If you give Brenda Wickham a map she can find a riding route across it. She had drawn a possible route from the Sabrina way into Wales. From East to West, it would start at Bromyard and go through to Brecon. The new route would span “Gods own Country” (Herefordshire) and go into the Black Mountains. On the way it would crossed three rivers, the Lugg, the Wye and the Usk and would be known as the “Three Rivers Ride” – a new Regional Route. To check its viability she wanted an “average rider” to ride the whole route.
This challenge was all I needed – an excuse to go off on my horse for three weeks and possibly have an adventure. The first thing I had to do was to persuade a friend to come with me. Then “we” decided to go at the end of April/beginning of May. (Perfect riding weather as it turned out.) We would ride for three days, rest the horses for three, ride for four, another three days rest and then take however long it took to finish. I had all winter to find and book suitable accommodation – we decided early on that we did not want to “rough” it with tents, pack horses and cooking on camping gaz.
We decided to start in Wales and travel West to East ie head for home (the Thames Valley). Our horses were fit but not “Wales” fit and so to start we would only attempt 8 – 10 miles each day and build up gradually. Arranging accommodation in Wales was no problem at all. I rang the tourist boards at the local big towns and they sent me their brochure. In the National Park it was easy to find accommodation for us and the horses – trekking is understood and welcomed. There were four of us now and thankfully, at the last moment, five. All female, average age somewhere in the 50s, Alison, Julie-Anne, Shirley, Judith and Valerie. Valerie volunteered to drive the car with our cases, New Zealands, feed etc.
We had booked a luxury horsebox to take the horses to Libanus – at least we were able to arrive in style. With the horses bedded down in stables for the night, we went to the Pub and our comfortable B & B. Although the route the next day to Cantref had quite a few roads we did not met a car once! That night we had hostel accommodation and the horses were in a field together for the first time. No problems with the horses but among the humans we found out who did the snoring (that was going to affect the room allocations form now on).
The next day we climbed the Allt and took the high road with views of the Usk valley on one side and Langorse Lake on the other – absolutely amazing. That night we stayed on a farm at Bwlch – a proper farm, with cows, silage, and comfy beds. Our third day took us over yet more mountains of heath and unbelievable views. We just had to stop every ten minutes to say “Wow”. The tracks were clearly marked and well used – thanks I think mainly to the local trekking centres who not only keep the bridlepaths open, but have also established new safe routes alongside main roads. We left the horses for the weekend at Cwmfforest and went home to our families on Thursday night.
We returned and set off again on the Bank Holiday Monday. We headed towards Lord Herefords Knob – one of the more scenic spots in the British Isles. Did we met anyone? Well, yes, four cyclists towards the end of the afternoon, but where was everyone else? The next day it was the same story but this time the only person we met was the Ice Cream man in the Car Park on Hay Bluff. He said he had had a busy day the day on the bank holiday but we were his first customers that day – at lunch time. After our cornets we rode up Cefn Hill – Wales to our left – England. We were on top of the world ! And , so, our heads still in the clouds, we rode into foreign land, England. Immediately we lost the route. At first there was no sign, then there was one pointing into a garden and under a washing line. The sheep were replaced by cows in the fields, the tracks seemed unused and the gateways were overgrown.
This was all forgotten in the pub that evening and after a hearty breakfast we set of the next day in good spirits. However no sooner were we out of Dorstone than we found the overgrown bridle path was totally blocked. Not wanting to get scratched anymore we took down the wire into the field and went up to the farm house. The farmer was on his tractor. “Blocked, is it? You had better go back then” was his immediately response. I told him that I was meeting a journalist at 12.30 and it would such be a pity if I had to explain why I was late. He then he capitulated , let us use his driveway to the road and whispered “You won’t let on, will you?” Later we found out why we had so many problems. “Bridle paths”, we were told with a sneer “we don’t use them, we ride over each others land”. It had been difficult to find accommodation in Herefordshire for the horses. Now I knew why. Hacking, Trekking, using bridlepaths is not what the local horseowners do. This was hunting country.
After the breath-taking view of the Wye valley we rode through the Bulmer orchards which were in full bloom. When we got to Tellington, north of Hereford, our second week was up and sadly Shirley and Judith had to take their horses back home. Julie-Anne and I decided to press on with the last stretch starting the following Monday. By now we were covering about 12 miles a day and it was getting flatter – four days, we thought, and tried to make arrangements. It should have been easier for two to find accommodation but even so, we had to stay with one lovely lady for three days. We also had to find a field on the route for the horses. We made these arrangements by going around in the car looking for fields and then findAnne and I decided to press on with the last stretch starting the following Monday. By now we were covering about 12 miles a day and it was getting flatter – four days, we thought, and tried to make arrangements. It should have been easier for two to find accommodation but even so, we had to stay with one lovely lady for three days. We also had to find a field on the route for the horses. We made these arrangements by going around in the car looking for fields and then finding the farm-house. (the rate for one night’s grazing for our horses always seemed to be £5 each). The route remained difficult to follow but well worth the effort. One of the biggest problems was that although we were using the 1.2500 maps, hedgerows have gone and with no path or hedgerow we had to navigate through crops. It was more like orienteering, but as Julie-Anne and I do “TREC” we saw it as good practice. Again, we did not meet anyone, certainly not on horseback, no cyclists, no walkers, no one. Not much habitation either just wonderful rolling hills with secret valleys..
We got to Bromyard on the third day and checked out the join with the Sabrina Way on the fourth. There we met a man who ran a Riding Centre. It is encouraging to think that his young riders will be able to use these routes. Herefordshire County Council are most supportive of the BHS initiative and I cannot recommend a riding holiday on these new routes too highly. The total cost for the 3 weeks was £560 each. That included all accommodation for ourselves and the horses, big big English breakfasts, picnic lunch, evening meals with wine and our petrol. And, we did not have to find someone to look after our horses at home. Our horses loved it, our riding improved, we returned fit and well and, like all good travellers, with many a tale to tell.