Shadow Of The Wall

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Diary - 1


Expedition Diary At a Glance

12 October: Day 1
Depart Shap, Cumbria, at 9.45 a.m. Ferry ponies to Tynemouth, Northumberland

Tynemouth Castle grounds are closed. English Heritage will not accommodate us. Must tack up ponies and prepare packs at roadside in drizzle. Extremely difficult start. After official photograph, depart Tynemouth Castle 4.15 p.m. We are very late as head off along coastal track, Cycle Route 72.

Ponies receive ‘baptism of fire’ through streets in rush-hour at Percy Mains. They are completely unperturbed by quayside traffic. It will be dark in one hour and we cannot afford to be benighted on day one. Contact Ernie, who ferried ponies, now on way back to Newcastle, as need help to ferry ponies last few kilometres to campsite tonight (way off original route).

Sleep in Celtic Roundhouse at Rising Sun Country Farm Park; cold, draughty night. Too tired to pitch tent.

At 6.00 a.m. Thorn breaks down holding gate trying to escape from enclosure into quarry. Contain him in Celtic Village Garden. He will not be caught for over an hour. No time for breakfast.

13 October: Day 2

Follow Waggon route to Segedunum Museum. Through backstreet traffic ponies are on best behaviour. Cameraman, Alan, from Carlisle, is prevented by museum official from filming presentation to 90 Carville Primary School children, though event comprehensively organised six months beforehand. When I arrive, fifteen minutes after Alan, he has already left and is on his way back to Carlisle. Not a great start.

Ponies handle heavy traffic well on way to Ouseburn Farm in Newcastle centre. Their behaviour is impeccable. When asked they stand perfectly still at crossings and traffic lights! They hang about my tent all night in a small, severely sloping field, perfect rough grazing, preventing sleep. At 5 o’clock they are munching within two metres of the guy ropes, perhaps wondering where I am taking them.

14 October: Day 3

Film Mandy, Ouseburn Farm Manager, talking about farm and its historical link with Fell ponies. Restock food supplies for man and equines. Fine day as we head along Military Way towards Newcastle City Centre.

Manage filming outside Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle, despite Northumbrian Police advice to keep ponies off of Newcastle roads. Most drivers are considerate. Travel from Tyne Bridge along riverside to Heddon-on-the-Wall. Arrive after long trek on sunny afternoon, via drover’s route, at Saint Andrews First School, Heddon, too late to meet children; they are about to start half-term holiday. Sleep in stable next to ponies at Black Row Riding Centre, as no secure field is available. Thorn and Roamer kick the stable doors all night; they hate being inside.

15 October: Day 4

Warm morning. One of spare set of boots, needed for tough terrain ahead, is missing – can’t find it anywhere? Eventually leave riding centre without boot.

Pack saddles, especially Roman saddle, slip several times over first rough farming country and need continual readjusting. Balance and harness fitting are not yet optimal; trial and error will help. Packs removed at narrow gateposts and alongside reservoir when ponies become trapped, wedged in-between two walls; they cannot move forwards or backwards, but stand calmly. I flag down passing motorist, who helps by holding Thorn’s lead rope. Reduce pack volume at Vallum Farm, ditching some reserve maps, lead ropes and harness. Pitch tent in barn. Ponies happily graze large field.

16 October: day 5

Three-years-old daughter of Vallum Farm owners helps feed ponies and prepare tack. No apparent TV airing of prepared film clips showing ponies being trained prior to expedition start, and no media coverage so far, expectedly.

Cross-country route, avoiding road, has severely boggy patches, negotiated safely. This afternoon, aggressive cattle along Military Way force detour temporarily onto road near Stagshore Kennels. Thorn and Roamer, break out from Errington Arms garden tonight. Perimeter fence is secured with chains, ropes, tables and empty beer barrels! Second attempt to escape fails thanks to local assistance; two young knowledgeable riders work tirelessly for two hours to secure garden perimeter. Camp outside garden by noisy roundabout. Lorries thunder by until late.

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