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Donkeys of Morocco

20 Aug

Once you stop thinking of Mirleft in terms of streets, and start thinking of it as a desert on which groups of houses are scattered like nomadic tents, you stop feeling lost. You just drive or trot across the open areas from one stretch of track to the next.

The roads being what they are, donkeys are a common mode of transport in Morocco. Some pull carts behind them. Others trot along with clusters of small children on their backs. Others carry panniers or impossibly large stacks of harvested greenery.

I took a lot of photos through our sand-encrusted windscreen during our road trip.

The first time I saw this foal, she was assisting two adults in emptying a bin of its contents and strewing them between the buildings of Mirleft, eating anything tasty that she came across.

The following day, she was tethered to a rock. She was none too happy about it.

There was no food, water or shade nearby – but then, there never is. Even when untethered, the donkeys don’t appear to seek shade, and like the sheep and goats of the area, seem entirely capable of obtaining nutrition from the barren soil.

Up on a clifftop overlooking Aftas Beach is the shell of a disused house. I found a donkey here too – can you spot it?

That’s not a homeless person lying there. The Moroccan climate is such that it is often more comfortable to sleep outside than in, and it is common to see people settling down any old where to snooze away their hours of Ramadan deprivation.

Geocaching, and an Angry Farmer

19 Apr

The skies are blue, the sun is warm, the plum trees are blossoming and our lawn is aglow with daffodils. Bunty and I decided to take advantage of this luscious spring weather and do a spot of geocaching. Geocaching is a sort of permanent treasure-hunt with GPS devices, and Bunty had spotted a cache on the map within walking distance of our cottage.

It was at the edge of the woods at the far side of two fields. We set off, with a mobile phone to guide us. Some highland cattle gazed at us from a nearby meadow.

Climbing up the rise, we tried to get our bearings, but the phone was failing to connect.  As Bunty tried in consternation to make it work, a small horse came over in that way that people do when they’re all geared up to offer advice about something they know nothing about.

Unsurprisingly, we got little sense out of her, and decided to just keep going and hope to find the geocache by blind luck. What we found instead was an angry farmer.

He came striding across the field in a black suit and tie as though he had just been to a funeral. I gave him a friendly wave.

“Can I ask what ye think ye’re doin’?” he said.

“There’s a geocache here somewhere,” I smiled. “Do you know where it is?”

This seemed to throw him.

“Have you heard of geocaching?” I asked, getting all ready to explain.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s up thataways.” He waved vaguely at the woods beyond his field.

“And can I just say…,” he added, “ye cannae just go wandering aroond here withoot permission. This is a working farm.”

“I see,” I said. I didn’t really see. Bunty and I had grown up on and around working farms; people taking walks through the fields was a normal occurrence. My family’s farm in Wales contains a standing stone that is very popular with hippies, who can sometimes be seen dancing naked around it at Midsummer, because we told them you can get money that way. We wouldn’t think to go stomping over to tell them to sod off. As for Scotland, there are no laws on trespass here, and people have the right to roam.

I asked politely, “so next time we want to come this way, shall we come and ask you first?”

“Tae be perfectly honest with ye, I’d rather ye didnae come this way at all,” replied the farmer. He was bristling, but clearly uncomfortable with confrontation, falling back on extreme politeness to express his rage. Still, he managed to work up some steam.

“It’s rude,” he said. “If someone came intae your garden, especially with cameras, ye’d want them oot, wouldn’t ye?”

I didn’t want to cause bad feelings with a neighbour, so I just said yes. I pointed out our cottage to him, and the route we had taken from it. I emphasised the care we had taken to adhere to the Countryside Code, which he didn’t seem to have heard of – is that just a Welsh thing? I reassured him that we hadn’t hassled or fed any of his animals and had merely stroked his ponies over the gate.

“It’s just rude,” he said.

I promised that we wouldn’t walk on his [precious] fields again, except to go home. He politely retorted that we had no reason to go home that way, and could take the long way round. So I explained that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and can’t walk that far.

“Ye should’ve thought o’ that before ye came,” he said.

I had thought of it. In fact, I’d had it all planned out. I was later to learn that this comment had upset Bunty more than most of the things the farmer had said, and he has been brooding about the man’s “dickishness” ever since.

We entered the woods. There was no sign of a geocache.

It began to rain.

We made our way to the Wallace Monument car park and called a taxi.

Somewhere in that clump of trees, there is a geocache.

The William Wallace Horses

19 Jan

It was the calls of wild geese that summoned me into the frosty, woodsmoke-laden sunshine this morning. I wasn’t swift enough with my camera to capture them flying overhead, but then I spotted some horses grazing in the distance, under the Wallace Monument. (Or Mel Gibson Monument, as it has become.)

I donned my wellies and made off across the fields, crunching the ice in the tractor furrows, and nearly landing on my head in the mud when a gate I was climbing over turned out not to have a lower hinge.

This pony was the first to greet me. She was friendly and docile, and let me stroke her nose and neck.

This horse gives hoodie wearers a bad name. He approached me with speed and aggression, biting the white one on his way, and I was suddenly very conscious of his size and strength and general hoofiness.

I reminded myself that he must be used to having women in wellies taking charge, so I adopted my best Pony Club stance, and without backing down, I greeted him by clicking and blowing. He stuck his nose in my pocket and then began to eat my scarf.  I took that as a good sign, and patted him on the neck. He took it well.

I turned to look back at them as I climbed over their fence to head for home. They had already gone back to grazing, and appeared to have completely forgotten about me. That’s what happens, I suppose, when you don’t bring sugar lumps.