Sunday, 17th May, Mickleton to Leases, 20.12 miles
Today will be our longest ride to date as well as our most challenging one. We will be leaving County Durham and going along the only road that crosses Brough Fell, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, before dropping down into the Eden Valley in Cumbria. I have driven along this road on my recce trip last year and know there is nowhere to hide!
I’m so pleased Anastasia has agreed to come a little way with me on her Icelandic horse, Trausti, (Icelandic for trusted, I’m told). As we ride along Lunedale towards the reservoir, we chat about trek stuff and she gives me some useful tips about tack, ID tags and Easy Boots.
After we cross the dam wall, we part company, Anastasia heading for home and Tommy and I once more into the prevailing wind for another 12 miles to Brough.
This time I can’t even hear the familiar clatter of Tommy’s shoes because all other sound is drowned out by the constant drone of wind in my ears. Even my stability, perched on top of Tommy, is challenged a few times by the force of the gusts. His mane is furiously blowing about in front of me as if we are heading into a mechanical wind tunnel.
But I’m most concerned about his shoes. I pray they will stay put for another few miles. It is comforting to know that Anastasia has told me if he looses a shoe they could come and rescue us in the trailer but I doubt my mobile phone would work if I did try to contact them.
It’s a bit of a slog, Tommy has bravely soldiered on and all is going well, despite the wind, until we reach the second gate beside the cattle grid. Here, the gate is locked by some horrible tangle of twisted metal and my feeble attempts to unravel this coiled mess end in failure. I’m simply not strong enough and neither would my emergency wire cutters be up to the job.
I’m just beginning to think how on earth can I get us out of this mess when a nice man from the MOD turns up in his van to inspect the red military flag. What a stroke of luck.
With a bit of brute strength, the gate is released from its metal vice and we pass through thankfully to the other side and on our way again.
We have seen some strange things already on our travels but never this. Un upturned crane which must have left the road, turning over as it sunk into the soft verge.
It’s Sunday which means it’s bikers day out, but by now, T takes them all in his stride. Here we take a break off the road just before we begin our descent into Brough.
Going down the hill, a little Mini draws up beside us. It’s David and Anastasia on their way to Tina and David’s to drop off our bags. Anastasia remarks how fresh Tommy still looks, and indeed he is. When we reach the valley floor after going through Brough and over the fast A66, he picks up his pace even more and is eager to reach our destination. By now he knows there will be some grass or a good wedge of hay waiting for him. But first, we have to cross two fords to reach Tina’s place. I don’t have her telephone number so can’t ring for directions. However, I do remember her saying they lived next to the Bridleway, so I take a punt and follow the one that runs out of Soulby beside Scandal Beck. When we reach the first ford, it is wide and very stoney underfoot. After our dunking episode, I’m expecting to get a little resistance from T, but with lots of encouragement and praise for each step taken, he skilfully gets us across. The second one is not stoney but slippery underfoot and this time T steps into it and carefully makes his way across.
When we do finally arrive, Tina also remarks how fresh Tommy still looks after 20 miles. After turning him out into her paddock, Tina is interested to learn about my experience with the ‘locked’ gate. She says it should be looked into. As it turns out, I couldn’t have told a better person as she has associations with the Cumbrian Bridleways Society. It also turns out we are very close to the Coast to Coast walking and cycle route here, (somewhere near Smardale, I think). An interesting couple. David is a retired professor of primary education as well as an educational psychologist at Durham University. More kindness and hospitality from another lovely couple. Tina goes into action trying to organise a farrier visit for T. By tomorrow, between Alison (at our next stop) and Tina, we are sorted, but we still have a few miles to go to get to Alison’s place before they can be changed. I pray they have just a few more miles left in them.
Monday, 18th May, is a day of rest for T and I. Tommy is enjoying getting thoroughly muddy and plastered in sheep shit and I am catching up with blogging, filling in a few stats, and updating my itinerary spread sheet. It’s a day of sunshine and showers and I keep a wary eye on the level of water in the beck. It’s in spate after all the rain we’ve had since we arrived and I discuss with Tina a possible alternative route if the water is still high tomorrow and the ford too deep and challenging.
Delicious home cooked soup for lunch with stewed damsons for pudding which Tina preserves in jars. She says the Eden Valley is very ‘plummy’, good for growing fruit. They also keep bees. I enjoy watching the young red squirrels with their blond tails stealing the nuts off the bird feeder and take a picture of the crab apple blossom in the sunshine. I have a surprise call from Bob and Diana, friends from home, who say they are visiting the Lake District and would like to meet up if possible. Looking forward to seeing them if they manage to find a B&B nearby. Go to bed feeling blessed having thoroughly enjoyed the company of my hosts and extremely grateful for their hospitality as well as refreshed from a day spent mostly prone where I have experienced no back pain.