Travel: August 15 & 16, 2018: Gardens on Foot, and Mountains on Horseback

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August 15

That Wednesday was mostly a rest day. My sister slept in, and I went that morning to walk through Singleton Park and the Swansea Botanical Gardens on my own. The park is huge, and it would have been easy to get lost. I stayed on the paths. I don’t have many photos, just a few of the gardens in riotous color.

All this was free to enter, free to wander. I spoke briefly with a gardener who found me on the paths in the Botanical Garden, but frankly, I was having a difficult time understanding him through the accent. I’d brought a book. I sat on a bench overlooking the campus below a sweep of lawn and just behind the campus’ buildings a glimmer of the sea. No photo captured it well enough to take. The paths wandered over hills, between woods and across fields, and around a shaded pond.  I stumbled upon the seemingly misplaced Swiss Cottage, built in 1826, but the old building was looking a little worn.

August 16

Thursday, though, it was time to check something else off of my bucket list. We were going pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons! I’d queried several area stables by email, but only heard back from the Ellesmere Riding Centre in Llangorse. We set up an appointment by email, and my contact there was always kind and accommodating, even though we were still finalizing as late as August 13. I was really excited.

We took the bus from Swansea through the Brecon Beacons National Park up to the small town of Brecon.  Our route took us between the Black Mountain and Fforest Fawr regions of the park.

In Brecon, we found the taxi rank from the directions that I was given by my contact in Ellesmere. Finding a taxi took a little longer than I thought it would do. We ought to have scheduled ahead of time or have found a taxi company’s number beforehand.

But a kind driver hurried us to the stable and knew just how to get there.

There’d been a transcription error between the emails and Ellesmere’s handwritten appointment book, and they had thought that we were scheduled for the day before! There was a further error in my phone number, so though they had tried to contact us, they hadn’t reached us.  I panicked a little, I don’t mind saying, but the guides there helped us into helmets, and my sister and I (we both have years of experience horseback, though it had been more than a decade since for her) helped to quickly tack up two more horses for the group that was about to head out, though neither of us actually ended up riding the horses that we tacked.

My sister rode a big bay cob-cross named Captain who looked like he deserved the name, a proper police horse. I rode a little bit daintier, bay mare named Thistle. Thistle was still so much more horse and more horse-power than I have gotten used to riding with my little 13 hh pony that I’ll admit I was a little intimated when I realized quickly that Thistle was more immune to my cues than was my mare, both my requests to slow down and my requests not to graze on the verge, and that I was out of practice being forceful.

But I was never in any danger as much as Thistle had more “go” than my mare and was constantly going faster and wanting to ride nearer the front of the herd.

I personally struggled far more than I expected to do giving over control to such a large horse.

I think I needed to have trusted these horses more than I did.  I’m used to riding meaning that I have to make decisions and sometimes fight to be minded.  I wasn’t making decisions in this group, and the horses knew the route and each other far better than I did.  If Thistle felt comfortable right up behind another horse, I should have trusted her to know which horses wouldn’t want her there.

That’s a good lesson for me to bring to any future trekking trips.  And for you to bring to any of yours too.

Most of the riders in our group were younger children there with their two moms. We all talked a little as we rode through the streets of Llangorse and then onto country roads that wended between fields and farmland, often shaded by trees, and from there onto a narrow bracken-lined path along the slope of Mynydd Troed.  From Mynydd Troed, we had a view across the valley towards Pen y Fan, southern Wales’ highest mountain.  Then we turned back downhill, joining again with more country lanes, most of these framed by hedgerows, and ultimately back onto the roads of Llangorse.

The horses never spooked. Not when we encountered an obstacle in the form of large machines clearing the trees from the road. Not at passing cars. Not at dogs barking from behind their fences.

At one point the saddle of one of the younger riders slipped sideways, and the horse—all the horses—just stopped while we fixed it and got her back up and on with a tighter girth. At one point Captain went into a few strides of canter to catch up with the herd; no one raced to join him. My sister said that his canter was actually much more comfortable than his trot, and it wasn’t that much faster. Our ride was walk and trot.

I didn’t ask at the farm and should have done whether or not we were allowed to bring cameras. I left my bags at the stable and my phone and camera with them so I was unprepared when we stopped near the peak of our ride to take photos. (Ordinarily, I always carry a phone with me while riding, never knowing when I might be stranded in a field and need help, and I would remind others what a blessing that tech can be, but having several adults with us who had more knowledge of the area and who would not in panic dial 911 instead of 999 made me feel safe enough to go without.)

I did find our route I think on Google Map’s street views, so I can give you some taste of the green vistas that we enjoyed from horseback.

I was fairly sure that I had found the right route when I had taken these screen captures in September 2018, but now writing this in July 2019, I’m just less sure, so I’m afraid I don’t have a map for a you, or a way to look for other screens to capture.

By the time we returned to Brecon (the taxi driver from before had given us a card with the number to call, so we were easily able to get a ride back), most of Brecon was closed and the bus was not too long in coming. We had time to duck into a nearby Morrison’s for a few end of the day supplies.

swanseatoellesmere

Back in Swansea we got fast food takeaway and ate in Castle Square before wandering up to the castle ruins.  What’s left of Swansea Castle is greatly dwarfed by the surrounding modern buildings, and there isn’t a lot left.  Compared to nearby Oystermouth, it isn’t very impressive, but it is very neat to see a castle so much surrounded by modern structures.

Then it was back to the university campus for the night.

Most photos mine, except those that are screen captures from Google Maps, which are clearly labeled.  Most can be viewed more largely by clicking on them.

3 responses »

    • Thank you!! And please correct me if my Google research ever leads me awry.

      I was honestly under-prepared for the size of the horses too, though they were very well-trained, and I really never did feel in any danger. Common horse wisdom observes that the larger horses have fewer wiles, so maybe bigger is better in this case, but I’m under 5 feet, so I was rarely trained on any of the bigger mounts simply because someone has to ride the smaller ponies.

      I have herd rumors of stables that specifically use smaller pony breeds.

      • I have nowhere near your experience – I tried riding at college and was petrified when I seemed to slide sideways off the horse. I’m only 5ft too so all horses look huge

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