Friday, 11 April 2014

Food and Flies

When I started pack horsing across Kazakhstan, space and weight were important considerations.  Ortlieb waterproof folding bowls have proven themselves for human use as seen below. I would like to think that this cool and pristine looking model is representative of the image I project while on the road but I sadly fear the truth is considerably more ancient, grubby and dishevelled  .........

And the bowls were also a perfect solution as buckets for both feeding and watering the horses, even when I subsequently had to abandon horse packing.  Below is Zorbee having his evening feed out of an Ortlieb bucket by the Alatau mountains in Kazakhstan.

 Lightweight and robust, they fold up to a very compact size for packing.  Unfortunately during the 8000 mile journey, my bowls disappeared for one reason or another.  So I am delighted that Lyon Outdoor the UK distributors for Ortlieb, have generously provided me with three 10 litre waterproof buckets for the North America expedition.

Another essential item we used on the Eurasia crossing were fly masks.  Insects such as flies and midges can be extremely troublesome if not torture for horses, and fly masks are pieces of kit which although not necessary all the time are absolutely vital when insects descend in force. 
The main fly mask I used was from Shires Equestrian, and I found it to be far superior to the others I tried, fitting snugly and comfortably, and covering the horse's ears. In the photo you can see the clusters of flies being kept off Suncar's face on the Kazakhstan steppe.

I recently realised that I would be riding through the Maritime provinces of Canada at the height of the blackfly season but with only one decent fly mask between the two ponies.  Malcolm Ainge of Shires Equestrian has come to the rescue yet again by kindly agreeing to provide a second Shires mask, this time with a nose flap. Hopefully Albert and Mace don't fight over it.

And finally a link to an article in the St John's newspaper The Telegram

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A Trip to the Somme battlefields

At the beginning of the year I happened to read about the dreadful loss of life of Newfoundlanders at Beaumont Hamel in France during the Battle of the Somme.  The Newfoundland regiment was all but wiped out in an unsuccessful 30 minute assault on July 1st 1916, the first day of the 'Big Push' offensive.  After the war the Newfoundland government bought the site to preserve it as a memorial to those who fell there, and in view of my forthcoming Newfoundland adventure I was immediately stirred to make a pilgrimage.

Looking on the map, I realised it was not far from another couple of battlefield sites I had long wanted to visit, and this spurred me on to arrange a few days sightseeing in France.   So at the end of February I found myself at Beau Hamel, below the dramatic bronze statue of a caribou, emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  Standing on a rugged rock cairn, it appears to give a mournful last call over the bloody battlefield where so many Newfoundlanders tragically lost their lives. 

The Canadian government fund Canadian students to act as free guides for the memorial site, and we were lucky enough to have a young Newfoundlander to show us around. And she was able to show us the name on the monument of a great uncle who had lost his life here, which really drove the reality home.

The site has since been bought back by the French government, but continues to be leased and administered by the Canadians.
The site is remarkable in that it has preserved the remains of the trenches that existed a hundred years ago.  The view below is looking from the base of the monument across the trenches to the former German line beyond - roughly where the far line of trees is.  Terrible to think that almost a hundred years ago this peaceful green pasture would have been a bloody sea of mud, barbed wire and bodies.
The Allies had bombarded the Germans for a week before the offensive, but although this had caused damage, the German dugouts were largely untouched and machine gunners who had retreated from their posts were able to return quickly once the bombardments lessened.  Two assaults by British troops on the first day of the offensive failed with heavy casualties.  Then unhappily a white flare sent up by the Germans was mistaken for a British signal that the second assault had succeeded.  The Newfoundlanders were ordered into battle. 
When they attacked, the connecting trenches were already choked and impassable with dead and dying from the previous assaults, and in running over the brow of the hill the Newfoundlanders were sitting ducks for the German machine guns; machine guns that were supposed to have been put out of action by the bombardments of the previous week.
Out of 801 men participating in the assault that day, only 68 turned up for roll call the next morning, 720 having been killed or wounded.  A relatively insignificant number compared with the huge casualties suffered by other members of the allied forces, but a 90% casualty rate and utterly devastating for the tiny population of Newfoundland. 

Only 2500 miles to Newfoundland!
An arrow on the Caribou Memorial.

We also took the opportunity to visit a similar site on the Somme where 400 out of 676 Welsh soldiers of the 14th (Swansea) battalion were killed or wounded in the Big Push on 10th July 1916 trying to gain control of Mametz Wood.  In this case the memorial was a rather cartoonish Welsh dragon, not quite as impressive as the caribou, though the site was just as emotive.

Mametz Wood is in the background of the photo, with the dragon overlooking the valley where so many Welshmen died.
It was here that poet Seigfried Sassoon  (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) made a single handed attack on the 4th July 1916

The final pilgrimage was to the grave of Oswyn St Leger Davies, youngest son of the Davies family who lived at our house Ffrwdfal (formerly Froodvale Mansion) for many years.  It was Oswyn's father John Morgan Davies who built an imposing south facing frontage onto the existing building in 1867-8 when he moved here with his young wife Jane, to transform it into a larger country house.  See  Ffrwdfal Country House for the bed and breakfast business I run sporadically between jaunts abroad.
Oswyn St Leger was tragically killed on the western front shortly before the end of the First World War and is buried at Bienvilliers, near the Somme.

And we were able to stay nearby at the lovely Chateau de Saulty , much recommended if you do not need an evening meal on site.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dashing through the snow...... a one horse open sleigh..........and that is exactly what Albert has been up to in the last week.  Charlene Walsh-Brown of the Brown family who owned and trained Albert, took these lovely photos of Albert in action.

It is quite tempting to forget about the riding lark and sleigh my way across Newfoundland.  Judging by the snowbound photos I am receiving I may well have to if the weather doesn't improve.

Pecha Kucha

Well I survived my initiation into the delights of Pecha Kucha talks at the Night of Aventure last Wednesday.  Spurred on by the terror of lagging behind the 20 second slide rollover, I burbled my way through the allotted 6 minutes 40seconds.  Above is the line-up of most impressive, inspiring and funny women taking part (they put me to shame) and experiences ranged from a record breaking Trans Antarctic cyclist to a walk round Wales with a donkey, both the latter speakers hailing from Wales.  Ages ranged from 65 (me) to 8 years old!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Night of Adventure

I have been giving quite a few talks over the winter, mainly to small local groups, but also last week to Wilderness Lectures in Bristol.  Tomorrow night Wednesday 26th March I am one of a line-up of ten women giving short 'Pecha Kucha' slide talks as part of the annual 'Night of Adventure'  held at the Institute of Education, Russell Square.  Rather late notice but for anyone who is interested, booking available via the link above.
 A return to my old stamping ground as I took my Post Graduate Certificate of Education at the Institute, as well as an MA and research at the School of Oriental and African Studies next door!
For those of you who do not know what a Pecha Kucha talk is (I didn't!) it is a six minute 40 second presentation consisting of twenty slides, and only twenty seconds allowed for each slide. It really focuses the mind to prepare a talk!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Introducing the ponies!

I have now bought two ponies and booked a flight arriving in St John's Newfoundland on April 17th, so am committed to the ride!  Facebook gets a lot of bad press but it has been instrumental in building up contacts in Canada and sourcing the ponies I have bought. They are both Newfoundland pony crosses so should  be well suited to the rigours of travel in Newfoundland.

Albert is a six year old bay Newfoundland x Morgan/Clydesdale gelding around 14hh.  He is broken to ride and drive and is quiet and good with traffic.  Here he is pulling a wagonette .......
 ... and a sleigh ....
 ....though of course he will be used in a different capacity on the ride!   He has been with the Brown family near Clarenville since birth.  The vet commented on how well-behaved he was during vetting, so I am looking forward to having him as part of the team.

 Mace is an 11 year old chestnut gelding, about 14.2hh and thought to be a Newfoundland pony x quarter horse.  The details of his past are a little more unsure, though he was apparently used on a holiday ranch for a while before his previous owner acquired him.

.Don't forget that the trip can also be followed via my Long Horse Ride facebook group at     Everyone welcome to join!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Charging along......

...which is what  I hope to be doing in more way than one on my North America ride.   I am intending to travel without vehicle support as far as possible, so charging my electrical equipment when I am back country is an obvious concern.  I have been very grateful to receive support from family business Outdoor Chargers who offered a very generous deal on a couple of solar powered chargers.
This includes a compact and sturdy Powermonkey Extreme which is arguably the most impressive portable solar charger on the market.  Capable of charging a variety of devices from cameras to ipads, the battery unit can also be charged up from a conventional power source.

.......In addition I have acquired a Bushnell Solarwrap Mini   which is a very lightweight small solar charger which I intend to use to keep my mobile topped up as I ride along.  It can be hung across a saddle bag, and the flexible solar panel wraps away around the battery unit when not in use.
Outdoor Chargers supply a variety of chargers (including the two shown above) at very competitive prices.