A Third of the Way

I’ve found it impossible to update my blog whilst on the move – as I need WiFi apparently – not just mobile data. The best way to follow my journey is definitely on Facebook ‘Hoofin’ Around the Highlands 2022‘ Page.

However – that said, I’m sitting here on the outskirts of Fort William in a lovely holiday cottage gifted by a friend for a couple of nights – whilst resting up before the next part of our journey – and there is WiFi. We are now 337 miles in – which means we are 1/3 of the way – I’m not sure how that happened as it seems only yesterday that we were starting out!

The start was challenging (to say the least) with very unsettled weather – very heavy and prolonged showers of rain / touching on sleet at one point, strong winds gusting 50mph and exposed hills to get across. Not to mention the challenge of trying to find somewhere sheltered for Team Swogi over night that actually had grass this early in the season.

We survived though and the weather has just become better and better – now its scorching but I’ve stopped short of complaining about the heat – so far lol! We’ve met many fantastic people on our way who have supported us on our travels – either something as small as offering us drinks or opening gates through to putting us up for a couple of nights – its all been very much appreciated.

We are now about to start our South East Loop – the red trail on the map and the horses are in great shape – only a few minor scrapes and midge / tick bites to show for their miles so far.

A Route Re-think

I have had a major rethink after following another rider who set off from John O Groats last week (to ride to Lands End). They report boggy ground, blocked gates, and closed forestry trails that would force me to use ‘A’ roads for much of the route. These roads are busy with logging lorries, construction traffic (for hydro and wind farms), and the increased popularity of the NC500 with post-covid stay-cations.

Travelling unsupported with two horses – I don’t feel able to keep them safe on these roads and their welfare must come first (with my sanity a close second!). I’m not planning to ride the length of Britain – my aim is to ride 1000+ miles around the Highlands so I don’t HAVE to start at the most northerly point.

Disappointing as it is not to start at such an iconic place, I’ve decided instead to start at Ullapool where I can access off-roads routes / minor roads from the start. Still 1000+ miles and still raising money for TASC – just a less risky start!

Raising money for TASC The Ambulance Staff Charity – which offers a wide range of services to support the mental, physical, and financial wellbeing of ambulance staff and their families – as you can imagine, they are very much in demand in the aftermath of the pandemic.

All money raised will be ring-fenced to support staff in Scotland and to help TASC raise their profile north of the border.

Hoping I’ll get enough signal for you to follow my journey, on facebook, my blog, and on Instagram.

To Donate: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/claire-alldritt

Facebook: www.facebook.com/hoofinaroundthehighlands/

Instagram: https://instagram.com/alldrittclaire

Blog: www.bearandspottybum.com

Where do nerves stop and excitement begin?

Possibly about 3 days into my next proposed trek lol!

Having taken a 4 month career break to follow a dream, I’m setting off from John O’ Groats on the 8th of May to ride 1000+ miles around the Highlands. Raising money for TASC The Ambulance Staff Charity – which offers a wide range of services to support the mental, physical, and financial wellbeing of ambulance staff and their families – as you can imagine, they are very much in demand in the aftermath of the pandemic.

All money raised will be ring-fenced to support staff in Scotland and to help TASC raise their profile north of the border. All I can say is – that I wish I’d known about them sooner!

Hoping I’ll get enough signal for you to follow my journey and I will try to update this blog as I go, but from a phone and with little signal – its often easier to update Facebook or Instagram – so here are some other options for ‘coming along for the ride’.

To Donate: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/claire-alldritt

Instagram: https://instagram.com/alldrittclaire

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hoofinaroundthehighlands

Here is the rough route – although I’ve already had to make some changes due to blocked forestry / broken bridges so it’s definitely rough. The total mileage sits at 1075 at the moment – and no I haven’t told Swift and Yogi yet so shhhhhh! 😉

On Tour

Well… just a miniature one lol! Delighted to have been invited to give a talk in my childhood home town of Nantwich, Cheshire.

The talk is at Nantwich Bookshop on Wednesday the 23rd March at 6pm. Tickets include a copy of my book “From East to West by Saddle is Best” and some very tasty food laid on by the shop cafe. Contact the bookshop direct – details below.

I’ll talk about how I travel with my horses in the hills, how I wild camp, how I got into long-distance riding in the first place and why I do what I do. They’ll be plenty of photos between the ears of some amazing Scottish scenery.

It will be a nostalgic few days – amongst familiar streets of where I went to school and fingers crossed – catching up with friends I haven’t seen for a very long time.

Link to the contacts page of the bookshop is here: https://nantwichbookshop.co.uk/contact/

Landward – Swogi on the TV!

On day three of my last adventure – we met up with Anne Lundon from BBC Landward for some filming. It was a strange but interesting experience – I’d never done anything like this before – so not only was I tired and dehydrated, but I was SOOOO nervous too lol!

The horses were perfectly behaved, so hopefully the editing will have made them the stars of the show (quite rightly) and my uneasy ramblings will be kept to a minimum!!

I’m intrigued, nervous and excited to see how it all came out… if you want to watch, then here’s the schedule.

Cairngorm Squiggle 300kms – 11days August 2021

With Swift’s back bite now well healed, we set off on another adventure!

Couldn’t quite manage a full two weeks between work shifts so my planned circular route became a squiggle with a drop off and a pick up at the other end (I love my husband!).

Working our way from Straloch (near Kirkmichael) in the south west, up to a high point at Tomintoul then east to Edzell to finish at the Burn House.

Weather was generally in our favour apart from our arrival day in Tomintoul (when it absolutely chucked it down with rain). The midges at times were horrific though!! Can’t expect anything else I suppose doing a trek in August in Scotland.

Swift and Yogi were absolutely incredible – we tackled really tough trails. The most challenging I’ve ever attempted with steep rocky sections, bogs and tricky river crossings. Revisiting some trails I’d done before that I had thought to be difficult then -now looked like walks in the park. Amazing where practice, experience and building up the layers of teamwork can take you.

Met up with BBC Landward at Glen Derry for some filming so watch this space for when we might be on the TV 😁 They described Yogi and Swift as the best behaved horses they’d ever worked with (they were both really tired lol!).

Deeside Figure of 8

Well – this trip ended up to be more of a squiggle than a figure of 8 in the end!

After the success of the Fort William to Keith adventure, I set off on another with the aim to complete around 125miles. A meandering route to take in some trails, hills and routes I’d always wondered about.

I would describe the first day in particular as incredible! We explored miniature gullies through the hills using tiny trails that weren’t always on the map. It was challenging but in a nice way and the three of us worked well as a team to find our way through boulder fields, boggy areas and heathered ground. There was a definite sense of achievement – to have finally explored this route – one that I had wondered about for many years.

The second day explored a route I’ve always wanted to ride too – having seen the valley from either end, but never ventured into it. They day started well, but the section through farmland was a nightmare – difficult to find the route through in places, gates that were extremely hard to open (didn’t look at all well used), young horses either side of us going a bit loopy with the excitement of our arrival, then knee deep mud / cow poo to wade through. It was a hot and humid day and this section seemed to zap all my energy! The day did finish well though in one of my most favourite places to horse-camp.

However, when I took Swift’s saddle off that night, I knew the trip was over. She had had a bad cleg (horse-fly) bite during our last trek and it was up on her whither underneath the saddle. It had settled down (initially was very swollen) and it hadn’t seemed to worry her in the final days on the Moray Coast but it had been slow to heal at home. I set off on this trip with it covered in a scab, but the scab had come off and she had very pink, soft and tender skin underneath.

To continue onwards risked the soft healing skin getting rubbed and then broken, so the right thing to do was to head for home. It appeared to be the seam on the fly rug rubbing it over night that was the problem – the one thing I was using to prevent more bites! No wonder it had been slow to heal during the fortnight rest at home between adventures.

So our 125miles became around 50 as we took our nearest exit down Glen Tanar the following morning. It’s good to have contacts in mind when undertaking these excursions and I’d already primed a friend Holly that we’d be in her area and might call if things weren’t going to plan. Holly kindly picked us up (Deeside Horse and Hound -highly recommended) and returned us all back to where we’d started to load up into our lorry and head for home.

A short adventure, but a very sweet one. So happy to have found such interesting routes through the hills – where it seems hardly anyone else goes – and lovely to satisfy some curiosity that has been lingering for such a long time. Yes, it was sad to leave the rest of the route undone – but it will wait for our next outing which actually isn’t that far away. ;o)

Fort William to Keith

Its been 2 weeks since my last adventure which was riding from Fort William to Keith – a 2 week trip, 225 miles, camping each night and during which I was blessed with the best kind of weather. Apart from one drizzly day and one night of strong winds and heavy showers – I mostly had dry weather, a large amount of sunshine (for Scotland) and a strong breeze to keep the midges away.

It was a trip of 2 halves. The first was remote mountainous terrain with little contact with the outside world, followed by a more sociable time catching up with old friends (and new) as I approached home on the Moray Coast. Funny how you never explore the area in which you live, but this time I rode home for the first time and used a large section of a local long-distance trail – the Moray Coastal Trail. It was stunning with the blue seas to guide our way in glorious sunshine!

This took me through more populated areas than I would normally plan to ride through but I loved the ride towards home. A familiar feel as I know the area so well but on trails I hadn’t explored by horse before.

I had thought that a year off from long-distance trail riding would have set us – as a team – back a stage or two but I was delighted to find that it hadn’t made an impact at all. Covid19 restrictions and the horses being unwell for the riding season of 2020, appeared if anything, to have given us a period of reflection which only strengthened our bond and made for eager horses to get back to ‘their work’.

We were all relaxed, took obstacles in our stride and had the most wonderful time. I was surprised and delighted to see how well Team Swogi coped with the challenges of the route and in particular how well they coped with built up areas and traffic (always my major fear). They appeared more confident than ever and I could see a huge change in how they tackled what lay ahead. The positive reinforcement training I’ve been experimenting with was nothing to do with trail riding but it seems to have made a massive impact on how I’m viewed as a worthy leader of the herd.

I’m writing this on the cusp of another adventure – a week long, figure of 8 trek in the eastern Cairngorms. The horses have had 2 weeks off and I hope will be well rested and ready for the challenge ahead. Again its an area I know reasonably well, but the chosen route takes in trails I’ve not explored before and weather allowing goes high and hopefully should see up top out a Munro or two.

I knew my luck with the weather wasn’t likely to last and the forecast isn’t great (but not a show stopper). My waterproofs will be needed for this trip, as will the midge spray I fear lol! This will be the 2nd of my 3 planned treks this year – I don’t usually manage this much riding but I feel the need to make up for the lost year of 2020!

Here’s some of the highlights from Fort William to Keith! – I’ve put together a wee video / slide-show of my trip. I’m now frantically packing for the next one, as I’m aiming to hit the trail this evening. 🙂

Looking Forward

Looking forward to my first long-distance trail ride of 2021 next month! West to East across Scotland this time on partly familiar trails and many unknowns linking them together – covering over 200 miles.

I chose a route I knew some of as recce under lockdown is proving difficult and the small amount of recce I have done of the unknowns proved to be well worth it. Locked gates, broken or narrow bridges, kissing gates, extremely boggy ground, cattle grids with no side gates – were the negatives – but the positives out-weighed all of this.

A recce of the route isn’t just about identifying (mostly manmade) obstacles to horse-travel, its about collecting useful contacts along the way too. Phone numbers for gamekeepers / landowners, informing them of your intensions to keep them onside, picking up better grazing than you might have found on the hoof and making new friends who instantly offer company for the night as well as food and wine!

I’ve started packing already, the horses are fit and raring to go and I can’t wait to get back on the trail! 🙂

BBC Radio Scotland

The Out of Doors programme and the linked Scotland Outdoors are featuring us in both the regular programme and a longer podcast this week. The episode airs on Saturday 27/03 – at the early time of 06:30 – but the podcast of the full interview is available now:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtq1/episodes/downloads

Swift spent most of the interview trying to eat the fluffy microphone, apart from one moment when she took a dive into the ditch for her favourite kind of grass (whilst I was slightly distracted). Yogi hung back, full of suspicion but he was at least less dramatic than last time he was faced with a grey fluffy monster lol!

Illustration by Leandra Sutherland