It is funny where opportunity knocks at times, there you are one day in your local supermarket and on a whim you pick up one of the free local ‘what’s on’ magazines at the checkout. Leafing though it your eyes fall on an advert at the bottom of page 44 for pony trekking at the Long Mountain Centre and a light-bulb moment. A chance to give the grandchildren a wow moment during the summer holidays, sorted. As it turned out not only the grandchildren, but also our daughter who was keen to lay to rest her memories of a childhood riding accident and get back in the saddle after 25 years.
Some three weeks later we are on our way heading out of Shrewsbury on the Montgomery road with a car full of excitement and expectation. Just out of Westbury we turn off the main road onto an unnumbered lane with a sign that says Rowley 3 mls, where our destination is said to be. The lane is just about wide enough to take two vehicles initially, but soon shrinks to a single carriageway with passing places but ever gently climbing. Heading ever upward, passing the occasional farm and cottage we reach a small hamlet of a couple of cottages but with no indication of what it may be called, until we reach a road junction with an old iron sign post and a ring welded to the top with ‘Wallop’ cast into it. On we go ever upward towards the Long Mountain, a hill chain some 1100ft high that straddles the Welsh/English border, and the road is now down to a narrow single lane with grass growing up the centre and a hope that nothing is coming. Yes we are heading into the ‘untamed’ borderlands where over the centuries much blood has been spilt, but now there is just the occasional holiday home.
Trusting the satnav we arrive at our destination, an open gate with a modest sign fixed to the fence declaring the Long Mountain Centre. Over the cattle grid and slowly down a rutted farm track into the yard of what used to be a hill farm back in the day. A stone and brick farm house and stable with a wooden office on the high side of the yard and a selection of old barns and buildings on the other adjoining the fields. The fields house a number of log cabin holiday homes, some dog friendly, which overlook the valley between the Long Mountain and the Bromlow Callow and Stiperstones ranges in the distance. The site being an old hill farm means that there is not much obvious capability for disabled access, but we did not specifically enquire about such facilities, so I am unsure of what facilities they may offer.
We are met with a friendly greeting and the children and mummy are introduced to their steeds with a short session of grooming to get used to each other. For the 8 year old a bay pony, the 11 year old a Dun and mummy a splendid, slightly sturdier, Pinto. After the necessary helmet fitting the eager cowboy and cowgirls, are taken to the office cabin and from the office steps the riders tentatively mount up and slowly set off with the first timers being led by one of the staff and the returning mummy under her own steam. I believe the term used was “it’s just like riding a bike” and after a brief walk around the yard to get used to the beasts they set off up the track and head back down the road for a gentle walk in the bright sunlight and clip-clop out of sight. Quiet descends on the scene with only a few birds daring to interrupt.
While they are away we decide to explore the site a little and take a closer look at the cabins, though not too close as some are occupied. From what we can see the site looks like an ideal place to come if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life and take in some calming solitude. Although I did notice that at least one cabin had cheated a little as I spotted a portable TV through one of the cabin windows, small steps at first I suppose.
About half an hour later the faint clip-clop of hooves on tar-mac can be heard coming back up the hill, slowly getting clearer until three wide grins atop three steeds wind their way around the last bend in the track and back into the farmyard. Coming to a stop and dismounting onto the office steps the three grins give their trusty mounts a loving hug and pat of thanks and the youngest starts a gushing “it was great” telling Nanny and Grandad all about it and how she would love to come back again – SOON. While the older boy merely maintains his cool, though still grinning, and reports that it was “good, really good” quite an endorsement for an 11 year old. A definite date for the diary then, but first the cry that rises from the back seat of the car is for a stop off at a McDonalds for a celebratory lunch and an opportunity to retell and relive the days exploits and keep those grins alive.