A Simple Process
The process is simple: I decided on four corners of England, and chose where they should be. The only one everybody would agree is Lands End. I decided to visit 30 cathedrals and then chose them, starting with the medieval ones, adding the Tudor creations and then a few more that were conveniently placed. I am adding other locations that I or the charities have a connection to, e.g. where I grew up on the northern edge of London, Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, the British Horse Society head office.
That gives me the “dots”, all I have to do is join them up. I look for a route which keeps me off-road, or off main roads as much as possible because heavy or fast traffic is no fun on horseback and his feet and legs were not designed for life always on a hard surface. Then I look for places to stay – me and the horse - generally 20 to 30 miles apart and as close to the route as possible. As I find or fail to find accommodation where I need it, I adjust the route.
Hey Presto, is that sorted then?
Initial Route Selection
My corners and cathedrals vary from a few miles to 200 miles apart.
Find a Route: First look at maps which show all roads and bridleways (for this trip that is 100+ Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer maps) and consider the options. Starting from one of the “dots” choose a route heading in the right direction and see how it develops. If, after 25 miles (40km) of finding a wriggling route on small roads and bridleways or byways (160cm, over 5ft, of route on the map) it brings you to a river and the only bridge for miles in either direction is a main A-road dual carriageway which you would need to follow for two miles, then its go back and look at the map again. Is there an alternative? What can you follow after crossing that river? Is that two miles of dual carriageway actually the least worst option? If it is over 100 miles to the next “dot” then have a look at alternatives in different directions. Mark the route in with pencil when you have set it. At the edge of the map I put a circle round it onto the margin which makes it easier to pick up. Just occasionally there is a well publicised, and mapped, route going where you want e.g. The South Downs Way which I expect to follow for around 100 miles, 4 days riding.
Do that digitally? Could you do all that on the screen, and avoid covering the floor with maps? I think you can do short distances but, for example, Lichfield to Chester is 57 miles as the crow flies and will be around 90 on horseback: There is no obvious route and you need to follow possibilities that loop off in very different directions and see how they develop. I find that much easier when I can see the complete distance at one time and you can’t see more than a few miles on the screen. I need the maps anyway because I want to travel with marked up paper maps, as well as gps on a phone, so I have maximum reliability. But I know that some people are comfortable with all route planning done on the screen. I am putting my route on digital mapping linked to this website and will use its email facility to share my plans with people for comment etc. Another plus of digital mapping is it calculates distances which is a slow process on paper maps.
Find Accommodation: At the 20 to 30 mile interval of a days ride. I will use the BHS Emagin mapping and database to find riding schools, livery yards, bridleway associations, Horse B&Bs etc close to my route and email or ring them. Follow it up because they are busy and dont get back to you. Find they cant offer anything but can suggest someone else. Contact that person and do it again. Find a person who can help but they are 6 miles off the route. Find you have places for three days that are each over 30 miles apart and it is quite demanding terrain. Go back and look for somone in between to give a couple of shorter days. And get the agreement for each one in writing (and put phone and email contact details onto the database). At this point you can’t tell them exactly which day you will arrive – make a note if they are going to be away at any time.
Check Route Viability: While looking for accommodation you need to check the proposed route is possible and find out if: since the map was made the by-pass has been dualled and is very tricky to cross; there is half a mile of route in deep clay with bad drainage that has been cut up by vehicles and, even if you lead and wade, your horse may lose a shoe (not good) or strain a tendon (seriously bad!); rain last winter washed out the track and its dangerous even walking; its completely overgrown and you will not get through; or "Yes, but Fred always padlocks a gate there and you cant open it even by lifting it off the hinges". Or maybe you are told: You could go that way but because of X, Y and Z, this is a much better route! Thankyou.
Find out about Support, Contacts and Fundraising Possibilities
This is a good time to collect contact details for vets and farriers; to find out if there is anyone who could be a local contact to stir up interest in the Ride and the charities, and get names and contact details for newspaper or magazine journalists, local radio or TV contact. Is there anyone willing to organise a meet me and the horse, ask questions and make donations to the charities, or organise a bigger event! Names, phone numbers and email addresses then need to go onto the database possibly with some notes because I am never going to remember all of this.
Revise the Route
Go back, revise the route and go through the process again. Then, nearer to the start date, decide how likely it is to change some more and maybe rub out the pencil and put on highlighter instead – easier to read the map through highlighter. I use pink and when some late change comes up put that on in yellow, if that changes put pink and yellow to give orange. The route follows pink unless there is yellow and yellow unless there is orange. Good luck, I say.
Dates: When Where?
At some point in all this, dates have to be decided and people told when you plan to arrive. I want to arrive at Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre on Friday 6 September 2013 to be there for the first Saturday of term, just after the ponies have come back from their summer break in the country. I do not want to be later because I want to complete the rest of the ride by late November, before we get into deep winter. So, I will plan backwards from 6 September to a start date which I currently estimate will be around 1,500 miles and over 100 days earlier. I will plan some long breaks to allow for possible injuries, problems and delays and have time for a rest in Suffolk or Hertfordshire if no problems arise! That plan will give me a date for each cathedral so I can check any clashes with their other events and change a date, or time, if necessary. That will need confirming as I get closer. I can also check if the start date is OK for Farncombe Estate, and watch out for the accommodation provider who is in exactly the right place but “away for the week of ......”
So, that is all sorted!
My route will be going up on the website and BHS Emagin. I will announce those when they are up. Please do take a look and let me have any comments, information about problems, suggestions for better routes, and offers of accommodation or assistance!