I can't say I had the best night's sleep ever at Lagafater: the year must be moving on as it's the first night I've been cold in the tent. I was also slightly concerned that the ponies might break out of their corral and simply disappear into the wild reaches around us!
So it was around 5 am when I rose to a scene of surreal beauty...the golden sunrise lighting up the deerbent grass all around to create shimmering acres stretching to the horizon. Quite stunning (and not an ant in sight). It was one of those times when the universe seems to be holding its breath.
I let the ponies out of their prison to graze where I could keep an eye on them, while I gloried in the magic of the sunrise.
Still, you know what granny said: "too bright too soon" and by the time my friend Felicity arrived at eight, it was already starting to drizzle. Felicity had arranged to ride with me to Pinwherry with her husband James acting as packhorse for the day (er, with his vehicle, lest you have visions of us whipping him, fully-laden, over the hill.)
The track leads up from Lagafater Lodge over Beneraird Hill to drop down into the Stinchar Valley. We had hoped for some great views (I'm told you can see the Isle of Man, as well as Arran and the Kintyre peninsula) but today it was not to be: a steady drizzle and although there was reasonable visibility, it was all rather hazy. The track is clearlt defined, though boggy in places; the surrounding land rather bleak peatland.
It took us about three hours to pick our way into the Stinchar Valley : not only were we in another county, we could have been in a different land altogether.
Neatly tended houses and farms, glorious mixed hedgerows and sleek-looking cattle. We rode along the banks of the Stinchar (beautiful river)for some miles, thoroughly enjoying the day.
As we approached Pinwherry towards the end of the afternoon and dismounted for a gate, a figure appeared running towards us...who should it be but Saint Annie, who had just 'popped over' to meet us with beet pulp for the horses and coffee for us. Thank you yet again, Annie (think I'll have a record made of that.)
Thus sustained, we made our way up the final leg from Pinwherry to Bellamore Farm, where I had arranged to camp for the night. This is such a pretty minor road, following the burn, with yet more luxuriant hedgerows.
There is a feature of riding long distances called lastmileitis: where the time taken to cover the last mile seems to take as long as the previous twenty...So it was this afternoon, when Bellamore seemed as remote as Brigadoon.
Finally though, we were there - just in time to meet James, too. We pulled into the yard to be greeted by a pack of dogs of every description barking furiously - big 'uns, little ' uns, middle uns all clamouring at our arrival. Some of the dogs were running loose, although there was no-one about, so I waded through the mob to the farmhouse door and knocked on it, setting up yet more barking from inside the house.
Eventually the farmer came to the door. Looking surprised to see me, he yelled over the barking, "I didn't realise there was anyone there" (!) Presumably the canine cacophony is quite normal, then...
He then used a phrase I have come to dread: "I've put you in one of the hill parks - it's only another couple of miles up the road..."
Back in the saddle then with a very dirty look from the ponies (by now it was raining heavily) and up the hill for the night. He warned me about the Bellamore midges: all I can say is - he wasn't joking. I'm not proud to tell you I cowered in my (relatively) midge -free tent, listening to the ponies pacing and stamping outside. I'm always painfully aware that I chose to be here - they didn't - but very little I could do, other than plaster them with every midge repellent I had and put on their face masks.
Early morning and the tent flap was black with midges: I put on my best deterrent gear and led the ponies up a boggy track to the top of the hill, about a kilometre away, where they benefited from a few hours' grazing in a relatively breezy spot. In hindsight I should have put them there the night before, but the march fence could have been ten miles away for ought I knew! Sorry, boys...
By the time I brought them back down to the campsite to tack up, the sky had brightened and there was a breeze, so definitely better. We were almost ready when vet-friend Carol came trotting up the track to meet me on her Highland mare April - ready for the next stage of our adventure...