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Solo Riding Confidence

With lockdown still in place in the UK, I’m not getting my fix through my own long-distance riding.  Instead I’m watching (with encouragement) a friend in another country gear up to potentially undertake her first 100% solo trip.  She is quite rightly nervous about this challenge, mentioning worries about navigation, pack-bags slipping, avoiding bogs and the hard work of setting up camp (ie corrals) at the end of each day.

As someone who often challenges themselves to the max and who has finally come to realise that isn’t necessarily what it’s all about -this is the advice I offered.  It was well received, so thought it might be worth sharing more widely!

Breaking into solo long-distance riding  – Top Tips:

  •  Start out by practicing corralling on day rides so you get used to the annoyance of the setting up faff and the horses get the idea of what you want.  Treats scattered on the ground to keep them close during construction might provide training opportunitites.
  •  Progress to doing numerous short over-night rides (one night out) on your own.  Get confident with this before tackling more adventurous longer treks.
  •  Navigational mistakes happen, so pick easier trails for your first big excursion.  This way you will enjoy yourself more, rather than worry about what lies ahead.
  •  Accept that on your own, the setting up camp and striking camp is hard work and can take 1-2 hours each way.
  •  With this amount of time taken out of your day accept that you will only ride approximately 6 hours in between (giving another 2 hours backup/flexibility for difficulties on the trail).
  • If you get to camp early, get set up, eat then enjoy/explore where you are.
  •  It can be tough going with two horses to negotiate on the trails and care for at the end of the day.  Recognise this and turn frustration into celebration that despite knowing this, you are still out there doing it!
  •  Settle your mind to the fact that you will do less mileage and less challenging trails (first time out at least), but who cares?  You are out there doing it, by yourself, in a remote place and many people never take this first step/first try.  So first time out on a solo long-distance trek… give yourself a break and don’t feel that you have anything to prove!

Coming soon -tops tips on how to corral your horses on the trail (solo)!

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An Intro to Horse Camping Glen Feshie

At the start of August 2019, I again organised a weekend away camping with horses as an introduction to “dobbineering” for those that hadn’t tried it before.  I wanted to try something a little more adventurous (as an introduction) than I’d organised before, but to pull it off I needed a little support.  Yvonne came along to help during the ride -she is the most excellent tail-end charlie and I could relax knowing she would be ensuring the back of the ride was well and safe.  Yvonne would also be there as an extra pair of capable hands to advise during the corralling and camping part too.   For the logistics, I enrolled my hubby Dave and the local Gamekeeper Davie to get all the camping and corralling equipment across a River and to the Bothy where we would stay for the night.

In total we were a group of 8 riders from the Moray Equestrian Access Group, so heading to the Cairngorms was a little out of our area, but it was SO worth the drive.  The weather was as spectacular as the scenery and we rode approx. 19kms the first day into the bothy up the Glen.  Unfortunately the midgies when we got there were just as spectacular too…  We could shelter and socialise in the bothy for the evening before scurrying for our tents, but the poor horses circled around in the corrals for the night trying to evade the wee beasties.  Can’t be helped I suppose if you do anything outdoors in Scotland!

For most in the group -it was their first overnight adventure with their horses, first time corralling, first time at a bothy and first time camping.  Most of this was a first for the horses too (although we drew the line at letting them try the bothy and tents lol!) but they took it all in their stride.

The second day was a little damp -but since we were riding back out again, nobody seemed to care too much.  The scenery was still spectacular which took everyone’s mind off the rain.  We came back a slightly shorter route but still managed approx. 16kms.

I hope there are now a few more people hooked on the sport of dobbineering! :o)

A Traverse across NE Scotland

A solo trip this time for one week, travelling from Edzell (near Montrose) on the North East Coast of Scotland, across to Forres (near Elgin) on the Moray Coast.  A traverse of 200kms, several times travelling at heights of over 700m in the mountains.  I mostly camped or stayed in bothies (stone hill huts) and was self sufficient for the whole journey (apart from drop off and pick up by my wonderful husband!).

The horses were fit from their previous trek last month and seemed to be unstoppable.  We just picked up where we left off a few weeks ago. Thankfully however, we had much better weather than experienced during the previous Cairngorm Circular trip, with only the last day throwing some atmospheric drizzly weather our way.  We met some lovely people on our travels at the Mark House at Invermark as well as in Bob Scott’s bothy and Ryvoan Bothy, not to mention those I got chatting to on the trail side too!

That said -the trip didn’t get off to the best of starts and took a few days to “warm up” into an enjoyable experience.  I stupidly did an extra night shift the night before setting off -I was mostly ready and packed with just the saddles to sort out…  Sorting out ANYTHING after only a few hours sleep should be totally avoided!

Dave drove me and Team Swogi to the start… a 2hr drive with a planned 6km evening ride and camp for the night… only for me to discover when throwing the saddle up onto Yogi -I had nothing to secure the cinch (girth) to!  I’d forgotten a Latigo… I wasn’t all that surprised that something had got missed in the sleep devoid stupor but I was very angry with myself as this was something I couldn’t set off without and we were now a long way from home.

The horses were found local accommodation for the night and we set off back for home, to return in the car the next morning with Latigo firmly in my hand… least that was the plan, but shortly after settling the horses in a field, a lorry wheel blew out and we were then stuck at the side of the road for a few hours whilst that got sorted.

The next morning after more hours on the road, I rode up the Glen with a slightly changed plan due to the delayed start, only to have my plans completely changed again about 10kms in, thanks to a newly installed cattle grid with no side gate.  I had to back track and carry out the deepest river crossing the team has ever done.  Yogi and I had a slight disagreement about stepping into the river… it was nothing really and Swift was happy, but he was adamant that the ground wasn’t safe (it was).  I tried convincing him instead from the ground, but the battle continued and my finger lost when he suddenly pulled back on the reins.  Not sure if my finger was broken or just badly sprained but it very sore and was bleeding everywhere too.

I eventually persuaded Yogi to approach the river from a much more difficult angle (typical bloke!) and we crossed without incident.  We had to spend the rest of the day on tarmac playing in traffic (which I hate) but thankfully every single driver was patient and courteous. That night was spent in delightful company at the Mark House B&B which cheered me and my finger up no end.  The next day, however, half way up the next Glen, I developed a sickness bug so couldn’t eat for the next 24hrs and felt very weak and shakey.  I must point out that I was probably harbouring this before staying at the B&B… it was nothing to do with them, particularly since I ate my own breakfast lol!

I felt so rough and with the challenging start I almost pulled the plug at this point, but as always my rock (husband) reminded me that I could in theory just sit tight for a few days until I felt better, as I wasn’t under any time pressure.  I was camped in a beautiful spot with plenty of grass for the horses, so this wouldn’t have been too much of a hardship.  Thankfully though, by the morning all felt good and I was starving enough to eat my missed main meal for breakfast.  I figured curry would give me more energy for the day ahead than a small helping of porridge!

The trek then settled into a good place, with relaxed and happy vibes.  No more issues to come and the weather was kind.  We camped in beautiful places and enjoyed Bothy Banter some nights too.  The horses were incredible as always -tackling anything I put in front of them (the Yogi/river incident the first day was a very rare blip) -we walked over metal gridded bridges through which you could see the river far below, went up and down steep flights of steps, rocky river crossings, bog negotiations and narrow gates.  These obstacles on top of negotiating the standard challenges that the hill trails have to offer.

We all came home looking a bit trimmer, a bit fitter and a little bit wiser!  Can’t wait to do it all again -hopefully off somewhere next month too.  A big hello to those now following the blog after meeting me on the trail during this trek.

Day 1 Edzell to Invermark:

Day 2 Invermark to Shiel of Glen Tanar:

Day 3 Shiel of Glentanar to Gelder Shiel:

Day 4 Gelder Shiel to Derry Lodge:

Day 5 Derry Lodge to Ryvoan:

Day 6 Ryvoan to Cromdale:

Day 7 Cromdale to Forres along the Dava Way:

 

Day 13 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Thirteen –OMG what’s that yellow thing in the sky?  Could that be what they call “the sun”?  Not warm enough for bare arms, but we were completely thankful of a respite from the rain.  A pleasant little ride back to Nethy Bridge with views of the other side of the Cairngorms… we’d done it, the complete circuit!

Horses and humans back home for some rest, a drying out and some home comforts.  Til the next time -which isn’t so long away for some of the team… watch this space…

Day 12 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Twelve –started out pretty much how day eleven ended.  Cold and wet with a driving wind.  The horses were shivering again and I felt rotten putting the saddles on their cold hunched backs, but we had to get out of here somehow!  We were up and away by 08.30 –just glad to be on the move again, but close to hypothermic.

We couldn’t ride our horses for more than 20mins at a time before we’d be starting to get dangerously cold.  The only way to beat that, is to get off and walk until you warm up again.  At one point after walking fast for 10mins, this didn’t appear to be working and I was getting pretty concerned I’d gone past the point of return.  There was nowhere at all to shelter to put additional clothing on (I had most of it on anyway) and nowhere to stop and get a hot drink / food.  As I struggled on by foot, from behind me drifting through the howling wind, I hear a rousing rendition of “The Flower of Scotland”, this spurred me on to walk faster and get my sorry ass warmed up!

Chose your trail partner carefully… and try to look after them at all cost… they are worth their weight in gold :0)

Eventually we reached the shelter of some trees and had an easier ride the rest of the afternoon.  It was still very wet and cold though, so again we took advantage of a bunk house for the night to dry as much as we could out and to get some warmth back into the bones with a hot shower.  The horses too were found good shelter for the night and they appreciated the drier and warmer surroundings too.

Note the lack of photos from today due to very cold hands!

Day 11 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Eleven –Started out drizzly but we knew the weather was set to get the worst it had been so far.  We had a sheltered, pleasant and easy ride down from the bothy and through the woodlands to Invercauld Bridge.  A pause in the carpark was appreciated for a “proper” loo, a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar or two.  Yogi however was ready for the off and would not stand still.  Last time here I’d stayed at Mar Lodge after this day’s ride –he knew where it was and he likes it there!  Taking a different route this time however, we were to head into the hills and we were both in two minds about it as the weather was now wetter with strong cold winds.

Reaching the edge of the shelter from the next woodland, we knew it was decision time –did we continue or not?  If we stayed there for the night, we were going to have just the same kind of weather to fight through tomorrow and stopping mid way was going to make for a very long day tomorrow indeed.  If we didn’t do the distance today, we were going to struggle to catch up.

With a cry of “lets just do it” and “lets just get it over with”… we were onward bound.  At first we were in the lee of the hill and the ascent wasn’t too bad… rounding a corner near the top however, and we were both buffeted by the wind so badly we felt we would be blown off the horses.  Walking, we crept around the hill as fast as we could with horizontal rain being driven through to the bone by gusting 50mph winds.  I could hardly see where I was going –Swift was hiding behind me on my left side with her head practically under my arm and her right ear poking me one eye, the wind was driving the rain into my other eye from the right, so I couldn’t see out of that one either.  Not that there was much to see –visibility was pretty poor!

It seemed a very long way to Corndavon Lodge where we could find some shelter from the wind for us and the horses.  The rain didn’t let up though and by morning I didn’t have a dry piece of kit (sleeping bag included!).

Day 10 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Ten –Light showers / drizzle today… would have felt like luxury if it wasn’t for the bitterly cold wind!  The wind kept us cool though as we tackled the steep Capel Mounth climb, but once up on top and fully exposed to it, it was no longer appreciated.  We stopped twice to find shelter, recoup and put more clothes on.   The drop down into Loch Muick is incredible –one of the best views in the Cairngorms, but it was just too cold to stop and appreciate it fully.  We just kept moving to be honest to get to the shelter and warmth of the bothy stop that night.  Arriving we were delighted to find another person there who already had the fire lit and the bothy feeling cosy.

Bothy etiquette is usually a common sense approach… leave the place clean and tidy, leave no food remains, leave dry kindling / wood for the next person, be respectful of other bothy users.  By 9.30pm we were all fast asleep with big journeys on the cards for the morning.  At 10:30pm we were startled awake by a late bothy arrival group, along with a noisy / lively dog.  They said they had just walked in as they were planning an early start on the hill in the morning… fair enough, we would all be up early anyways and its a valid enough reason for a late arrival. 

HOWEVER… TWO AM THEIR ALARM WENT OFF and they again woke us all up as they set out in the dark.  Early is considered 6am not 2am in the middle of the flippin night… I may well have mentioned that to them in not so polite a fashion as they packed up their gear.  Well that was that –I was wide awake now and didn’t get back to sleep.  The next day was going to be tough enough without entering into it completely and utterly knackered…

Day 9 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Nine –started out wet again with heavy showers and a colder feel to it.  After negotiating the Minister’s Path, we stopped at Glen Doll Hotel for a warming Hot Chocolate (I had rum in mine as Swift was driving). 

The road section took no time at all, so we were soon exploring the top of Glen Doll before retiring for an early night with a steep climb out due tomorrow.  We were very grateful to be staying in a mountain club hut that night and took full advantage of the drying room facilities!

Day 8 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Eight –was dry initially but as we were putting the finishing touches to the saddles and bags, the heavens opened without warning.  No time to put waterproofs on before being completely soaked through!!  It did dwindle to a heavy drizzle for the next few hours though –so that was viewed as an improvement…

Luckily by the time we reached the higher peaks, the rain left us alone.  The views didn’t disappoint but would have been better in some sunshine.  Our overnight kit was already at tonight’s accommodation due to the plan change (thanks Dave), so Swift and Katy enjoyed a pack free day and Katy enjoyed a scratchy roll in the heather at the top of the hill.

After a steep and tricky descent down into Glen Prosen we followed the trail and road to the overnight hostel.  Just to make sure we weren’t getting used to that dry feeling, the rain came on again before we got there…

 

Day 7 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Seven –windy and wet surprise surprise!  The day was spent sorting / drying / eating / drinking / restocking.  We moved on to our next nights accommodation with all our gear but left the horses and riding tack where they were.  Yvonne was suffering –in a lot of pain, but still determined to finish what she started.  I fully expected her to pull out here (the half way point) given her injuries –but she is one tough cookie with an attitude of “never give in, never surrender”!

We left the horses getting to know their new neighbours… don’t worry, we did drive back to check up on them later in the day.