We were all a bit apprehensive as we were told that the bridleway down to the River Exe from Upton Pyne was horrible. Well it was indeed. The gate off the road was less than five feet wide and shut with a shackle and cable attached to a post that collapsed onto the ground without the gate to hold it up. A serious challenge to negotiate unscathed, even on your feet, when attached to a young pony who was spinning round and round (Scylla is still uncivilised but by the end of this ride she will be properly educated). No great surprise that in the struggle we lost the shackle.
Then we were confronted by five electric fence wire gates across the track one after another. Venetia and Chuck nearly cantered through what appeared to be an open gateway closed by one of these contraptions. You may not be able to see it either on this photograph.
We eventually reached the railway crossing and decided that I would phone the signalman and Venetia would ride and lead my pony across when given the all clear. The signmalman was brilliant and wanted to know exactly where were going and how long it would take, and would we ring once we were across. I expect that horses crossing these days are probably a bit of a rarity. A big thank you to Mr Signalman! I had asked for a free ten minutes to give us loads of time to cross so we had to wait while two trains went past and then were given the go ahead. The only shock was that the bridleway bridge surface was metal so it was a bit noisy but the ponies were not bothered. That was easier than expected and a relief to have it behind us.
As we were approaching the A396 on the last of the bridleway, a dozen motorbikes roared along the road way over the speed limit, followed by HGVs and huge tractors. I was beginning to worry a bit about how we would fare. Before we reached that hazard, we found another: the last gate to the road was sited right next to an electric fence which sizzled at the ponies’ heels and it was a lot narrower than the statutory five feet so was very difficult to negotiate, then the last of the track had a huge deposit of rubbish we had to squeeze by.
We emerged after all that with onto an empty road – what luck! – so we hurried across to the other side and trotted two abreast the third of a mile along the road to the car park into Stoke Woods. I thought that we had timed it amazingly well to have no traffic passing us then turned round and saw that a large bus was holding all the traffic back with its hazard lights on, so thank you so much Mr Bus Driver, what a hero; that could have been a very hairy length of road with the traffic as well. We thanked him fulsomely with wide gestures from the safety of the car park.
We negotiated Stoke Woods, Forestry Commission land, that a friend had walked for us, so thank you Derrick; that undoubtedly made our it easier knowing the route was clear. Then we rode back into the suburbs of Exeter via a bridleway which went right into the Beacon Heath estate. This side of Exeter has a wonderful network of bridleways, well maintained public access facilities for all; why can’t there be more bridleways on the edge of all towns and cities, rather than just footpaths?
We had some funny looks as we passed Sainsbury’s and went through Whipton, and then along Harts Lane. Thank you Exeter or Devon County Council for putting sensible barriers on your cycleways enabling riders to use them as well as walkers and cyclists. I wish other authorities would be as accommodating!
Our way was barred through Monkerton where much new building work going on; I do hope they will remember riders when it is all finished.
The map showed a sensible diversion for once, so we were soon at the bridge over the M5. Scylla looked down to her near side, watching the rushing traffic emerge from under the bridge without being perturbed but in the middle when the traffic was ‘coming to get her’, she froze with stage fright, so I shouted to Venetia to “Trot on” which galvanised her out of her trance and we were across. Again we were so lucky that there was no traffic on the bridge with us; we were right in the middle so they wouldn’t have been able to pass anyway!
The next horror in store was Exeter Airport, which was mercifully totally uneventful. Scylla (being a youngster) had another wobble crossing over the A30 and again we were lucky not to have had to share the bridge with traffic. We had by now crossed the Clyst Valley and despite being so close to Exeter we then spent the next few miles wearing out the ponies’ shoes trotting along quiet lanes.
We had planned to ride down to Woodbury through Watery Lane. With a name like that it wasn’t surprising that there was a parallel footpath in the field above the lane, but because the footpath was well-used the lane had been neglected and was totally blocked. So we rode down the footpath but the gate the far end was chained and padlocked with reverse hinges on the gate. That meant many extra miles round by tarmac lanes, which was NOT amusing when we were all getting tired. So tired that when we finally got to Woodbury Common and thankfully off-road again with some bridleways, we were past enjoying them, but we had a moment’s respite for a photo call.