Saturday, 18th July, Great Chalfield to Faulkland, 16 miles
Today is another milestone. Up until this moment, we have been wending our way pretty much due South. But today, we turn the corner and start to head South West into the Mendip Hills and well on our way towards Cornwall. And home. I have walked and led Tommy since Cleeve Hill, North of Cheltenham, a distance of 97.5 miles after today’s walk, averaging 16.25 miles per day over six days.
Another long distance rider, Janet Bradshaw, has agreed to come and meet us half-way to escort us back to her place, where we are staying for a couple of nights. Jan did a walk with her horse, Lottie, across the country, following the Mary / Michael Line from Norfolk to Lands End in Cornwall. A journey covering 545 miles which was mostly done on foot while Jan led Lottie all the way. I met Jan when she was reaching the end of her journey in Cornwall last year.
Robert asks us to pose for a few photos in front of the Manor House before Tommy and I set off, making our way back the same way we had come yesterday.
On the way, I find a wall to jump on and lining up Tommy, I put my leg over him to sit bareback and we walk a few steps but I find it very uncomfortable and soon slide off not convinced that is the way to go. Jan had suggested we skirt around the top of Bradford on Avon before dropping into the valley to walk along beside the railway line towards Avoncliff, the place we have arranged to meet up.
Tommy and I arrive first and are very happy watching the comings and goings of this place while we wait for Jan and Lottie to arrive. Avoncliff is a junction point where the canal crosses over above both the river and the railway track. The place is buzzing with activity. River barges, mostly hired for the day, are coming and going through the lock, full of merry people enjoying a day out on the canal. One man calls out to me, ‘why are you taking a photo of us when you have a beautiful horse to photograph?’ I tell him, I have taken quite a few of him already! Cycle riders, dog walkers, families with youngsters on their small bikes wending their way up and down the tow path all enjoying the Summer sunshine.
Jan and I have possibly the most expensive ice cream I have ever had (£7 for two tiny tubs of ice cream and two small bottles of water) before heading back up the hill towards Faulkland where Lottie lives. Somehow my sense of distance has become completely distorted this afternoon as the walk seems to go on forever and the blister between my big toe and the next one feels like someone has put a razor blade between them. Maybe it is something to do with the fact that I am no longer measuring the distance on my map as Jan is leading the way, not helped by the fact that she keeps saying it’s only another mile when in fact it’s nearer 4! (Bless her, I shall forever tease her about that).
We arrive at Lottie’s field in the early evening, me ready to collapse, and we still have to fill the water bucket from the spring in the next field. The accumulated miles are beginning to take their toll and I am so pleased Jan has agreed to have us to stay for an extra night. Here he is with his lookie-likey, a real Arab endurance horse. Mirror, mirror………..?
There is much debate between us about just how many miles we have done today – me with an exaggerated estimate while Jan, I am convinced is under estimating our distance – so we decide to retrace our steps in the car when we go back to collect my kit from Great Chalfield. And follow that up with the little wheel that Jan uses to take all her map measurements with. Somewhere between her estimation and my ‘fitness’ app which records my daily mileage and the number of steps taken (which I have to detract a mile or two for just walking around before and after our ride), we finally come to a reasonable mileage for the day which, as predicted, is somewhere in the middle of our individual estimations.
Somewhat restored after a soak in Jan’s bath, we spend the evening swapping stories about the trials and tribulation of our travels with horses. The following day feels like a bit of a holiday. We spend some time with the horses and Jan enables me to enjoy a bit of retail therapy and a coffee at Wadswick, the country store nearby. In the evening, we take a walk around the lavender farm after checking the horses in the field. I count 10 different species of bees in the space of about 10 feet of lavender bush.
I have really enjoyed getting to know Jan a little better and of course she has been incredibly helpful and supportive. Even though it’s disappointing she doesn’t have any proper coffee in the house!
It’s Monday morning and a work day for Jan so an early start for us all. She unlocks the gate to allow Tommy and I to set off out along the lane, offering to take this picture of us with my phone as we leave, as we have agreed some of the best pictures are taken by other people who say they will send a copy but never do! Do our bums look big in this?