Thursday, Friday, 13th, 14th, August, Common Moor to Mount, 13 miles.
I’ve rung my next host, Robin, to say we are on our way and that Susan has kindly agreed to deliver our kit for us so that I can ease the pressure on his back. I ask if the bridle path up to Cabilla Manor is doable. It looks so bold and confident on the map. It doesn’t tell me about the thick jungle of growth, the track that has transformed into a stream or that it has been closed for the past couple of years. He says that it is doable but will only shave 5 minutes off the journey. What neither of us realise is that we are, of course, talking at cross purposes.
Blissfully unaware of any problems that might lie ahead, Tommy and I set off into the mizzle taking the back roads to St Neot past the entrance to Golitha Falls (where Richard had picked up a staff that had been left for him on a previous Mary / Michael pilgrimage when we passed this way after staying at the campsite nearby).
Stepping into a field to let the East Cornwall fox hounds pass on morning exercise
and the remains of a wedding.
On through St Neot, passing the church where my daughter, Georgina, considered getting married herself.
Along some roads with intriguing names (Loveny Road and Tripp Hill)
I have decided to take a right turn at Pantersbridge and up the track towards Warleggan, thinking this would shave off a sizeable corner of our route. Should I not know by now that taking a short cut is not always the best plan?
Going up the track, I recognise it is one that David and I climbed a couple of years ago on a walk with the dogs and as the going gets steeper, more rocky and slippery, I lengthen the lead rope and let Tommy pull me up behind him, sometimes grabbing onto his tail to keep my balance. He performs his role admirably, setting off at a brisk pace soon making short work of the bouldery track and before too long we have reached the top. Its given me an idea. I’m thinking, a bit of long reining might not be a bad idea to pass the time on the road. I’ve already decided that getting him used to the idea of harness is going to be my winter project for him.
Back down in the next valley, we turn off the lane onto what looks like a private drive. It is indeed a private drive but it doesn’t lead to the Manor as I had thought (hoped), but to another house. The bridle path goes off at a tangent from the drive and we start to follow the track which looks a little overgrown, my suspicions already aroused about the efficacy of coming this way. It is raining heavily now and at the house, I stop to enquire if there is another, easier way up to Cabilla Manor. No, is the answer to that, so we plough on up the track which by this stage looks decidedly mangled and matted with growth, the path now a fully fledged stream with a rough, deeply-cut, rubble bed, the remains of what used to be the track floor. This is the most pioneering we have been to date with regards to bridle tracks and it turns out to be the toughest we have negotiated but to turn back now would mean a detour of several miles. In the pouring rain.
This time I am leading Tommy, we’ve made it up the hill and making some sort of headway when we are confronted with our biggest challenge to date. Just yards from the gate to our destination, in front of us, there is a fallen tree completely blocking our path. What’s more, there is no way around it as it is wedged on either side between a wall and a fence. Not wanting to give up, even at this late stage, I am determined to find a way through this seemingly impenetrable obstacle. Crouching down, I manage to wriggle my way backwards through the tangle of branches and thick brush, snapping off the smaller branches as I go. Once through, I size up the tree to see if I can make an opening big enough for Tommy to get through, thinking, at this stage, he might even have to get down on his knees.
However, with a bit of effort, I manage to move a couple of the bigger boughs out of the way and sure enough, a narrow opening appears before me. After unravelling his lead rope which has somehow got tangled up in the brush, I endeavour to entice Tommy to venture forwards towards me and into the opening. He obligingly steps forward into the tree and then stops, wedged within its tangled mass of boughs and branches. In hindsight, I wish I had the presence of mind to take a photo of this moment as it is an image that will live with me forever. My grey pony stuck in the middle of a fallen down tree. Anyway, after a little more coaxing, with an almighty effort, he leaps forwards and breaks through and into the clearing the other side. A quick check and he seems to be completely unscathed by the experience, with me thanking our lucky stars he wasn’t burdened by wearing any kit today which would have certainly hampered our passage through this particular obstacle.
A few more steps and we are through the gate and into the back of the Manor grounds. It’s a pity there wasn’t a sign like this the other end of the bridlepath.
Wet and bedraggled, we make our way towards the Manor in search of the stables. We must have been a sight, arriving looking like we have gone through a hedge backwards which isn’t far from the truth. When I tell Robin of our adventure, he says, oh that bridlepath! Apparently it was washed away in a flash flood! He was expecting us to arrive, like most people, through the front entrance, whereas, we had made our appearance through the back door!
Cabilla Manor is a beautiful, spacious Georgian farmhouse on the edge of Bodmin Moor, the home of the explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison and his wife, Louella, who run it as a gracious B&B. They have a reputation as considered hosts who welcome you as a member of the family. Although I’m not a paying guest on this occasion, both Tommy and I are also welcomed with a natural hospitality honed out of long experience in welcoming guests to their home.
After Robin has shown me where Tommy is staying and we have settled him into his new digs next to two delightful miniature American horses for company,
we make our way around the back of the Manor, up some wide granite steps draped with tiny wild strawberry plants to a straw-bale house (Merlin’s Keep, originally built for their son) where I am going to be staying for a couple of nights. I’m delighted and very grateful for this cosy haven and I take the opportunity to have a hot shower and change into some dry clothes.
Robin has written many books about their adventures, most famously with 2 horses they brought back from the Camargue in Southern France, and as you can imagine, I have been looking forward to meeting this intrepid couple. Interestingly, Louella informs me that The Arab and the Camargue are the only two horses that can legitimately be called ‘white’…..all the rest are greys.
Although they are both sympathetic about Tommy’s saddle sores, (the hazard of any long distance rider), Louella quizzes me about my motives for not swapping horses when Tommy got his. You could borrow one of ours, she offers, before Robin reminds her that neither of their current Camargue horses have any shoes on at the moment. It’s an interesting question tho’ and I find myself defending my decision to continue with Tommy, simply because I don’t have a replacement and its all part of the pilgrimage ethic. Our recent encounter with the fallen tree being a perfect example that even modern day pilgrims must experience some degree of ‘suffering’. Surely?
But it is a sponsored ‘ride’ she counters, and you have a duty to your sponsors to do just that. I argue, it was never about the ride, much more about the journey with a horse. So long as he was fit and able, abandoning Tommy was never a serious consideration as this pilgrimage was always about my journey with Tommy, either being ridden or walking alongside him. Mulling it over later, I conclude that my journey must appear unbearably pedestrian in comparison to their exploits where Robin likes to set off at a canter at the very least, covering a thousand miles in weeks rather than months. This then must surely be the fine line between the pilgrim and the explorer.
The following day, Robin is off early after breakfast to practice some water-skiing for his final challenge to ski across the Channel, part of the 8 challenges to celebrate his 80th year. Tomorrow, he is doing his ‘deepest cave’ challenge. (You can see his other challenges here) All to raise awareness and funds for a charity he co-founded in 1969, Survival International, which helps ‘tribal people defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their futures‘.
With Robin gone, I spend some time with Louella, enjoying more stories of their adventures, nipping into Bodmin for supplies, even doing a recce of our route tomorrow as she has kindly offered to deliver our kit and needs to know the way too. I offer to help with arriving guests but she has it all under control and I make the most of the good internet connection to stay out of the way and try to catch up with things. Yesterday, having checked tide times and with the all-clear from the Island management, I post a notice about our estimated arrival date and time, 20th August, 2pm, at the causeway leading to St Michael’s Mount. I hope we make it on time. The pressure is really on now.
The following day, it is a stunningly beautiful morning and before we leave, on Louella invitation, I take Tommy around to the front of the Manor to introduce him to the guests who are staying, (also, a cunning ploy to chivvy them all down to breakfast!). The two little girls are delighted and ask if they can have a sit on him. Once again, Tommy is beautifully behaved and I am so proud of him.
I’m feeling very happy today. Robin and Louella have made us feel very welcome and I have thoroughly enjoyed their company and our short stay in this magical place. With a final goodbye, Tommy and I set off, back up the drive this time, and out onto Bodmin Moor.