Ride 54 (walk and lead): New Shoes for Tommy, the 41 Club Barbecue and the Bells of St Michael.

Saturday / Sunday, 1st/2nd August, Nynehead to Kittisford, 6 miles

Do you play Bridge?  This was one of the first questions that Maurice asks me when he kindly comes to collect my gear from our pit stop at Nynehead before we head off to his place.  Well, I do, but it was a while ago since I played a few rubbers.  It’s like riding a bicycle he says.  (Really?)

Another short day on the road and seeing the red Devonian soil and narrow, high-sided lanes, I am beginning to think I am already in Devon.  But this is still a quiet backwater of Somerset.

Thankfully, the lanes are quiet because it also happens to be a good cycle route.  We stop to have a chat with this lot.

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I have managed to negotiate a short break here in Kittisford with my new hosts, Maurice and Penny.  I am staying an extra day because Suzie has managed to organise a farrier, Mike Smith, to come on Monday morning and fit Tommy with his final set of shoes that will hopefully get us home.  It means a late start to our next destination but the farrier is highly regarded in the area and thanks to some smooth talking from Suzie, I am feeling very fortunate indeed that he could fit us in.  When people ask who I managed to come and fit Tommy with new shoes at such short notice, I am met with a lot of raised eyebrows and sucking through teeth, ‘ooh, you were lucky to get him!’

I am beginning to wonder tho, if there is some sort of conspiracy because, like our last pit stop, my hostess will be away.  However, I do actually meet Penny, as she passes Tommy and I on the road, on her way to visit her mother in East Anglia.  She stops to say hello and I know immediately who she is.

From my bedroom window, I can see a tiny Tommy in his enormous field beyond the veg patch.

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And there is a puppy to play with.  Here we are introducing the dogs to T.  Not sure he’s that impressed.

I am beginning to appreciate this journey is as much about the animals I meet as it is about the people.  These are Maurice’s working Springer Spaniels with mini spaniel, Luna, (because she was born at a special Moon moment).

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As emblazoned on his sweat shirt from where I took this picture (below), Maurice is the Chairman of the North Devon Working Gun Dog Club, also Field Trials Secretary for the Working Spaniels.  Apart from the Spaniels, Maurice is also an experienced church bell-ringer, and it is through Annie’s ‘Appeal for a Bell’ ride last year to raise funds for a new bell, that I am staying here.  It’s worth checking out her blog because she writes part of her story, brilliantly, from the horse’s perspective.  Maurice explains some of the intricacies of bell-ringing.  I had not appreciated before just how technical it can be and takes a lot of practice.  Now, I shall always think of Maurice when I hear bells.

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So it’s just Maurice, me, Tommy and the dogs and I am warmly invited into my hosts social life for a couple of days, dare say setting a few tongues a wagging in Penny’s absence.  First there is the 41 Club’s area barbecue do at the local village hall, a hearty feast of meat and salads and puddings to die for, all contributed by the participants, the 41’ers being all ex Round-Tablers (41 because the age limit for Round Table members is 40).  I am wondering why I am here (other than as Maurice’s guest and I meet the age criteria) but then an engaging couple, arriving late, come and plonk themselves down opposite me at the trestle table and during our conversation, Sheelagh decides she is going to get in touch with a few of her contacts in the local media to drum up some support for our cause.  Before we leave, I hastily draft a bit of a press release for her with some contact details.

True to her word, I soon get a call from BBC Radio Somerset who want a wee chat before we leave the County and head into Devon.  I am told it would go out on air this afternoon at 4 pm by which time I expect to be at our next stop and over the border.

Thanks for a thoroughly entertaining weekend Maurice (and Penny for the supply of delicious cakes).  I enjoyed our little tour around the area with its amazing views across Somerset where the Wellington Monument is still a visible landmark.  And the little church of St Michael’s at Stawley which dates from the 13th Century, was a pure delight.  As for the Bridge?  I did get to play a couple of rubbers and I didn’t let the side down.  Phew.  And it wasn’t anything like riding a bicycle!

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