The best riding is to be had in the countryside. Not pootling around Hyde Park with untrained lapdogs snapping at your heels, because they’ve had all intelligence bred out of them and think chasing a horse’s tail will have no skull-crushing consequences. Not going round and round in circles in a sand-school with ten other grumpy ponies trotting nose to tail. You can do what you want in the countryside.
My friend with horses, Hannah, decided it was high-time we went on a good three hour hack, and whispered The Water Meadows to me, like we were going to Shangri-La. For most people, this would sound crap I’m sure. A watery field would mean only surprisingly deep and unpleasantly freezing water pouring over the top of your gumboots, mud sucking off your shoes, and generally ruining any nice clothes you foolishly decided to wear. With horses, however, this means riding through water, and this is just about the most fun you can have on a horse.
Hannah and Padraig in the middle of a river (he is over 17hh, to give you an idea of how deep it is.)
Going very, very fast is also fun, jumping is of course fun, but if you consider the ratio of difficulty/ danger to pleasure, plain old riding through water is just as good. Something happens to a horse’s gait when they move through water. The extra energy they have to put into moving is transferred through the saddle and into you, and you get an extra bounce. Not the sort that propels you from the saddle or rattles your bones either, but the sort that makes it feel like you’re riding a dinosaur that’s running. You can also very often see them thinking ‘seriously? You want me to do what?’ Are you completely insane?’ which is very, very funny. Then they get in and realise how much fun it is, and you’re off.
River ponies. Me on Sampson, and Amy on Freckles. I wish I knew what Sampson was thinking here… caption suggestions are welcome.
The river here has swollen with flood water, and is now even deeper and much wider than usual. Riding through flood-water is particularly exciting, as the landscape has temporarily changed. Solid ground has suddenly become water, and wading through it on horseback feels like you’re exploring new territory. You can tell that the horses find it interesting as well – they’ll snort at it with their ears pricked up, and plunge forward once they’re sure they’re not going to be attacked by water demons.
Sampson looking particularly disgruntled here. Shortly afterwards Amy made it to the far bank, but Freckles, presumably fearing he would be left behind (though this isn’t really logical as Hannah and I were chatting in the middle, completely stationary, so goodness knows what he was really up to), made a run for it and galloped back through the river at top speed. Amy was completely drenched but managed to stay on, luckily, as we were laughing too hard to fish her out.
Despite being a bit wet, quite muddy, and smelling distinctly of horses, Hannah had suggested we do something a bit different in the afternoon. We popped back to my flat to de-horse, and jumped in a taxi to the Renaissance Hotel. We had cocktails here for my Birthday, but they’re currently serving a Brontë-themed afternoon tea, so we thought we’d check it out and make an attempt at being ladylike for a change.
Billed as the ultimate Yorkshire Afternoon Tea, it is designed as a tribute to the famous writing sisters. We started with finger sandwiches, of course, which included a Wensleydale and pickle option in honour of the Brontës’ love of the Lake District. These were lovely, though we could have done with more sandwiches and fewer cakes to be honest. We then moved on to Yorkshire puddings with mash and gravy, in lieu of the traditional scones, as often cooked by Emily Brontë (apparently). Hannah said these were excellent, though as they contained beef (not made clear on the menu) I had to take her word for it. It was a nice touch though, and made for a more interesting afternoon tea than the usual insipid affair that some hotels try to pass off.
Alongside these were delicious mouthfuls of pistachio cream, and then we moved onto the wonderful cake selection. A mouthful of Yorkshire Parkin (from an original recipe devised by the Brontë ’s faithful servant Tabby), Pontefract liquorice and chocolate cupcakes, some sort of mini tart thingy, and a Rhubarb Eton Mess which was definitely my favourite.
Here’s me (accidentally looking sulky – I promise I was enjoying myself immensely) wearing an Alice Temperley shawl.
Hannah looking all fresh-faced and innocent (don’t believe it) wearing Hobbs.
We also went for the Victorian gin cocktails, aptly titled Bramwell’s Ruin (Brontë brother Bramwell was an alcoholic) which were served in lovely 1920s coupe glasses. They were made from gin, sloe gin, orange bitters, rhubarb bitters I think, and… more alcohol. It was delicious, but very, very strong.
Tom and I haven’t had a proper holiday for months, as even over Christmas we ended up having to work most days (emailing and organising tutors and clients on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve etc). As the first proper day of our two week holiday therefore, horses and afternoon tea made a wonderful start, so thank you Hannah for suggesting it!
You might also like: