Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Into the wild

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Today, I rode out into the glen.

I really love being able to write that sentence. I think how soaringly lucky I am to be able to write that sentence.

First of all, I am damn lucky to have a glen on my back doorstep. That is not something everyone has. Although, interestingly, most people, even quite old friends, think I am a little bit nuts to live so far north, almost six hundred miles from dirty old London town. I adore London; I lived there for almost twenty years. I love the National Portrait Gallery and Bar Italia and driving through Hyde Park early in the morning before anyone is up except for the cavalry officers, schooling their horses. But London does not have glens.

The other piece of luck is that I have a horse. That is so outrageous that I don’t really know what to say about it. And then, I have a flexible job. If I work until seven in the evening, then I can go riding for two hours first thing. I listen to the parliamentary news, and then I’m off.

My mare is new to these dramatic surroundings, so, for the last three days, I’ve been hacking her gently round a contained hill walk. Past the sawmill, up into the woods, down the other side. Even that very tame ride gives views over blue mountains in the distance, and has an unexpected deep pool among the pines. It’s not dull, it’s just short and contained.

Today, I thought I’d cast my net further. I had no idea where I was going, but just followed my nose and steered by the river. Off I went to the west, reassuring the mare, who was snorting with suspicion, that there were no mountain lions coming to eat her. I talked to her all the time, in a low, steady voice. Her old ears flicked back and forth, moving between doubt and certainty.

The first thing we came to was a tiny, perfect loch. Its surface was smooth as a looking glass; it was black and magical and mysterious. I smiled just to see it. We turned left, across a stone bridge high over the river, followed a good, wide track, and suddenly the glen opened out, and I was in the middle of it.

It is a great glacial valley, very wide, with a lovely soft mossy floor, and wooded slopes rising up to high mountains either side. It had the still, special, ethereal beauty that you only really find in Scotland. The colours were so vivid, even on a rather blank March morning, that I could hardly believe they were real. I remembered something Dennis Potter said, when he was dying; he looked at the apple blossom, and said it’s the blossomest blossom. I caught a sense of that. Here, the trees were the greenest green, the moss was the colour of emeralds, the valley floor was bright dun, the peaks of the mountains were indigo blue.

Unknown birds sang their heads off in the woods; tiny, dancing frogs hopped about on the path, their backs a dark, spotted, shiny sage.

The mare was very brave. She only had one little freak-out. She does not do anything naughty or malicious, she just puts the brakes on and goes into sharp reverse. It is pure, ancient predator fear. My job is to calm her, and give her every ounce of confidence I ever had in my life. I beam it into her by thoughtwaves and strong legs, and, after a moment, she trusts me enough to walk on. I am learning the trick of it; she is learning that I will not guide her into danger. We are learning together, in a rather moving way.

By the end, she was walking through the great, strange, wide glen with an open stride, head low, neck relaxed. I had one hand on the very end of the reins, riding her like a gaucho. This is my absurd fantasy: since she was trained for polo, and I think she might appreciate the Argentinean style. Eventually, we shall do a bit of schooling, and I shall work with her to come on the bridle, but for now, I want her to become loose and settled; to take time, metaphorically, to smell the flowers. Horses have a very different sense of vision than we do; I don’t know if the mare will appreciate the view. I dream, in my secret heart, that she might. Because, oh, what a view it was.

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