Sunday, November 22, 2015

Great Britain: The Long Trot - John o' Groats to Land's End!

The Long Trot by Grant Nicolle

13 November 2015

After eight years, I have just completed a book on my 2007 trip from John O’Groats to Lands’s End with horse Marv. This is the story, told in mostly diary format, of that adventure, in the hope that others may undertake similar travels.

My main riding experience was gained when I served as a Captain in the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, a ceremonial mounted unit of the Army, then based in St John’s Wood London.

After my time in the Army I moved to Edinburgh and in 2005 began work as a project manager in the construction industry. It was a time of transition in my personal life and career and I frequently reminisced about the exciting challenges experienced whilst in the Army. I still hankered after adventure and conceived the idea of a long distance journey in the UK by horse, trying to recreate the mostly forgotten experience of long distance travel pre 20th century. With my affinity with horses, passion for exploring new places and skills in logistical planning, I thought I had relevant skills to undertake the challenge of traversing the length of Britain with a horse.

With the decision to complete the trip made, I was lucky to obtain a 3 month sabbatical from work, as I was prepared to forgo my employment to complete the journey. Marv (a 16hh Clydesdale cross) was bought from a farm in East Lothian in the January and soon thereafter commenced the fitness training and logistical planning required. We set off from John O’Groats on the last day of April, as this was when it is thought to be warm enough to be able to travel without rugs for Marv but also early enough in the year to escape the dreaded midge when traversing the Highlands.

Keeping away from the main roads we explored the fascinating byways, tracks and minor roads through rural Scotland and England with me often sleeping in the same field as Marv. The generosity and genuine welcome received in every village we visited was uplifting. My Scottish highlights included: having to construct a makeshift enclosure next to a remote bothy in Sutherland; traversing stunning and remote Strath Vaich; the high level crossing of the Corrieyairack Pass from Fort Augustus to Laggan and cantering along a grassy former Roman Road (Dere Street) just south of Jedburgh deep into the Cheviots towards the border with England.

When passing through the industrial north of England, we utilised the canal towpaths where possible and also the newly created Pennine bridlepath. Later on, it was with good fortune that we managed to stay just ahead of the terrible flooding which hit the south of England that year, only needing to divert from their planned route once near Evesham.

We averaged no more than 20 miles a day with at least every Sunday taken as a day off. I rode Marv daily for a limited time in trot and canter (if the ground was suitable), also frequently dismounting and walking with Marv for longer periods each day. The rationale behind this was, riding Marv in walk would have been no faster, and by walking, the daily pressure on Marv’s back was substantially reduced. Marv would therefore be more likely to remain healthy for the duration and a sound Marv was paramount to the success of the trip.

Although the trip was not originally planned to be undertaken for charity, we did manage to raise £10,000, split between the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) and Cancer Research UK. Many donations were from people we met on the road.

This adventure was a great opportunity to test and combine my military endurance experience, navigational and equestrian training whilst also seeing parts of the country that so often get missed. With no back up or replacement horse, we arrived exactly on the planned completion date at Land’s End, some 1100 miles and just over 11 weeks later. I had purposefully planned a slightly longer route rather than a more direct one to ensure I could share the trip with friends and family.

Long Trot is available on Amazon here:

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