November 21 2011
I always come down to our home in the New Forest on a Friday, no matter how late at night I arrive. Arriving in the dark and to awake to the sight and smells of the countryside with three dogs on the bed is one of my greatest joys in life. I ride every Saturday and Sunday morning on my horse Lonnie and today is no exception.
I compare my relationship with him to that of a football hooligan. He gets all togged up on a Saturday and goes out for a complete blast. We come back to the yard and he is led away with hardly a grunt of goodbye until the next time. I would like to think that he cares for me, but apart from the occasional sucking noise of approval while an apple is being eaten, there’s not much emotion. We have been together for 14 years. I did actually try to sell him at one point, but he was sent back – when we arrived to collect him, the new owner was waiting at the gate with Lonnie in all his rugs and travelling boots. I think he had been very naughty, but he looked very nonchalant as only Lonnie can, and nothing more was said.
Every horse has its quirk, and Lonnie’s is that he can’t abide pigs. When the acorns are dropping from the trees at this time of year, pigs are let loose on to the Forest floor to snuffle around. I have to be sure I see them before he does or we will fly in the opposite direction.
Although horse riding is my favourite pastime, I wouldn’t exactly call it relaxing. The New Forest covers thousands of acres, and I love the feeling that it seems as if it is all mine at the weekends. Here, I have a 360-degree view of autumn in all its glory when I am on top of Pigs Bush on a track reached through endless patches of dusky purple heather. We cross no roads, and hardly see a soul except the occasional twitcher with their binoculars or a keen mushroom hunter. I saw several deer this morning. There are five types of deer in the Forest – red, fallow, roe, sika, and muntjac. Normally they are very timid but this morning they were not afraid of me because they could smell the horse in advance and so I managed to get really close. I did take a little care, though, because it is rutting season when tempers can run a little high.
Back at home I have a light, fresh tuna niçoise before going along to look at my daughter Tiffy’s old inn cottage. The oyster-coloured floorboards are being put down, and it is heartening to see the progress being made. Her house is near the sea wall which overlooks the Isle of Wight and I take the doggies for a windy walk past the yacht club where I take great joy in seeing children sailing their little boats, immersed in no end of exciting adventures.