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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Winter in Scotland, post 45

December 23rd. I've had several days of heavy rain and strong winds, l've gone  through Gretna and Annan, it's a dismal stretch of road, l reach the river Nith at Glencaple in the afternoon. This is the first nice bit of Scotland, going west. l stop on the quayside, the horse is glad to eat the clover, it's a good spot, with lovely views. A huge skein of geese fly over at dusk, beautiful, l'm really glad to be back here.
I rest the next day, the local people are friendly, Morris, who drives horses and has a bowtop wagon, gives me a sack of barley for the horse. It's a nice sunny day and I get the horse's rug and harness dry. I tether the horse on the shore, l practise my pipes and watch the tide coming in, it keeps coming in, up around Tarateenos feet! He's looking slightly perturbed, I go over and move him to higher ground.
Sunrise, Glencaple December 25th
Christmas day, l watch the sunrise, a lovely sunny day, l move three miles down to Kingholm Quay and stop in the park, on the way l get water from Isla and Hamish. Gill and her daughter bring carrots for the horse and give me chocolat biscuits. I go through a small housing estate to get to the quay, children come over and proudly show me their new bikes and scooters and ask if they can 'clap' the horse, which means, can they stroke the horse? Of course I'm glad for them to. Morris brings me some diesel to light my fire, [it makes it quicker], I collect a load of dead hawthorn from the hedge and Morris saws it up for me, he invited me for dinner but l declined as l preferred to be on my own and reflect. For my Christmas dinner l grilled a nice piece of steak and washed it down with some delicious red wine. l remembered to feel sorry for all the people having to share Christmas with relatives they don't like and wishing they hadn't spent so much using their credit cards. Legend has it that Jesus was born on straw and spent his first Christmas on The Road to Egypt, does this make him a Traveller? Apparently a pied wagtail followed and brushed away the footprints with its tail, so that Herod didn't know which way they'd gone, Gypsies consider the pied wagtail a 'lucky bird,' the Romani chiriklo.
Over Christmas l was brought lots of nice food by various kind people, salmon, steak, turkey sandwiches, a lady called Jane brought me a box full of interesting jams, sloe gin, chutney, biscuits, soup and two small Christmas puddings, delicious.
Sweetheart Abbey, 27th December
I move down to New Abbey, Dalbeattie and Auchencairn, it's cold and frosty, by New Years eve l'm back at 'the Doon' near Kirkudbright, [pronounced k koo bree] stopped on the beach. It's a beautiful spot and l enjoy watching the surf in the moonlight. Over the years l've had all sorts of wild New Years Eves with other people, but on my own, in this lovely spot, this was one of the best.
Sunrise at The Doon, 2nd Jan 2015
I head round the coast to Gatehouse of Fleet, l pull up outside an old church that's now a cafe and gallery, Franca, the proprietor, makes me a coffee and gives me some biscuits, she's kind and attractive, she doesn't want paying, we have a nice chat, l'm glad l stopped. l head up into the hills, it's wild beautiful country, with lovely views of the Clints of Dromore, rocky granite outcrops, an old lady appears out of nowhere and walks along beside me for a bit, after a while she starts singing, rather tunelessly, but l don't mind, it amuses me and is typical of the funny things that happen when you travel with a wagon. At the top of the hill l stop and talk to a man working outside his cottage, he says to put my horse in the garden of the abandoned railway station for the night. We chat for a bit and he gives me two bottles of dark beer he's made. It tastes very good. The temperature drops rapidly and by 4pm l can see frost forming, l build up the fire so it'll keep in overnight. There is a very hard frost. The next day l head for Challoch, a lady with two children comes to chat, l give the children a ride on the wagon, the lady gives me a nice cake she's made. In Newton Stewart l stop to get water from a house, l also get given onions, carrots and potatoes. Mild air from the Atlantic comes in and by dusk the temperature has risen by 15 degrees, a peculiarity of this maritime climate. I stop that night on some grass beside the church. At 3am a lorry goes past and the noise wakes me. I look out the window, it's a mild cloudy night, but the moon is quite bright, Tarateeno has eaten all his grass so l yoke him up and set off in the night. The road to New Luce is not very busy, in the middle of the night there is no one. The wagon is quite well lit up by fairy lights around the front and the lights on inside it, l've got good reflectors on the back. I really enjoyed travelling in the dark. It adds a new dimension to, 'here today, gone tomorrow.'
The Clints of Dromore 3rd January
6th January, l'm back at Port O Spittal, stopped with Jim and Julie. It's good to see them again and we have some laughs. I look at their horses, nothing l can buy, but good to look. I borrowed an Australian stock saddle and went for a nice ride. Julie rode a racehorse, we had a gallop through the woods, it made a change for me and Tarateeno. I stay for a few days, Jim arranges for a farrier to come and shoe Tarateeno, l get my washing done and oil an old bridle that l've begged off Jim. Laura, who keeps a horse there gives me a 'cooler' rug to put on Tarateeno, so he can dry off better, without getting chilled. A kind man called Billy brings round delicious shortbread with toffee and chocolate on it, he is very good at making it, l remember it from my last visit.I'm glad to stop a few days and rest. The farrier doesn't come, strong south westerly gales arrive, instead.

Jim and Julie
l head over to the east side of the Mull O Galloway and shelter at Sandhead. The wind is terrible and scarily, strong and the wagon is buffetted violently for several days, at night time l wonder if the wagon will blow over. It's the worst wind l've known. Luckily there is lots of good grass here, plenty of firewood, a good village shop and a pub that does nice food. I stay there for four days until the wind drops. I've parked the wagon right on the high tide line, l like to be near the sea.
Sandhead, 13th Jan, Mull O Galloway
I was disappointed not to get Tarateeno re-shod by a farrier, but it's not desperate yet. I head down the coast to the Machars and stop at Port William with Frank and Fiona at the old mill. I stay a week and show Frank a few things to get better results with his Clydesdales. He works hard and is pleased how much better he gets at handling the horses and how nice and well mannered the horses get. I feel rewarded too. It can be very frustrating trying to work with horses if you don't have the enough information.
Charlie the Clydesdale
While l stop there l use Franks workshop and l make some pieces of ash up into a fore-carriage for the new wagon l'm going to build this year. It goes well and l'm pleased. When it's finished l take it apart and stow it under the bed, until l need it. Although it's January in Scotland, there are days that are warm enough to sit out in the sunshine and do some coppersmithing. I make some stock to sell. John calls by to look at my wagon. He used to drive a wagon to Appleby, we get on well. The next day he turns up with some nice thick plain stamped horse shoes, l offer them up to my horse, they could have been made for him, perfect! Funny how things turn out. Frank has a brother in the village who has a pillar drill, l go and drill 24 holes in the shoes to take the tungsten studs. I'm really pleased. John comes another day and gives me some hames to fit a spare collar l've got. I reshape them to fit the collar. I'm enjoying having a workshop to use. One day Frank breaks his bandsaw blade, while he's out I scarf the ends and silver solder it back together again. I like to be able to use my skills. It's a pleasure to stay with Frank and Fiona and l'm sorry to go.
Detail of fore-carriage, showing chamfers
26th January 2015. As l leave Port William I give Holly who's 12, a lift up to her school at the top of the village, she's really pleased l think and her schoolmates look at her with admiration. I carry on to Newton Stewart,18 miles, on the way l stop and replace a hindshoe that is worn out and clinking badly. I have an odd shoe that a farrier in the Massif Centrale gave me, that'll do for now, l soon have it on. A farmer gives me a bale of hay. The next day l head over the hills towards New Galloway and stop by the mare's tail waterfall again. It's a beautiful bit of country. Two Americans come and chat, l sell them a halter and a copper sconce, they're pleased. It's a wet windy night, by the morning it's turning to sleet. At 8.30am l'm yoked up and ready to go, a lady with her disabled daughter turn up. I give her daughter a ride down the road, she was pleased, l gave her the old horse shoe l took off the day before for luck. We joked that her mum could pick her up in June at Appleby! At New Galloway l normally stop beside the river, but it looks much too angry and dangerous, l carry on to Balmaclennan and stop with Malcolm in his wood. I feed Tarateeno some hay. By evening it is snowing hard.
Spud the Clydesdale in a stall
In the morning there is 6 inches of beautiful snow. Malcolm rings his neighbour Donald, who has cobs and Clydesdales and he sells me a couple of good bales of hay. Malcolm is living on his own in the woods, l told him it is lovely, apart from there's no women. Not long after, Jen, a very nice Scottish lass turned up. We made a sledge out of a pallet and yoked Tarateeno up and had fun pulling it about in the snow. Later 'young Donald' showed me the horses he had for sale, nothing suitable for me, but still a pleasure to look.
Balmaclennan 28th February
I head off the next morning in the snow,  it's stopped snowing and it's a lovely sunny day. The roads are icy in places but Tarateeno is fine. It's a fine journey, 14 miles to Castle Douglas, which has lots of shops. I stock up on porridge oats and some nice bread and a bag of horsefeed, the lady sells it to me cheap as the sell by date is nearly up. I stop in the park near the Loch. It has been sheltered from the wind and there is some grass without snow on it. The next day l go to Dalbeattie and stop in the centre of town in Barry's yard with Jimmy and Lindsay. They are very kind, l'm glad to see them, they've driven wagons to Appleby and still have some horses. It's nice to leave the wagon and horse and go to the shops by myself. I get a few novels to read from the charity shops. The next day Jen the Scottish lass turns up and travels down to New Abbey with me. She's brought a lovely spicy meal. It's a pleasure to have her company and l hope we meet again. A lovely journey in the snow.
Road's a bit icy
3rd February. I'm back at Kingholm Quay. Last night the temperature dropped to minus 9. There was plenty of Hawthorn in the stove and the wagon was cosy. The ground is frozen hard, l spend the morning putting two shoes on Tarateeno, l heat the shoes up in the stove and use a pair of molegrips to hold them. Hawthorn has a high calorific value and the shoes soon get hot enough to burn the hoof. When l've finished fitting them l quench them in the bucket of water, the ice is so thick in the bucket that the hot shoes do not melt through it! 
It's 12 months since l set off to France, during that time l've done almost 3,000 miles, six sets of shoes. It's been a good year, now l'm thinking about the adventures ahead of me.
Lovely bright sunny day