Thursday, 30 July 2009

Always Trust a Fairy Pony

Wiltonburn outside Hawick is the farmiest of farms - like something out of a children's picture book. From the moment you are met on arrival by twin smiling collies to the geese larking in the puddles, to the kitchen garden bursting with good things, it's just enchanting.

It also has a range of good outbuildings which we had reason to be grateful for as the thunder and lightning cracked overhead in a major storm - our timing isn't always quite so impeccable!

We set off east from the supremely comfortable Wiltonburn towards the Cheviots on a still-wet morning, accompanied for the first few miles by our host Sheila on her lovely big gelding. The farm lies directly on the Hawick Circular Riding Route, but due to rapidly rising river levels we skipped the optional loop with ford...

We parted company with Sheila near Hawick Racecourse and squelched on, picking our way across country lanes and tracks towards Denholm and Jedburgh. A couple of guys out mending hunt fences gave me excellent horse-friendly directions (completely contradicted by an old gravedigger we met subsequently - it happens! - but which proved to be spot on.)

The weather improved, lovely country and my enjoyment of the riding was only slightly marred by Yeoman, who obviously thrilled to be back in the team was in full fruitcake mode and very irritating! Lots of snorting, leaping and cantering sideways (never really quite seen the point of that sort of thing myself - Doogs).

We followed a small part of the very scenic Border Abbeys Way from Denholm to Bedrule through pretty fields and woods. Although the Way is of course a footpath, this section was quite suitable for horses. The huntsmen hadn't been quite sure if the fully-loaded Doogs would squeeze through a couple of narrow gates without the packs being unloaded but he managed - just!

Thankfully, Yeoman was by now beginning to settle down and stop acting like a silly git when what I had been dreading happened - a spook, a bit of a buck and damn it, he was lame again on his injured leg - not crippled, but definitely not sound either.

That was a low point - and so disappointing after all Bill's care at home. I had deliberately planned easy-ish days when he rejoined us, but his antics had clearly put more strain on the leg than it was ready for.

Now what? I was still some fiftenn miles from our next planned stop at Cliftoncote in the Bowmont Valley. Even leading him, he wouldn't manage that. We limped on through the woods when I picked up the tracks of what must have been a fairy pony - the smallest hoofprints I have ever seen!

Well, might as well follow them - at least they might hopefully lead to somewhere which had horses and might be able to help us.

The fairy pony tracks led down towards Bedrule and sure enough, eventually past fields full of high quality youngstock, in great excitement at the sight of us! They might have been used to fairy ponies, but the coming of the trolls was obviously something else. Ah - there's a house...

The entrance to the house was on the first floor, up a flight of steps. I shouted an enquiry to the man i could see in the entrance porch: "are there stables near here please?" Craning my neck to hear his answer I suddenly realised he was -er- starkers - well, it was very early in the morning in a quiet part deep in the country!

He directed me on to Wells Stables along the road a little, and the three of us - tired, dishevelled and a bit despondent (me)- found ourselves washed up in a smart National Hunt yard. I really wasn't too sure what I was going to do next - try and arrange some transport for my limping horse probably.

I hadn't counted on the amazing Mactaggarts (whose yard it was) who seemed completely unfazed by our sudden appearance. The ponies were turned out in the outdoor lungeing ring, much to the interest of the gleaming bay heads looking on from their boxes. A passing groom glanced at the ponies as she went by and without breaking stride said to Mrs Mactaggart: "Well, they might stay three miles but I doubt you'll get them fast enough"!!

The Mactaggarts were dubious about getting local transport, but unbelievably said they'd run us to Cliftoncote! This may have been the most rapid way they could think of to stop us lowering the tone of the neighbourhood, but I think it was because they are truly kind and genuine folks. The fairy tracks which had led us there turned out to belong to a grandaughter's tiny pony...

So the boys (and all of our smelly gear) were loaded into a smart racing lorry and chauffeured to Cliftoncote.

How many saints can a person handle in a day? Angela Freeland- Cook took one look at the raggle-taggle band before her and prescribed a lovely field for the ponies and a bath (naturally!) and a sleep for me. "We'll get the farrier to look at your lame horse in the morning, don't you worry..."

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