After a restless night sleeping in our converted van, I awoke to high winds and heavy rain -not exactly the start I was hoping for.
Still, there’s not a lot you can do about the weather and I vaguely remembered Billy Connelly saying something about the fact “there is only wrong clothing”… so I togged up in double water proofs (one to keep the rain out and one in psychadelic colours to keep the traffic at bay) and got determined to just get on with it.
I had a considerable amount of first day bag faff (getting everything to sit just right on the spotty bum pack horse), so by the time I was ready to actually start out on my big adventure, both wind and rain had fortunately eased off a little.
I was doing OK until the moment of starting to walk down the road and I suddenly felt extremely nauseous… what was I doing and why? The West Coast suddenly felt like the other side of the earth -would I even remember how to get there and had I packed my maps? I had to cut short my thank you to Heather Harrison from Steptoes who kindly put the horses up for the night (http://www.steptoesyard.com/), otherwise I was at severe risk of embarassing myself by vomiting on her feet. Luckily she seemed to understand (maybe because she has horses too, or maybe I was looking a peculiar green colour) and offered words of encouragement to wish me on my way not hindering my rather sharp exit.
I didn’t get very far at all (maybe 500metres) before I was stopped in my tracks by a lady who wanted to know all about Swift and where her spotty bum came from. The questions about what I was doing, why and where followed after a long discussion about Swift and the lady’s gorgeous Appy’s that were in the field behind her. She really must have been an Appy enthusiast because we (as in myself, Yogi & Swift) were “not from round here” and were looking rather unusual decked out in our full expedition gear. That however, seemed to be of a secondary concern compared to the spots. I tried to explain our plan, our reasons and our methods as best I could, but since I’d only been asking myself the same questions some 5 minutes previously, I struggled a little to form the answers she was looking for. Yogi was also struggling a little as he was feeling a little left out with all this talk about spots.
However, any inequalities were soon righted, as I continued down the road. I didn’t get very far at all (maybe another 500metres) before Yogi was stopped in his tracks by a lady who came rushing over and threw her arms around his neck… much to all our surprise. There was an awkward pause while Swift and myself exchanged confused glances and Yogi’s eyes stood out on stalks and we all wondered what on earth was happening… during this pause, the lady took a huge sniff of Yogi’s neck!
The lady eventually emerged from under Yogi’s mane claiming “I love the smell of horses”. Now this happens to be a sentiment that I totally understand and completely share with this stranger, but I’d usually be polite enough to ask if I could sniff before throwing myself at someone’s horse… especially if they appeared (as I hoped I did) as though they were on a mission to get somewhere and stopping them may cause delay.
Yogi’s ego restored (after all he obviously smelt better than Swift and had made one lady very happy indeed), we continued on our journey. I didn’t get very far at all (maybe another 500metres) when faithful hubby declared that it was time to take some photos to prove we were leaving from the very edge of the East. Fair point, I suppose, the crazy about Appy’s lady and the crazy sniffing lady weren’t going to be the most reliable witnesses.
Photo session complete, where Yogi and I posed for the camera and Swift pulled her usual goofy faces as soon as the lense was pointed in her direction, we set off up the steep road out of St Cyrus. I didn’t get very far (maybe another 500metres) before having to risk the first major road of the journey. I really do detest road riding as neither of my horses could ever be described as bomb proof in traffic. Another reason I detest it, is that the majority of drivers these days seem to have lost the ability to slow down for either cyclist or animal and somehow expect you to be able to jump out of their way in the blink of an eye, and actually many think you shouldn’t be using “their” road in the first place.
In Yogi & Swift’s opinions, cars are OK, Vans are OK but the engine noise of Land Rovers does not meet Yogi’s approval. Then there are the rattly trailers which are just the scariest thing for both of them… oh… apart from tractors and lorries and trucks. Motorcycles are approved apparently, but we didn’t meet any of them that day.
We weren’t long on the main road and faithful hubby thankfully blocked the big oil tanker from coming up behind us by driving the van and trailer in the middle of the road a little way behind the spotty bum. My route (if I could only remember it) was a little zig zaggy to try and stay on the smallest roads I could find on the map. We didn’t meet much traffic for a while and could start to find our travelling rythym and enjoy the colours of the crops in the fields. The travelling rythym can take a few days to find, its hard to explain, you just feel out of sync with your companions, out of sync with your equipment, out of sync with all the bags you’ve packed and just a bit fumbly and frustrated in general. It usually takes a day or two to iron out the wrinkles and have everything feeling smooth in the team. We weren’t enjoying the smoothy just yet.
We rode without incident to the junction with the A90 Dual Carriageway. With no underpass or overpass to be found during the reccy, faithful hubby met me at the agreed spot to untack, reload, drive less than 500 metres, unload & re-tack. We set off again… I didn’t get very far at all (maybe 500metres) when I met a strange wifie on a bike. She was wearing a riding hat, a lot of high vis clothing and was armed with a big camera! I was relieved to discover that she may be strange, but only as strange as me and that this was my friend Leaf who had come to walk with us for the rest of the day.
Leaf had figured that the road section of my journey would be a stressful one for all 3 of us and that she had better step in and give the team a hand. Both of her hands were most welcomed as it made the day much more sociable, easier to manage and a whole lot less scarey for us all. The time therefore passed quickly until we arrived at our carefully planned lunch stop… at the Sauchieburn Hotel (http://www.sauchieburnhotel.com/). I was looking forward to a celebratory (and calming) drink to toast the start of our adventure and had carefully researched the pub on the internet. It was apparently open from 12:00-14:00 everyday, served my favourite tipple of real ale and since I had planned the time of my start to perfection, it was a little before 13:00, giving us plenty of time. It just goes to prove that you can’t believe everything posted on the internet as the pub was well and truly closed…
Oh well -not to put a dampener on an already damp day, we decided to rest up in the carpark for a while with soggy sandwiches for us, soggy hay for the horses and thankfully a few beers that faithful (& this time thoughtful) hubby had stashed in the van. I was just about to crack open a bottle when the landlady appeared with those words that can always be taken in at least two different ways… “can I help you at all?”. Luckily by the time I had waffled out my mad plan of adventure, she was so baffled and incredibly relieved that we weren’t a bunch of travellers setting up residence in her business carpark, that she kindly made us a huge pot of tea (and asked me to donate the cost of it to PFK, my chosen charity for the trip). While we enjoyed that and made ourselves more comfortable by using the pub loo, Swift proceeded to try and drink the pub taps dry. I think that Yogi had been telling her a few tales about some of the “sessions” he had as a lad and she didn’t want to lose face… her being the unruly teenager of the team and all that. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was only bringing her tap water as she guzzled bucket after bucket.The afternoon passed quickly as the team of (now) four wrestled with numerous tractors and one lorry driver who really wasn’t amused to meet horses using “his” road. We also had a brief pause to calm down a very frightened lady babbling about travellers being in the area and possibly eyeing up her horses. It didn’t take long to explain that faithful hubby was doing nothing of the sort (despite driving round in a dodgy-looking transit with disheveled trailer attached) and was merely cruising round to meet the team at strategic traffic hot spots inbetween dashing around to try and buy all the things I’d forgotten to pack. Good to know I suppose that Farm Watch has rapid & effective communication. We were soon in Edzell and soon located faithful hubby and Leaf’s car (luckily where she left it), they both accompanied me to find the team’s digs for the night at The Burn House (http://theburn.goodenough.ac.uk/) -where I was in for a big surprise. I’d been given the number for Sarah & David Turner by the local campsite as people who “have donkeys and may be able to help you”. When I’d phoned they had offered Yogi & Swift some grass for the night and said I would be able to camp in their grounds. Well actually if I am completely correct, they had said I could have a room in the house if I liked, but I’d felt since I’d never met them, that it might feel just little imposing (though very generous and the type of thing I would offer to a total stranger with a shared interest). After settling the horses in the field & saying goodbye to faithful hubby and as-strange-as-me wifie, I gave the two VERY cute donkeys a little cuddle, to thank them for giving up their field for the night – I had asked Swift to thank them, but she was extremely jealous about the length of their ears and so refused to even acknowledge them. Whilst hearing all about the two with the very long ears, Sarah re-offered the “room in the house” option and insisted on showing me the house before I pitched my tent. Well… was I glad I gave in and agreed! THE house was actually a massive Lodge house which is used as an Academic Retreat… it wasn’t Sarah & David’s personal abode at all, and it had everything you could want: proper bed, proper bathroom, warm rooms, fabulous views, lovely grounds for an evening stroll and even a bar with real ale! Needless to say I no longer required much persuasion and even imposed further on their hospitality by blagging a free evening meal and the use of the office laptop to update my trip blog. It was the perfect way to ease myself into this journey and I was entertained by chatting to other guests which very effectively took my mind off the potentially difficult tracks, days and weeks ahead. I also enjoyed a very comfortable night’s sleep and hoped my equine companions were having the same.