Tuesday, 14th July, Tetbury Upton to Badminton, 18 miles
This is the first day I have walked without any kit on Tommy, except for a head collar and bridle. Brenda has kindly offered to deliver our bags and saddle to the stables at Badminton where both of us are staying for a couple of nights. It is grey and overcast. Perfect conditions for walking. However, as the day progresses and the sun begins to come out intermittently, I am beginning to worry I have failed to protect the pink skin on Tommy’s sore patches from sunburn. Make a mental note to put sun block on top of shopping list.
We follow the Macmillan Way through Westonbirt Arboretum where we stop for a bite of lunch, skirting around the quarry at Knockdown,
around Didmarton and along the Badminton Park Road towards Little Badminton.
After yesterday’s overgrown bridle paths, today’s tracks are much better going and I am excited about going towards a place that holds such dear memories for me.
As we walk down the long lane in the park that leads to Little Badminton, my excitement mounts.
Into Little Badminton and I point out to Tommy the little thatch cottage that overlooks the dovecote on the village green that my husband, Graeme and I rented off the Estate nearly 40 years ago for the princely sum of £3 per week.
Christopher, the retired vicar who has organised our stay here, is leaning over his wall and waves us into his garden where I am immediately offered a welcome cup of tea under the shelter of the umbrella on the lawn, with his wife, Mary, while Tommy dozes peacefully in a gentle fall of rain.
After tea, Christopher walks with us through the park, passing a herd of red deer unperturbed by our presence,
to the stables at Badminton where there is one ready and waiting for Tommy.
Not before, however, we have dropped by the St Michael’s Church graveyard in Little Badminton to pay our respects to Graeme who lies there under the cherry tree which we planted all those years ago.
I have one of the rooms in the grooms apartment where, over the rooftops,
I can see the spire of St Michael’s church where Graeme and I got married.
Married by his father, Tom Gibson, who was the incumbent vicar at the time. It was also Tom who buried him at Little Badminton barely a year later when the cancer finally took him away from us.
The clock tower is also a feature from my window. Ding dong, it strikes every quarter hour. One, two, three and four strikes on the hour.
This is the quiet season for horses at Badminton, grooms and horses away on their Summer retreat. The grooms quarters are quiet and in the process of being redecorated after the turmoil of the Horse Trials in May, and I have to admit that Tommy has probably got the better deal. But it is adequate and the Mulhollands have kindly provided me with some bed linen and towels. The stables, run by Margaret, are still in quarantine after an outbreak of Shingles following the Horse Trials and there are only a few of the large Hunters coming in on a daily basis. The main stable quadrangle is always a sight to behold, and all the stables have big flag-stoned floors. I love the echoing sound the horses shoes make on them as they walk through the arches. We make the same sound as I take Tommy to the wash box for his daily rinse to extinguish the extra dapples he has accumulated overnight and wonder at all the horses who have passed through these portals. People come and go but there is a timeless quality to these buildings as life in these villages feels little changed.
Margaret has made us feel welcome here and Tommy is enjoying the company of Jasper during the day, an 8 year old retired hunter / sports horse who is now owned by Milly, the groom I am sharing digs with.
She kindly gives me a pot of Sudacreme to take with us which is what I really wanted for Tommy’s sores and had wondered how I could get some. The hunters here are big, the biggest is 18.3 hh making Tommy-four-feet feel positively minuscule with his little pony head looking out over the stable door.
After his wash, I take Tommy for a walk around the village before Chris comes to pick me up so that I can spend some time catching up with stuff on the Internet. And have some proper coffee! And a perfect salad lunch with freshly dug new potatoes. I am grateful for the kindness and hospitality this couple have given me, and to my in-laws for introducing us.
We are off tomorrow and I have heard nothing from the local Gloucestershire paper. Sue from North Cerney had kindly contacted them to see if they could generate a bit of interest in what we are doing to help raise more funds for our cause. They had initially sounded quite interested in our story and Sue had given them my mobile telephone number. Being a one-man-band, it’s enough of a job to manage our daily requirements without chasing after journalists so I let it go, an opportunity wasted.
I have enjoyed being here in this Mecca of Horesdom with Tommy. A privilege I never enjoyed whilst I lived in the village. Everything feels very familiar except with a new generation of incumbents. My thanks must surely go to my patrons for having us to stay. As we move on tomorrow, this will be the closing of another chapter in my life.