Saddle up for freedom

LONG days in the saddle over rugged terrain, offer the rewards of stunning scenery and the open air. Travel editor TRACEY SPARLING meets Bananas on Exmoor.

By Tracey Sparling

LONG days in the saddle over rugged terrain, offer the rewards of stunning scenery and the open air. Travel editor TRACEY SPARLING meets Bananas on Exmoor.

IT'S hard to describe the feeling of freedom, as our eight beautiful horses step out of the farm gate, straight on to the vast expanse of Exmoor.

The sun is shining, the horses' ears are pricked as they anticipate the gallops ahead, and I realise I have never ridden with such excitement before. After years of riding school lessons and countryside treks all in single file, this holiday was about to open a whole new side to the sport I love.


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My 'adopted' horse Bananas and the others fanned out across the uneven ground, picking their way past peat bogs in a bid to find more solid ground. For four hours we clambered up hillsides, crossed bubbling streams, and passed herds of wild ponies, sheep and cows, to enjoy a picnic by the riverside.

With its tranquil salmon and trout rivers and untamed heath land, Exmoor is a haven for buzzards, herons, kingfishers, common lizards, badgers, foxes, and red deer.

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I soon forgot the stresses of daily life, and found myself wishing I could live in this timeless idyll forever.

Okay so some of the subsequent riding was marred by a hailstorm and relentless rain, but even that failed to dampen the enjoyment of a weekend spent exploring the moor around High Bullen Farm in north Devon.

Fellow holidaymakers and I returned to the farmhouse weatherbeaten and covered in mud after galloping for literally miles - well there seemed no reason to stop.

Separate rides are organised if there any beginners or less confident riders, all led by a qualified instructor. You can also take your own horse, sign up for Western lessons, classical riding, natural horsemanship and horse whispering tuition. Or stay at High Bullen as a base for a walking holiday - you can take your dog for £2.50 a night.

Accommodation is on the farm, which brings the potential for muddy dogs, noisy plumbing and horse blankets drying over the radiators, so don't expect luxury. This holiday brings a warm welcome and informality instead.

After all, who wants to dress up for a posh dinner after a long day in the saddle? What you need is good old fashioned farmhouse cooking, a chance to relax and refuel your energy.

The food is plentiful. You can choose a cooked breakfast - including eggs fresh from the farm, and when you return from the morning ride you are greeted by lunch, followed by afternoon tea with a homemade cake every day, then hearty dinners like roast lamb, pasta bake and toad-in-the-hole.

You can stay in a guest room at the 200-year-old farmhouse, or self-catering lodges, and help look after the horses as much or as little as you like. Most guests are horsy enough to want to catch their steed and saddle up - they appreciate the chance to adopt an Arab, thoroughbred Lipizzaner or Icelandic horse for their stay. The horses are fit and feisty, and far from the 'plodders' you find at some riding schools.

My horse Bananas was a dapple grey Andalusian, who has calmed down considerably since she earned such a madcap name.

It was a wrench to drive away from the farm, for the five-hour trek home to Suffolk - especially since my fellow holidaymakers who waved me off, had chosen to stay for the rest of the week.

They had been to High Bullen time and time again, so what higher recommendation can there be?

We swapped telephone numbers, and I'll certainly be joining them on the moors next time.

Where: Spirit of Exmoor riding holidays at High Bullen Farm, near Lynton, Devon.

How to get there: A long drive A12, M25, M4, M5 then A39 to Lynmouth, stay on A39

Cost: One week fully inclusive £520, short break £220. Supplements for lodge, extra nights and extra riding. November to April short breaks £135.

Contact: www.spiritofexmoor.com or call 01598 753318 . See also www.visit-exmoor.info

Hospitality: The author paid for her own trip.

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