Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Icing on the Cake

I was keen to get home after all the arrival celebrations in London last weekend since it was Royal Welsh Show week, and my Welsh pony mare Cwrtycadno Perlen was being shown in the Senior Welsh pony mare class on the Thursday.  I have loaned out a few of my best mares while I have been away on the ride, and she had made the long trip up to Scotland to the Waxwing stud, along with her full sister Cwrtycadno Glain.
Stud owners Tom Best and David Blair offered to show her at the Royal Welsh for me, and as they are experienced and excellent showmen, I jumped at the chance.  So I was delighted when she not only won an extremely strong Senior Mare class, but was made Reserve Champion Female Section B (Welsh pony), and this to the pony that was the eventual Supreme Champion of the Show!

Here she is strutting her stuff at the show with Tom Best piloting.  It really was the icing on the cake following my success after a challenging and sometimes very difficult couple of years.

Added to this Geert Verbaas of the Stoujgeshoeve stud in Holland was staying with us and showing four lovely ponies at the Show.  His stunning chestnut yearling colt Stougjeshoeve Escudo was Reserve Male Champion, and his colt foal by our stallion Cwrtycadno Cymro (that Stougjeshoeve leased last year) was second in his class.  So there was quite a lot of bubbly flowing that night at home!!


A very belated post as usual, since the last week has been a mad whirl! 

We had been extremely disappointed when the planned venue for my arrival reception in Greenwich fell through due to Health and Safety issues only a week before we were due to arrive, and it looked as if my arrival would be a complete anti-climax.  However every cloud has a silver lining, and as a result of this setback the King's Troop came to the rescue.  We were kindly offered the facility of the Royal Artillery Barracks in Greenwich as a venue for the arrival ceremony - a much grander option in any case!

So on the morning of Sunday 22nd July, accompanied by Rowena and Peng Wenchao on Harry and Bolashak and two riders from Mount Mascal stables, and escorted by four members of the King's Troop in full regalia, Zorbee and I rode into the Royal Artillery Barracks.   Here we were met by the representative of the British Equestrian Federation, David Gadsby, and a representative from Greenwich council.  I was able to hand over the Olympic flag that had been presented to me in Beijing by the Chinese Equestrian Association in April 2009, which we had carried with us through nine countries, and which I flaunted on a pole as we rode through the streets of London.

A crowd of family and friends were also waiting to greet us, as were a posse of media, so it was another photo fest. Zorbee was prepared to look suitably bored, but luckily we were right next to the Olympic shooting venue with attendant gunfire, so that is why he has his ears pricked in the photo above!

Then it was back to a cafe on Shooters Hill for a small get-together and opportunity for media interviews - one of which was shown on HTV Wales news that evening. See
Zorbee and Bolashak were carted off to Danson Park for the Bexley torch celebrations and I followed later in the car with Gwenny.
The two horses had a corral in the park where they received the public, and they actually saw the torch passing - I know, because I was only alerted to its arrival because I was wondering what Zorbee was looking at!

Newhaven to London. Part Two

On Wednesday 18th Peng, Rowena and I set off to follow a wooded section of the North Downs way  ....
...across the River Mole and via a subway under the M25 to Walton-on-the-Hill, where we were to be hosted at Anthea Chambers' very friendly and well run riding centre   We were given a fantastic welcome by Anthea and her sprightly 83 year old mother Justine Cowley Wise, who kindly presented me with a copy of  'In Those Days' - a fascinating account of her early life growing up in India. Anthea treated five of us (riders Peng, Rowena and me, and support team Michael and Jeremy) to a splendid meal out, and Peng and Rowena were able to hone their riding skills on Trojan, the mechanical horse at the centre ...
Rowena was mischievously encouraged by Anthea to try riding under the trees on the screen, at which she was a bit more successful than the rather circuitous dressage test she then attempted - no Gold medals here I fear!
 Posing with Anthea for a photographer from the local rag....
Replete with a full English breakfast the next morning, we continued on our way along the North Downs. Checking the route on Banstead Heath ........

...and by a monument on the North Downs Way near Reigate with the Low Weald behind

A midday coffee stop in a car park near Gatton Park provided Peng with a surprise reunion, as who should turn up but Val Price-West, who joined the ride for a leg in Xinjiang - they had not seen each other since May 2010 nearly two years ago, when we said goodbye to Peng in Kuytun ! ....

After a long day's ride we eventually arrived tired and hungry at Westerham, where I had arranged to stay with Terry Tahir of the Farchynys stud, a fellow Welsh pony breeder.  What a relief to have a hot shower, a slap up meal and a comfortable bed!
It was a shorter ride the next day, Friday July 20th, through country lanes to Chelsfield Equestrian Centre      Jan Bumire sent riders out to escort us in, and we had a another unbelievably warm welcome.  I suddenly realised that we now actually had a view of London from the stables, and it brought home to me how close I was to finally achieving my goal after four years of riding!
So near and yet so far ...the view from Chelsfield and the Shard is clearly visible .....

  The icing on the cake here was actually just that - this amazing iced cake which had been made especially for me to celebrate the ride.......

... much to good to eat, though it was not long before we were tempted!
Our penultimate day of riding on Saturday brought us to Mount Mascal Stables in Bexley  which was to be our base for the final ride in to Greenwich.

The first job on the agenda was to give Zorbee a thorough wash and brush up in preparation for the arrival ceremony the following day.   While he was travelling and living out for much of the time, I did not like to wash him and remove the natural oils which act as a protection against the weather.  But now the bucket and sponge came out with a vengeance and the scruffy dirty nag was transformed into a gleaming white steed with silky mane and tail!  Being a dark bay, Bolashak does not show the dirt and only needed a thorough brush to tidy him up.

Harry had a stable while Zorbee (with New Zealand rug to keep him clean overnight) and Bolashak settled down happily in the small paddock I preferred for them, complete with visiting suburban foxes.
The 'team' were kindly accomodated in staff lodgings.

I would like to extend my grateful thanks to all those who hosted us on the way to London.  We thoroughly appreciated all the overwhelming kindness and warm hospitality we received en route, and for me it was a wonderful way to round off the ride and fully enjoy the final stage after what has at times been a very rigorous and challenging venture.   Many many thanks!!!


Newhaven to London. Part One

There was great excitement on July 5th when I went to fetch my Chinese team member Peng Wenchao from Heathrow airport on his first trip abroad - having been with us on the first leg, he was to join us on the last leg of the journey.   We were joined later by Harry Tse of horseball China, who has provided so much invaluable support to the ride, and his son Jeremy who was going to be part of the team on the final stage.   After a day sightseeing in London we all drove down to Wales for a few days preparation - Harry, Peng and Jeremy cleared out and spring-cleaned the lorry and even painted the living area!
Friday 13th July was perhaps not the most auspicious date to set off on the journey to Newhaven with the two horses Zorbee and Bolashak.  But we arrived without setback at our overnight stop at Swanborough Farm  to find Rowena knocking back the wine with host Will Greenwood. Many thanks for all your help, Will!
We were short of a mount for the three of us, and as a Welsh pony breeder who has tried to use native breeds where possible on the ride, I had been keen to include a Welsh breed on this last push.  When I contacted Angela Kember of the Southeast Welsh Pony and Cob Association at the last minute, to my delight she immediately suggested her own Welsh cob gelding Danaway Black Harry. And in spite of her busy schedule she duly turned up that evening with trailer and Harry.  He spent the night in the yard, Zorbee and Bolashak had a large grassy field and Rowena and I kipped down in the stables in our sleeping bags.
We were up bright and early the next morning when Mike arrived to box Zorbee down to Newhaven ferry port for photo session and start.  Then it was off along the cliff top path and up bridleways over the hills to meet Peng and Rowena on Bolashak and Harry at a prearranged venue on the South Downs Way.  Here is Rowena on board our new team member Danaway Black Harry.

It was a breezy day's ride along the South Downs, and we were glad of Peng who acted the true gentleman in opening all the many gates!  We even managed a bacon butty break at an opportune burger van in a layby at a busy road crossing to the great entertainment of burger lady and customers alike. Our next stopover at Plumpton College, where the horses were treated to large comfortable loose boxes. And as it was Rowena's birthday, myself and the 'boys' (Peng, Mike and Jeremy) were treated to a suberb candlelit dinner at a very cosy pub down the road.  A bit more sophisticated (though not any more tasty) than the fare produced by Rowena 12 months ago of hash concocted from tins over a camp fire on the Kazakh steppe!
The next day it was another glorious day along the South Downs Way...

 .... passing the Devil's Punchbowl, and stopping for a pub lunch before making our way down the escarpment and out across the Weald to the Royal Leisure Centre at Henfield
We had a tremendous welcome here from Emily Talbot.  Not only were we treated to a curry in the evening, but a guided tour of Hickstead the next morning when we had our photos taken under the infamous Derby Bank!
A damp morning the following day and we were directed via a back route onto the Downs Link Way, which links the South and North Downs Ways via an abandoned railway line.  We were joined for the day by Cheryl Hillman on her super little Section B gelding Llanarth Grenade......
I was delighted to have a Welsh pony along, and even more pleased when they raised £125 for our beneficiary charity ChallengeAid!
Horsham was our next stop, and we were hosted by the Bridge House Equestrian Centre  . Rowena and I slept in one of the classrooms, and a priceless evening's entertaiment was provided by the beginner's agility dog classes being held in the indoor school!
While in Kazakhstan, Bolashak was ridden by a little Dutch girl Emma van Klooster, who fell in love with him.  The Van Klooster family were back on holiday in Holland this summer, and came over to support us for the last few days to London. So on the following day (Tuesday 17th July) Emma took over the ride on Bolashak along the next section of the Downs Link ..

 ..... to the Albury Equestrian Centre  where we were being put up for the night, courtesy of Caroline Xuereb.
The centre were aware we were bringing a stallion, and in evident expectation of some rampaging beast, had asked us to stable him. When Welsh cob Harry was turned out in a paddock and strutted his stuff, we were politely reminded of this request - they were a bit taken aback when we pointed out that the stallion was the one with the little twelve year old girl!
Group at Albury Equestrian Centre.  Mike seems to have grabbed centre stage.  Fifth team member Jeremy Tse is between me and Peng.

Thursday, 12 July 2012


I would  like to remind everyone that one of the main aims of this ride is to support an outstanding charitable cause, namely helping to further the education of disadvantaged children, giving them greater opportunity in life to help themselves. The charity is now under the new name of
Please check it out and support me on the last leg of my challenge by donating to my page at

See previous post relating to the work of the charity at
and an afterthought at


Newhaven to Greenwich Itinerary

For the last three weeks, I have madly been sorting out the route from Newhaven to Greenwich including overnight stops, and am most grateful to the following stables who have been able to accommodate the horses. The itinerary below gives an idea of where we will be if you would like to come and meet us en route.

1.       Saturday July 14th. Newhaven to Plumpton
            Ride to Plumpton Agricultural College. Ditchling, BN7 3AE.    Tel: 01273 8904542.      
        2. Sunday July 15th. Plumpton to Henfield
             Royal Leisure Centre, Horn Lane, Henfield.
3.       Monday July 16th.  Henfield to Horsham
Bridge House Equestrian Centre, Five Oaks Rd, RH13 QW
4.       Tuesday July 17th.  Horsham to Guildford
Albury Equestrian Centre, Ponds Fm, Shere, GU59JL     
5.       Wednesday July 18th .  Guilford to Tadworth
Wildwoods Riding Centre. KT20 5BH.
    6.       Thursday July 19th.  Tadworth  to Westerham
Farchynys Stud, Westerham, Kent,TN16 1SH.  
    7.       Friday July 20th Warlingham /Marden Park to Chelsfield/Orpington
             Chelsfield Equestrian Centre, Chelsfield, BR6 7SN. 
   8.       Saturday July 21st  Chelsfield to Mount Mascal
Mount Mascal Stables, Vicarage Rd, Bexley, Kent, DA5 2AW

The plan was for an arrival reception on Monday 23rd July organised by HOOF London and held at an Olympic Legacy Project site in Shooter's Hill, but unfortunately Greenwich council refused permission for the event (presumably for Health and Safety reasons as it is still being built).  Very disappointing for everyone involved, but it does not affect my ultimate aim of reaching Greenwich.
I am already taking part in the Bexley torch celebrations at Danson Park on Sunday 22nd July, so I will probably ride down to Greenwich Park beforehand to complete the journey.

The Olympic equestrian events finish on August 8th, and on August 9th I will set out across London, visiting selected Equestrian centres before continuing back to Wales. So if you live in the areas I am passing through, watch out for me.  More details on this in due course.


June 15th.
It was nice to have a day off before my final day's riding in France, the more so because it gave me a chance to look at Anais's Welsh ponies, including a little gelding Cwrtycadno Rhys which I bred and sold to France as a youngster.  Here he is with Anais..
 A dawn start the following morning, and Anais's Welsh pony stallion Cadlan Valley Pirate comes to the gate to see us off..
Through the Foret D'Eawy not too far from Val Ygot..
which was a V-1 flying bomb launch site in World War II.  Fortunately the site was disabled in 1943 before completion, but the Germans went on to launch 'doodlebugs' against Britain from other sites from June 1944 until October 1944 when the last site within range of Britain was overrun.  Even during this short period the bombs caused great loss of life and injury, more than 6000 Londoners being killed by V-1 bombs.
I had hoped to visit the site en route through the forest, but somehow missed it.

At Freuville I was able to join the Avenue Verte..
This is a 250 mile London-Paris cycle path running from the London Eye to the Notre Dame via the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry.  There did not seem to be problem taking a horse along it, and in fact there was even a farrier right beside the track at Dampierre Saint Nicholas!

Zorbee looks thankful to have passed his final test on the GRP above St Aubin-le-cauf...
 ...a narrow path across a field between two strands of barbed wire.  I just prayed some skittish bullocks would not appear when I was halfway across!

and finally I reach the English Channel, (or should I say La Manche as we are on the French side!) to successfully complete the coast to coast crossing of Eurasia over three and half years after I began on the Chinese coast in 2008!  As far as I am aware, I am the first person to do this - but perhaps you know different?  You can just see Dieppe in the background.
But no flag waving crowds or brass bands there to greet us - only a rather bemused pair of swimmers on a damp day.

Zorbee had been a little reluctant to load when I initially collected him, but Mike and I had given him a few last minute loading lessons in the week up to our arrival in Dieppe, and he walked onto the lorry with no hesitation.     Then it was back to friend Ingrid Delaitre's to rejoin Zahira - the Shagya mare I had brought from Hungary.  Many thanks Ingrid for looking after her so well while I was riding across France!
A couple of days later all the horses (Zorbee, Zahira, Bolly) loaded quietly onto the lorry for the ferry to Newhaven.

Through Upper Normandy

June 13th
We were now in Upper Normandy, and one thing I noticed was the increasing presence of fences and hedgerows, which had been noticeably absent almost all the way from Beijing. Almost like home!  I was able to follow a Grand Randonnee de Pays virtually all the way to my day's destination of Saint Saens, but the route was sometimes a bit challenging... 
The route markings for the GRP were often faded....(yes it is on the tree trunk and just as well I am a good map reader)....
...and the paths overgrown.....
..we had to negotiate narrow foot bridges.....
 ..and long dark railway tunnels..
But Zorbee is nothing if not a trooper, and tackled everything with aplomb.

And yes he did manage to squeeze through that narrow gap, though it was only later that I realised we were not on the Grand Randonnee!.....

The scarecrows seem much more homely here in Normandy - this one is just back from a shopping trip to Aldi's....
I thought I had a grey horse, but to my surprise I discover it is skewbald....
....Zorbee settles down to eat after a good roll at the Saint Saens stables of yet another fellow Welsh pony breeder Anais Lefebre..

A Candlestick Oak

June 10th
Arriving mid-morning in the village of La Neuville-en-Hez on the GR124,  Zorbee was able to quench his thirst at La Fontaine Saint Louis...
This spring was named after King Louis IX of France who was born here according to legend - other sources state he was born elsewhere, though he certainly often stayed at the castle here.  The Saint Louis moniker is due to the fact that he was the only canonised King of France.  He died in 1270 during the Eighth Crusade - not a glorious death on the battlefield, but rather ignominiously of dysentery in Tunisia.

From here we plunged into another former royal forest - this time the Foret de Hez-Froidmont which is a designated Area of Natural Interest for Flora and Fauna.
One unique natural landmark in the forest is La Chene Chandelier, or Candlestick Oak, so named due to its triple branching trunk which resembles a three branched candlestick
 Orme Lisse, European White Elm or Ulmus Laevis to give its Latin name, is relatively rare in France but also grows in the forest.  I assume the tree behind the little explanatory signboard about Orme Lisse in the photo below is a living example.
...but as it is now a protected species in France, I also assume the logs in the background are not examples.
Leaving the forest at on the other side I came across this ancient wall..
It turned out to be the old wall surrounding the remains of the Cistercian Froidmont Abbey which was destroyed during the French Revolution.  Founded in 1134 by Abbott Valeran of Ourscamp, the religious buildings have all gone, and all that remains is the wall and a few agricultural buildings which survive in various states of repair -the ruins of the barn are now a listed historic monument.  Incredible to think that at one time the abbey farm was so thriving that in 1230 it reportedly sold 7000 sheep fleeces!
Among those buried at Froidmont was Geoffrey II de Charny, whose family owned the Turin shroud .
A cat in the manger.......
..but Zorbee is more interested in the perky model horse.
Riding to Avesnes-en-Bray on June 11th , Zorbee waits patiently for me to take a photo in a field at Les Boulards near Bouchevilliers.
 A tight squeeze on a GRP (Grand Randonnee de Pays) near Neuf Marche. 
As mentioned before, GRP are not always so well maintained as GR and can be quite overgrown in places.

Zorbee admires the view over lowlands at Avesnes-en-Bray..
...where we were staying overnight at the lovely old French farm of fellow Welsh pony breeder Marie Hindie - we were now in Upper Normandy!

Picturesque Picardy

June 9th 
Setting off on a beautiful June morning near Grandfresnoy.  I always lead my horse for the first kilometre or so.
 The day was spent travelling through glorious Picardy countryside, along woodland paths...
and across open fields ..this was on the GR124 near Choisy-le-Victoire...

 A closed off section of railway line  on the GR124 near Epineuse, happily not an obstacle for a horse....

View across poppy fields towards Erquery..

 ...which is where we were staying at the St Ladre Stables  courtesy of Jean Erquery.
Mike gets stuck in mucking out the back of the lorry...
..which besides carrying Bolashak, doubles up as a bedroom..
 Jean outside his pretty French house...

Going Batty

June 8th.
After a night camped in the middle of the Foret de Retz, I set off again along a woodland ride.  But what on earth was the significance of the top symbol on the first sign I came to?
All became clear when a few miles further on I came to this charming little forester's cottage on the Route du Faite above Bonneuil-en-Valois which was not all it seemed to be  ...
 ....On closer inspection it turned out to be a nursery for horseshoe bats, which take up residence from May to August to give birth and raise their offspring.
The female usually has one pup which will be independent within six to seven weeks.  During winter the bats hibernate in dark places such as caves, mines and cellars..
From the Foret de Retz I rode across a couple of miles of farmland to enter the Foret de Compeigne, another large forest and former royal hunting ground. Like the Foret de Retz, it is criss-crossed with wide rides and trails.   Main intersections are marked by unique vintage signposts such as this Carrel Girardin looking towards Compeigne in the far distance ..... 
Before the days of Satnav it appears French royalty were continually getting lost in the thick forest. This included the future Philip II of France who nearly came to grief in its depths as a young teenager. So in 1852 these signposts (designed by Jean-Jacques Maire Huv) were commissioned and erected.   In spite of this the empress Eugenie still managed to get lost on a stroll in the woods, so Napoleon III had red lines marked on them to indicate the direction of the Chateau de Compiegne.  
With maps and signposts I happily had no such problems with navigation, and the signs were conveniently designed to be at the height of a person on horseback!    I was also able to follow the well marked GR124...
The Foret de Compiegne is also notable as the location of the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany which ended World War I. This took place on November 11th 1918 near the little village of Rethondes, deep in the forest but away from my more southerly route.
Crossing the Oise at Lacroix-St-Ouen....
I will have to come back nearer Christmas time - huge clumps of mistletoe on trees near Armancourt..
Evening rain clouds near Grandfresnoy.......
..where we made camp near a field of barley...