A Buswoman’s Holiday

When I was little I exasperated my parents and teachers by being able to find a horsey angle for every last thing. Eventually I (largely) outgrew that habit until I started writing the pony book (which appears to be called Horsedrawn just now), but sometimes these equi-cryptic meanings are just lying there, waiting to be seen. This weekend I got back from the UK and a holiday in the north west Highlands with Mum and Dad. I don’t think Mum could have known that the holiday cottage she chose was positively riven with horsey ley lines.

Here, give or take fifty yards and a stone wall, is the view from my bedroom window:

The cottage is part of the Duke of Westminter’s Reay Forest Estate and bang nextdoor to the gamekeeper’s house. His home paddock was occupied by one of eight Highland ponies kept to bring the bodies of hunted deer back off the mountains and moors on shoots, and this rather fine grey mare had a one-month-old dun colt at her side. He was curious, but not hugely brave. I wonder if they show them?

Opposite their field was this –

– a round barrow tomb (in foreground) which of course turned my Jinny-and-Finmory-primed brain to thoughts of the ancient Celtic Pony People who wander in and out of Patricia Leith’s books. I’m a subscriber to the archaeologist David Anthony’s theory that the cultures which first domesticated on the horse on the Eurasian steppes brought their language (proto-Indo European) and its later variations and their burial culture as far west as Scotland and Ireland. So that was good.

And THEN, when you looked in the opposite direction, you saw these hills:

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Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack.(I couldn’t get them all into a photo but here’s a single shot which shows them more clearly. Sadly I am not yet the mistress of the slideshow function, so the other photos in the post are in there too. Ho hum.)

Yep, aren’t those names familiar? The Grand National’s cheekiest winner (Foinaven), the greatest chaser of all time (Arkle) and the Cotswold Chase and National Hunt Champion Chase winner Ben Stack were all owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, stepmother of the current duke. There’s a wonderful obituary of her here, at the Telegraph.

Here’s a nice patriotic Irish song about “Himself”

And a link to colour footage of Foinaven’s infamous Grand National.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. Enjoyed this :) In the early days of my marriage my husband always accused me of finding a horsy angle to every trip, too–I recall saying “no way, do not” and immediately afterward when we arrived on Ocracoke Island off the coast of N. Carolina coast we rang bang up against signs telling us where we could go see a herd of feral ponies supposedly left behind by pirates centuries ago. (Which was particularly funny as we’d just left Assateague and its famous Chincoteague ponies, and my husband, who’s British, asked, “Does every state have a resident herd of feral pirate ponies?”

    Now that I have a horsy kid coming along on trips, of course, the equine angle is without a doubt enforced at all times.

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