getting sued, but really!



We followed the Speyside Way which ends - on a railway platform in Dufftown. A surprise for Yeoman - and the railway guys - who kindly gave us directions for getting safely through Dufftown. This must be one of the few areas where every direction given pertains to a distillery "you'll pass a distillery on your left -when you get to the next distillery, turn right..." Yup, we can do that!

Monday, 21 September 2009

More Speyside Way



















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

You ARE Joking!!!

A couple of reasons why we continued to head east, rather than explore Moray which had been the original intention....the photos do not capture the roaring noise of all that water after freak rainfall. Normally I love extremes of weather, but this was getting to be far from funny. Bill suggests we're now paying for all those cheap aeroplane flights, packaging and driving cars about - maybe so. But I walk everywhere - Doogs.

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

Good Gates, Bad Gates (and Oh Bloody Hell Gates)












I'm really very sorry about many things in life. One I'm particularly sorry about is not keeping a tally of the number of gates we opened (or in some cases dismantled completely) on the trip - I'm sure we're into the thousands! Some regions seemed to have a gate a minute.


Here are some examples: the well-hung, self closing variety which is easy to open on horseback. Unfortunately I usually have to get off for them too, not because the ponies aren't good at gates - they are - but sadly the self-closing mechanism doesn't take account of a packhorse and tends to quickly swing shut on Doogs' nose. And not just my nose, says Doogs in a high-pitched way.


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

In Praise of Velcro

Most distance riders I know like Velcro: easily adjusted, easy to do up with numb fingers (!), generally holds firm but in a real emergency will give way (you hope).

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

We Get Company

After a couple of days' rest to be on the safe side for Doogs, we were ready to move on. Well, sort of- with absolutely no let up in the weather, it was getting harder to feel enthusiastic. My intended route east was blocked by rivers in spate with little likelihood of them going down enough to cross safely any time soon.

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

A Good Scare (2)


Apologies for long radio silence on blog: contrary to popular opinion, we haven't all been washed out to sea by recent floods OR given up and gone home!

However, as will hopefully become clear, we HAVE had some adventures...

Now where was I? Ah yes, crossing the Black Mount estate...

The stalker's track on this side is not quite as fine as the one in Glenkinglas: bit of a Friday afternoon job in places actually. However, it's serviceable, and infinitely preferable to the surrounding bog.

When I'm riding on tracks I don't generally lead Doogs: he just follows on behind loose. As usual, he was just moseying along behind us, having the occasional munch.

We came to a somewhat dodgy looking bridge. While Yeoman and I were hesitating, looking for a better place to ford downstream, Fatty-I-Know-Best-Doogs barged past us and over the bridge. Well, half over, before it collapsed under his weight with a sickening crash. Good way for a pony to break a leg, and to make matters worse he was now firmly jammed.

I knew the nearest help was at Clashgour, four miles (and three large fords) away. The only tool I had was for removing horses' shoes, plus I found an old fencepost to use as a lever. It took me almost two hours to free him: luckily he stood like an angel. DIDN'T HAVE MUCH CHOICE, DID I? I WAS STUCK! DOOGS

Unbelievably, he didn't have a broken leg- indeed, barely a scratch.

Once I'd got him out (and he was grazing , two hours without food being a bit traumatic for old Doogs), I turned my attention to what was left of the bridge. Oops, it did look somewhat- er - wrecked. I thought at least I might tidy up the sleepers, ready for repair. When I tried to move them I couldn't even lift them: it must have been adrenalin which gave me the ability to get them off Doogs, like mothers who can lift cars off children.

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.
With some trepidation I knocked at the door of the keeper's house, to admit and apologise for our wanton destruction of estate property.

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

A Good Scare is Worth a Fistful of Advice (1)


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

Loch Awe

We rode on from Bill and Alfie's up the side of Loch Awe, mainly following forest tracks along the shore. The level of the loch was very high: halfway up the alder trees which fringe it.

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..."
'Then catch the moments as they fly
And use them as you ought, man
Believe me, happiness is shy
And comes not aye when sought, man.'

Robert Burns

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?