Contentment

It is difficult to put into words the sense of well being that is possible after a long day of physical adventure, a hot bath, a seat on the verandah – as opposed to a seat on a horse 🙂

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We are in the Howqua Valley, the river in front of me; the sound of its strong flow mingling with so many birds roosting for the night.   The sun is setting and the trees appear luminous as the last rays filter through them.   And the daffodils watch on as they clearly have done season after season.

Strange name Howqua, with equally strange possible origins, after a Chinese tea very popular during the 19th Century, after a Chinese surveyor of the area, (Ah Kin Wowqua);  a derivative of   Mount Howitt, where the river rises, and aqua; or if you prefer, after John “Howka” Hunter (1820–68), a pastoralist.  I am guessing any will do, but it is probably better known as the countryside where they filmed The Man From Snowy River.

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Which brings me back to the ride….  well almost back to the ride.   Firstly though, I must remind you that riding and taking photographs are almost mutually exclusive, and even more so when you are not riding alone and cannot just stop at will.    So most of the photographs we tried to take ended up in the ‘trash’ bin – you will need to engage your imagination if you mean to capture even a fraction of this adventure.

Again?


Even the most liveable city in the world sometimes is not enough. When the urge to smell the bush, feel the breeze, see the vistas, hear the creak of leather becomes too strong to ignore and a dear friend sends you a link to Watson trail rides

http://watsonstrailrides.com.au/
How could I resist?

So here I am – 3 hours out of Melbourne in Mansfield – with an adventure about to begin

Well the truth is it began sometime time ago when I booked ‘on the web’ my accommodation for tonight in Mansfield – at the Mansfield Travellers Lodge – pleased as punch I was with myself until too many emails from the USA made me suspicious. On checking my booking – I was scheduled to arrive at Mansfield Travellers Lodge -Ohio 😂😩🇺🇸

Rewind – I won’t bore you with the rest of the fiasco – think dumb blonde!!!! However I did feel better when I discovered I was not the first person to make this mistake!

However all’s well that ends well they say; though in this case I should say, starts well as here I am in Mansfield Victoria Australia at the start of my riding adventure
Backpackers lodge – why wouldn’t I at $40 a night, (bring your sleeping bag) and being Monday I have the dormitory to myself!! And the kindest manager, who clearly felt I couldn’t be trusted, after my failed booking, (- not the first person he assured me ) to find the stables unaided; has given me a detailed map for tomorrow – so appreciated

A stroll round the town prior to my dinner has me wondering about this ride – I see only people in snow gear here, coming off the mountain – you hear that peculiar sound their pants make as they walk, before you even see them. And the sight of the sun on the still snow capped mountain takes my breathe away – no photo could do it justice.

So as I sit in the local pub with my local wine (Snobs Creek Pinot Noir😂) and lasagne I reassure myself : regardless of snow, rain or shine it’s all about the horse.

But will I be warm enough, will my body hold up, will I dismount or be dismounted?

Tomorrow will tell

Mansfield
Warm welcome
Filled the gaps

No Regrets

As if on cue.

As if to remind me how special.

As if to highlight what was.

The clouds have settled, the rain is streaming down, the shutters rattling and I can see absolutely nothing from my windows.

The lights are on, the chimney whistling, my hair washed (and smelling of roses and geraniums the bottle tells me), a hot coffee getting cold alongside me as I sit on my bed contemplating the amazing five days I have just had.

It all began with Kate Pilcher and her http://www.globetrotting.com.au. Or perhaps with something even older, a primeval horse-man thing stirring within and disturbed again by her.

Either way, at 63, with no more than ten horse rides on my life, I bite the bait 😂😂😂

And swallowed hook, line and sinker.

I did some sit ups (clearly not enough) some squats (clearly enough), borrowed riding gear, found some Dutch courage, a sense of humour, and have lived to tell the tale.

Every day we breathe has the potential to be an adventure, at home with the dog or across a continent with a horse and new friends.

So crazy as the idea was, and against sound advice and my own ‘adult voice’ I took the plunge

No regrets :

I have seen the sky filled with light from a million stars;

I have seen the moon appear like a silver sliver over the mountains;

I have felt the thrill of half a tonne of animal galloping beneath me on a beach, alone, with only the gulls, waves, sand, sun and a solitary seal as witness;

I have felt the pain of a body used;

I have marvelled at the skill and strength of those gone before whose only means of transport was horse;

I have witnessed beauty that no iPhone can do justice to.

As I savour the solitude of Farm 215 and Bruce’s amazing food for the last time, I give thanks, I know I have been fortunate





Day 5 : Leaving something on the table 


All good things…..
Following the old adage my mother taught me; always leave the table wanting more.

I did a short ride today, almost too short. But then again not.

Just perfect

It is a grey day today

The clouds blanket the sky so the mountains look somber, the grass ‘quiet’, sounds muted, birds more still, butterflies absent.

Our ride is appropriate.

Inland, along farm roads, between fields where sheep have their heads down, barely visible above the grass, where cattle lie or graze dulled by the absence of sun on their flanks.


We have new horses. Me on Willow (why are mine so large and my legs so short 😩), Julia on Princess and Randal on Whiplash. Different saddle too.


A time to test my body, just how well has it stood up, can I trot, canter? We shall see.

We warm up walking easily, Willow with a little more pace than Luke that makes for a more comfortable walk.   Past springbok, dark and light, young ones too, mixing with hundreds of Guinea fowl.

We trot and all is well. We canter and I debate whether the desire to canter outweighs the pain in the back ( strange that, not the but 😂).

I hear my mother; leave something on the table. Quit while you ahead!

So we trot and walk for a few hours leaving cantering as a memory and a hope for future times.

We pass through groves of gum trees (go figure 😜) which on this gray day make sounds that mimic the sea when it’s grumpy as the wind moves through them.


Through a forest path so dark no photos came out and where we startle a duiker (makes a change from them startling us👏)

I watch a Bataleur roll above us, powerful in his world.   Keeping pace with our trotting, rolling , dipping, disappearing.

A car stops to let us pass and I see a little girl, dummy in her mouth, on her fathers lap, to get a better view of us through the open window – eyes like saucers. Fascinated? Scared? Who knows, perhaps  a seed is sown to follow in our footsteps one day

A special way to end 5 days of riding through some of the most exquisite scenery surely God ever created.


But wait, there’s more, lunch at Stanford Hills

You mean I need to use a knife and fork?
Surely you’re joking?
Who’s he? (Howard – African Horse Co)
And so ‘the end’ 🐴🐎🚗😄

Day 4: An easy walk 😜??

Today we went for a ride of a different sort.


A white contraption; I would like to say it was a car, except that it lacked most of what we today consider normal in a car, namely windows that open and close when we chose; similarly with the four doors, a boot that has a handle to open it with and side mirrors that one can see in.

But I complain not : it had four wheels instead of legs, a steering wheel instead of a bridle and an engine that was filled by a kindly petrol attendant and not by us carrying bales of hay!!!!

(And I later learned 400 000 km on the clock – hey who’s complaining 😂🚑🚗)
Oh did I mention that unlike Luke who could be persuaded to reverse (admittedly it took some real persuasion) on the odd occasion, our white contraption could under no circumstances be persuaded to reverse😳
Leaving Luke, Patches and Sparky in the care of others we, or at least I dragged my weary body into that contraption 😂


We drove to Danger Point just in time to see the fog rolling in. We chatted to the lighthouse manager, and read the story again of the Birkenhead which I vaguely remembered from schøol.

A British military ship, one of first iron hulled ships, arriving in eastern cape for 1852 Xhosa wars ran aground here. It was a perfectly calm night when it struck an uncharted rock miles off shore.   In 20 minutes the ship sank. All women and children were saved, all soldiers and sailors were lost.  It is unknown how many horses died, 5 made it to shore.

193 survivors, 432 soldiers and sailors drowned.

There are 46 lighthouses round the South African coast, every one with a different signal. Danger Point’s signal is three flashes, 40 second pauses, three flashes. This continues from sunset to sundown every day. Still today in the age of technology !

Our lighthouse man also told us that last year they saw 60 pairs of whales compared to the year before when they saw 200. “Ek weet nie, dis hierie (sic) climate storie”

(I don’t know it’s this climate story)

Our contraption then took us to Gansbaai where we parked at the beginning of what was listed as an easy beach walk to De Kelder.

Parked is perhaps an over optimistic description of what we did, keeping in mind we had to be able to drive off again without using reverse.

We left her boldly pointing forwards, windows open, all our riding gear and ‘stuff’ inside challenging the world to come to her and help themselves 😂😂😂

What to do- we could not put our lives on hold because our car was unlockable. So we left, trusting that our riding gear which now almost had a life of its own, so full of sweat, salt and dirt as it was would lose appeal to any passer by and they would miss the rest of the luggage hidden under a blanket😊

Or better still not even give her a second glance as she looked as though nothing of value to anyone could exist in such a rusted contraption!!!
Benchmarks, life is all about knowing the benchmarks (see my blog – the Ik 😂) so when we read

I quote :

Start: Gansbaai harbour

Finish: Klipgat caves, De Kelders

Duration: 7 km, around 4 hours

Fitness: easy, children can do this trail

Unquote

I was confident.   In my head an easy seven km beach walk suits a plump person in sandals. Well I am old and perhaps not slim but not as plump as I was thinking of when I mentioned a plump person and I certainly was not wearing sandals.

Rather I was wearing very sensible walking shoes.


We did not find this an easy walk 😳. It was a walk, following green painted signs, rocks, bricks, up and down a narrow path until we finally arrived at our target destination, de Kelders.

We sat on the deck watching the fog come in and blanket the coastline.


Wisdom prevailed and we walked back to Gansbaai along the main road.

I know, I know, not very romantic. But I have had enough adventures for one week and as good a story (perhaps even a romantic one) disappearing into the sea cause we missed the green markers in the fog, may have been, we decided to disappoint 😜


A very late lunch in Gansbaai made up for the trudge back.


And of course our white steed was still waiting, as intact as she had been when we left her. Ready to take us back to our Klein Paradijs (little paradise) for the night

A drive past Pearly Beach in the cloudy evening was rewarded by watching a family fishing together – a past time as old as time itself


And a visit to the shop local shop where I could have bought anything my heart desired, from food, clothes, furniture, books, and if I had wondered into the back rooms, perhaps even a husband 😂😂😂

I settled for an Easter egg for Julia


Ps trivia question :

1. Why Gansbaai ( as opposed to some other baai)?

2. Why is baleen whale called southern right whale?
PPS trivia answer;

1. Resident Egyptian geese found there when settlers first arrived – cannot find out what happened to them 😢

2. Was called the right whale by early whalers because it was slow enough for them to catch with their boats: couldn’t dive deeply: light enough to float once killed and had high yields of oil and baleen.

Day 3: A walk with friends 

I went for a walk today, to use different muscles after so many hours in the saddle.
Joining me was my delightful young German companion, a volunteer at the stables, the two resident dogs and a ginger cat!!!😻
We set off on a trail marked ‘Fynbos’ with no idea where it lead nor how long it would be. It took us almost two hours and our remarkable cat walked with us the entire way!!!
The dog’s of course ran back and forth and in and out and up and down exhausting us just watching and we took our weary bodies up through beautiful leucadendron forests – taller by far than we.
We passed a dam used usually for swimming and kayaking which sadly was empty, another one which delighted the dogs; beehives, protea fields, and grasses with strange scents.
Everywhere again we saw butterflies – such a good omen in these times.
Different continent, different ‘friends’ the same unity of spirit as we take a walk

 

No Clothes

There is something very liberating about having no clothes.

Every morning we put on the same things.

And when we return from our rides, shower and change, it is into the same tracksuit pants and top every evening .

I intend to get into my pyjamas each night and instead crawl into bed just as I am, tracksuit and all.

My breeches, chaps, socks, (there was a clean pair; still drying in a truck somewhere I’m thinking) helmet and jacket now stand in the corner, almost by themselves, so coated are they in sweat, salt, sand, and above all memories.
Waiting for me to put them on again : safe, smelly, secure and with no choice.
It is very liberating to have no clothes 😄

Today I Lived 

Today was the kind of day for which there are no words.
We set off from Stanford River Lodge, a lovely spot for a repeat visit and rode for almost two hours towards the beach.
A different road today took us along a dirt farm road, past beautifully groomed homes, guest houses and boutique wineries- almost all foreign owned.

I thought I had been transported to London when in the distance I saw a bright red, very bright red body, a black, very black, large, very large hat. It was not a palace guard but a cheerful lady waiting for a bus.
That bus came, towards us on this narrow sand road. We pulled up and out of the way as he rumbled past and thanked us by hooting!!!!

Clearly he doesn’t ride😉

Luke was having none of this greeting business and bolted into the bush.

I was not on my phone, I was holding the reins, we both survived and continued in silence.
I don’t believe we said more than 10 words all day. Each of us absorbed in the uniqueness of the day and place.

We walked and trotted, feeling our bodies, feeling the heat, listening to the creaks of the saddle and the horse sounds.
The birds and butterflies floated around us, the mountains loomed to our right and we turned off the road into the ‘bosveld’ (bush)
A different type of riding as we picked our way over logs, round bushes between trees

Trying to get to the dunes without asking our animals to climb an Everest of sand!
We only asked them to climb one half the size- still a challenge for my weary body and doubtless for Luke. And again navigated our way through dune after dune.

White hot sand, sinking hooves, air like a hot blanket, we moved forward, up, down,up and there it was.
The roar of the ocean, so loud we could not have spoken to one another even if we had wanted to.

The breeze from the sea was like a draught of Guinness after a hard days work. It smelt wonderful, felt wonderful and tasted to our parched throats, wonderful .
And there it was.

An hour of perfection.

A beach, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Low tide, gentle waves, mussels scattered all over the beach, gulls hovering, a seal playing in the waves.

Two fisherman in 15km of beach.
There are no words to describe the feeling of walking, cantering, galloping, cantering, walking, galloping in the shallows.

The exhilaration of the vastness, the miracle of oneness with the massive body beneath me, the security of being able to look around at the same time – relishing the speed, the rhythmic sounds of us each galloping at our own pace and in our own worlds.   The waves at our feet, the wind in our faces, the salt on our legs and arms.

Truely today I Lived.

And I am grateful.
My body is tired.

Who said your bottom would be sore😂😂😂. Mine is fine and even my thighs managed to survive (not known as thunder thighs for nothing 😜).

No one said the small of my back and my torso and those other parts I didn’t know exist would ache and grow voices of their own.

(Did I mention we have riden 80km in 3 days 😳)
A shower (no bath here😢), cup of tea and  a glorious hours walk with two dogs, a cat and my lovely Julia ends a day I feel few are privileged to enjoy.

I am grateful



Trail riding 

Trail riding is quite a solitary experience .

Of course I am not riding alone; there is Breyten ( keep wanting to call him Breytenbach) riding Patches ( very original name😜) and Julia on Sparkey.

Essentially though I ride alone as we travel in single file.

Conversation does ebb and flow, but there is much more ebb than flow.
Which leaves me solitary, to gaze, to marvel, to think, and to not think.
To feel this 600kg animal responding to a slight squeeze of my knees.

To go up a mountain side, lifting my weight off his hindquarters and to feel the strength of his forequarters pulling us up.
To gaze again, and see horizons blue and distant, mountains blue and shadowed, sea to infinity.
To find that rhythm with him when he trots so it becomes easy and as if we are one.
It’s an amazing thing. This horse-man thing.
I have to trust him going down an equally steep mountain side. (Had I forgotten the rule – what goes up must come down 😩). In fact there was a notice – caution steep descent (do horses read? – anything I guess is possible 🐴📃these days). In reality it was probably for the Klipspringer mountain bike trail.
But again I digress – back to that trust. This downhill was quite something and Luke I think trusted me to keep my weight off his shoulders as he gingerly worked his way step by step down a mountain slope.

I trusted him not to slip and send us flying (I would happily have dismounted and walked in parts) but there you have it – I didn’t and he didn’t
And we were soon trotting again comfortably on more level ground.
All the while Patches and Breyten were ahead and I presume Julia and Sparkey behind ; each of us alone on our worlds and not alone.
It’s an amazing thing. This horse-man thing.

Ride : day one

I wish I could share this day with you, I wish I could show you all the amazing things I have seen. I wish I could capture the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feel of the breeze in our faces as we canter along.
I wish I could take photographs of all I experienced; the tiny tortoise on the road; the kahia (homestead) with an afdakkie (no Aussie equivalent 😂) with every metal contraption on its roof – including a kitchen sink!!!

I wish I could share this day with you, I wish I could show you all the amazing things I have seen.

I wish I could capture the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feel of the breeze in our faces as we cantered along.

I wish I could take photographs of all I experienced; the tiny tortoise on the road; the kahia (homestead) with an afdakkie (no Aussie equivalent 😂) with every kind of metal scrap you can think of on its roof – including an old kitchen sink ! The hen with her chicks scuttling out of our way as we rode past.

The added height of being on horseback gives angles, views, approaches not seen on foot or bike and of course access where cars can only dream of going 😜
And the views: whichever way I looked, mountains, sea, sky, clouds – beauty beyond expectation.


We rode for about four hours today. Through fields of proteas, grasses, Erika’s of all different reds, tiny blue flowers, bold yellow ones, white, pink and every shade of green the eye could conceive of.

The birds, or rather their calls as they flirted from one plant to another with every so often the streak of copper, red, green as a sunbird  shone against the light.

Baboons that must have travelled parallel to us as we heard them calling all the while although we never saw them. 
Luke, my large brown gelding is the kindest animal, not perhaps what I imagine they refer to as a forward moving horse, as I spent much time hoping his walk would get sprightly 😜. But he trotted and cantered easily so that, just like dancing when your partner leads well, I managed easily on his back when his energy was up.


I just wish I could share today with you in more ways than  just this blog.
While women are known for being able to multi task (my girls always say I do too many things at once 😜)- even I failed to multi task today ; riding and taking photographs , not my thing 😢I pulled my horse up many times to take shots, but finally gave up. My iPhone doesn’t respond to gloved fingers so every shot involved degloving – why not just leave off the gloves I hear you ask- I’m old 😩 my hands are fragile and added to that the sun is still warm ☀️

We had a lovely late lunch – home made bread (from Stanford) cheese, avo and fruit. I’m in a self catering chalet make that a Woolies catered ( how did we ever manage before Woolworths?) with Julia (my young German chaperone,cook, companion.)


I’ve had an hours walk exploring and bird watching, a hot shower (no bath 😩) and am now seated on my verandah, hot cup of tea, chocolate, feet up looking at a stunning view (as a beekeeper moves his hides right in front of me 😊)

Luke is out to graze, the sun is setting, the lasagne almost ready, wine cold, bed calling.

Can life get any better?

I am so so grateful .

Bathroom
Reminder of an optional way to live
Our kitchen- past visitors memories 😂