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.