Saturday 26 March 2016

Post 49. Winter in Scotland.‏

I got to south west Scotland in November. I said goodbye to my friend Lorna, who rode her pony up here from Sussex with me. I shall miss her cheerful company. 
The weather has turned bad, 70 mph winds shake the wagon like a terrier shaking a rat, the sea is really rough, my kettle has huge waves in it too. The fishermen secure their boats with extra rope. Collecting driftwood off the beach my eyes are watering in the wind and l'm nearly being bowled over.
I feel a bit lonely and depressed, l get on with jobs and keep busy, making new britchin straps, l cut my hair, spend time training the younger horse. I kill some cockerals that are tormenting the inhabitants of a little village. The cockerals are owned by a couple with no balls to do what's needed, their neighbours are fed up with them and the cockerals. It's quickly done. I don't like killing them either but it needed doing.
I wander round the coast, l get to a little fishing village just as it's getting dark and stop on the grass near a pub. It looks quite cheery, lit up with Christmas lights and an open fire.
The local drunk comes over and invites me for a pint, l'm tired and it's too much effort to refuse. I tether the horses and join him, knowing that l shall be the unwilling recipient for his boring tales. He's shunned by the few other people in the bar. At least the beer is good, there's plenty and he buys it. l'm glad to get out of the wagon for a bit.
I wake in the morning feeling great. It rains all day and the wind gets stronger, the horses look a bit miserable but at least the grass is good. 
The next day l move round the coast, lovely views. A farmer gives me a pail of calf feed for the horses, it's got flakes of maize and peas and other things they like in it. His wife gives me some mince pies and shortbread she's made. A farmer at the next village lets me put my horses in his field. I'm warned not to go to the village l've just been to, as the people are unfriendly!
View from door of wagon, January 2015
Fed up with being battered by the gales l head inland and shelter in the forests. I go miles down rough forestry tracks and stop by rivers swollen by all the rain. I'm careful not to stop where the river may rise suddenly and wash me away, l don't stop too close to trees, they are being blown over by the gales. I don't see a soul. No internet or phone signal. I stay in bed and read, quite content. The horses seem happy. I just get up to put more wood on the stove, l get water out of the burns to drink and wash in. I heat tattie scones and pancakes on the stove. I roast sweet chestnuts and bake potatoes in the hot embers, delicious with melted Stilton.
Tarateeno in the snow, Auchencairn
For a change the weather turns cold, the wet lead ropes freeze solid, my harness, un-oiled and sodden by weeks of rain goes stiff and brittle. It snows. I like the sound of the snowflakes landing on the roof and the sound of the snow creaking underfoot.
I stop at a farm where l know the people. They are kind, interesting and open-minded. They have read good books, seen good films, like good food, they're articulate and are passionate about what they do; the sort of company that l yearn for and is so rare. l enjoy being there. We share meals, go to parties and ceilidhs, l'm glad.
One night l sleep restlessly, in the morning l wake feeling sick and weak as a lamb. I guess what has happened. Carbon monoxide. I borrow a ladder and dismantle the chimney. The damp pine l've been burning the last few weeks has tarred up and blocked the top of the chimney. I clean it, relight the stove and go back to bed, still feeling weak.
My friend Alice at the farm, goes to the supermarket and buys me a bag of fruit and later offers me some soup. I feel recovered by the next day, after that l keep an eye on the chimney. There are plenty of gaps around the door of my wagon, which must have let in enough fresh air or l might not have woken up.
The gales and rain come back, the horses shelter down in the woods. I stop there for Christmas, happy to have such congenial company. We swap books and DVDs.
Luce Bay.11th February frosty start
There is a break in the weather, restless l head down to the sea again. I know a lovely quiet place, a nice flat sandy beach to train horses, plenty of firewood and grass and a stream for water. It's also more sheltered from the gales. I stop there several days.
I lunge the horses in the sea and wash their legs. I lunge the younger horse in the sea each day until he gets confident with the waves. He enjoys it and relaxes.
It's the end of February. I'm stopped on the shore, on the edge of a little fishing village.
I woke at 4am and rekindled my stove and made a pot of coffee. Time is my own, l can suit myself, it doesn't matter when l get up. Do you own your time? I stood on the porch and watched the moonlight reflecting off the sea. It's calm as a millpond. The horses are lying down. It's very peaceful, just the gentle sound of tiny waves on the shore and the calls of the Oyster Catchers.
At half past six, l get up and go for a long walk along the shore, looking at things the tide has washed up. I'm the only soul about. Back at the wagon l cook some porage slowly on the stove. The slower it cooks the lovelier the flavour. I add sunflower and pumpkin seeds and slice a banana into it. 
I eat it sitting on the bed, savouring each mouthful, whilst reading Jeanette Winterson's, 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal,' dripping porage down my chin and onto my jumper. I don't care, there's only me to please. 
I yoke the horses up and go the half a mile into the village. I fill my containers with water and give the horses a good long drink, they get thirsty eating the salty grass. On the way back through the village l stop the horses outside the community charity shop. I go in and try on a pair of trousers, thinking to myself that this would be a bad moment for the horses to choose to walk off, but they don't; l spend a lot of time training my horses to stand, it's essential and could be a matter of pride if you have a horse.
I buy the trousers, £2.
Tarateeno drinking, 8th March, Galloway
The cold fresh air and activity has given me an appetite, l throw some more wood in the stove and make scrambled eggs for my lunch, l eat it with some nice dry granary bread that l bought several days ago and have left until it's like rusks. 
In the afternoon I put a piece of tarpaulin on the ground outside in the sun, l sit on it and sew some new velcro onto the leather farrier's apron, that l was given a few days ago.
I'm often given useful things. Yesterday a kind elderly lady gave me a good stainless steel Liverpool driving bit.
While l'm sitting there sewing, three men come along and chat to me. 
One of the men asks me if the wagon is for sale and how much. I tell him a price, he pretends to be interested to impress his friends. I get it all the time, l'm unimpressed.
I tell him there's no point in buying anything off me, because there's always something wrong with it. I tell him l've never sold a good horse; after all if you had a good one why would you sell it?
Oddly, telling people things like this only seems to encourage them.
This week l've also been given three tyre levers and a foot pump. Handy for mending punctures and replacing worn tyres. 
I try on the farrier's apron, it's quite heavy, l wear it for a bit and get used to the feel of it. It will save my trousers. I pick up the horses feet. One of them really needs reshoeing, the shoes are thin like wafers. l'll leave them as long as possible as there is not much hoof growth.
I cut up a big pile of driftwood l've collected for the stove.
I carefully put my tools away, l have an old tin that l keep a selection of threads, needles, copper rivets, an awl, and a sail maker's palm to push the needle through stiff materials.
Relaxing by the sea
Tired by my work l rest for a bit and enjoy watching the sun going down.
For supper l boil some rice, flavoured with star anise, l eat it with some steamed mackeral. Then l eat some fruit. I'm always being asked, 'what do l eat?' 
One day a man watched me eating an avocado. He admonished me, warning me l'd get gout. 
His friend gives me some shortbread, full of butter, white flour and sugar, with a nice thick coating of chocolate, delicious, but he doesn't mention any dangers about eating it.
The local people are mostly very timid and boring about food. Their favourite dish seems to be 'mince and tatties,' this is very greasy cheap mince with very overcooked potatoes, just mention it and they get excited and start salivating. 
For a bit of variety they like to eat minced sheeps lights, (lungs) mixed with oatmeal and fried, it will sit heavy on your stomach for a few days. 
Fruit is not eaten up here much and vegetables are mushy and devoid of any nutritional value. Sugar, cigarettes and cheap alcohol are popular.
The average age here is 54. I'll be 54 this week. If the bell tolls for me you'll never know if it was the avocado or the mince and tatties.
Snowy day in January, Scotland
The warm sunny weather is a wonderful contrast with the last three months, during which l've been buffetted by more or less constant gales and lashed by rain. Not my favourite weather but there is the satisfaction that l've come through it well. I've mostly remained in good spirits, the horses are well, the wagon is fine, l've got lots done and continued travelling, exploring new country, meeting new people and renewing old friendships, losing some.
During the bad weather  I've enjoyed days stopping in sheltered places by the sea, listening to the roar of the wind and the waves, keeping my stove going, lying on the bed reading good books. I've practised my pipes and fiddle. Made new bits of harness. Plenty to keep me busy. 
Sometimes l just think. It saves me time. A lot of times people act first and think later, horses do it too, an instinct to stop them being eaten, humans get annoyed about it.
I often just wait and see and l don't even have to act, it saves effort, but takes practise. I watch other people rushing around, not stopping to think. Some of them like to rush around to avoid having time to think, especially if it involves thinking uncomfortable thoughts. Have you heard the joke about introspection? If you don't know what it means, take a good long hard look at yourself.
As l wander up and down the countryside, l admire the stunning scenery, l enjoy the scent of winter heliotropes, (you've never noticed it in a car), l watch a red squirrel, some roe deer, (in a car you'll probably run them over), there's lots to interest me, often the horse draws my attention to something l might have missed if l'd been walking alone. 
I stop with a retired couple. The lady wants help with her driving pony. She overfeeds her pony and her husband, it's not good for them. The man is grumpy, he has trouble sleeping. On their shelves are books and DVDs with titles like, 'The Horror Beneath Lochness,'' Nerve Shredder,' 'The Drip Feed of Fear,' 'Loves Executioner,' 'Feel the Fear.....' (those last two are self-help books but the titles are amusingly interchangeable), l can see why he can't sleep.
The pony is fine, it's trained the human, without the lady realising. Really it works better the other way round. Human error, don't blame the horse. We take it out for a drive, it goes well.
Another day a middle-aged lady has had a crises and decides to take up riding. She's in a sand school. It's a sensible pony but confused. It doesn't go forward. The lady doesn't have a seat, she holds onto the pony's mouth to balance like she's trying to pull the skin off a rabbit and kicks its flanks violently. I don't think it's going to work. The pony goes backwards, not unsurprisingly. The lady is scared. The sand is so deep you wouldn't notice if you fell off. 
I get a more experienced lady on the pony, l tell her to leave the reins completely slack and not to steer, just to squeeze gently with her calves, click her tongue twice and then tap it with the riding crop and as soon as the pony goes forward leave it alone. The pony is soon going forward and cantering around nicely on a loose rein. I explain that by not steering, and letting the pony choose which way to go, you soon get a seat and a sense of balance. You need to canter for at least 10 minutes at a stretch for several days on several different horses to get good at it, then it's fun, you can relax.
The lady on the pony soon sees how it works, starts to relax and enjoy it. It's good fun. 
The other lady watches, looking nervous and miserable and bravely chain smoking, occasionally stopping to use her inhaler, (she has trouble breathing), l thought to myself, better to kill yourself quickly on a horse than the slow painful method she's chosen. 
I get the nervous lady on my cob, soon she's trotting around more confidently without holding onto the reins and starting to enjoy it. After a while l give her my stick. I tell her to hold it in both hands and pretend it's a rifle and every time she goes past to shoot at me. I can see she gets a sadistic pleasure out of shooting me and she soon forgets she's on a horse and it starts to go well. My horse is rather familiar with the routine. Another lady in her 60s watches, plucks up courage and has a go too. She hasn't ridden for years. She's very happy. She does all my washing in her machine and l'm happy too.
The last couple of weeks l've explored nearly every bit of the Machars peninsular, l've enjoyed it, but for the last few days l've been admiring the snow capped hills in the distance, they're like a magnet. I'm getting restless. I buy an extra sack of horsefeed, the horses will need it.
I'm happy I'm going somewhere again, l walk ten miles in the morning and l'm tired.l stop by a river, I tether the horses. I admire where the flooding has left dead branches hung up six feet high in the Sally Willows. Handy firewood for the stove.
Shoe heating up in woodburner, 13th March 2016
I heat a couple of horseshoes in the stove, while they get hot l trim the horse's front feet and rasp them level. A few days ago l stopped at a smallholding that l know. I used the welder there and filled up the fullering around the toes and heels with weld and old tungsten studs, l should get a lot more miles out of them.
Recycled leggings to  hold feather out the way
I have not tried welding tungsten like this before, but it seems to stick. Normally it is brazed with some brass wire and borax flux. You can find small pieces of tungsten at engineering works, from the tungsten carbide tool bits, another source is old woodworking circular saw blades, heat the saw blade to red hot and the tips will drop off, they are all the same size too. Heat the horse shoes red hot, give them a quick wire brush, sprinkle some borax powder on, as a flux, put some brass wire and tungsten where you want it, heat it red hot until the brass melts. When it cools the tungsten is held in place. Brass is about as hard as mild steel.
                                                          Reshoeing by M6 near Carlisle
 If you're feeling old and creaky and your libido is low, while you've got the borax out, lick your finger, dip it into the borax, then lick the borax off your finger. Do this for a few weeks, you may be surprised. If it kills you, it may not have been borax. Borax has an alkaline taste a bit like bicarb. (Any advice given in this blog could be taken with a pinch of Borax, there's no point sueing me if anything goes wrong).
Like the Devil's after me, or maybe she's in me, l get going. I walk and keep walking, in a week l walk 100 miles, hardly eating, stopping only to rest and put shoes on the horses. After a few days my feet get blisters, l haven't had any for two years, not since l was in France. I quite enjoy the pain, each morning the first few steps are a torment and l try not to hobble, l adjust my breathing, the discomfort wears off to a more acceptable level and l walk another 15 miles. After a few days my feet are fine again.
The weather is nice and spring like, l leave the snow capped hills behind, soon l have lovely views of the mountains in Cumberland. I go round Carlisle on the by-pass. 
A man stops to chat to me, he tells me that a long time ago Carlisle didn't exist. The area was mostly marshland, no one lived there except an old sow. One day a man from Annan waded across the river Esk and went to live there too. The old sow and the man from Annan became friends and fell in love and that's how Carlisle got started. Quite a romantic story l thought, a bit like Romulus and Remus. 
I head back down the Cumbrian side of the Solway. I feel fit and lean, l've tightened my belt an inch and l feel happy to be in a different country. I watch and listen to thousands of pink foot geese, they're getting ready to move too.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Post 48, Back up to Scotland!

The autumn is a lovely time to travel, it's not too hot and the flies that have been tormenting the horses all summer have gone. I set off on the 29th of September, the horses have been shod a few days before. I've made friends with a lady called Lorna, she has a nice dun coloured pony, a New Forest cross called Bob, he's 5 years old and green. Lorna is heading for Scotland too, riding her pony. It'll be nice to have company.
Lorna fast asleep on the cratch. 
Some years ago whilst travelling in Shropshire l met an elderly Romany Gypsy. He told me that when he was about seven his mother made a big tick up, (like a pillow slip) stuffed it with nice dry straw and put it on on the cratch, (the rack at the back of the wagon) and this became his bed for the next few years. A tarpaulin pulls down over it to keep the weather out. A wagon is not very big and he needed to make room for his little sisters to sleep under the main bed inside the wagon. I thought that's a good idea. Lorna tried it out, it's fine!
Ashdown Forest. 29th Sept.
We head north quickly. l stop and play my pipes in Uckfield and earn some money busking. My pipes are working well and almost play by themselves, while l enjoy watching the people go by, putting money in my bag. We stop in the Ashdown Forest, l cut some Sally willow and make some clothes pegs, l also cut some elder and make a basket of wooden chrysanthemums to sell.
Selling flowers, Blackheath, 1st October 2015
We go through Edenbridge and up Crockham and Westerham hills, lovely wooded countryside, but heavy traffic. Lorna follows me and her pony is soon oblivious to heavy traffic, we go through Catford and Lewisham and stop on Blackheath.
It's lovely weather. We have a picnic outside the wagon, people come and chat and buy the wooden flowers and clothes pegs. It's tiring being asked the same questions all the time so we go and sit in  the pub about three hundred yards away. We can keep an eye on the horses and wagon from there.
After a while two mounted police ride over to the wagon. One of them leans over and knocks on the door. We stay where we are and watch. The mounted police get chatting to some passers by. We watch two council officials arrive and join in the conversation. After about an hour someone points towards the pub. The two mounted officers ride over. I notice that although the horses are old they are fidgetty and bad mannered. One officer dismounts and comes into the pub, l don't think she wants a pint. She looks around, l wonder if she'll spot my elasticated dealer boots under the table, not very common in Blackheath or if she'll spot my brightly coloured neckerchief, no! Then she speaks to the barmaid who points over to me and Lorna. The police officer comes over, she smiles at us, apologises for interrupting our drink and asks if the horses are ours and where we are going? I beam at her and say we are going to Scotland and could they give us a police escort? She laughs and says she doesn't think their horses would make it. She asks how long we are staying and is re-assured that we are going in the morning.
The council officials are still hanging around so we go over and talk to them. They are slightly concerned about the horses being tethered and the woman mentions that they could invoke the horse welfare act, but under the circumstances won't. (The horse welfare act is an ingenious new piece of legislation, that under the guise of horse welfare, ironically punishes the horse for the actions of its owner, (it can be shot), and potentially inconveniences the horse-drawn traveller).
3rd Oct crossed Tower Bridge.
Saturday morning. We set off half an hour before dawn and by 8am have crossed Tower Bridge. We take the back streets over to Whitechapel and stop at a cafe behind the London Hospital to have some breakfast.
Corn on the cob for supper.
It's enjoyable going through east London, we stop and buy groceries in Hackney. Everyone is friendly. On the way out through London we stop at a fish stall and eat a salmon beigal and some prawns. By tea time we've found a nice place to stop in a glade in Epping Forest. 24 miles, quite a long day but good fun.
Fresh walnuts. Cambridgeshire, 8th October.
We set off early the next morning and get to Matching Green mid-morning, selling some pegs and flowers on the way.
A nice easy journey. We sit outside the pub and drink a pint and share a plate of mussels and chips. A week to get from near Eastbourne in Sussex up to Essex, 83 miles, l'm very satisfied.
We go through Saffron Walden, Ely, Little Downham, Wisbech......l play my pipes and Lorna sells pegs and flowers.
It's harvest time in the Fens, carrots, onions, potatoes, maize, cauliflowers, walnuts, apples, plums, blackberries, a time of abundance and all free.
I went to the Polish shop in Spalding, pickled herrings, smoked ham, pastries stuffed with poppyseed and honey Wilsford Lorna bought an apple pie and cream in the village shop, we heated it on top of the stove, delicious.
Flat tyre, 30th Sept.
200 miles in two weeks. We stop near Newark and rest for a week. I mend the puncture in the spare tyre. I don't often get punctures, in case l do l have a spare under the wagon. It's similar to mending a bicycle puncture, not very hard. The tyres are T20 (grey Fergie) tractor tyres or 19 inch motorbike tyres. 19 inch motorbike tyres can often be had for free from motorbike repairers, once the tread is a bit worn. There is no requirement or need for tread on the tyre of a horsedrawn vehicle. The tyres last for years.
Roy the farrier comes out and makes a lovely job of re-shoeing Lorna's pony and we're on our way again.
On our way north we meet Barnie and Katus and their little boy who's four, they're heading south to France with their wagon and two horses.

The weather stays good, another 10 days and we're in the Yorkshire Dales. The weather turns bad, but it's still lovely travelling. Even on wet cold days there is the knowledge that once the woodburner is lit the wagon will be warm and cosy in a few minutes.
The Sea.
By the third week of November we've reached Scotland, 458 miles, on the 23rd  we reach Port William down on the Machars. It's been a lovely trip with Lorna and we're sad to have to go our separate ways, but l think we'll meet again.
Lorna is busy writing a book about her journey, it's quite an adventure, l'll let you know when it's finished, l think you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Post 46. Heading South.

After Scotland l head back along the Solway Firth in Cumbria. I like it there, l find the people kind and hospitable and l like their sense of humour. I enjoy stopping beside the sea, sometimes l lie awake at night listening to the roar of the surf, the wind screaming round the wagon, searching for ways to tear the roof off,  other times, when there is no wind l lie there listening to the sound of the waves just gently caressing the shore. I collect driftwood, watch the seabirds, ride the horse in the sea, he tries to make sense of it. Although it's only February there are some lovely warm sunny days and a feel of spring in the air. I rest and relax.

Tarateeno in the Solway Firth.
A week or so and l'm restless, l head east over Caldbeck to the Pennines. At Melmerby l head along the Eden Valley, there is more sleet and flurries of snow. Stirred by a childhood memory l walk along  catching large snowflakes on my tongue, a pleasant tingling sensation and l'm glad to be alive. The Eden valley is lovely, l quickly pass through  Appleby, Soulby and Kirkby Stephen and up past Mallerstang. The hills have  snow on them. I manage to buy a good bale of hay and spend the night at Garsdale head, it pours with rain all night, the becks and river flood, near Hawes the water is up over the road, up to the axles, Tarateenos feathers get nice and clean.
Only 300 miles to London.
I'm moving fast, one  day l stop at 2pm a couple of miles east of York. I rest until mid-night, it's almost a full moon.l yoke the horse up and travel through the night. At 1.30am l go through the centre of York, there's not many people about, hardly a soul, a couple of tipsy students unsteady on their feet, by 2.30am l'm through the city, l trudge along beside the horse, by 4am the temperature has dropped a lot and l'm starting to feel cold and tired, l reach my stop at the Pocklington Canal at 5am, glad to get there. I unyoke the horse, tether him, give him a feed and a drink, then light the stove and make a strong coffee. As l climb onto the bed the birds start to sing, l drink half the coffee, then fall fast asleep, content to have got here. At 9am l wake, feed the horse, move his tether to some better grass, then go back to bed again and sleep until 3pm. I enjoyed that adventure.

25th February. Mallerstang, stopped for water.
I'm out of the hills, it's flat as a pancake, easy for the horse, l like the change and enjoy going through Goole and down beside the river Trent. I'm back in Lincolnshire.

Frosty dawn, 6.30 am, March 9th, near Lincoln.
I've been doing a lot of walking, the souls of my feet are starting to get sore, constant travel for 3 weeks, 285 miles. By the 10th of March l'm back near Newark stopped with Sylvia. It's good to see her and the horse and l are glad to have a rest. Sylvia's bought a small donkey and is busy breaking it in, it needs gelding. Sylvia is restoring an old donkey cart, she has had the cart a long time and last painted it more than 30 years ago. She shows me old photos of her using it with another donkey. Sylvia told me that in 1953 when she was 13, she ran away from home with the donkey and cart, but she was ill-prepared and returned home later the next morning. Sylvia also showed me a photo of a wagon she bought in 1962 for £45.

We take her cob out and go to the shops. It's a good, forward going cob, about 13 hands, ideal for pulling a light vehicle. Sylvia likes a cob with a bit of go in it, but tells me she's got the donkey to use in her dotage. I suspect that she will soon get bored plodding along at 2 miles an hour and swap the cuddy for a nice trotter.
Sid the donkey.
One day we go and see Harry, l buy some wagon wheels, axles and leaf springs off him. I'm pleased with the deal, he is too. I'll use them for my new wagon. Sylvia paints the fore-carriage l made in Scotland with wood preserver. The fore-carriage is made of ash, a tough resilient wood,  ideal for the job, but prone to woodworm and rot, so it's best to treat it before painting.

Another day Sylvia asks me to help her move her chain harrows. They are quite heavy and l'm impressed by her strength and the seemingly effortless way she lifts them, although she's lightly built. She yokes Benny up and harrows a 2 acre field. Benny walks quite fast and it's quite a long walk up and down doing 6 foot strips. [To plough one acre with a single furrow plough is about 16 miles, a days work, if the land is not too heavy]. It's about a 6 mile walk to harrow her field. The harrows spread out the dung, pull up the moss and help keep the land in good condition. It's a great way to get a horse fit and a green horse used to pulling. The harrows make a pleasing jingling.

On Sundays Sylvia meets up with some lads who drive horses, two of them are also retired, they have good horses and enjoy chopping and changing them for new ones, it's good to see them, l admire their vitality and zest for life, getting out there and doing it, often they go 20 miles or more.
Sunday drivers.
Its the 23rd of March l've been here for 10 days, had a good rest, mended my harness, got the horse re-shod and lots of other jobs done, now l'm ready to continue. Spring is on its way, l've had a really lovely winter travelling , [done 900 miles since November]. I'm going down south for a bit.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Winter in Scotland, post 45

December 23rd. I've had several days of heavy rain and strong winds, l've gone  through Gretna and Annan, it's a dismal stretch of road, l reach the river Nith at Glencaple in the afternoon. This is the first nice bit of Scotland, going west. l stop on the quayside, the horse is glad to eat the clover, it's a good spot, with lovely views. A huge skein of geese fly over at dusk, beautiful, l'm really glad to be back here.
I rest the next day, the local people are friendly, Morris, who drives horses and has a bowtop wagon, gives me a sack of barley for the horse. It's a nice sunny day and I get the horse's rug and harness dry. I tether the horse on the shore, l practise my pipes and watch the tide coming in, it keeps coming in, up around Tarateenos feet! He's looking slightly perturbed, I go over and move him to higher ground.
Sunrise, Glencaple December 25th
Christmas day, l watch the sunrise, a lovely sunny day, l move three miles down to Kingholm Quay and stop in the park, on the way l get water from Isla and Hamish. Gill and her daughter bring carrots for the horse and give me chocolat biscuits. I go through a small housing estate to get to the quay, children come over and proudly show me their new bikes and scooters and ask if they can 'clap' the horse, which means, can they stroke the horse? Of course I'm glad for them to. Morris brings me some diesel to light my fire, [it makes it quicker], I collect a load of dead hawthorn from the hedge and Morris saws it up for me, he invited me for dinner but l declined as l preferred to be on my own and reflect. For my Christmas dinner l grilled a nice piece of steak and washed it down with some delicious red wine. l remembered to feel sorry for all the people having to share Christmas with relatives they don't like and wishing they hadn't spent so much using their credit cards. Legend has it that Jesus was born on straw and spent his first Christmas on The Road to Egypt, does this make him a Traveller? Apparently a pied wagtail followed and brushed away the footprints with its tail, so that Herod didn't know which way they'd gone, Gypsies consider the pied wagtail a 'lucky bird,' the Romani chiriklo.
Over Christmas l was brought lots of nice food by various kind people, salmon, steak, turkey sandwiches, a lady called Jane brought me a box full of interesting jams, sloe gin, chutney, biscuits, soup and two small Christmas puddings, delicious.
Sweetheart Abbey, 27th December
I move down to New Abbey, Dalbeattie and Auchencairn, it's cold and frosty, by New Years eve l'm back at 'the Doon' near Kirkudbright, [pronounced k koo bree] stopped on the beach. It's a beautiful spot and l enjoy watching the surf in the moonlight. Over the years l've had all sorts of wild New Years Eves with other people, but on my own, in this lovely spot, this was one of the best.
Sunrise at The Doon, 2nd Jan 2015
I head round the coast to Gatehouse of Fleet, l pull up outside an old church that's now a cafe and gallery, Franca, the proprietor, makes me a coffee and gives me some biscuits, she's kind and attractive, she doesn't want paying, we have a nice chat, l'm glad l stopped. l head up into the hills, it's wild beautiful country, with lovely views of the Clints of Dromore, rocky granite outcrops, an old lady appears out of nowhere and walks along beside me for a bit, after a while she starts singing, rather tunelessly, but l don't mind, it amuses me and is typical of the funny things that happen when you travel with a wagon. At the top of the hill l stop and talk to a man working outside his cottage, he says to put my horse in the garden of the abandoned railway station for the night. We chat for a bit and he gives me two bottles of dark beer he's made. It tastes very good. The temperature drops rapidly and by 4pm l can see frost forming, l build up the fire so it'll keep in overnight. There is a very hard frost. The next day l head for Challoch, a lady with two children comes to chat, l give the children a ride on the wagon, the lady gives me a nice cake she's made. In Newton Stewart l stop to get water from a house, l also get given onions, carrots and potatoes. Mild air from the Atlantic comes in and by dusk the temperature has risen by 15 degrees, a peculiarity of this maritime climate. I stop that night on some grass beside the church. At 3am a lorry goes past and the noise wakes me. I look out the window, it's a mild cloudy night, but the moon is quite bright, Tarateeno has eaten all his grass so l yoke him up and set off in the night. The road to New Luce is not very busy, in the middle of the night there is no one. The wagon is quite well lit up by fairy lights around the front and the lights on inside it, l've got good reflectors on the back. I really enjoyed travelling in the dark. It adds a new dimension to, 'here today, gone tomorrow.'
The Clints of Dromore 3rd January
6th January, l'm back at Port O Spittal, stopped with Jim and Julie. It's good to see them again and we have some laughs. I look at their horses, nothing l can buy, but good to look. I borrowed an Australian stock saddle and went for a nice ride. Julie rode a racehorse, we had a gallop through the woods, it made a change for me and Tarateeno. I stay for a few days, Jim arranges for a farrier to come and shoe Tarateeno, l get my washing done and oil an old bridle that l've begged off Jim. Laura, who keeps a horse there gives me a 'cooler' rug to put on Tarateeno, so he can dry off better, without getting chilled. A kind man called Billy brings round delicious shortbread with toffee and chocolate on it, he is very good at making it, l remember it from my last visit.I'm glad to stop a few days and rest. The farrier doesn't come, strong south westerly gales arrive, instead.

Jim and Julie
l head over to the east side of the Mull O Galloway and shelter at Sandhead. The wind is terrible and scarily, strong and the wagon is buffetted violently for several days, at night time l wonder if the wagon will blow over. It's the worst wind l've known. Luckily there is lots of good grass here, plenty of firewood, a good village shop and a pub that does nice food. I stay there for four days until the wind drops. I've parked the wagon right on the high tide line, l like to be near the sea.
Sandhead, 13th Jan, Mull O Galloway
I was disappointed not to get Tarateeno re-shod by a farrier, but it's not desperate yet. I head down the coast to the Machars and stop at Port William with Frank and Fiona at the old mill. I stay a week and show Frank a few things to get better results with his Clydesdales. He works hard and is pleased how much better he gets at handling the horses and how nice and well mannered the horses get. I feel rewarded too. It can be very frustrating trying to work with horses if you don't have the enough information.
Charlie the Clydesdale
While l stop there l use Franks workshop and l make some pieces of ash up into a fore-carriage for the new wagon l'm going to build this year. It goes well and l'm pleased. When it's finished l take it apart and stow it under the bed, until l need it. Although it's January in Scotland, there are days that are warm enough to sit out in the sunshine and do some coppersmithing. I make some stock to sell. John calls by to look at my wagon. He used to drive a wagon to Appleby, we get on well. The next day he turns up with some nice thick plain stamped horse shoes, l offer them up to my horse, they could have been made for him, perfect! Funny how things turn out. Frank has a brother in the village who has a pillar drill, l go and drill 24 holes in the shoes to take the tungsten studs. I'm really pleased. John comes another day and gives me some hames to fit a spare collar l've got. I reshape them to fit the collar. I'm enjoying having a workshop to use. One day Frank breaks his bandsaw blade, while he's out I scarf the ends and silver solder it back together again. I like to be able to use my skills. It's a pleasure to stay with Frank and Fiona and l'm sorry to go.
Detail of fore-carriage, showing chamfers
26th January 2015. As l leave Port William I give Holly who's 12, a lift up to her school at the top of the village, she's really pleased l think and her schoolmates look at her with admiration. I carry on to Newton Stewart,18 miles, on the way l stop and replace a hindshoe that is worn out and clinking badly. I have an odd shoe that a farrier in the Massif Centrale gave me, that'll do for now, l soon have it on. A farmer gives me a bale of hay. The next day l head over the hills towards New Galloway and stop by the mare's tail waterfall again. It's a beautiful bit of country. Two Americans come and chat, l sell them a halter and a copper sconce, they're pleased. It's a wet windy night, by the morning it's turning to sleet. At 8.30am l'm yoked up and ready to go, a lady with her disabled daughter turn up. I give her daughter a ride down the road, she was pleased, l gave her the old horse shoe l took off the day before for luck. We joked that her mum could pick her up in June at Appleby! At New Galloway l normally stop beside the river, but it looks much too angry and dangerous, l carry on to Balmaclennan and stop with Malcolm in his wood. I feed Tarateeno some hay. By evening it is snowing hard.
Spud the Clydesdale in a stall
In the morning there is 6 inches of beautiful snow. Malcolm rings his neighbour Donald, who has cobs and Clydesdales and he sells me a couple of good bales of hay. Malcolm is living on his own in the woods, l told him it is lovely, apart from there's no women. Not long after, Jen, a very nice Scottish lass turned up. We made a sledge out of a pallet and yoked Tarateeno up and had fun pulling it about in the snow. Later 'young Donald' showed me the horses he had for sale, nothing suitable for me, but still a pleasure to look.
Balmaclennan 28th February
I head off the next morning in the snow,  it's stopped snowing and it's a lovely sunny day. The roads are icy in places but Tarateeno is fine. It's a fine journey, 14 miles to Castle Douglas, which has lots of shops. I stock up on porridge oats and some nice bread and a bag of horsefeed, the lady sells it to me cheap as the sell by date is nearly up. I stop in the park near the Loch. It has been sheltered from the wind and there is some grass without snow on it. The next day l go to Dalbeattie and stop in the centre of town in Barry's yard with Jimmy and Lindsay. They are very kind, l'm glad to see them, they've driven wagons to Appleby and still have some horses. It's nice to leave the wagon and horse and go to the shops by myself. I get a few novels to read from the charity shops. The next day Jen the Scottish lass turns up and travels down to New Abbey with me. She's brought a lovely spicy meal. It's a pleasure to have her company and l hope we meet again. A lovely journey in the snow.
Road's a bit icy
3rd February. I'm back at Kingholm Quay. Last night the temperature dropped to minus 9. There was plenty of Hawthorn in the stove and the wagon was cosy. The ground is frozen hard, l spend the morning putting two shoes on Tarateeno, l heat the shoes up in the stove and use a pair of molegrips to hold them. Hawthorn has a high calorific value and the shoes soon get hot enough to burn the hoof. When l've finished fitting them l quench them in the bucket of water, the ice is so thick in the bucket that the hot shoes do not melt through it! 
It's 12 months since l set off to France, during that time l've done almost 3,000 miles, six sets of shoes. It's been a good year, now l'm thinking about the adventures ahead of me.
Lovely bright sunny day

Saturday 14 February 2015

Heading North for the Winter. Post 44

After Stow horse fair l headed north, through Warwickshire and Leicestershire. I stopped one night with Harry. He was brought up on the canals when the boats were still pulled by horses. They couldn't afford the best horses and used to buy the town runaways, horses that had bolted and were unsuitable to use in towns. On the towpath the horse had less options to runaway, sometimes they'd end up in the canal, but they would soon get the hang of it. Harry showed me a special halter for killing horses. There is a spike, you hit it with a hammer, quite simple. Mainly they were used on pit ponies.
Horse killing head collar
Strawberries in November
The autumn has been really mild, some people had a second crop of strawberries. I stayed with my friend Sylvia and rested a week. Sylvia thoroughly oiled my reins and reproved me for letting them get so dry and stiff. I was glad. She showed me Jack, the Jackdaw she'd rescued as a nestling, it was very tame. I tried catching American crayfish in the nearby brook, unfortunately the weather turned cold and frosty and they hibernate, l did catch one though and cooked it. We got a lift to Derby horse sale. The most pathetic horses l've ever seen at a sale. I felt depressed.
Back at M62 Goole 18th November 2014
I carried on up the Trent from Gainsborough. I stopped with Willy and Justine, nice horse people, l met them several years ago and l'm always glad to see them. Went up to Goole and stopped under the motorway again, l like stopping there.
Sunset Beverley Common, 4.30pm
After Goole l headed east, it's not a part of the country l know so l thought l'd go and explore it. A retired traveller called Tom invited me to stop in his yard and put my horse in his paddock. He had a nice cob in a stable and was busy building a top on a dray, l was glad to meet him. If you travel by car you don't really meet anyone. Travelling by wagon you meet interesting people all the time. The next day l stopped on Beverley Common. I got there shortly before the sun was going down. A friendly lady came and chatted and we watched the sun setting. A man with a dog came over and rudely interrupted and told me l couldn't stop there, he didn't bother to introduce himself. I don't like people like this. I told him l was stopping to rest my horse. He declared l'd be gone within the hour and marched off! The lady was suprised by his rudeness. I'm habituated to it and don't take too much notice. Needless to say l stopped the night without any trouble. People sometimes think you can just be summarily moved on but you can't, they like to try and bully you and be important. Dog walkers often think commons and beauty spots are for their exclusive use as toilets for their dogs and are indignant when any one else uses them. I've no time for them.
3rd Dec, 1pm, Pendragon Castle
I stopped with my friend Les, who makes a few wagons and trollies. It was good to see what he was doing and to share ideas. His wife cooked a nice meal and l used the washing machine and had a shower. The next day l went to Hornsea. The sea looked grey, cold and uninviting, l carried on.
l stopped on a wide verge. In the night l woke up and heard a gentle sawing sound of fencewire moving backwards and forwards in the hedge. I knew what had happened and got up to have a look. Tarateeno had pushed through a gap in the hedge to eat the winter corn in the field, on his way back through the hedge he had got a piece of fencewire jammed between his hoof and shoe. In this situation it's difficult for a horse to understand what's the best thing to do. Many untrained horses will panic and injure themselves in this scenario. The horse's instincts are first to flee, if it can't flee then it will fight. In this case,  fight with the wire, this is how many horses get badly injured. The horse owner often gets injured too, a horse that is in the fight mode is very dangerous. I train my horses not to panic when they get their legs caught up. Once a horse is panicking it's difficult to help them. Tarateeno just stood patiently while I got my wire cutters and cut him free. In the morning l pulled off his shoe, got the remains of the wire out and nailed the shoe back on. I can't imagine travelling without having the skill and tools to be able to pull off and fix a shoe back on.
5th Dec, frosty morning, Great Asby.
By the 28th of November l'm back in the Yorkshire Dales, it's lovely to hear the curlews again. I go along Wensleydale, through Middleham and Bainbridge. At Hawes a kind lady brings me eggs, a loaf of bread, flapjacks, chocolat and a bale of hay. A retired couple bring some carrots for the horse and a chocolate bar for me. I'm pleased. It's getting colder. I go up to Garsdalehead and stop at the Moorcock Inn. It's bleak and beautiful, l give the horse the hay and I eat in the pub. There is a very hard frost and the next morning the road is slippery with ice. Tarateeno, with six tungsten studs [they're called crampons in French], in each shoe has plenty of grip. It's a beautiful still, sunny morning. This is one of my favourite stretches of road, down past Mallerstang to Kirkby Stephen, wild and dramatic countryside. At this time of year there is almost no traffic. Lovely. I stop the night by the rather romantic Pendragon Castle. I'm back in Cumbria.
I stop at Soulby then Great Asby. The frost in the mornings looks beautiful.
I go through Appleby and stop at Melmerby. During the night it snows a bit.
Melmerby, 8th Dec, a dusting of snow
There is an icy beauty to the countryside. I head over to Potters Lonin, the weather comes in bad and l stay there two days. The wagon is buffeted by icy squalls. Tarateeno has his rug on to keep the wind off. December the 11th, l make porridge on the stove, l put a potatoe in the embers to cook, then set off in the snow, it takes me 5 hours to do 11 miles, quite a journey, with lovely views of the snow covered mountains. On the way l stop and eat the hot potatoe, l'm glad of the warmth from it.I'm elated to get to Hesket Newmarket. The snow has not settled so there is grass for the horse. I eat at the pub. The same people are sitting at the bar that were there 18 months ago, they must have taken root. They're friendly, it's nice to hear their accents and enjoy their earthy humour. The next day it's a long climb up Caldbec Common, at the top l'm rewarded by great views across the Solway Firth of snow covered hills in Scotland. I stop a couple of days with Swanny and look at his horses. I'm glad to rest.
I get a couple of half worn shoes off Swanny. At Dearham l stop at a farm with Joe and Joan. I have known them for years and they are very kind. I re-shoe the horse. I borrow Joes welder and build up the worn shoes, they've done 650 miles. One of the shoes is too worn so l use one of the shoes from Swanny's horse. It is a bit too big so l cut the heels shorter, l use the old shoe as a pattern, while l'm trimming the hoof, my friend George comes round and shapes the shoe better, with a few blows of the hammer, l'm glad of his help and friendship. The shoes are soon back on and l'm ready to continue. I prefer to pay a farrier if l can but sometimes it's neccessary to do it myself as it can be very difficult to find one to do a good job. Most of the horses in this country are little more than garden ornaments and that's what the majority of farriers are used to shoeing. They don't want to mess around making shoes and putting 24 studs in! Many farriers are just interested in making money, they're not really interested in their job. They're no good to me and l'm no good to them. Luckily l know half a dozen really good farriers and go to them whenever l can.
Potters Lonin, 9 am, 11th Dec
I carry on up the Solway, l stop on the green at Allonby, a gale is blowing, l go to sleep listening to the roar of the surf. In the morning Diane and Brian who live opposite invite me over for tea and toast. They've got their Christmas tree up. It's nice to see them. I carry on up to Silloth and stop with Rob in his yard and put Tarateeno in a stall. I use his battery charger to charge up my battery. Solar panels struggle at this time of year, there's little sun and it's at a very low angle. It's good to see Rob. He drives a wagon each year to Appleby, that's his holiday. I stop the next night at Whitrigg bridge near Kirkbride. Sometimes the tide comes right up over the grass here but l hope it'll be ok tonight. It's a lovely spot and thousands of migrating geese and hooper swans stop here.
Whitrigg, Kilbride, NW Cumbria 3pm 20th December
It's almost Christmas, l'm nearly back in Scotland.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Stow Horse Fair. Post 43.

It's autumn, a lovely time to be back in the Cotswolds and l'm pleased to be at Stow horse fair.
Happy to be at Stow again.
There are a handful of horse fairs left in Britain. There is nothing else quite like them. There is a wildness that you don't often encounter, unbroken horses charging up and down, horses snorting and stamping their feet, whinnying,  the clatter of their hoofs as they go up and down the ramps of the lorries, the rumble of iron tyred wagons, trotters careering down the lane at thirty miles an hour,  lads shouting warnings as they try to steer, the smell of horse piss and dung, bacon frying, the acrid smell of horse shoes being burnt onto hooves, horse sweat, wood smoke and fires. These places are not for the faint hearted.
Nice Open Lot arriving at Stow.
They are handy places to meet old friends, family and new people. There is also the chance to have a deal, buy horses, harness, tether chains and pins, horse drawn vehicles and the other items necessary and peculiar to travelling. Churns and water jacks, cast iron kettles and pans, chitties and kavvi sasters to hang the kettles and pans over the fire.
Chitties and Kavvi Sasters
In September and October there are many horse sales around the country, mostly auctions. Horse breeders need to sell most of the colts and fillys that they don't want, before the winter, so that they don't have to feed them. Other people buy them hoping to make something of them. The meat men buy some, [you might not like the idea of horses going for meat, but remember when you buy your cat a tin of food and it says , mouse or chicken flavour, most the flavour is pony]. The foals born in the spring are now 5 or 6 months old and are ready to be taken off the mares. Only the very best fillys should be kept for future breeding. As well as foals there will be yearlings and older horses for sale. Old stallions, mares, horses that are unsound or are intractable, unbroken, donkeys....
Making Friends. Photo by Annie Bowles
Some of the sales specialise in particular breeds and age groups. Sometimes you may find a bargain, but mostly, buying a horse is a risky adventure and even experienced dealers can get caught out. Auctions are a quick easy way to sell a useless horse, but you will normally sell for a loss, auctions are a quick way to buy, with the advantage that you don't have to deal with the owner, but older horses are usually in the sale for a good reason and youngsters are unbroken. Dealing with horse owners can be a painfully, boring waste of time, listening to wildly inaccurate claims about the merits of the horse being sold.  At auctions horses are normally sold in guineas, [a guinea is £1 and a shilling] so it helps to know what 5% is. If you bid 800 guineas for a horse it will cost you £840. When you get home you need to change the passport details, perhaps £20, worm the horse £20, get it innoculated against tetanus, [two injections a month apart] another £25, get its teeth checked £40, if it's entire get it gelded £200........Then you still have to feed it through the winter.
Meeting friends. Photo Annie Bowles.
At horse fairs like Stow the horses offered for sale are mostly cobs, trotter crosses, a few ponies, sometimes a donkey or two. Most of the animals are youngsters under 4 years old. You have to find the owner, [not always easy] and bargain. Much of the dealing is done amongst travellers. You might hear the expression, 'man enough to have a deal.' What this means to me is that if you buy a horse off someone, even if it turns out to have only three legs, you are man enough not to complain about it. If you do make a mistake, learn from it, accept it with grace, put the horse in an auction, don't go whining about it or falling out with the person who sold you the horse. [You are, of course, entitled to try and sell that person one of your useless horses in the future and they should be man enough not to mention it either, in fact you're likely to gain their respect]. I heard of a vicar selling a bad horse to a poor old blind man, when someone confronted the vicar and asked him how he could have done such a mean thing, he replied, 'why, he was a stranger, l took him in.'
Mick and puppy. Photo Annie Bowles
Often horses are simply swapped, either for another horse or harness or something. I knew a lady who swapped a truck full of useless horses for an old Rolls Royce. She kept hay in the boot of it.
The fair is always held on a Thursday, a few people  start to arrive a couple of days before, a chance to rest and have company. Tarateeno enjoyed meeting the other horses and being around them. Although he has me for company when we're travelling, l'm a poor sustitute for a herd of horses.
I look at the horses but nothing catches my fancy. Mostly the horses for sale here are foals, yearlings and cobs that are too small for me, l'm looking for heavy vanners capable of pulling a 1,000 kg up most hills. It's always worth a look though and l'm happy to bide my time.
I treat myself and buy a nice tan coloured pair of dealer boots.
There are stalls selling gold jewellery, Crown Derby and other bone china. I buy myself half a dozen mugs with pictures of horses and wagons on them. By tea time the fair is over as suddenly as it began, just a few of us are left and it's nice sitting round the fire into the night catching up on news and having a laugh in good company. Friday morning and the last of us pull out, going our different ways, some of us will meet at Appleby in June.
Happy to be on my way again. Photo Annie Bowles
See you at Appleby!