Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Post 1, Cornwall to Lincolnshire

In April 2013 I set off from Cornwall with a bow top wagon (horse-drawn caravan) and three horses. By June I was at Appleby Horse Fair, July in Northumberland and by August at Port Patrick in south west Scotland, a distance of 1000 miles. The journey is on going and doesn't have a particular destination but is punctuated by attending horse fairs and other occasions. The wagon is my home which I built. I have been travelling in this way for many years and wanted to share some of the experiences and knowledge I have acquired, travelling the roads of Britain, in the hope that it will inspire and give insight into a unique way of living.
In due course, I will add more posts about the design and manufacture of wagons, stoves, ways of earning a living , cooking , etc.
After a long, hard winter it was good to be heading north again. 11 miles of tough, windy, narrow and very steep hills from Lostwithiel to Blisland are a good test for the fitness and endurance of  the horses. The three horses were tethered on the green. The horses are tethered with 25 feet (8 meters) lengths of chain, with 3 swivels in each chain, pegged into the ground with a steel stake one inch diameter (25mm) and 2ft long (600mm). These have to be driven into the ground with a sledge hammer. This can be quite tiring after walking a long way. I was glad to have a pint in the Blisland Arms, which is a very nice friendly pub. Although the weather was still cold, the wagon is very warm, comfortable and cosy with  the stove lit. After a good nights sleep I was ready to cross Bodmin Moor the following day.
Crossing Bodmin Moor, a cold easterly wind, but beautiful and bleak. My horses were interested in the moorland ponies.

The Horses
I set off with one good reliable wagon horse, a gelding called Tarateeno, that I broke in as a three year old and it's now seven, it's a very experienced black and white cob and had done just over 5000 miles. Attached to the off side shaft was a very inexperienced mare, erratic but eager and willing, a 13 year old Halflinger type, called Banana, that had never pulled a wagon before. Tied on the back of the wagon was Belle a 3 year old spotted filly pony that was unused to traffic but also very willing and personable.
3 year old Belle 
These 2 pictures were taken on Hatherliegh Moor by my friend Clare, who used to travel with a horse and wagon.
13 year old Banana
Tarateeno 7 year old cob

The horses were all freshly shod by Shane, an apprentice at Equine Foot Care in Cornwall, this is a very good farriery and they do a lovely thorough job. Shane made a really good set of old fashioned plain stamped shoes for Tarateeno the cob and put 6 road studs in each shoe. The studs help the horse to grip better especially going up steep hills and also make the shoes last a long time. An ordinary set of fullered heavy hunter shoes without studs would only last about two weeks or 200 miles. These shoes on the cob, lasted until I got to Port Patrick, an incredible 987 miles. The shoes stayed on Tarateeno for 14 weeks, Tarateeno has very good feet that can cope with this without difficulty. A good farrier is worth his or her weight in gold and can really make the difference between having success with your horse or not, whatever discipline you are in. Sometimes people ask why does the horse need to be shod? During this part of the journey I was averaging 71 miles a week and the horse is pulling about 750kg or 3/4 of a ton, an unshod horse would simply wear out its hooves in a few miles, if you don't believe it, because you've read or heard about the "bare foot" horse, try it yourself.
Devon is a very hilly county with narrow windy lanes and like Cornwall can be quite challenging country to travel in. I crossed the river Tamar at north Tamerton and then went over to Hatherleigh. 
This is a typical road side stopping place on a very quiet lane near Quoditch in Devon. A good stop will be in a quiet place and will ideally have good grass, a supply of water and a supply of firewood. The grass on this verge was very poor and you can see from the photo that it is still very wintery. Tarateeno the cob was given extra, hard food that day and a rug to keep the wind off. Firewood is collected from dead sticks in the hedge or a nearby copse. Water for the horses is obtained either from a spring, a stream or a trough. I generally have a gallon of tap water for my own consumption, I get this from householders, unless there is a good spring.
This photo was taken sitting on the bed looking out towards Dartmoor.

One of the things I most like about travelling is the wonderful views of the countryside. I skirt around the northern edge of Dartmoor, which is too inhospitable in April, going from Hatherleigh towards Morchard Bishop, through a myriad of narrow lanes. There are very few stopping places but I stop with a very kind friendly farmer, called Jim and his wife. After Morchard Bishop the hills get easier and it's a long down hill stretch to Tiverton and onto Wellington. 

Into Somerset
I look forward to reaching the Somerset Levels and seeing the apple blossom in the orchards and seeing the birds nesting on the levels but spring is very late this year. From Wellington I went through the centre of Taunton and  this is good to get the two inexperienced horses used to heavy traffic, they coped very well. Out on the levels, I visited my friend Bernie, who has a small holding with one nice cob that is used to do a variety of jobs. Bernie has a few sheep and these keep his few acres in good condition. If you just keep horses on a piece of ground the grass gets sick and the horses get wormy. Bernie also has a bow top wagon and likes to travel with it in the summer around the levels.
Bernie's cob
Going down north drove towards Langport.
After Langport I headed to Shepton Mallet and up onto the Mendip Hills, before heading towards Trowbridge in Wiltshire. A good average days journey is about 12 - 15 miles and this is a comfortable amount for me and the horses, but some days it may be necessary to do 20 or even 30 miles. This all depends on stopping places and the terrain. It's sometimes better to do 30 miles and then have a days rest than to do shorter journeys but have to stop in unpleasant places.
Near Trowbridge, much better grass.
The Cotswolds 26th April, 250 miles so far.
After 20 miles I stopped on this village green in the Cotswolds. A lady came out of her house and said to me, "It's lovely to see your wagon and horses but the village green is private." I smiled at her and replied, "Oh, that's alright I don't mind." The lady looked at me slightly quizically and declared, "well that's a funny way of looking at it". I fetched water from the spring for the horses and then retired to my wagon and had a good rest. Sometimes villagers try to make me feel unwelcome but I prefer to let them have ownership of the problem. I'm not doing any harm after all. The Cotswolds has some lovely countryside and attractive towns and villages but it's very expensive to own a house there. I feel very glad being able to travel through such country but without having the bother of owning a house there. Also if I don't like the neighbours it only takes 20 minutes to move. 

Headed north through Stow-on-the-Wold, Kineton and Yelvertoft. I stopped on a wide verge near Woodbine, since I had last been there, trees had been planted, making it difficult to stop. The verges are generally owned by the highways and in poorly drained flat areas the verges tend to be wide so that in the old days horses and carts could move over when the tracks got too deeply rutted. Nowadays some people "appropriate", (I say "steal") the verges. After I had been there a few hours a lady came along and told me the verge was private property and could I please move. I said I wasn't going to and the lady said she was going to call the police; as she spoke her mobile phone rang. I waited until she had finished her call and then said, "Are you going to phone the police then?" the lady looked embarrassed,  said "no." I said, "Yes, I thought you were bluffing." I reassured the lady that I was going in the morning anyway and suggested that she went home to think of a way to redeem herself. I think it's very important in these situations to smile, keep calm and be firm and not allow people to bully me.
May 1st, 6am,  frosty start
24 miles to near Billesdon, warm sunny day, I had intended to stop earlier but didn't like the stops. Rang my friend Sylvia to ask about stops, but whilst talking to her, I suddenly felt very tired and weak and collapsed onto the ground. I had just enough energy to tell Sylvia I had to go and rang off as I didn't want to worry her. I sat on the ground for 5 minutes and felt a little better. I mostly walk beside my wagon horse and it had been a long tiring day and I was thirsty, and the last 3 weeks had been quite tough with 2 extra inexperienced horses to handle on my own. Luckily there was a good stop two miles further on. I had just enough strength left to unharness the horses and tether them and then climb into the wagon and lie on the bed. I lay there for 3 hours until I recovered a bit. Then I went and found water in a trough 300 yards away. It's quite tiring carrying buckets of water for horses and each horse will often need a whole bucket. Later on Sylvia rang me and asked if I was alright as she'd sensed that something wasn't quite right. I was very glad she'd rung back and explained what had happened. Later on there was a beautiful sunset and I had the energy to take a photo of it.
Sunset near Billesdon

Solar  Energy

I am able to harness the power of the sun with the semi-flexible solar panel that is on the roof of my wagon. The solar panel is quite discrete, very thin and weighs about 1kg. It gives out a maximum 100 watts and charges up 2 motorcycle type 12volt 7ah dry cell batteries. This is quite adequate to charge my tablet, portable DVD player and mobile phone. It can also be used to power 2 LED lights. The solar panel is connected to a cheap charge controller to prevent the batteries being over charged. I could probably use a bigger battery, but this would be more weight for the horse to pull. My equipment is charged using 12 volt adapters that plug into a car cigarette lighter, that is connected to the charge controller. It's lovely having complete autonomy over my power supply and not getting any electricity bills.
 The 12 volt solar panel can be seen on the roof at the rear of the wagon. This photo was taken at Amscott, beside the river Trent in Linconshire on the 18th of May. It must have still been cool as there is smoke coming out of the chimney. 

I keep in touch, using a tablet, which is useful for emailing and is handy for taking photos and making phone calls. The tablet has a 7 x 4 inch screen and this is large enough to watch films. In remote areas there is not usually enough signal to have a good internet connection, but there is often enough signal to email. When I am by a town where there is good signal I download films and anything else I want to watch. Mobile phones and tablets have transformed travelling and not many people will feel nostalgic about having to find a public telephone box, and the tyranny of it stinking of urine and not working properly.