The past two days I made an overnight trip, staying with Brena on a farm seventy-five miles from here. Our host works heavy horses so Brena, a light draught type herself, was dwarfed by most of the residents. As we arrived four Percherons were being harnessed and put to a carriage, an impressive sight.
We were visiting to ride, however. Nearly twenty years ago I lived in that area, and wanted to revisit former haunts. I rode extensively back then too, taking advantage of a rich network of trails. It's heavily wooded too, providing a rare opportunity to ride for hours beneath a forest canopy.
The first part involved crossing a narrow belt of fields then climbing steeply. The line of horizon in the photo hints at the gradient. Once this must have been a cart track, good for carefully bringing timber down to the valley, and a drove road. Now it's a leisure route.
Towards the top we found an old blockhouse. These were installed across southern England at the beginning of the Second World War in case of enemy invasion. Many remain, for their solid concrete construction makes removal very difficult. Besides, they don't get in the way, merely remind us of the threat that faced civilisation seventy-five years ago.
Beyond the crest of the ridge we continued along quiet trails. At weekends lots of people are out walking and bicycling, for these hills are just a few miles south of London. Indeed the trails can become positively crowded. Weekdays are different. That's why I chose to come here in the week, taking advantage of a few days leave from work.
Being founded upon chalk, most of the trails were dry despite recent rain. The downside to chalk is flint, and portions of the trails were stony. In the evening I attended to the rough edges flints left on Brena's hooves. And we didn't ride fast, what with the hard ground and the heat.
A couple of miles further on I stopped to visit an acquaintance, the warden of Tanners Hatch Youth Hostel. I've spent many a night at this rustic medieval cottage. Brena waited patiently, and I got her a bucket of water to drink.
To the north a thunderstorm stirred. The sky darkened, and I decided to head off. My route lay south so I hoped to avoid the rain. The thunder, however, moved from north via east to south, and the wind seemed to shift - though it's hard to gauge the wind in a wood. We descended the hill beneath deepening overcast. At the railway crossing I phoned the signaller for permission to cross as the first heavy spots of rain fell, kicking up dust on the dessicated trail. A train passed and we were allowed to cross, quickly, making sure that the gates were secured behind us. Soon I was wearing my coat - which had seemed so unnecessary when we set off three hours previously - and pushing through sodden vegetation. The rain didn't let up until after dark, streaming down dismally through the foliage. The horses huddled, but they had food and it wasn't cold.
The following day dawned dry and bright. I'll post some images of a quite different ride shortly.