Saturday, 16th May, Cowshill to Michleton, 19.22 miles
It’s going to be a long ride today. The pub at Holwick have told me they are fully booked when I rang to confirm when we would be arriving. No matter, we will just carry on to our next stop which has been OK’d with our hosts.
Stepping out into the squall, I wonder how T has fared overnight in the rain and gales. Up here in the North, it still appears to be in the grip of late winter. The daffs are still blooming, the trees are barely in bud and Tommy hasn’t given up a single hair since we left Cornwall. Before breakfast, I lead him into the cow barn to dry out his coat and give him a few cattle nuts and some silage. When I go back to get him dressed and ready for the day, Harry is fussing around his cattle. The wind is still howling outside and it’s tempting to stay a while in the barn with the beasts, listening to Harry’s gentle mutterings.
I had promised to let Jan take a picture of us before we set off. She has given us two muesli bars, one for me and one for Tommy (although Tommy was not very impressed when I offered him some). It came as a surprise to her to find out we were doing this ride in aid of the RDA. You are a hopeless fund raiser she says. She’s absolutely right of course. Note to self: must try harder. I’ve only managed to pick up a few pounds in cash along the way so far. I can’t help feeling we could have had more help from the RDA itself. As a one man band, it’s virtually impossible to do everything I need to do on a daily basis as well as publicity along the way. As I point out to our hosts who are surprised that we have no back up team, it means that they, our hosts, automatically qualify as our ‘back up’ teams.
Anyway, a rainbow appears behind us (see above) as T and I head off into the squall towards the sheets of rain I can see hovering in the valley. Jan and I have examined the map the previous evening and she has recommended we head over Burnhope Moor past the reservoir
rather that go up and over the gated road that drops down to Newbiggin which she says is not a good road for horses. The higher we climb, the more we are heading straight into the path of a stiff north westerly wind and it knocks the stuffing out of us. Horses don’t like wind and will automatically turn their bums into it. I was asking him to face it front on which I know he would have hated. It’s tough going and it’s a long, steep climb but at least the rain has ceased and the sun is trying to peep through the clouds which makes it feel just a little more bearable.
By the time we get over the moor and into the shelter of the Teesdale River Valley, and onto the road that runs all the way to Middleton-in-Teesdale, Tommy is much happier and marches briskly on. He really seems to have got noticeable fitter in the last few days but I am concerned about the state of his shoes. The clenches have worn very thin on his front feet and so smooth underneath that he is slipping on the steep descents. I get off to ease the load on the hills while he automatically picks his way more carefully. I try to head him onto the soft verges but he’s not having it and prefers to stride out along the Tarmac. At Langdon Beck, we drop into the pub where the landlord says I can take Tommy round the back whilst I enjoy half a pint of larger.
Arriving at Green Rigg Farm (why does the last few miles seem to go on forever?), pretty tired by this stage, David is there to open the gate for us. I make a very undignified dismount off Tommy whilst he is offered food and water and one of their horses is turfed out of a stable to make way for Tommy. Over a delicious supper, Anastasia (a news and business journalist) and David (an IT consultant who travels the developing world with his work) explain their interest in ‘le Trek’ competitions. Anastasia has a passion for Icelandic horses and they have even bred one of their own, whilst David has a 16.2 hh grey Sweedish warm blood with whom Tommy takes an instant liking to through the bars of their stables. Untacking T, I notice the saddle bags have rubbed a small patch on his shoulders and flanks. Anastasia suggests we put a bit of Vaseline onto the area to form a barrier, gives me another saddle cloth for a bit more protection and offers to take our packs to our next destination to give him a day of rest from carrying them.
I was destined to stay in the spare room but my hosts are sleeping there at the moment while they do up their own bedroom and as the cottage happens to be empty, I am put up in the adjoining ‘Lune’ cottage (which they normally let out to visitors) for the night. The cottage is a sheer delight and I want to put it in my pocket and take it home with me. I make mental plans to return some day. I wish there was something I could do to repay such kindness and generosity. The closest I can get is to say, go and spend some time in this cottage and experience something really unique.