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...