Wednesday, February 20, 2019

You have to be Carefully Taught

Sometimes in life I've been confused by my upbringing.

Tory, middle class, religiously inclined mother (who would help almost anybody) and Labour, working class, officially-atheist father (who spent his life criticising everybody, including himself).

I've just found myself quoting Hammerstein's lyrics from South Pacific:

You have to be taught, before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You have to be carefully taught...


Maybe I should be grateful for the confusion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

I fell for the Fells



When I first holidayed in the Lake District, in 1968, I was determined not to like my mother's choice of venue. The thing that swung my acceptance was the promise that she would come pony trekking with me if I accompanied her planned "little toddles" up the fells.

I enjoyed the holiday, plodging in the rain over Catbells and round Stonethwaite and Watendlath, but the highlights were always going to be the pony treks. I fell instantly in love with my mount. He was a Fell pony, brown, rounded and muscular, with a long black tail and a massive curtain of mane that entirely hid his face. Nonetheless, the eyes underneath were friendly. He carried me up Latrigg with an eagerness I hadn't met before in ponies of his size.

I didn't know it then, but the trek leader was Betty Walker, a leading light of the Fell Pony Society. She rode another brown Fell pony, Angus.
She fed me snippets of Fell pony lore at every opportunity. Did I know the Fell ponies had been in the Lakes as long as the Herdwick sheep? No; I was much more impressed by the ponies' strength and willingness and the fact that they were capable of living free, all year round, on the fells where I'd been walking. I was 16, and freedom was a magnet.

Because of those Fell ponies I spent every university vacation in the Lake District, working with them. When I married I moved here permanently (and bought a Fell!).

Over the years since then I've done a lot of background research about Fell ponies, and their spell over me has grown stronger. They are a distinctive part of our farming and industrial history. Until the 20th century they were the mainstay of local transport: hardy and hard-working, they took the shepherd up the fell, carried hay to the stock in winter, pulled the trap to market, or walked hundreds of miles as pack-horses with wool destined for Europe.

For thousands of years we'd have gone literally nowhere without them.



Sue Millard is a writer, Fell pony owner and amateur historian who lives on a small farm in the Westmorland Dales section of the National Park. She serves on the Fell Pony Society's Council as its webmaster and Magazine editor.

Links:
The Fell Pony Society http://www.fellponysociety.org.uk
The Fell Pony Museum at Dalemain http://www.fellponymuseum.org.uk
Jackdaw E Books http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk