Our featured book for February was ‘From East to West by Saddle is Best’ written by Claire Alldritt. Saddle up and explore Scotland with Claire.
Have you ever wanted to do something that seemed impossible? Claire Alldritt did. She left her home in the east of Scotland and set out on a journey to the west coast with two horses. From East to West by Saddle is Best is a story of exploration, trust and resilience mixed with insightful glances into the history of the land passed through. It’s about making your way along the trail, whether on four legs or two. This book will take you from coast to coast in search of adventure, friendship and discovery.
In our latest podcast, we chat with Clare about her adventure and her book, we're going to learn all about her amazing journey across the Scottish Highlands with her horses Swift and Yogi.
If you can't wait to find out more join Claire for this incredible adventure across Scotland and find out how much can be achieved when we dare to go From East To West! Available on Amazon
Podcast with Claire Alldritt - Transcript (edited for readability)
Hi, Claire, thank you for joining us on today's podcast. Claire's book was the book of the month for February.
Perhaps we could start by you telling us a little about yourself?
Okay, thanks very much for inviting me onto this podcast. My name is Claire Alldritt, and I'm a paramedic at my day job. But my main hobby these days is horse riding. And I do long-distance horse riding, heading off into the hills for a few days to a few weeks at a time with both my horses.
The journey you write about in the book, I guess you've been building up to that. I assume one or two days here and there before you went all out for what was it a week, two weeks, months?
Three weeks, actually, that I was away for in the end, it was meant to be a little bit longer. But I'll leave you to find out why it was a bit shorter when you read the book. But yeah, I started out just doing one overnight ride with a friend of mine. And that totally got me hooked. And the reason why I ended up if you like backpacking with horses, because I had a youngster to bring on Swift, and I thought it'd be good just to pony her out to see the world. So I first started taking her out natural, and then I had a saddle. And then I added a bit of lunch onto that saddle and had a picnic. Then my friend suggested - why don't we go overnight, and that's what we did. And it just progressed from there, really. I'd done a few solar preps. But there were four or five days; they weren't as long as this one. So it was quite an undertaking. But I had done parts of it to the eastern parts of it to the west. And I thought if I just link all of this up and add a little bit on the far side of both, then I'm going to get all the way across Scotland. And that's where the concept kind of came from. And I decided just to go for it.
Is it because you have access to such fantastic hacking that this evolved, or have you always wanted to be with your horse's out in the countryside?
Yeah, yeah, it's progressed over time. So I've always been an outdoor sports person. And kayaking watersports was my main hobby. But I also did an awful lot of Hillwalking and mountaineering. And I've done that since I was a young girl. And, and then when I finally became able to have horses of my own, combining the two seemed the most natural thing to do in the world. And yes, I do. I am fortunate to live in an area where we have fantastic access rights in Scotland. And we have miles and miles and miles of remote places that you can just get on your horse and ride into. And so not only was I sort of paired only with the mountaineering side of things and the horse riding skills together, but I was also in an absolutely the most perfect position, location if you like to get out and combine the two and get on with it.
Wow, I've been to Scotland a few times walking. I love the countryside there, it's wonderful that you can ride so freely in that landscape.
So tell us a bit of the logistics of camping out with your horse taking all the gear. Where do you put the horse overnight?
It's taken quite a long time to develop the kit that I need. And there are very few places you can just buy a packaged product off the shelf for this. And if you do, they tend to be quite expensive, a bit cost-prohibitive. So I devise my own method of how to contain the horses at night. I use fishing bank sticks, which are collapsible poles, telescopic poles that fit into saddlebags very easily. And then I use an electric, flat spool of electric tape that fits in a saddlebag. And then you can unravel that and obviously create a corral, and then you hold the corners up by using just 10 pegs and guidelines - skills brought forward from being a scout and guide as I was younger.
I just created a corral system for the horses, and they're very used to it and know to stay in it. And they tend to actually, even if you make them a huge corral, they tend to stay quite close to where I'm pitching my tent. They do like to be with you and have that company in terms of where to put them overnight.
We have the freedom to roam in Scotland, and rights of access extend to horse riding. You are allowed to wild camp with your horses for a couple of nights in one spot at a time. Then you're expected to move on. You have to be responsible. So I tend to contact landowners beforehand to say I'm going to be travelling through, and I'm likely to camp in this Glen. They're often very amenable, and they will say, if you just go a little bit further, there's actually a fantastic paddock. Or they might, you know, we would prefer you not to camp there, can you camp somewhere else and you know that they're very amenable to where you want to stay overnight and unhelpful. But you just have to make sure that you're not causing any damage with the grazing and you're not doing it too close to somebody's house, for example.
How much of a difference is there between preparing for a weekend trip or a month-long trip.
You'd be surprised the amount of equipment you carry is the same. You still need your tent, sleeping bag, stove, food, and corral system for the horses. I carry horse blankets too because the weather in Scotland is very unpredictable, and they don't fare so well overnight if it's a cold and windy, wet night. All of that stuff still has to go whether you're going for a weekend or a month.
Where the kit differs, if I'm going for a long time, I will carry more food. So I'll probably bring food for about a week and arrange with a friend or my partner husband to drop food off a weekend so that I can restock the bags as carrying food for horses can be very heavy. And likewise, getting clean clothes is always nice if you're away for a month. And if you don't have access to a washing machine up in the hills, and it's nice to have a kit stop where you can get changed into fresh clothes.
I guess water bottles will probably be one of the heaviest things, are there places that you can stop off to top up water?
I tend to carry a very small amount of water; I carry a collapsible bowl for the horses to get down to the stream and collect water for them. You can obviously take them to a puddle or to a stream for them to fill up. But for myself, I just carry a couple of litres. And luckily, the streams and rivers in Scotland are very clean. I've never had a problem just drinking straight from the streams. But if I was concerned or worried at all about the water quality, then I would just boil it when I stopped for camp for the night. I can also get fresh water where I can from passing a house.
Okay, and I guess people are friendly enough they don't mind somebody stopping by with a few horses and saying Can I took off my water.
Very, very rarely had a negative response to it; they seem to be fascinated by some mad woman careering around the hills with 3 horses. And they're delighted to see them for the most part because it's a very old fashioned way of travelling, you just don't see it very often anymore. And people are generally delighted and want to help you in any way that they can. So yes, I get a really positive response. And, and sometimes getting a bottle of water is the least of what I'm offering. You know, I'm offered a bed for the night and offered a nice tipple in the evening, or a meal, or, you know, a better route than I had planned. The other suggestions from gamekeepers I meet and all sorts of things have been offered my way. And the horses seem to pave that way to people be very generous.
So in terms of preparation for yourself in horses, fitness-wise. How much have you built the horses up to so that they physically able to complete the trip?
So I'm on the move for six to eight hours a day; not all of that is ridden. I often get off and walk either the ground isn't suitable, or it's too steep, or I need a break, or one of the horses for some riding needs a break. So I do get off and walk beside them a lot of the time. Generally, they keep themselves quite fit at home as I have a track system. So they move a lot to find hay and feed and water; they are constantly moving. So that helps. But I also just do a lot of day riding on the kind of ground that they're going to be covering on a long-distance trek. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of forestry near me and some good steep hills to keep them fit. There have been occasions where work commitments have meant that I haven't managed to get the horses fit before going. And I've literally just pulled them out of the field, and I'll get around that by starting off gently. So for the first few days, we've covered less mileage and less challenging terrain. And then I've gradually just built that up
How about for yourself? I've done a couple of ranch holidays where you suddenly go from riding for maybe an hour a day to four to eight hours, and it really hurts.
Yeah, it's the same. So I would spend more time walking on the first few days if I hadn't been out on the back of the horse for a while as well. And yes, it does. But I think because you're doing it every single day, it only takes about three days. And that hurt goes because you get past it very, very quickly. You're spending, you know, six hours off the saddle. That kind of hurt has disappeared.
Tell us about your horses, Swogi?
In the book, I joke that they combine their names like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It's a mixture of swift and Yogi, and the call team Swogi for the rest of the trip. They had a bit of celebrity status by being interviewed by the BBC Scotland during the trip. It was a surprise interview; they just came across us on our route and interviewed us for an outdoors programme. So I joked about the fact that these horses are celebrities and wanted to change their name.
Yogi, he's a Highland cross thoroughbred is about 15 hands high, and he's ginger. He's a very cheeky chap, very lovable, and he's a very forward going horse. He always attacks the trail he loves just loves being out on the trail; he has a really strong walk.
Then I've got Swift, who's an Appaloosa cross, she's brown in colour with silver mane and tail and white spots. She's a very interesting character; she's quite hard to handle. She doesn't like her personal space being interfered with. She's very opinionated. And she's taught me so much over the years about communication with horses. She's amazing to ride; once you get on she's fantastic. But if you want to brush her, you need to ask permission first.
Tell us when and why Katie and Sky enter the story?
About halfway through the journey, there was just this niggling feeling that something wasn't quite right with Yogi. There was nothing I could pinpoint. He wasn't lame. But he just looked in pain when we stopped at night. And I just wasn't sure what was going on. I ended up getting a vet out at one point to assess them in the field, and they couldn't find anything wrong, either. Nothing was conclusive. But halfway through the trek, I actually ended up where I lived. I decided that if there was something wrong with him, and I wasn't sure what it was, I shouldn't continue with them. And Yogi and Swift are very, very bonded, and Swift was still relatively. So I didn't feel she had enough experience to continue with me, and she wouldn't like going with any other horse. I didn't want to leave Yogi without his companion. If there was something wrong with him. I didn't want to stress him out anymore.
So it was a case of either continue another year when I could get holiday again, or I needed to borrow another pair of horses to continue. My good friend Yvonne very kindly lent me her two Highland ponies. I was very fortunate to be offered these two wonderful ponies, characters in their own self. As you'll find out if you read the book.
Were they used to doing that kind of work as well?
Yvonne is a long-distance rider as well; she was actually doing a long-distance ride around from the Bay to Fort Augustus. And so that's why we combined our forces in the middle for a little while. But that was probably the longest track that her Highland Ponies had done at that stage. And they definitely got tired towards the end. And I had to recognise that they couldn't do the pace and the distance that my guys did. But nevertheless, they worked really really hard, and we're smashing ponies.
You're lucky to have a friend like that.
Absolutely, there are not many people I would lend my horses to. So I was very, very grateful indeed.
When you made the trip, were you planning on writing the book, or did that come afterwards?
That came afterwards. I started writing the blog during the journey because I was doing it to raise money for Prince Fluffy Kareem, a horse and donkey charity in Egypt. I wrote the blog to try and just get some interaction with people to increase the funding that was going to be raised for them, basically, and many people said that they wanted to follow my progress as well across the country. So the blog was done for that reason. And then, when I came back, I wrote up the first day, and people loved it. They loved how I wrote about it. And a few people said you could write a book about this. And I thought, no I'm not good enough to do that. So I wrote the second day, and I got the same sort of comments. And then I stopped writing about it on my blog and thought, maybe I could do this, I'm gonna save it. And I'm gonna see if I could actually put a book together and publish it.
When was the book published?
I published it at the end of October, and it's available through Amazon. The response has been phenomenal. It's been very surprising. You know, I've never been an author before, I didn't know quite what to expect. I certainly didn't expect it to be as popular as it has been. I'm just overwhelmed and very grateful that people who have purchased it.
Our book club reviewer, Rebecca asked 'did ever find out which tree the gamekeeper cut up'?
No, I didn't. I haven't been back there to see the gamekeeper since. And I haven't actually been to see whether the the tree that was in the way, is actually still there. I nearly did. I did a track with my friend Yvonne, and we were going to go that way. And I asked her whether she'd reccied to see whether the tree had moved yet or not. And she didn't know about it. So we're gonna find out when we got there. But unfortunately, we ended up stopping shorter there. So not found out yet. But I will one day, I'll go back and find out.
So what would you say your biggest challenge of the journey was? Was there a point where you're like, this is just too difficult?
I think the point of knowing that I wasn't going to be able to continue with my two, who I know so well, inside out and I have such a partnership with, I can predict everything they do. You know, I know how they're going to respond to things, and that makes it safer. It also makes it a lot easier for me because if I'm approaching something, I think actually swift will be better at dealing with this first, and she'll lead Yogi, I can switch them around, you know, and, and it just works well. And having that partnership, but then changing to two other horses, I didn't know so well. I knew them a little bit, but I didn't know their ins and outs and I didn't know what they could cope with and what they couldn't cope with. And that makes it more risky, I have to pay attention. It was a worry of the unknown, I think. That was quite hard to get my head around.
I also wasn't very well during the trek; I suffered quite a lot with fatigue and various symptoms. I didn't know what the cause was, so yeah, most days were pretty hard going. I do talk about one day where I hardly had any energy at all; I stopped within about a couple of hours of starting and just sat down. You can read about that in the book.
What would your advice be for anyone that wants to take their hacking to the next level?
Long-distance trekking, it's totally achievable. A lot of people are very afraid of it, but it is very achievable. All you need to do is take that extra little step.
The way to get into it, I would say, is to go with a friend. Go with somebody you trust and know well and that you enjoy spending time with and that you can cope with the grumpiness of being tired and cold and a bit hungry and go to somewhere you know locally that you can spend the night and somewhere you know well. That way, you don't feel too worried about the unknowns. So get out locally, go somewhere, just do one overnight, build up from there one night at a time next time do two nights next time do three nights next time maybe do a night on your own and then that way you know you just keep pushing that little boundary one little step at a time.
It sounds like a fantastic adventure.