North Cheshire Riders

Laureen's first Holiday with her Horse

 

My plan started in 1996 as I walked through Mortimer Forest near Ludlow. The track was packhorse route which was old before Mortimer Forest became a private hunting reserve in the twelfth century.  This deep cut green lane between ancient trees suddenly opened up into a valley quite hidden from any road. The only sound was a raven calling overhead. I realised what a wonderful area this would be to ride in and how much my horse Nick would enjoy all this open space. At the time it was just a lovely fantasy; it would be so difficult to organise.

 On a crisp winter day I was walking again in the area and climbed to a dizzying viewpoint on a hogsback ridge some miles to the north. Stretching to the south before me was a wide valley between two ranges of rocky hills; Caer Caraodoc to the West and Cardington Moor to the East. Only a bridlepath ran through it. I longed to explore. The valley was even called “the wilderness”. Was it really impossible to bring my horse with me some time to this wild and lovely area ?

 The first obstacle was transport for Nick. I had a small car and the occasional loan of an elderly Landrover and trailer for local shows but this was only available for a day at a time. Several of my friends were willing to come along on an expedition, sharing the cost of hired transport but a succession of babies (human) and lameness (equine) meant no one else could come for the foreseeable future. However my husband bravely volunteered to be the backup team if I wanted to go it alone. Plucking up courage I spent the carefully saved “horse fund” on a small, elderly horsebox. Luckily, when I had it checked over it turned out that I’d managed to buy something in excellent condition for its age and price.

 Over the years I’d spent hours mapping out routes using the pathfinder range of Ordnance Survey maps and collected details of stabling from adverts in the horsey press and the BHS “Bed and breakfast for horses”. I wrote to several in the area to check arrangements and their assessment of the routes I’d planned. These formed a circular route covering 20 miles a day travelling from base to base.

 However a 20 mile pleasure ride near home convinced me that my ideas were too ambitious. Twenty miles in driving rain aren’t too bad when you can go home to a hot bath and dry clothes, when the horse can have his rugs and a good feed to warm him. What if we lost our way on unfamiliar ground and the 20 miles became 30? What if we wanted to stop at a pub or to look at the scenery? After all that is what I wanted to see!

Reluctantly the Grand Tour was drastically pruned.

 I finally settled for a single base for a four day period at Church Stretton in Shropshire. It was a straightforward journey, only 60 miles from home and, best of all, the owner sounded very friendly and helpful. It turned out he was a founder member of my local riding club!

 The base proved ideal. Nick arrived beside himself with excitement but he relaxed visibly when he saw I’d remembered to bring his tea! The next morning was a different story as horses were brought in from the fields. Nick ate his breakfast in snatched mouthfuls in case he missed anything that was going on.

  I was staying at a trail riding centre and was invited out with them over the Long Mynd which proved very helpful as the tracks were steep and narrow and at the top there were a maze of paths made by the sheep and mountain ponies. I had tacked up with all the extra brakes I had. The precaution proved necessary as, after showing that that he could walk up a thousand foot mountain faster than the local horses (who knew better) he then set out to prove that he could gallop across heather faster too. Bless him, he’s Irish Draught and can’t go fast enough to catch a cold, but he certainly tried that day! The trail riding visitors dubbed him  “Fiery Nick”! The hilltop gave opportunities for some exhilarating gallops once we’d both learned that there weren’t any rabbit holes lurking under the heather. Mind you there are other hazards and we both jumped a mile when we flushed a red grouse, fortunately in the same direction! An hour at the appropriately named “Horseshoe” pub made a welcome break which would have been difficult to manage alone. A wooded bank across the stream provided a sheltered spot for the horses where we could watch them from the comfort of a bench outside the attractive old pub. The excellent food and drink went down all the better for the exertions of the morning while the horses had shade from the sun. As we climbed back over the hill a buzzard soared overhead, so different from my home near Manchester where we see more aeroplanes than birds of prey.

 Riding out in a group was great fun, but on the third and final riding day of our holiday I went out solo in case Nick was more tired than he was prepared to admit in company. I checked a route with my host (also the county bridleway officer) for a ten mile circuit with less hill work before setting out. We both had a wonderful time exploring, riding at last up through “the Wilderness” which had inspired this trip so many months before. A deep cut green lane, banks above a rider’s head, starts a stone’s throw from the centre of Church Stretton. This leads to a small oak wood  where I saw pied flycatchers and heard a cuckoo call. Past the wood, the track climbed the flanks of Caer Caradoc which was the last stand of the Britons against the Roman invasion. The only sign of human inhabitation in the valley was a ruined cottage. Beyond Caer Caradoc is the picturesque village of Cardington with typical Shropshire black and white architecture and pub with a seductive smell of good food wafting out of the door. A stony track led back up Cardington Moor to a gallop on turf and bracken.

 Without the company of other horses the pace was far slower. Although we had gained experience of steep rough tracks it was quite different tackling them alone. One precipitous slope brought Nick out in an anxious sweat. He tackled it with care after vocal encouragement and a lot of praise afterward.

 Before setting off for home Nick was turned out for a roll while I had yet another pub lunch. Despite all his efforts he was bright and sound the next day.

 Yes, we had a wonderful time and I’ve already booked to go again. I’d recommend it as a holiday for any horse owner with a basically sensible horse who does some careful preparation beforehand.