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.

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