Sunday, October 3, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

I was 15.  It was August, late August way back when summers shimmered and fed us with their glow.

There is a hotel in Foulksmills, Co. Wexford.  Horetown House.  Some of you may know it now.  It is a sumptuously appointed 4*, overly priced place......though very beautiful.  Ah, but I jumped through time, so let me take you back to an idyllic time which I was so very blessed to know.   Horetown House was owned by the Young family, Theo, Vera and their 3 sons and 1 daughter.  We discovered it whilst in Fethard where a tantalising poster hung in the Post Office.  It offered Pony Trekking for all abilities and all ages. I already loved horses and had done a little riding.  We teen-agers squeeled with delight and begged and cajoled until mothers and fathers packed us into cars and made the journey past the honeysuckle hedgerows.  Mum had gone to the Village phone box and turned the handle (do you remember those?) the operator put her through to Horetown and she booked a lesson and trekk for 5 of us.  Foulkmills, especially then, was a small, pretty village dominated by a beautiful water-mill, still in use.  There were tall trees and glorious wild flowers everywhere.  Horetown House is set about a mile outside the village.  We drove through the gates, and entered a huge hall hung with trophy heads shot (remember this was another age) by the previous owner, a Major Laken.  Theo was a farmer and his wife, Vera ran the hotel.  It was a house which embraced you as soon as you entered, a little run-down but oh so wonderful.  Theo with the help of his son Robert ran the Trekking Centre.  This is a story in itself but I must skip from 13 to 15 in a few words.  It became my second home.  Vera welcomed young people from around the world to stay in 'lesser' accomodation at the top of the house.  One could go for a week, full board, all day riding for half price if we were prepared to muck-out, groom and help in the kitchen.  Everyone loved Horetown and, in the evening elderly couples with no interest in horses, various tourists and a bunch of boys and girls, boots left at the front door, lounging in Jodhpurs, would gather after dinner and sing along with Vera playing the piano. Then before bed-time, as the evening star was coming out, a huge trolly was wheeled into the Drawing Room laden with tea, hot-chocolate, biscuits, cake and buns. It was during one of these magical ''Special'' weeks, that I was left with memories which could never be repeated.  I was in Horetown with my friend Sally.  We had been allocated a pony each.  We were completely in charge of our pony.  After a hearty breakfast we'd wander down the dusty lane to the stable-yard, past vast blossoming hedges and tall trees on one side, and pasture/parkland on the other.  Mucking out and grooming done, we'd be in the saddle all day either having lessons, riding out or just messing about.....riding down to the local shop, tethering our ponies to the petrol pumps, then returning lazily swaying, one hand on the reins the other gripping a large ice-cream.   After supper, as the sun was burning with that last, low intensity of an August evening, we would take the ponies out for a last, glorious half hour.  In those days the milking was done by hand in Horetown, we drank greedily of frothy, unpasteurised milk.....none of us the worse.  At evening milking-time, and this is the memory of memories, we'd unburden the horses of their saddles and swing ourselves back up on the hot, sweating animals.  Sometimes we'd lean forward along their necks, bury our noses in their manes and just hug them.  I can still remember the sweat from the flanks soaking into my jodphurs, and with my face buried in the musky neck, I felt as though my pony and I were one.  Then, on Robert's 'command' we'd (usually 4 or 5 of us) ride bareback down the winding lane to the ''Flesh'' field where the milk-laden cows would be waiting with bees buzzing around their heads.  We would then herd the cows back up the lane into the byre in the stable yard.  Horses, ponies seen to we then went into the byre and, if we wished, we would help with the milking.  How can I ever describe those day-ends.  Sitting on a milking stool breathing in the sweet cow smell with only the buzzing of bees, the chewing of hay and the ''swish-swosh'' of milk into the pail breaking the silence.  I could have stayed there for ever, with my head resting on the warm flank of a placid cow as I watched the milk I was drawing, fill the bucket held between my knees, with creamy, frothy milk.  After the cows made their swaying, lazy way back down the dusty lane to the ''Flesh'' field.  We would make our way back up past the Parkland on one side and the tall trees and flowering bushes on the other.  We would climb the steps between the colums to the front door, pull off our boots, lay them neatly in a row and, tired but oh so happy, we'd follow the sound of the piano and the smell of the log fire, through the big, square hall with its flagstones and trophy-heads, into the Drawing Room and sing our hearts out.

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