The forecast was good for the bank holiday weekend, so at the last minute the girls and I packed the tent, saddled up and rode out for 3 days. This is us leaving the farm where we keep the ponies. We met up with friends, and rode out to Manaton, where we stayed at Wingstone Farm. This was a new place to stay for us, but we couldn't have asked for a better place. It is not a proper campsite, but that makes it more special! Juliette Rich, the owner, does lovely Bed and Breakfast in the house, but is happy to take tents and horses. She made us feel very welcome, and we will definitely be returning in future!
We pitched our tent in the meadow by the stream, under the oak trees. This is a beautiful stretch of meadow and woodland in the bottom of the valley below Hayne Down and The Bowerman's Nose. The clear water gurgled and splashed beside our tent, and the meadow was bursting with wildflowers. We are in the middle of bluebell season, and everywhere you turn, there are carpets of blue. I turned my ponies out in the meadow alongside us - there was far more grass than they are used too, but it was a nice treat after a hard day's riding.
There are also lovely big airy stables in the barn, where my friend Kathryn kept her two ponies, as the grass in the meadow was too rich for them.
On the second day , we set off along the Dartmoor way, down through Houndtor Woods. The beginning of the track sloped down steeply, and was very stony. This is the worst terrain for Red and Foggy, as they are barefoot, but I led Red down, and he picked his way carefully. At the bottom of the valley the track became softer, and we followed the river along before turning back onto the moor, and following a sheep track up across Trendlebeare down. The path down to the river crossing was steep and rocky. This is where the barefoot ponies come into their own. A lot of the track involved climbing down from boulder to boulder. Without shoes, there is far less chance of slipping on the smooth granite. I again led Red, but the children on their surefooted hill ponies just hopped and scrambled down the hillside. At the bottom, back in the bluebell woods, was a clear, cool river, a welcome drink before climbing up the other side of the gorge, and eventually emerging into the hot sun at Houndtor. We stopped for ice - creams at the van in the car - park below the rocks, before heading back across Hayne Down to Wingstone.
After a paddle in the stream, my youngest daughter and I spent a quiet hour in the beech trees, making fairy houses!
It's always fun to have a camp fire! The girls made toast, and then decided to split bananas open and stuff them with broken chocolate biscuits before baking them on the fire!
They said they were delicious!
On Monday, it was a little cooler and we set off home via Holwell and Bonehill rocks and down into Widecombe for a lunch stop, before a long haul back across the moor. 6 hours in the saddle on this last day, but we had such a wonderful time! The ponies ( and Red) all behaved perfectly for the whole trip, like true trail ponies! The older girls did lots of cantering and jumping, and discovering their brakes on the open moor, and dear little Foggy took perfect care of my youngest daughter, trundling after the older girls when she wanted him too, or walking back with us if she didn't want to follow them. He never moved an inch while she climbed on and off him, dropped his reins while trying to open gates, or was mobbed by crowds of children on the village green at Widecombe.
Here we are, the whole gang ( except me - I'm always behind the camera!) . Red, the appaloosa is my ride, and the two grey ponies are ours - Matthew, a dartmoor hill pony, and Foggy, our little Welsh mountain pony. My friend Kathryn, has Yeoman, an elderly grey Highland pony, and her daughter rides Bramble, another dartmoor hill pony.