Day 8 – Wednesday
We had made plans today and they were all close to the cottage. We had an appointment just south of the town of Newtonmore at ten, so we had a leisurely morning’s breakfast before throwing some stuff into the Lemon and heading south. Fifteen minutes later we were at the Newtonmore Riding Centre.
Dan had never been on a horse before. In fact, he had never even touched one. But after watching the CSI horse show in Basel last fall, as well as a bit of discussion at other times, he expressed an interest in going for a ride. I had been riding numerous times, although not for quite some time. I really enjoyed it, however, and was excited to see if Dan would also share my enthusiasm. So when I was researching “things to do in Scotland” and saw that pony trekking was on the list, I made it a point for us to make time for it. Now was our time.
We had stopped in a couple of days previously to check out the stables, meet the employees and get a sense of what our options were. We signed up for a short trail ride and showed up early to make sure that our paperwork was in order. There were four other people there who wanted to go riding as well but there were no introductions so I don’t have any stories to tell about them.
Inside the stables
Our instructor for the day was Lorraine, a friendly but no-nonsense woman who led us to the outdoor ring where six ponies were saddled and waiting for us. One by one she led a pony to a set of wooden steps and had each rider climb the steps before swinging their leg over the saddle. I had never seen this done except in the case of very small children and I was quite surprised. Lorraine explained that it was easier on the horses’ backs and I suppose with all of the mounting/dismounting that they ponies endured, it was probably for the best.
The ponies themselves were much taller than I expected and very handsome looking. Lorraine introduced each of us to our mounts as she brought them to the steps. I was the last one to get on my horse, aptly named “Jodi” (my car’s name was Jodi, so it felt right). Lorraine had us walk the ponies around the edge of the ring. I ended up taking the lead, as I think I was the most experienced rider there. Lorraine had us practice stopping and starting the horses (that makes them sound more like lawn mowers than horses, doesn’t it?) and then – out of the ring!
Dan on a horse!
The view from my saddle
I was surprised – and a little disappointed – that Lorraine didn’t offer any more instruction to riders (ie, Dan) who had never been on a horse before. But the ride we were going on was going to be an easy one and no one should need anything more than what she had shown us already.
Our trail ride took us through pastures, along fresh-plowed fields and fields of grain, and amidst a flock of sheep. It was a gentle ride and Lorraine remained on foot, walking alongside us. She took turns in walking with each of us as well as opening/closing the gates for us, which was nice. During the ride I pointed out to the other riders a couple of small deer and then a kestrel hovering over a field, ready to pounce on some unsuspecting critter.
Ride, Dan. Ride!
We had lucked out with the weather yet again and the scenery was amazing. Lorraine told me that they often do five- and seven-day treks with the ponies, going up in the Craigorm mountains. Our ride today would be about an hour and a half and we were currently meandering through sheep pasture, the sheep warily moving away from our horses as we got close. It brought to mind the time my sister and I were riding in the Nevada mountains when we took off to chase a deer through the sagebrush. It was difficult for me to behave and not chase the sheep!
Our loop came to an end and we were back at the riding stable. One by one we were helped down from our ponies by Lorraine and Dan made sure that he was one of the last ones. He was fascinated by how a horse ‘works’ and how to make it do what he wanted. Just before the two of us ran out of time, one of the other riders offered to take our photo, which was really nice of him. Then it was the end of our time on horseback and our morning was more than over.
Stallion, two mares and two foals, in front of pheasant incubation huts
We had lunch in Kingussie and although it was hot in the sunshine, we sat outside under an umbrella to enjoy the breeze and sights of the town. Lunch wasn’t that good so we made it short and headed to the other side of town to the Highland Folk Museum. This is an outdoor historical museum at the edge of town and it came highly recommended by both the locals and online.
Park opposite our lunch spot in Kingussie
The sun was hot as it beat down out of the clear sky. I found myself wishing we had some more traditional cool and cloudy Scottish weather. The museum was free but we threw some coins in the donation box and made our way through the exhibits.
The Folk Museum is best known for its re-creation of historic villages and often has many volunteers dressed the part and performing the tasks from hundreds of years ago. The day we were there I saw only one volunteer and she was busy talking with some other visitors, even though I lingered in the hopes that they would move on and I could talk to her. But they persisted long enough that we moved on without talking to anyone at all.
So behold, pictures of the Highland Folk Museum:
Reconstructed house from the 1700’s
Detail of one of the houses
The interiors of these buildings were fully accessible and kitted out well enough that someone could have lived in one. Smokey peat fires burned low in the fire pits and rude cupboards and shelving were filled with day-to-day items. Elaborately built beds stood inside, completely enclosed by wooden walls, ceilings and fabric curtains. Because of the almost completely lack of natural light inside the structures, it was nearly impossible to get any good photographs.
Dan and I were most interested in the oldest village (pictured above) but there were many other structures and points of interest.
By now we’d had enough of the full sun beating down on us and made short work of the rest of the outdoor museum. We had an unofficial appointment up the road!
Leault Working Sheepdogs had advertising flyers at the Aviemore Tesco (grocery store) and it was something that we both wanted to see. There were demonstrations at 4 pm every day and I was hoping that a random Wednesday afternoon wouldn’t see many people. I was wrong.
We were there early and were the third car to park in the grassy lot. Eventually the lot filled up, a tour bus came and then more cars parked in the overflow lot. I would say that easily 150 people were soon standing around in the full sun, waiting for the dogs to do their thing.
The owner’s wife came out first. She was an energetic speaker and told the story of how she moved to Scotland and married not just a shepherd, but also the furry family that came with this marriage. Her speech felt fresh even though she told the same story every day to a fresh crowd of spectators. As she spoke, a herd of sheep crested the hill behind her, a tall man walking behind them and black and white dogs darting around the edges. Behold: the shepherd!
The shepherd’s name was Neil and he explained about his dogs and what they do. He gave a nicely detailed description of how he goes about training the dogs and how long it can take (approximately two years for each dog). He gave us a short demonstration of the dogs’ abilities as he had them move the sheep around the field. I took a short video of the demonstration before I ran out of camera disk space. Whoops!
One of the stars of the show was a ten week old puppy. He raced around the sheep with the older dogs, sometimes not moving quite fast enough as the sheep spun and ran through the grass. But he always managed to get out of the way and waited for his chance to do his job again. Eventually Neil picked him and held him. He explained that the puppy was doing what came naturally, but he was young and tired easily. It would be negative to tell the puppy “No!” at this stage of his training, but he still needed to be kept from being harmed in the field. Neil performed the rest of the show with the puppy under his arm.
After the dogs brought the sheep up to the crowd, both the husband and wife each snagged a sheep from the herd and proceeded to explain the process of sheering the sheep. While they use electric trimmers to go through their 2,500 sheep, but for the demonstration they used old fashioned hand sheers. They also let anyone in the crowd give it a try. Both Dan and I gave it a shot. It was easy, but I was really nervous about accidentally stabbing the sheep.
The puppy likes to play with the sheered wool
After the official demonstration there was a chance to play with some even younger puppies, feed orphan lambs and buy some souvenirs. The crowds were thick around the souvenir table and many people were wandering around holding tiny puppies against their chests. The crowds finally thinned and we hopped into the car to go back to our cottage.