Tag Archives: horses

One Night in the Sahara

20 Aug

“Thief, thief! Someone has stolen my camel!” cried Nasrudin.

Finally after the commotion was quietened someone observed, “But Nasrudin, you have no camel.”

“Shhh…” said Nasrudin, “I am hoping the thief is unaware of this and the camel will be returned.”

This is my camel, eating my hat. Her name is Nasruda, and when I say she’s my camel, I mean she was my camel for one morning. I would gladly have taken her with me when we left, but Ali the camel man might have noticed me trying to cram her into the car.

I can’t remember what Bunty’s camel was called.

We were guided into the desert south of a busy little town called Tagounite. The sun hung like a huge peach, and one could look directly at it through the haze of dust. We tried to photograph it dipping behind the dunes, but night falls quickly here, and by the time we had stopped the car and pulled out our cameras, it was nothing but a glow, and the stars were coming out.

As we waited for our evening meal of tajine, a casserole baked in clay pots, everyone gathered on rugs and cushions outside the tents for a jamming session. Daouad, in the blue djellaba, told me they do this every night.

There was a group of Eastern Europeans staying there too, speaking a language we couldn’t identify. When the Berbers had finished singing, they handed over their guitar and drums, and the Eastern Europeans played and sang gypsy songs from their own country.

What else do the Berbers do to while away their time in the desert, you might ask. They might play on the internet, that’s what.

Bunty and I turned in early, because we were to be rising at dawn to ride the camels into the dunes. Although we had a Berber tent, we followed the example of the Berbers: we spread rugs on the ground outside and slept there, wrapping our faces in cloth against the blowing sand. In true nomadic style, Bunty read himself to sleep by the light of his mobile phone, which was plugged into the car.

When he saw this photograph, he feared that he looked like a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps he should have opted for an ochre djellaba instead – then he’d have looked like one of the Sand People and could wear it to Star Wars conventions.

The sun rose as swiftly as it had set. We gathered ourselves together, mounted our camels, and Ali led us away into the dunes.

I found riding a camel to be easier than riding a horse. With horses, you have to place your feet in the stirrups just so, grip with your knees, rise to the trot, and hold your hands in the correct position for the reins. When you have M.E., this is exhausting. I can’t stay on a horse for long.

On Nasruda, I found my centre of gravity and remained secure and comfortable for the whole hour. I could spend a day on a camel, if I had to. I regretted that I didn’t have to.


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.