In July of 2012, during my solo trip to England, I had planned to spend my last day going on a ride in the Great Park in Windsor on horseback. As readers may or may not know (see “Giving England the Finger, the Only Way I Ever Would) this plan did not end, or even begin, well. I fell out of the horse lorry on the way to the park, the ultimate result of which was the amputation of my left ring finger.
The stable had graciously offered to refund my money, but I declined, saying, like a slightly diminished Terminator, that “I’ll be back.” And now, 14 months later, I was.
Ol’ P, himself not a horseman, for some reason felt that he ought to accompany me, at least until I got on the horse. After that, with trusty Great Park guidebook in hand, he would take himself off for a mosey around previously unexplored portions of the park and rejoin us equestrians at the end of the ride.
That’s the plan I verbalized, anyway. However, having been up well past my bedtime the night before, and having my reserves of energy drained by a thrilling charge to a train station, I didn’t discount the possibility of reclining under a tree and watching the clouds go by. After I got Elizabeth R out of the lorry, that is. We did not need a thrilling charge to the hospital today.
Upon arriving at the Tally-Ho Stables I was enfolded in a warm hug by Jenny, the stable manager who had stayed with me through much of the previous year’s unpleasantness. She had determined the safest way to transport me from the stable to Cranbourne Gate in the Great Park where the ride would begin. The ride leader, Julie, would drive the lorry, I would sit next to her, and Ol’ P would squeeze in next to the door to make sure I didn’t fall out again. That was the hard part – everything after that was gravy.
I met my mount at Cranbourne Gate, a lovely pinto mare named Tess. It did not escape my notice that Tess appeared to be quite a gentle and mellow lady.
The folks at the stable were taking no chances. As a friend of mine said, “I’m surprised they didn’t wrap you in bubble wrap.” Still, it felt wonderful to be on horseback again, even though to say I was rusty would be akin to saying that Obamacare was launched with only a tiny glitch.
With Elizabeth R safely out of the lorry, and now booted, helmeted and perched on her trusty steed, my role in this action piece was virtually over. All I had to do was find a way to occupy myself and arrive back at our rendezvous spot at the designated hour. That shouldn’t be difficult because I had both a watch and a map. Feeling quite confident, I set off to enter the Great Park via Cranbourne Gate.
We started off at a gentle trot, and I was relieved that I was able to remember how to “post” with a reasonable amount of coordination, although my muscles began to complain very quickly.
It was a small group, only three of us (did they want to keep a closer eye on me, perhaps?) and much of the ride was a pleasantly quiet walk along leafy bridle paths and unpaved country roads. We came upon a pair of enormous (for English red deer) multi pointed stags placidly grazing; they barely looked up, probably more aware of the 4 footed passersby and thus completely unconcerned. Julie noticed a large group of kites (avian, not toy) flying by, and then drew our attention to a flock of parakeets (parakeets? wild?) in a nearby tree. She told us that portions of “The African Queen” had been filmed at a nearby studio, and a few of the “African” parakeets had decided that England was a fine place to set up birdkeeping. I don’t know how many bird generations there are in 62 years, but the end result was substantial.
For a park that has a significant area open to the public, the Windsor Great Park abounds with wildlife. Early in my travels, I passed a flock of sheep grazing in the meadows north of me, and later on would see a herd of cattle in the other direction. It’s hard to comprehend such a pastoral setting so close to a major metropolitan area.
Every now and then we encountered a grassy field or a wide country lane, and Julie suggested we canter.
This had been my vision of a bucolic ride in the English countryside – half glorious, and half stark terror. It had been a long, long time since I had been aboard a cantering quadruped, and my seat, as they say in the equestrian biz, was not as secure as it should have been. Still, Tess took good care of me and, despite an ultimately very sore posterior, it was wonderful. I was even able to walk the next day. Gingerly.
Had I stayed on the road leading from Cranbourne Gate, I would have walked directly to the Copper Horse. Instead, I veered toward the Village, and made a closer inspection of that area than we were able to do on Monday’s march. Between inspections of the Isle of Wight Pond and a curious millstone monument on Queen Anne’s Ride,
My view and Ol’P’s view of the mysterious millstone monument
I managed to sneak another coffee/pastry stop at the Village Shop. Why not take advantage of the vacation rule that calories ingested while not in sight of one’s spouse don’t count.
Our ride lasted 2 wonderful hours, and I saw a few of the areas Ol’ P and I had traversed on two feet from a different, and higher, perspective. At one point we had to cross a road, and I was delighted to see there was a button to push to stop traffic. Unlike the little red and green people icons Ol’ P and I had become so dependent upon for self preservation in the land of wrong side driving, these icons were little red and green horses.
Equestrian Traffic Signals – the English are so precise!
We passed right behind the copper horse statue at the end of the Long Walk – there we were, George III and me, both on horseback.
And we walked right by Prince Edward’s house; by right by, of course, I mean we could just see it way, way off in the distance. Still, it was Royalty. England and horses – the best of all possible worlds.
Having dawdled a little too long in the Village, I decided to walk to Snow Hill and the Copper Horse, cast a quick glance into Deepstrood, and then head back to the lorry. I do try to be punctual. Unfortunately, I also don’t like to waste time hanging around, so when I arrived back at Queen Anne’s Ride earlier than expected, I had a dilemma to deal with. I could continue the way I had come at the outset of my walk (and return earlier than scheduled), or I could set out in an uncharted course and attempt to return precisely on the hour. Of course, I chose the latter option because … I had a map!
Back at Cranbourne Gate, Jenny was waiting to make sure I successfully dismounted, which I did, stiffly but grinning.
I had expected Ol’ P to be waiting, too – he knew when we were due back. But he wasn’t. Knowing his sense of direction, I wasn’t exactly worried, but……..
I will admit that it finally happened. I got lost. I could blame my map and alibi that it did not precisely set out the area on the west side of A332, but that wouldn’t be fair. The real reason for my failure was that I sometimes interpret the English language too literally. It was easy for me to find the exact spot to exit Queen Anne’s Ride to allow me to pass by Russell’s Pond and between Fiddle Covert and Beehive Covert.
It was on the far side of A332 where the trail ran cold.
Trying to be resourceful, I prided myself in picking up the evidence of recent horse passage (no, I didn’t really pick up the evidence), but I soon came to gate that said “keep closed.” I interpreted this as meaning that the gate could never be opened, not that it must be closed after every time it is opened, and turned the opposite way. Within minutes I was lost among briars and brambles, and only the sound of traffic passing on A332 allowed me to bushwhack in that direction until I broke through the vegetation. Once safely by the road, I trekked alongside the concrete ribbon and finally made the rendezvous fifteen minutes late, dripping with sweat, and totally embarrassed. I had failed the fraternity of map carrying men.
Jenny, undoubtedly taking note of Ol’ P’s out of breath wheezing and my awkward attempts at walking normally, kindly offered to drive us back to the B&B. We gratefully accepted. All things considered, it was worth the 14 month wait, and I really don’t mind wearing my wedding ring on my right hand at all.