Wednesday, 17th, June, Lapley to Norton, 17.24 miles.
We are heading towards Trish and Andrew’s place today, farmers and keen point to pointers.
As we are going down the lane away from Lapley, we had just passed the strawberry farm as Kate had described when Tommy hesitates and begins snorting. My suspicions that we are about to enter a pig farm are realised when the squealing gets louder, their interest aroused by our presence, and I decide to lead Tommy through the farmyard rather than face a stand-off.
Then he nearly ends up in a ditch when we have to cross a narrow bridge (above) to get through a narrow gate. Only when we are standing on the bridge do I realise that it opens towards us. I manage to dismount as there is just enough room for me to do so and as I begin to back him away, he puts a foot into the void and leaps forward in a blind panic realising there is no firm footing, pinning himself against the gate. I manage to turn his head enough to straighten him up and with a little persuasion, he steps back off the bridge and we pass through unscathed but it was a close one. If I had still been on his back, it could have been enough to unbalance him.
Still on the bridle path, we come to a field at Whitegate Farm where the farmer has put his cattle across the path, blocking our way with a heavy duty electric fence. Having to make a detour around Wheaton Aston to get back on track and find another safe place to cross Whattling Street is annoying to say the least. I vow from now on I will treat bridle paths with suspicion, unless someone is able to vouch for their passability.
Turning off the road at Boscobel House, we enjoy a quiet ride down the lane where I can see the distinctive shape of the Wrekin, looming dark and heavy in the distance (too far away for my phone camera to pick it up)
and at the lane leading to the remains of White Ladies Priory, we stop for a break in a shaded spot under the trees.
As I am flicking the flies away from Tommy’s tummy with my hand, I notice he is covered by all manner of lumps and bumps on his belly. The bumps are hard but don’t appear to be painful when I touch them. Could this be a nettle rash, I wonder, from having to go through belly-high nettles a couple of days ago? Or could it be a reaction to the biting flies? Anyway, whatever it was, I’m happy to say, they disappeared after a couple of days, and I shall never know.
I am bracing myself for the M54 flyover which we meet at Shakerley, and I lead Tommy over. This must be one of the most frightening experiences he has ever had and, bless him, we make it over after a few circles on top of the bridge, and by me roping in a runner who happens to be on the bridge, to walk alongside the other side of him. Another major arterial crossing done, and a kind lady helps us across the busy, A 464, posting a picture of us on her Facebook page. (See my ‘pilgrim on horseback’ Facebook page).
Coming out of Albrighton, along a very narrow, single lane road, we meet numerous coaches. The reason becomes clear as we pass fields of roses, as this is the way to the famous, David Austin rose growers.
As we are heading down to Beckbury, a woman in a car stops and asks me why we aren’t on the bridlepath? I tell her I have lost faith in Bridleways and she explains that she has been involved with the Sabrina Way, campaigning to keep the bridle paths open in this area. She examines my map and informs me it is 10 years out of date. As she disappears, threatening to call on us this evening, I turn down the wrong lane at Beckbury which turns out to be a bridle path. Whilst I am hesitating, wondering whether to follow it or not, a couple standing outside their house inform me that it is a good path and that they walk it every day. So I venture forth into the woods and come out at Higford. Success.
We are slowly making our way down the Monarch’s Way when we meet the B 4176. This is a far more busy road than I had anticipated and I am left wondering what to do. We are less than a mile from our destination, and close to tears by now, the end of another long day. I am a whisker away from making a call for help to be rescued when I spot a gap in the hedge on the other side of the barley field. Looking at the map once more, I see a footpath leading to the place along the road where it would be possible to cross to a track on the other side that leads to the village I am aiming for. I gamble on there not being a stile and start to walk Tommy around the field and through the gap, praying there is an opening for us by the footpath. Oh what joy! There is. And here is Tommy tucked up safely in his new accommodation for the night across the yard from a couple of race horses.
That evening, Sue Evans turns up when we are just finishing supper. She is the lady who had reprimanded me for not using the bridle paths. I introduce her properly to Tommy and she takes a few pictures which she puts on her Facebook page. Tommy is happy, having been given some racing nuts by Trish. I am expecting him to go like a rocket tomorrow.