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.