Memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1997-2017.
Chapter 5: Sunset
In the summer of 1997 we took a holiday in Cornwall. Poldark country…. Heather-clad moorland, ancient mine workings and a turquoise sea adorned with rolling, foaming white horses. It was a week of ponies, coastal walking, body-boarding and discovering the surf, and remembering the cast of Baywatch – well, Second Draft did, not so much the rest of us. The horsey highlight for my son and step-daughter happened at Wheal Buller Riding School in Redruth, Cornwall. The children chose the pony they wanted to ride straight from the fields (supervised) and the riding was proper off-road stuff in a small, bespoke group as opposed to pony trekking in a long line. The whole experience got three thumbs-up. My son’s beautiful little pony, Mini, was even up for sale and on our final day the hints fell like incendiary bombs. Oh, if only… the dreams of youth never quite go away, even though as adults we propose to know better. But we lived in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and had no resources financially or otherwise to consider owning a pony. Inevitably, Second Draft marched us all kindly but firmly in the opposite direction. Just as well someone in the family had immunity to such ethereal things, even if Pamela Anderson and a wet suit had easily over-fired his imagination earlier.
But then something happened which fired all of our imaginations. We’d taken a weekend break in Conwy, and the existence of twenty or so new-build houses springing up on Sychnant Pass didn’t escape our attention. The aforementioned Pinewood Stables epitomised much of my teenage dreamscape, and this familiar yard was just half a mile down the road. I knew the area intimately, in particular the medieval town of Conwy, the local mountains, the wild Carneddau ponies, and the beach beyond the marina. Noses pressed against the hoarding surrounding the building site, we allowed a good deal of mostly unspoken what-ifs to dominate the homeward journey. The location was without any doubt, heaven on a stick. And then a curious thing. Second Draft received a work-related phone call about a colleague’s imminent retirement in North Wales, and less than a couple of weeks later we were speeding back to take a closer look at number twenty-three. Afterwards, we drove up to the car park by Crows Nest to ‘think’ about it. It was a really drab November day, the best kind of day for considering a job relocation and buying a house. A day when Conwy Mountain seemed entirely enveloped in scudding cloud and mist. A day when the wind bent the trees double and the dark, brooding mountains rearing beyond Pensychnant looked enticingly wild and inhospitable. And we knew there was no real need to discuss anything further. I easily recall the chain of events that day because the assistant in the sales office – also called Jan – apologised for listening to the radio while we signed on the dotted line but her daughter, Lisa, was in a band called Steps and they’d just broken into the charts. It felt like a good omen and by February 1998, we’d sold our Cheshire property and moved into the new house. And the dog came a couple of months later.
Riding lessons for my son continued at Tynllywn Riding School, Bryn Y Maen, Colwyn Bay. Teaching was excellent here (until inevitably, they too changed to a livery yard). Hacking out was restricted to the roads but this didn’t matter, since we had Pinewood Stables two minutes away from home. Snowdonia Riding School in Waunfawr also obliged with riding out onto the hills, but unlike Conwy with its gentle coastal tracks the landscape above Caernarfon was harder and steeper and more suited to pony trekking. I loved that Renee Thomas, the owner, was still riding and working horses into her seventies and I liked the ‘old-school’ feel of this yard. It was a bit like stepping into an old pony book, but the riding wasn’t quite right for me. A couple of times we went up to Penmachno Forest and rode with a yard there but again, the hard forest tracks (and a few other issues) were less than desirable, despite stunning snow-peaked views of Moel Siabod rising above the fir trees, and the smell of Christmas. Tal Y Foel Riding School (now operating under different ownership as Anglesey Riding School) was a great setup for children and novice riders, with something like five miles of private grass bridleways. However, these bridleways weren’t in use unless the ground was dry, creating only a small window of opportunity for somewhere like North Wales. Understandable that they wanted to keep these tracks in good condition, but more often than not, riding was confined to the indoor school. On the one occasion I did ride on the beach with them some years later, the experience was disappointingly lack-lustre. Likewise with another yard on the coast by Talacre beach, a yard which promised lots, delivered nothing. And this after the most rigorous of assessments in the school prior to a ‘beach ride’ which amounted to a novice trot along the beach on a mostly unfit pony. It was expensive, too!
Silver, Tal Y Foel, Anglesey
Tal Y Foel, Menai Strait, Anglesey
Mum and son. Tal Y Foel, Anglesey.
Something inevitable happened when my son began his secondary school years when any interest in horses became lost to other things. But I always thought if one could swim and ride a horse, you were pretty set for most adventures in life, so the boy did good. I still can’t swim with any great conviction and only if the pool is devoid of all other activity likely to make a dangerous swell. I did try swimming lessons in later years and managed to – not drown, exactly – but to stub my toe on the bottom of the pool, thereafter it contorted into a black and purple toe twice the size it should have been. Dad did try his best to get me to swim as a child but if there was a choice between Wythenshawe Swimming Baths and riding in the rain, the pony always won. I hated that chlorinated pool; the smell, the noise, the changing rooms and the feeling of being confined in a building. And then in 2001, to further compound the lack of riding opportunities, North Wales was hit with the Foot and Mouth outbreak and the movement of all animals ground to a halt. Many rural businesses were compromised. The virus doesn’t actually infect horses, people, or dogs, but they can spread it, and as a result Conwy Mountain and other places were closed. Grass began to grow across the well-worn paths, dog walking was confined to the beach, and it wasn’t until the following spring that the countryside was opened-up again.
The beach rides with Pinewood took larger groups of riders than I remember in the earlier years, although I never experienced a problem. I recall enjoying Nero, the lightweight black cob, and the freedom of galloping along a beach has to be up there with one of the best riding experiences. Getting down onto the beach at Conwy is easily rideable from Sychnant Pass; the long stretch of hard sand at low tide interrupted only by mussel banks and deep rivulets of seawater. Most horses would take the water in their stride, some would slow to plough through, occasionally one would come to a dead stop before taking a wild leap of faith. There are also some areas of deep, muddy sand which are to be avoided, or at least only taken at a walk. But on a dry day with not too much wind, the beach affords miles of space to canter, or merely amble in a daydream disturbed only by chattering oyster-catchers and soaring gulls. Or, if the tide is close enough, a paddle, although cantering through even shallow surf can result in a good soaking, especially if you happen to be riding behind a set of big feet! But Nero and I managed to stay afloat, and there was never a time when I thought I might sink or stub my toe.
When they were short-staffed I worked a couple of times for Pinewood, riding tail-end-charlie on rides across Conwy Mountain. In 2003 another inevitability when Pinewood changed their status to a livery yard. And that was the end of a very significant and happily revisited era of my childhood. Like many other yards the closure was down to a combination of timely retirement plans and other family matters, but it was also about being worn down by the blame culture. There was a max height barrier at the entrance to the beach. I was chatting to my friend riding behind me. I didn’t see the barrier and you didn’t warn me in time… A family run trekking centre from the sixties and through the generations, the original Pinewood represented those riding schools which perhaps epitomised a way of life, rather than a business model.
And so, it was back to the increasingly shrinking drawing-board. A board which represented hundreds of miles of accessible open countryside, but with no available horses in the vicinity, other than those privately owned and kept on livery yards. I began to look further afield, and although some riding schools advertised the fact that they catered for experienced riders, I more often than not found that this wasn’t quite true. It wasn’t so much as they couldn’t cater, it was more the case that they didn’t really want or need to. Unaccompanied riding is a thing of the past, and mixed abilities on hacks can be the stuff of nightmares. (If one member of the party doesn’t want to canter, then no one else can down to the nature of the beast, in all respects.) Occasionally, the riders making bookings are not without blame and for some unaccountable reason people do exaggerate their level of ability. But then if there’s little choice, the onus is very much on the riding school. Perhaps they’re looking to fill a lorry to take horses to a venue and make it financially viable, and a couple of less able riders may then slip through the net. I’ve been in situations where I’ve travelled an hour to get to a yard and paid something in the region of £65 (2016) for a three-hour ‘experienced’ hack, but down to a couple of riders coming off at the first hurdle so to speak, the remainder of the time has, by necessity of safety, been given over to the novice riders. But where did that leave the rest of us who’d paid for an advanced ride? Dissatisfied, and unlikely to recommend or return. These problems are compounded as horses are used more and more in indoor schools. The behaviour of a normally quiet, compliant horse can easily become excitable in open countryside if, for example, this sort of riding is only scheduled once a month. In the end it becomes easier – and cheaper insurance-wise – to keep horses and riders on site.
As I write this in 2019, it does often feel as if many riding schools – or Equitation Centres – are about making money first, and providing the experience second. Beware those misleading on-line sites with stunning photography of riders cantering carefree along beaches, where the eye-watering price list is more about children’s parties, dressage competitions, ladies’ coffee mornings, and even ‘training’ sessions to take the BHS Road Safety Exam for something in the region of £130. Concentrating on the indoor school or changing to livery only seems to be the only way forward for many equestrian yards trying to stay afloat. I understand. But in some ways this feels as if we’re playing into the hands of insurance companies and those who seek monetary gain from what has already been established as a medium to high-risk sport for a very long time. And what of our bridleways? These are already under serious threat, and combined with a growing fear of riding along the roads – in some cases, purely to access those precious bridleways – we’re allowing ourselves to be pushed out of the countryside altogether.
Despite my sporadic riding through the nineties and the early Millennium years I did rediscover a passion for books again, in particular, a series by retired racehorse trainer, Jenny Pitman. Not surprisingly, these books were about a racehorse trainer trying to make a living out of a falling-down farm in Wales. The Welsh landscape certainly kick-started my stalled interest in writing in a very positive way. Although Cheshire has its history and pretty rural surroundings aplenty, Wales is far more abundant in both aspects. The castles and the rugged hillsides strewn with stone settlements, druid circles and Roman roads brought out the historical muse in me. To think that I’m treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling. This makes me sound as if I write historical-based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and, much like Pitman, my material reflects a lot of my own life experiences set in a Welsh background. Typewriters a thing of the past, I began to dabble on a word processor with Wild Water.
But the sun seemed to have set on the sort of riding comparable to any of my old dreamscapes – until the spring of 2008. We were taking a walking break in Cumbria and I was sifting through the usual pile of tourist guides in our cottage, when I came across a leaflet about Mike Myers and Biglands Hall Equine Group, Brow Edge Road, Ulverston. The ride descriptions looked and sounded promising, so we went to take a look. The visit resulted in arranging a three-hour fell ride. I’d actually thrown my riding hat in the car – always hopeful – but forgotten my boots, but no matter, light walking boots it had to be. My calves suffered that day, but it seemed I’d hit a pot of riding gold, finally.
Mike Myers, someone who’s ridden at competition level in endurance riding and time trials, remains one of the best ride leaders I’ve ever come across. My horse for the afternoon was Spirit, a speckled grey Connemara mare. We soon left the Cumbrian lanes and rode up through a sprawling forest and eventually onto the open fells above Cartmel where the challenging terrain allowed a faster, albeit more technical pace. Spirit was sharp; dancing expertly over the undulations, ditches, streams… tail flying behind, ears pricked forwards. And then we headed towards Cartmel, clattering through the village with its imposing priory and the famous sticky-toffee-pudding shop, before crossing over a section of the local racecourse. Beyond the village, the woods were sprinkled with bluebells and wild garlic, a breath-taking gallop along the edge of open land, then ancient bridleways draped with heavy spring foliage and noisy with birdsong. We continued over part of the Holker estate – distant views of Morecambe Bay – and bounded back over Canny Hill. The variety of the terrain, the mare herself, and Mike’s active pacing made this ride pretty special. Since I’d not ridden seriously for a good while, I suffered for the pleasure for several days afterwards, but I was hooked. I returned every occasion we travelled to Cumbria enjoying as well as Spirit, a cob called Jacob, Stanley, the ex-racer, and the tall, dark thoroughbred-cross Indy. I don’t usually enjoy big horses so much now, probably down to being five-foot-nothing and I sometimes feel compromised by my lack of leg, but Indy was an exception and nothing much beats an open space combined with the smooth power of a gentlemanly horse.
Beyond Cartmel Village
At home, the situation was less exciting and I began to cast the net ever further. On a cold, sleety day in January, 2010, I travelled to Coachman’s Riding School, Hall Lane, Sychdyn, Mold, on the borders of Denbighshire, where I signed up for a riding assessment on Penny. Thereafter, I rode out with Coachman’s every three weeks for a couple of years. The destination was always Halkyn Mountain – around an hour’s ride away along country lanes. Halkyn Mountain is something of an anomaly. Scarred with the remnants of limestone quarrying, plus lead and copper mining, Halkyn rises gently to a summit of just 290 metres, with views across the Dee Estuary and the Clwydian Range. The open landscape has never been enclosed and is still mostly common land grazed by sheep. It allowed plenty of freedom to roam, and this worked pretty well as a three-hour route especially in the early days when the group consisted of experienced riders only. It was a miserable winter’s day when I first rode Penny to the mountain, with thick mist on higher ground and not much of a view. But there were a good few places to canter along grassy tracks and a penultimate gallop up to the trig point. Thereafter, I rode Dublin, Mal, and Charlie; all strong, forward-going cobs, and the handsome, athletic thoroughbred, Ted.
Ted was a speedy, sporty sort of chap with amazing suspension and could launch himself effortlessly over most obstacles as well as standard fences. On the occasion I rode him onto Halkyn, we’d already popped over a few random boulders and I was enjoying his athleticism to the point where we were flying over rows of gorse bushes at a speed rather faster than I would have liked, but he had brakes, so all good. Then our group split into two. The majority of the ride disappeared elsewhere whilst Ted and I followed Helen and her horse down a long slope to a wide flat area split by a watery ditch. Ted flew over this at a fast canter. Great! There was nowhere to go then, other than to turn in a wide circle, leap the ditch again and gallop back up the hill. I suspect that was the plan, anyway. Ted, pretty pumped-up by then, anticipated this a lot sooner than me, and although I’d got a firm hold of him, his slowing-down-canter was a thing of great bounciness and then the mother of all potential downfalls – I lost a stirrup. It was at that point when Ted spun round, seemingly on one foreleg in a matter of seconds, when I lost my balance completely with no chance of recovery and I kissed the ground. Unhurt, I looked up in time to see Ted describing a beautiful arc over the ditch, before galloping up the hill and heading for the horizon, stirrups flying. My co-rider cantered off in hot pursuit while I walked in the general direction of… well, I wasn’t sure really. Is there nothing more embarrassing than a mud-splattered menopausal woman wandering about the moors dressed to ride with not a horse in sight? Ramblers and dog walkers smiled and nodded, eager to explain they’d seen a galloping horse some miles back. Great! Meanwhile, my right hand turned a ghostly shade of blue. (Months later, my little finger formed a funny bump on the bone, but much like the stubbed toe, that’s all I had to show for it.) Ted was soon recovered – a bit sweaty from his exertions – and we joined the rest of the party, although my shocked and shaky blue hand refused to cooperate in grasping the saddle in order to haul myself back on, so I swapped with Barry and rode Sky home instead. An active participant as part of the Coachman’s Polocrosse team, the mare was easily ridden with one hand and the ride home passed without further incident.
Penny. Alison & Sky
Alison and Sky. Dublin
Sky, the grey Irish mare was probably my favourite horse on the yard and when Coachman’s finally closed and changed to liveries only in 2012, (yes, another one) I was glad when my riding buddy, Alison, bought her. For a while, thanks to Alison’s generosity, I continued to ride Sky. I even took her out solo onto Halkyn one sparkling, frosty morning in January. There are not many horses I’d trust to be sensible along frozen roads and white, misted hills, but some horses just inspire confidence from the get-go. Sky was one of these, and we clicked. Although she shied and started at tiny things, there was somehow a familiar pattern to this and in all the ways that mattered, she was generally cautious. The only problem was putting her bridle on in the first instance – there was clearly something in her past which niggled away at her, some rough treatment maybe. The bit itself, a plain rubber mouthpiece was never a problem, but I always struggled to slip the headpiece behind her ears and I usually had to summon help from someone much taller.
Sadly, the livery business also came to a close, the horses were moved elsewhere, and as is the nature of these things, the original crowd lost touch. And as is the nature of other things, my son moved to London, and we said a rather more permanent, sad goodbye to our family dog in the summer of 2012. By 2013 we’d downsized and moved a short distance out of Conwy. Meanwhile, a bit further away –halfway around the world, in fact – an unknown horse was waiting for me.
About this Series
The first four chapters of Disappearing Dreamscapes represent 30 years from 1967-1997 and are split over four seasons based on diary entries through 1979. Chapters five, six, and seven, represent 20 years from 1997-2017 and are recorded chronologically.
Authors are always clamouring for reviews. Some readers pen them automatically after they’ve read a book and have a ready-formed opinion bursting to get out, but a huge percentage of readers don’t bother. Some are not quite sure what it’s all about. Lot’s of readers are less than confident about sharing an opinion of something they’ve read, for fear of looking silly or uninformed. So here’s a quick overview of how to go about it.
Who are book reviews for?
You might be forgiven for thinking that writing a book review is primarily to flatter the author, or thank the author for writing an enjoyable book. Book reviews are for prospective readers; to inform those buyers who are browsing the Amazon bookstore, chatting on Goodreads or following on-line bloggers, to decide if they might enjoy the book as much as the reviewer did.
What to include:
- The best single rule to remember is this: Only write about the actual book!
- You can include a very brief outline of the story, but remember the book description is already right there, so consider these points: Was the story believable, did it keep you engaged right to the last page? Did the structure of the plot work for you? If it’s a mystery, was there one?
- The characters. Did they seem real, multi-dimensional people?
- The author’s writing style. How was it for you?
- Your personal enjoyment of the book and whether you would recommend it to other readers is always an overriding strength in a positive book review. Maybe there was an experience which resonated with yourself?
- Comparing the book or the author to other books and authors is useful. For example, if you like Jilly Cooper you’ll love this…
It’s not necessary to be literary and serious; a lot of the time a couple of sentences will suffice. On the other hand, if you like writing essay-type reviews these can be brilliant, but study book-bloggers and top Amazon reviewers to see how they go about it. (Well-written reviews often attract free ARC copies from authors : advance review copies).
What not to include:
- Your possible relationship to the author, however vague.
- If you need to reference the author, then use the surname only or call them the author or include their full name. Never use Christian names as it may compromise the validity of the review and some sites will remove them permanently.
- Imagine if you saw this review on the latest Dan Brown: Hello Dan love, fabulous book, Five stars! I expect the vast majority of us would laugh, Dan Brown would most certainly cringe – but most importantly, would this sort of review help you form a decision to buy the book if you’d not read it?
- The weather! I’m being tongue-in-cheek here but really, no honestly there’s no need to mention the weather…
- How long the book took to arrive in the post; ie it was damaged. This isn’t the fault of the author – stick to reviewing the book. Likewise, problems with your Amazon account; ie it won’t download. This is not the author’s fault and should never form part of a book review.
- Spoilers; giving away crucial parts of the plot and therefore spoiling it for other readers ie: I’m glad Susan was dead by chapter three.
- Copying and pasting the entire book description instead.
- And the worst of all: I haven’t read it yet… so one star. Why on earth do sites allow these ‘reviews’ to remain?
It’s easier than ever to leave a book review. You can write a single sentence or several hundred sentences. I do hope readers who’ve never left a book review will now consider penning their valuable thoughts… weather permitting.
Memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1967-1997.
Chapter 4: Winter
Higher House, Mottram-St-Andrew, Alderley Edge. New Year’s Day, 1979. Alderley Edge was gripped by frost, and topped with a dusting of snow. A frozen woolly hat embedded in a frozen cowpat. A thin, piercing blue sky and a cold sun creeping over the snow-capped Pennines. From Higher House, we rode along Oak Road through Kirklyditch, past farms and the occasional palatial property, the road so narrow in places that we could glimpse through the icy windows of roadside cottages. We took care to ride along the middle of the lane, avoiding the slippery verges. The crazy lurcher from the yard ran alongside us, joined on this occasion by a black Labrador from the cottage at the end of the lane. The lurcher, easily leaping fences, gates, and hedges, travelled twice as far as the rest of us, disappearing over the fields in a blur. His mission – to hunt rabbits. More often than not, he’d reappear unexpectedly further along the route, with only a frozen bread-crust, tongue lolling, flanks heaving. This mostly uncoordinated procession never caused a problem on the roads, but then, forty years ago, drivers fully expected to see horses and dogs in the countryside.
We trotted along the lane beside Finlow Wood, cantering on the wide grass verges where the low, winter sun had miraculously softened the ground, hundreds of noisy crows suddenly taking flight; an evocative sound I’ll always associate with The Edge. The trees along Artists Lane were still especially snow-laden and sparkling, but this dense canopy and the high bank to one side kept everything below in shade. Rivulets of water had frozen underfoot, leaving a solid film of ice beneath our horses’ hooves. We dismounted and let them slither their own way, yelping as they dragged us along at a pace we couldn’t quite manage. Both dogs barked, happy to demonstrate the non-sliding qualities of four paws. And then, once reunited with brothers Victor and Skippy, we continued onto the old sand quarry, an area which usually afforded a good place to let off steam. On this occasion, though, even the sand was frozen and we didn’t progress much above a careful walk until we entered the dripping silence of Windmill Woods. The horses were like coiled springs by then and burst into a canter along the muddy track, ice cracking like gunshots as we sped beneath low branches – collecting a neck full of snow – before clattering briefly across the main road and onto The Edge. Both dogs were panting hard by then, and the Labrador was beginning to lag behind. On the summit of Stormy Point, we dismounted and stamped some feeling back into our feet. As we turned for home, huge snowflakes began to obliterate the scenery, fingers and toes feeling the air frost begin to circulate again as the pale sun slipped away.
I loved riding in the winter. I rode on New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and any other bank holiday the horses were available. The weather or special dates didn’t seem important or relevant, perhaps because the horses knew no different. I enjoyed braving the elements despite suffering from chilblains one especially snowy year, but there’s always a cosy satisfaction in returning to the yard as dusk closes in. Expectant horses nickering for hay, our own faces pink and speckled with snow. Sometimes we’d head to the pub, to re-live and exaggerate our adventures. But the best snow ride ever was with the previously mentioned Golden Pheasant, Llangollen, North Wales. On this occasion – it was January 1986 – the horses had been fitted with snow studs in their shoes to prevent the snow balling-up – I guess the equivalent of equine snow tyres – which allowed us to canter slowly and safely along the lanes through deep, soft snow. The sound of all those muffled hooves thudding along in unison, the pungent air, the trees and fields dipped in crystallised sugar and the rose-tinted sky as the sun began to set, equalled a truly magical experience. And probably not one which would get past health and safety rulings now!
The way our roads are used now has become increasingly worrying for cyclists, walkers, and riders. Vehicular traffic has taken complete priority. Much of the time, I ride along the Welsh lanes without incident and the vast majority of drivers are respectful and patient. However, over the previous twelve months I can think of three or four occasions where I’ve been placed in a potentially dangerous situation, and it usually comes down to ignorance, or sheer impatience. Occasionally, it feels hostile. Most of these incidents happen in the summer time. Since I live in a popular North Wales tourist area this makes sense, but why drive any differently when on holiday? The lanes here are narrow and twisting, often heavily shaded, bordered with ditches and drystone walls. Combined with summer hedgerows visibility can suddenly be compromised in a second. A valid reason why I ride less in the summer. At least in the autumn and winter months, the hedges are cut right back and despite the darker days, visibility for riders and cyclists is much improved.
Compounding all of this, vehicles are faster and bigger than they used to be, including agricultural machinery. A modern tractor pulling a baler and travelling along a narrow lane bordered with hedges or stone walls, is a daunting obstacle from the back of a horse. The cab is crazily high, and if the driver is wearing earpieces or ear-defenders, he appears lost in his own world. Has he even seen me? I’ve been trapped between farm machinery unable to reverse, and a car behind me who wouldn’t reverse. On one occasion I rode down a farm driveway out of the way but the guy in the car began gesticulating, as if he wanted to get down the drive too, and I was now in his way. So, out we came and waited on the grass verge. For some unknown reason the tractor driver revved his engine and this huge rattling monster began to creep towards us. My sensible mount had an understandable wobble about this and took a couple of steps back, only to discover that the guy in the car hadn’t gone down the driveway at all, but had crept up behind us. Why? Where did he expect us to go? The pony inevitably came into contact with his front bumper and panicked, shot forward, then made for the driveway but slipped on a strip of concrete, and down we both went. The only injury was a grazed elbow (mine). The pony leapt up, unharmed. By the time I’d got to my feet and grabbed the reins, the car had vanished.
The British Horse Society says there have been more than 2,000 reports of accidents involving horses on UK roads since 2010 with almost one in ten resulting in a fatality. And according to the survey they conducted, three in four accidents happened because the vehicle passed the animal without allowing enough space. A spokesperson for the charity said a major problem was that many drivers are unsure how to behave when near a horse. Section 215 of the Highway Code sets out how road users should act when there’s a horse on the road. It says that: “Drivers should take ‘great care’ and ‘treat all horses as a potential hazard’. Drivers should ‘pass wide and slowly’ when passing a horse and always listen to a rider’s request to slow down or stop. If a driver doesn’t slow down or drives in a dangerous or inconsiderate way around horses on the road, try to get their number plate and report it to your local police station.”
This statement already feels out of date. And the police tell us they are powerless to enforce prosecutions now without video evidence. We are expected to ride wearing a Go-Pro camera, or its equivalent, at all times. This is putting all the onus onto the rider. We should all be responsible for everyone’s safety. And I’d rather we took this back to source and include education about other road users for learner drivers. Passing horses and cyclists should be part of the driving test, even if it’s only a simulated version. I’ve seen terrible road rage between cars and cyclists, I’ve experienced verbal abuse at first-hand for no good reason, and I’ve had cars skimming past me despite clearly requesting a speeding, approaching vehicle to slow down. These days I am fully insured through the British Horse Society, I wear high-vis clothing, and I possess a certificate to prove that I am road-worthy on the back of a horse.
Kerry, Finlow Hill
I took my British Horse Society Road Safety Test in 1989 at Finlow Hill Stables, Over Alderley. When The Edge closed to horses in the mid-eighties, we were thrown onto the mercy of the roads and the BHS were keen to have riders aware of the rules of the road – especially those young enough not to hold a driving licence. I’d ridden out solo from Finlow Hill a few times on a very obliging albeit slightly neurotic mare called Kerry, but riding in the area was never the same without the freedom to roam. Despite the close proximity of the sand hills and the track through Windmill Woods, restrictions elsewhere meant that most viable routes were linear, and repetitive. And then the upheaval of my personal life in the early nineties meant that I only rode occasionally, lacking both the spare cash and the enthusiasm to find somewhere new. Finlow Hill eventually changed its status to a livery yard. I don’t know when Dawson’s closed. I suspect Stan and Mary retired in the nineties but at the time of writing, Higher House is currently a cattery. Good to see that the original listed house and the stabling, is all still intact.
Not only did my first marriage end when my son was four, but it felt as if the carefree era of riding I’d taken for granted had also come to an abrupt stop. I found my writing mojo again though, and penned a second novel which actually found an agent. Nothing came of Summer in October but this time, I didn’t burn the manuscript because someone credible in the publishing world had told me that ‘it had something.’ Much later it became the basis for Midnight Sky. It’s worth remembering that any serious rewrite can always make for a better version of almost anything, and by 1995 my storyline had changed completely. Along with Second Draft and my son, we moved to pastures new in Wilmslow. I continued to work in property, mentally storing a wealth of research and first-hand experience for Wild Water – a novel which didn’t surface until much later. But the best job I had for studying character and appreciating satire was a tele-appointing position for a hearing-aid company. One needed a special blend of humour, patience, and empathy to get through the week. In addition to this mildly entertaining job, there were two horses to the rear of the offices. For reasons which escape me, someone christened them Elvis and Mad-For-It. If it was warm enough to take lunch outside, these two cobs tended to gravitate towards us and wait for apple cores. On learning of my riding experience, a male colleague dared me to climb over the fence and sit on one of them. So, naturally, I climbed through the barbed wire (I had said colleague hold it away from my smart office suit). I weighed up the docile looking coloured cob, took hold of his mane, and vaulted on. Elvis didn’t bat an eyelid. This was before social media and mobile phones with cameras.
Too distracted with family life through the nineties, I didn’t write and I wasn’t even reading much, but I did pick up The Horse Whisperer by Nicolas Evans. It was a book (and a film) which coincided with the rise in popularity of Monty Roberts. An American trainer, Roberts was the first recognised ‘horse whisperer,’ bringing a new, softer method to training horses which hadn’t been explored before. ‘Natural horsemanship’ taps into natural behaviours and Roberts developed this into a two-way language based on the social dynamics of wild Mustangs. It’s not so much about whispering but listening and observing body language and natural reactions to any given situation. This sits easily in tandem with the most powerful instinct of all – that of survival. Although variations on these natural methods are now commonplace, back then it was a different way of looking at a subject I thought I knew plenty about. It made me question the impact we have on riding horses. And it perhaps also reflected a changing mindset when it dawned on me that horses only tolerated being ridden, and surely it made sense that better relationships could evolve if the ‘conversation’ between horse and rider was sometimes less rulebook and more instinctive and observational. After all, we don’t all parent in the same way; the give-and-takes which work for one child, might not be as effective for a child with a less subservient personality. Although unable to reason emotionally, horses are as individual as people and just as much a product of their background, breeding, and historical interactions as humans are. It was a concept I’d return to in later years and much of it, along with my experiences of riding schools and the complexity of family relationships, sewed considerable seeds for my second novel, Midnight Sky.
Finlow Hill Riding School
My son began riding around the same age as I did. Fortunately, children’s riding lessons were easier to come by and we began to frequent Ashton Old Hall Equestrian Centre, Church Lane, Sale. In December of 1996 a children’s fun ride with Father Christmas at Finlow Hill Stables ended the year with something less formal. It was a strictly supervised event with an army of teenage girls leading a string of novice children around the sand hills. Somewhere along the line, my son’s pony spooked at some fake fairy wings and he experienced his first tumble. It didn’t put him off, but like most boys, he was never as keen as his older stepsister. We sometimes took both children to Finlow, walking beside the ponies along those same lanes I knew so well. Through the following summer my son gained considerable confidence under the instruction of Lisa, riding forward-going, interpretive Fudge and a much less responsive pony called Shantih. Between these two characters, he learnt that stop and go had variable boundaries.
Body protectors came in and according to the manufacturers, every rider needed one. Since my son had happily inherited my old hat – the latest style then was one with a moulded chin strap – which was a perfect fit, so it didn’t feel too extravagant to invest in a body protector. In later years, I even purchased one for myself. I could see where it might prevent a collar bone injury or worse, but for me it compromised the way I sat and moved on the horse and I never got past the feeling of being encased in a straitjacket. I wore it round the house for a while in an effort to get it to mould to my shape, but it never really did, and more often than not, it remained in the boot of the car. In these consumer-mad times, equitation attracts a formidably expensive catalogue, if one dares to go looking. Alongside the matching this, that, and the other, there’s an astonishing amount of unnecessary bling. Fortunately, there’s always a budget version of anything and everything, but one thing I’ve never compromised on is a kite-marked hard hat. Surprisingly, it’s not a statutory requirement, but I wouldn’t think of getting on a motorbike without one, and I’d not ride a horse without one either. This is basic common sense, surely? Head injuries usually mean bad news and on the occasions I have parted company with a horse – and it’s probably inevitable at some stage – the outer shell of my hat has taken some hard hits, sustaining a variety of nasty looking dents. So why wouldn’t you wear one… vanity, bravado? Maybe it’s the irresistible feel of one’s hair blowing in the breeze.
Despite personal and relationship stability, Second Draft and I began to feel suffocated by encroaching suburbia. Building along the Cheshire greenbelt exploded in the mid-nineties as did the sprawl of Manchester International Airport: now the third busiest airport in the UK. The 60 million-pound Wilmslow bypass ripped through the countryside, the birth of a new, consumer saturated landscape. Perversely, during its construction, the bare bones of the road made a pleasant cycle path, a smooth ribbon of compressed earth stretching for miles through the still quiet fields. The calm before the storm. Once it opened we enjoyed – at least for a short time – two of the big city stores within easy reach, but there was a hefty price to pay. Two stores grew into five, six, seven… more. Where the bypass did indeed create quieter roads around Wilmslow, Handforth, and Cheadle, it also generated more retail developments, fitness centres, and housing estates alongside the new road until eventually, the volume of traffic increased to a constant roar. The familiar problems had merely taken a side-step and mushroomed into something far less attractive than the original village bottlenecks. We began to crave open countryside, a dog, and opportunities to walk (and ride) more than the convenience of shopping and all the other trappings which went with a semi-urban lifestyle. Keeping up the Joneses began to feel disingenuous, if only to ourselves. My childhood Cheshire had changed beyond recognition, and horses had begun to feel part of a long-lost dream, something I felt powerless to recapture. The sad demise of the public riding school had continued to spiral slowly downwards until I felt trapped in the winter of my equine discontent. In retrospect, and although it is probably rather self-indulgent to admit, I think my environment stifled much of my creativity. Of course, horses and creative pursuits are luxury items and jobs and schools had to take precedence. But then, at the end of 1997 some crazy plot twist came out of the blue, and a life-changing opportunity presented itself. It felt like another bite of the cherry, although for a while we couldn’t decide if it was maybe a little too much like pure fiction to take seriously…
Continue reading: https://janruth.com/2019/03/15/disappearing-dreamscapes-5/
About this Series.
The first four chapters of Disappearing Dreamscapes represent 30 years from 1967-1997 and are split over four seasons based on diary entries through 1979. Chapters five, six, and seven, represent 20 years from 1997-2017 and are recorded chronologically.
A circular walk of 7 miles including 2,000 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: The Ponderosa Cafe on the Horseshoe Pass, Llangollen, Denbighshire. LL20 8DR
Map References: SJ1926748058 or Lat: 53.023701 Lon: -3.205093
Llantysilio Mountain is a collective name for a group of hills which run westwards from the top of the Horseshoe Pass. The main peaks are Moel Y Faen, Moel Y Gamelan, Moel Y Gaer, and Moel Morfydd; whose summit claims a specific trig point. Moel Y Gaer is denoted by the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, although evidence of human activity on these hills dates back to the Bronze Age with a large burial chamber located on the summit of Moel Y Gamelan.
In 2018 a large swathe of this landscape was lost to wildfire but despite this drab start underfoot, the slow reveal of extensive views over the Dee Valley towards Llangollen and the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, more than make up for the blackened gorse and heather. The moorland is home to the rare Black Grouse as well as other moorland birds such as the Golden Plover, Ring Ouzel, and Merlin. Walking is on wide, clearly defined undulating paths. Some of the sections are steep. The second half of the route is more easy going, connecting up with part of the Clwydian Way, before continuing eastwards past the disused Moel Y Faen slate quarries.
- Take the path opposite the Ponderosa Cafe in a south-westerly direction, which travels parallel to the road before bearing right, and uphill.
- At the top of the first knoll, bear left to continue. Thereafter the way is clearly denoted by wide tracks streaking across the aforementioned summits. At the trig point of Moel Morfydd the distance from the start will be 2.85 miles.
- Descend from this summit to see a post at the bottom indicating the Llangollen Round. Turn off the main pathway here and bear right along a sheep track which gradually descends to a well-hidden single-track road.
- Turn right. After a short distance on the right, a finger-post denotes a bridleway. Follow this until the bridleway swings right, and a stile presents itself by a gate.
- Go over the stile and follow the footpath through fields and pasture land until you reach a pair of wide double wooden gates with a stile and a finger post. Pass through the gate but ignore the finger post to the right and go straight on passing through all gates.
- At a fork in the path alongside a stone wall, take the right-hand path, ignoring the lower track leading to a metal gate.
- At the end of this path, stride over the low wire fence – it looks as if some stiles are missing on this section. Keep the quarry and the fence-line to your left, walking straight on through pasture, until the road comes into view.
- Bear left to find a wire gate/barrier which allows you to pass onto the road. Turn right, and follow the road for around a mile back to the Ponderosa.
The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.
Memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1967-1997.
Chapter 3: Autumn
Higher House, Mottram-St-Andrew, Alderley Edge. Shorter, darker days meant woodsmoke and bonfires, drifts of leaves, bottled damsons in the farmhouse, and a bite to the air. Clay-pigeon shoots; and the horses would be momentarily startled into a dead-stop, heads thrown up, ears pricked, nostrils wide. Or they chose to dance and prance, crab-like, snorting. Being a densely wooded area, Alderley Edge was especially spectacular through the autumn and my hours in the saddle tended to increase once the school holidays came to a close.
Grey Filly’s pale coat was good for dark days, not so good in a mist. Although I didn’t go out of my way to ride on the roads, I never really worried about traffic and our visibility. Sometimes we’d head up Mottram Road towards Alderley village before taking a tight left into Swiss Hill; a narrow, cobbled lane winding some 200 feet uphill between a variety of individual properties. Some of them, like Frog Palace, were positively mansion-like. Looking at recent footage on YouTube, this tough ascent seems to have become a rite of passage for local cyclists, despite it being cluttered with parked cars at the top; something I never encountered back then. This conservation area used to be a haven of Sunday solitude, like most country lanes. At the top, I’d turn onto the main B road, the mare blowing slightly by then, with The Edge and our off-roading playground less than a mile away. The main Macclesfield Road out of Alderley village was perhaps the busiest section on this circuit, but I never ran into a problem. The increased volume and speed of traffic along the B5087 now is not something I’d care to experience on the back of a horse, and Sundays have become like every other day of the week – busy.
I began to read the Poldark series by Winston Graham and then, looking for something lighter, enjoyed the early books by James Herriot. Although Herriot’s books were set in an era before my time, I felt a deep wistfulness for the freedoms and values Herriot’s way of life represented. Herriot used his own life experiences in the books, adding a rich believability to the narrative, something I like to try and do with my own material. In contrast to the plain honesty of Herriot’s easy style, Jilly Cooper’s Riders hit the shelves in 1985. My copy had the modest show jumper on the cover. Novels containing this much sex are everywhere now, although the BDSM culture has overtaken Cooper’s original handsome, controlling male character: the infamous Rupert Campbell Black. Of course, commercial publishing is all about money and this book has sported a few different covers to reflect the times. Curiously, on Riders 30th anniversary edition in 2015, the hand on the female behind was moved higher, but you can also see more of the riding crop – a shameless and unnecessary nod to Fifty Shades?
In the mid-seventies I also rode with a yard attached to a place I only remember as Montebello, at Bucklow Hill, Knutsford. Some of the characters wouldn’t have been out of place in a Jilly Cooper novel. The property was a rambling, crenelated building up against Chester Road. Some of the livery owners allowed their horses to be hired out by individuals like me, no doubt as a way of keeping their horses fit for late autumn-winter hunting fixtures, taking full advantage of 2,000 acres of nearby parkland at Tatton Hall. The riding was fairly reckless when I think about it now, but then, I simply viewed it as a super-charged adrenalin run, and every man – or woman – for themselves. We’d set out from the yard on a selection of pumped-up, grain-fed horses who’d likely been stood-in for a few days. Champing at the bit took on a whole new meaning. Crossing the Chester Road would be unthinkable now, but the traffic actually stopped for us. We’d continue along quiet country lanes through picturesque Rostherne village to arrive at the main entrance to Tatton Park, with fully warmed-up horses, raring to go. Basically, we galloped from the Rostherne gates to the Knutsford gates, and the pace was furious from the off. Within seconds we were at a flat-out gallop between a wide avenue of beech trees on a beautifully firm surface which felt tailer-made for the experience. During late autumn these trees were vivid with colour, the horse-chestnut trees always the first to surrender to cooler temperatures. Rapidly swirling leaves and the sounds of rutting stags added to the charged atmosphere.
Only once did I feel out of my depth on one of these rides and the perpetrator was a stocky, dun-coloured horse called Shadrack. Ridden in a cross-over noseband and a pretty severe bit, I should have spotted the warning signs early on. After a mile or so, the avenue of trees end and the parkland opens up to herds of red and fallow deer, huge lakes called meres, botanical gardens, families walking dogs, uneven ground. All of this flashed by at breakneck speed. Galloping is one thing, experiencing a brake fail when the ground begins to veer downhill, is quite another. Shadrack must have bolted with me for at least a mile – I even considered throwing myself off – until I faced him towards Tattonhall Mere, where he bounced to a reluctant canter before finally stopping, snorting like a dragon and pawing the ground. No one came to my rescue.
Despite the romanticism of the famous Tudor hall in the distance, not a single hero materialised. There was nothing for it but to pull up my big girl pants and carry on. My arms felt like they’d been wrenched out of their sockets from holding this horse steady for an hour, the reins slick with sweat. How we managed to find the other riders was a miracle, but we did. And we both survived intact, eventually locating the rest of the party under the trees by the Knutsford gate enjoying a cigarette break and gossiping about Cheshire life. After an additional ten-minute breather – presumably for my benefit – we galloped the two-and-a-half miles back to the Rostherne gate. Shadrack, a pure galloping machine, easily kept pace with the thoroughbreds and the bigger hunters, and I could have been a sack of spuds for all the difference I effected in the saddle. I tried to take heart in the belief that certain horses come into our lives at certain times for a reason. Shadrack certainly taught me how to dig deep, and as I’ve reiterated before, there’s always more to be gained from those horses who defeat us one way or another, or test our resolve.
Although Montebello is no longer in operation, horse riding is still permitted in the park, although galloping is now prohibited.
Before any galloping fun was stopped, I had occasion to ride another headstrong beast in the park, this time with Tatton Hall Stables. The yard was situated on site and within the park boundaries, so no roads to cross. As part of my ten-year-old son’s riding experience in the mid-nineties he joined a small group of intermediate riders to sample riding across open countryside. Satisfied his quiet pony was suitable, I left them to it. My husband (the improved, second draft) and I, donned walking boots and followed the second party of riders – the advanced group. I did fight a certain measure of nostalgia following in their wake on foot, but I reminded myself how rusty my riding skills were, having ridden considerably less through the nineties as family and financial commitments had combined together to temporarily defeat me. The group of maybe five riders cantered ahead in single file, skirting a large field as a warm-up. A horse in the middle of this group let fly with a playful buck and raced up to the front of the line, unseating his rider easily. There was a commotion at this and since we were on hand to help, my husband and I became drawn in.
The fallen rider wanted to limp back to the yard and I offered to accompany her and lead the horse. But then someone suggested I actually get on the horse and join the ride. Never one to turn down an opportunity, I borrowed a hat, and received an energetic leg-up onboard. Straight away, I knew this horse and I were probably at odds with our level of strength and fitness. The hat was too big and my walking boots were not the best thing to ride in. When I understood we’d be jumping, I was a bit less sure about how things might pan out, but I ignored husband’s rolling eyes and adjusted my stirrups accordingly. Memories of Shadrack popped into my mind but then so did all the other glorious rides in the park which had happened without incident. Fortunately, this horse seemed to know his job well enough and we flew over several fallen tree trunks at a strong gallop without me putting too much guidance in. These tree trunks were big, in girth as well as height but the horse had a humungous leap and we gained ground very quickly. Barging past some of the other riders isn’t the safest thing to do, and I spent much of the first twenty minutes shouting apologies to the left and right. Initially, it felt pointless and possibly fatal to fight my equine partners’ enthusiasm for running with the ‘herd’ but once he realised I wasn’t going to hold him in too tight, or, God forbid, hold him back, the horse settled down and even began to listen to his pilot. We remained friends, and both of us stayed in one piece for the duration of the ride.
I guess riding in the park back then was comparable to the thrill of the hunt – but without the dogs, or a fox. Prior to the ban hounds only contributed to the deaths of 6.3% of the 400,000 foxes killed annually. Foxes will always be shot in rural areas by farmers to keep the numbers under control, since they have no natural predators. Shooting a fox is notoriously difficult and not always a clean kill. Our desire for free-range and organically reared chickens and other birds, is severely compromised by Mr Fox. I have friends with small holdings who struggle with these issues and see no alternative but to shoot those foxes who consistently come onto their land and are quite capable of killing up to thirty or more birds in one fell swoop.
Conflict between fox hunting and saboteurs has grown in violence – and there’s been ugliness on both sides – at times directed just as aggressively towards the horses and hounds as much as the riders. This is often out of context as to what is actually happening. Often, these meets are drag hunts ie: no fox, merely an artificial scented trail. Obviously, ‘accidents’ do happen if hounds come across a live fox and I’m sure this woolly boundary is probably exploited. For the vast majority of modern rural communities, the hunt is a social day out. It’s about the challenge of riding across countryside normally denied, since farmers will only open up land to allow fox hunting, and for no other reason. This access to open land is more of a big deal than non-riders might appreciate, especially in modern times. I’m a bit of a sucker for tradition, and I admit to enjoying the historical pageantry of it all, but the idea that people who ride to hounds are bloodthirsty ‘toffs’ lends significant fuel to the theory that the surrounding conflict is often about a class war. Some saboteurs don’t seem to be nearly so worried about the shooting or snaring of foxes, and yet the sight of a group of well-turned out horses and riders nearly always evokes an extreme reaction. So, although I don’t especially like fox hunting per se, I have to balance it with the viable alternatives, and how communities exist in rural areas. Those who are interested in farming, horses, and country life do feel increasingly ostracised in our urbanised world. A world which understands less and less about farming and food production. For the most part, fox hunting is well down on my personal list of animal welfare concerns. I feel more aggrieved about the transportation of live animals, what goes on in some abattoirs, and the production of halal meat, veal, and pate.
I came across a couple of opportunities to participate in drag hunting through the eighties but it never came about due to a combination of foul weather and the right horse never being available for hire. Then, bad news around 1983 when access onto my beloved hacking-out area, The Edge, was denied to horses. After some ten years this news was a terrible, terrible blow. Undefeated, friends and I began to travel fortnightly to the aforementioned Glyn Ceiriog in North Wales: a 130 mile round trip to the Welsh hills or when I could afford it, an even bigger trip to Ferniehirst Mill in the Cheviots. Since the hacking in both these places was so good, it went some way to appeasing the disappointment over the local riding ban on The Edge, despite the distances involved. It also had me elicit something of a U turn on my avoidance of indoor schools because in 1985 not only was the situation becoming Hobson’s Choice, but I suddenly decided to consolidate my random riding experiences and begin training towards the BHS (British Horse Society) exams. The exams covered care and handling as well as riding to a standard recognised by the BHS.
Practice of the riding element happened during the evening after work at B1st Riding School, Higher Fold Farm, Windlehurst Road, High Lane, Stockport, where I rode Kestrel. This funny little horse wouldn’t have won any shows for looks or conformation but he could complete a tight, indoor jumping course like a gazelle, and he taught me the finer points of balance and control – without relying on stirrups. It’s easy to underestimate the technical and physical effort that goes into riding a perfect circle at working trot without stirrups; let alone the precision and discipline of the most basic dressage test. It’s a brave and foolish man who thinks the horse does all the work! Back then, I don’t think we even described it as dressage, it was simply advanced riding or schooling. I learnt the basics; shoulder-in, leg-yielding, extending and collecting paces through trot and canter, and how to canter a 4-loop-serpentine – to a reasonable standard. To perform classical dressage it used to be assumed one needed a suitably supple and responsive, classical sort of horse but the boundaries have softened over the years and this discipline has become more accessible, which is a good thing. And although some of these exercises might seem nonsensical to the uniformed, they do demonstrate how important it is to get the basics right first before going on to bigger things.
And in truth, a turn-on-the-forehand, reining-back, or a nifty leg-yield (lateral movement) is an everyday occurrence when riding out and about, for example, when passing through a gate. Ah, the power of gates and the joy of spotting a rider-friendly handle! Some gates are in the downright awkward category with not a chance of getting through them safely – regardless of reasonable riding skills and a calm, helpful horse – without dismounting. A particular ‘favourite’ of mine collapses the second one slides the bolt back. Lifting this heavy metal contraption to open it wide enough to pass through, also happens to take down half the barbed-wire fencing to one side. And then once through, it’s necessary to repeat the entire farce in reverse and rebuild the damned thing. Not an easy manoeuvre with a horse in tow, reins looped over one arm.
Some of my training also took place at the Manchester BHS exam centre at Carrington Riding Centre, Nursery Farm, Isherwood Road. I acquired a second-hand copy of The Manual of Horsemanship… You will be assessed in your competence to ride a variety of school horses showing walk, trot and canter, change of direction and correct pace through all school movements. You will be able to show an understanding of respecting other users while applying aids to work the horse. You’ll be able to ride outside in an open space, jump single fences and a small course. You will be starting to evaluate your own riding and the way the horse goes both in flatwork and jumping…
I found all of the elements well within my capabilities. My only concern was jumping the previously unseen course at the end of the day. It wasn’t something I’d had the opportunity to practise much, and I worried about remembering the order because the examiner only gave us this information once. I made it my business to watch the other candidates and pray I didn’t get picked to go first. There were eight pool horses for the exam, a couple of them I knew from training sessions such as the handsome warmblood, Tulsar, and the lovely sparky Sunshine, but we weren’t allowed to pick and choose our partners in crime – we had to draw straws. Somehow, I knew I’d get the one and only big stubborn Dobbin – and I did. When my turn came to ride the heavy cob, I gave up trying to get a warm-up canter out of him and decided to go for an energetic trot instead. We managed a trot of sorts, but I can’t honestly say we achieved much in the way of lightness and forward movement! The three British Horse Society judges watched from behind the paddock fence, po-faced, clipboards in hand while the cob huffed and puffed towards the first obstacle. He bunny-hopped awkwardly over it, and I knew I had to get tough if I wanted to complete the course in reasonable time, so I resorted to growling at him, and then by fence three had to give him a hefty whack with the crop. By then, I imagined my lack of style and my less than eloquent vocal ‘encouragements’ had amassed so many negative points I was a sitting duck to fail.
Somehow, we finished the course without a refusal, or without demolishing anything. At the finish one of the judges actually broke into a grin and slow-clapped. At first I couldn’t decide if she was being facetious, but she shook my hand and told me well done for persevering. So I passed all the required elements and received certificates for Grades One and Two. I even began training for Grade Three, which would have opened up possibilities of becoming a BHS AI (Assistant Instructor). But then, somewhere along the way I lost interest, partly down to facing some facts as an adult with a mortgage and coming to realise that the financial prospects for working with horses remained pitifully low. And, if I was really honest, my dreamscape remained one of cantering into the wind with a map stuffed in my pocket, and with no one passing comment on my leg position. And then, the following year I was excited to discover another development – I was expecting a baby.
So… no more riding for me?
About this Series
The first four chapters of Disappearing Dreamscapes represent 30 years from 1967-1997 and are split over four seasons based on diary entries through 1979. Chapters five, six, and seven, represent 20 years from 1997-2017 and are recorded chronologically.
A circular walk of 7.5 miles including 2,500 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: The disused quarry by Donen Las, Groeslon, Waunfawr.
Map References: SH 5509159893 or Lat: 53.116473 Lon: -4.166625
Moel Eilio is situated approximately 3 miles north-west of Snowdon. It has two subsidiary tops, Foel Gron and Foel Goch. From the elevated start point below Cefn Du, Moel Eilio looks remarkably modest; a mere hill alongside its more impressive neighbours, but then mountains nestled in the foothills of Snowdon will always look like the poor relation. In terms of endurance this route is not to be underestimated as the undulating nature of this cluster of 3 summits requires some stamina. And then, just as you might think it’s all easy going as one heads for home through Telegraph Valley, there’s a final ascent to return to the start point. But the climbing is well worth the effort. On a clear day the scenery is spectacular across the ridge, affording views across to Anglesey and Llanddwyn Island, the Llyn Peninsular, the Rivals, the Nantlle Ridge, and of course, the Snowdon Horseshoe. The way is well defined on grassy tracks or bridleways.
The Telegraph Path is so named after the first successful Marconi long-wave transmitting station, situated on the west-northwest slopes of Cefn Du. The station was in use between 1912 and 1938 and was for many years the most important long-wave station in Britain, handling imperial and international communications. The site closed in 1938 but remains of the buildings are still visible. Historical evidence of the slate industry is another strong feature of this landscape, as nearby Llanberis clearly illustrates via Dinorwic Quarry – a vast scar embedded in the hillside above Llyn Padarn. The first commercial attempts at slate mining in the area took place in 1787. By the late nineteenth century, Penrhyn and Dinorwic were the two largest slate quarries in the world.
- From the parking area, turn left along the track past the slate tips until the fingerpost sign directs you onto the main route across Moel Eilio. It’s a well-defined ascent and the summit is denoted by a large stone shelter.
- Ignore the ladder stile by the shelter and, following the fence-line on the right, continue downhill in a southerly direction, keeping Snowdon ahead at all times. Take the next ladder stile over the wall, keeping the fence-line to the left.
- Tackle the curving ridge of Foel Gron, then take the next stile, keeping the fence-line on the right. The next two stiles crop up almost together forming a right angle, before ascending the final grassy knoll of Foel Goch.
- Once over the summit, the track begins to descend the short but steep flanks of Foel Goch. Bear right here on an eroded track heading towards the bottom of the valley where the Telegraph Path skirts the foot of Snowdon.
- On reaching the bottom, loop back by turning sharp left along the Telegraph Path, a long bridleway which heads down towards Llanberis and runs parallel to the Moel Eilio trio of hills. Good views to the right of Llanberis, Dinorwic Quarry, and Llyn Padarn.
- Follow the bridleway for some 4 miles, passing the Marconi Tower to your left and ignoring all right-hand routes down to Llanberis. Pass through all the boundary gates and stiles and continue straight on as the path begins to ascend.
- At the T junction turn left and continue the ascent along the slate trail bridleway until a final kissing gate returns you to the start.
The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.