In England, they’re pretty clear about their directions. After reluctantly leaving Scotland, which we have fallen in love with, we headed through The North, via my niece’s fairy tale wedding and a lovely family visit in The Middle, via Ilze’s Chocolat‘s home factory for a delicious lunch, all the way down to The South. My word, the traffic! They don’t call it a traffic jam over here, maybe with good reason. At one stage we were stuck standing still in a queue for an hour on a Sunday afternoon!
After doing a bit of “maze driving” – getting lost in the high hedged super-narrow country lanes – we arrived at Phil and Angela Dallyn’s beautiful farm Bulleigh Park near Ipplepen in Devon. They have won countless awards, more so for their cattle and sheep, but also for their BnB operation. They seem to do things right – for example in the folder you receive is a great environmental policy. They were really helpful when we arrived very late on a Sunday night to find an open restaurant for us. But other than a few tales about chickens and foxes, breeds of cows and a few other interesting discussions at the breakfast table, partly due to our busy schedule, we weren’t much exposed to the farm operations.
On two of the days we were down in Devon, we went to visit the Dartmoor national park.
On the first day we went on a walkabout among the “tors” and moors. The Dartmoor tors were formed about 280 million years ago as the granite forming Dartmoor cooled and solidified from molten rock at a temperature of 900 – 1000˚C. The minerals which make up granite crystallised as closely interlocking grains forming the hard rock.
In addition to the scenery, the tors, the fauna and flora, the most amazing for us were the Dartmoor ponies. It’s a small breed of pony, only 12.2 hands (1.24m) high, but they are amazingly cute. Mmm… I sense a common theme developing through this trip. The ponies are actually very hardy and thrive on Dartmoor despite the harsh winter weather and nutrient-poor vegetation. In fact, by grazing the moor they play a vital role in maintaining a variety of habitats that support the wildlife. They have been here a long time, hoof prints found on Dartmoor during an archaeological dig were found to be 3,500 yrs old! Written records of ponies on the moor go back as far as AD1012, and in the mid 1800s the ponies were used to transport granite from the moorland quarries.
On our second visit to the park, we went horse-riding at Babeny stables right in the heart of the park. You actually have to know how to find the place, the GPS (sat-nav as it’s called here) can’t quite seem to get the little lanes right. What a beautiful place in the rolling moors! What beautiful horses they have!
After overcoming her initial fears, Micaela was assigned a beautiful darling of a pure Dartmoor pony and Markus ended up on a Dartmoor–cross pony that gave his little rider a run for it in attitude – oops, I mean character.
Our guide, Brittney, was so good with the kids – with all of us in fact – before and during the ride. Both Patricia and I were on experienced trail horses – very responsive, very sure-footed over the very rough terrain, just amazing animals. We went for a gorgeous out-ride right up to the top the hills – breathtaking views, and with two cantering sections through a bit more even grassy sections (but still quite rough compared to what we were used to).
On the way back we encountered a large herd of the wild ponies – it was so interesting to see the interaction between the different horses. The little wild fillies were so interested, they literally came up right next to us. What an amazing morning!
The sad part of the story though, is that Babeny stables are stopping their public riding program in September this year. With the steep liability insurances they have to pay, it just isn’t affordable to run it any more. They will still continue offer a livery service to local horse owners, but it’s such a pity that red tape like liability insurance is forcing them to terminate such an amazing experience (they’re second stables in the area to be closing). Why can’t people just take responsibility for themselves? My goodness, if I do something stupid, or my horse gets frightened by something in nature, it’s not the guide’s fault! I’d be too embarrassed to sue the stables. On an out ride, it’s not even on their property… Grrrrrr.
During our travels we also stopped at Downhouse, a lovely tea shop run on a 300 acre organic farm, which also offer glamping facilities. Amazing setting, scrumptious cream tea!
Anyway, what we learnt on this leg of our trip, is that two aspects of agritourism, namely bed and breakfast accommodation and riding experiences are not for the faint of heart. They are both very hard work, and also both very costly to run – due to the insurances and licences and infrastructure and services required. We would really have to think carefully if we want to include any of these in our future plans. But man, I’d love to have horses, as well as other farm animals, somewhere in the picture.