It’s official – spring has sprung! As the evenings get warmer and the dawn chorus gets earlier, take advantage of the longer and brighter days by embarking on some new hacking routes.
With many equestrian off-road routes in danger of having their rights extinguished over the next ten years, it is important we saddle up, preserve the bridleways and show these trails are worth saving.
We have liaised with the British Horse Society Access team and their network of volunteer bridleway officers to locate some of the best British bridleways to enjoy this spring.
Near the village of Monks Gate (close to Horsham), this bridleway runs from Newell’s Lane to the Black Horse Inn in Nuthurst. The route runs through beautiful woodland and in the spring the forest floor is covered in pretty primroses. At the end of the bridleway is the Black Horse Inn, perfect for a swift half en route. The pub staff are wonderful, and known to bring out water and carrots for the horses.
Starting at the Black Horse pub near Stoke Row, this circular route will take you past Maharajah’s Well, an unexpected sight in the Chilterns. Built in 1864, it was constructed in an Indian style and named after the Maharajah of Benares, who provided the expenses of sinking the well, building the Warden’s cottage and planting the adjacent cherry orchard as a token of friendship with Mr Edward A Reade. His Highness had been told by Mr Reade, who worked in India at the time, of acute water shortages. The ride also enjoys quiet leafy tracks and great views of the Chiltern Hills. The routes are signed with circular walk waymark discs and the longest is 14 miles.
Telford and Wrekin is blessed with a fantastic network of bridleways, both in and around the urban centre but also stunning routes in and around the Wrekin Forest. The quiet off-road routes take you though ancient woods, past an industrial revolution heritage site, and world famous geology. Expect to come across the grazing deer and plenty of beautiful bluebells in the spring. For those who struggle with map reading, the trails are all way-marked circular routes so it is impossible to get lost.
The route around the regeneration site of Bickershaw Opencast loops around the old railway lines which once served Bickershaw, in Wigan. The former coal mine is now a picture of peace, with golden grasses and vegetation springing up across land that has remained relatively unchanged since the abandonment of colliery in 1992. The bridleway runs in sight of the old spoil heaps, which is alive with wildlife, from deer to birds of prey. Yet to be fenced in or contained, the land offers some wonderful obstacles, including large flat pools of water to ride through and eroded spoils that make great ditch jumps.
Along the clifftop from Stack Rocks to Bosheston and from Guyton to Freshwater beach are the long established bridleways through Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. The nearly all off-road, circular routes were constructed by the Army stationed at Castlemartin. The entire trail is approximately 15 miles long so be sure to take a picnic with you. Explore the dramatic cliff-top coastal path around St Govan’s Head then cross back inland and follow the lanes around the army range. Finally, ride down to the beach at Freshwater West and enjoy an exhilarating gallop along the long stretch of sand in the bay.
Along the Luddenden Valley is a picturesque route from the Castle Carr gatehouse to Jerusalem Farm. Running off the bridleway is also a link up to the moors, which takes you over to Pecket Well above Hebden Bridge. Castle Carr itself is a ruined Victorian hunting lodge with amazing fountains that the estate owner opens up a couple of times a year to raise money for charity. The ride goes past the Cat in the Well pub — well known for its good beer. There is plenty of wildlife to see, with cuckoos in the spring, deer, little owls, tawny owls, herons, lapwings, curlews, snipe, hedgehogs, rabbits, as well as the more usual crows and robins. The woods that part of the route runs through have bluebells in spring and a lot of beech trees, which boast beautiful colours all year round. Towards autumn, the moors are full of heather and there is gorse on the top road that is very pretty when flowering.
Known as Mere Lane and Trundle Pie Lane, this scenic route begins in Halsall village and crosses the Leeds and Liverpool canal on one of the first bridges to be built here. The bridge is still cobbled and was part of a township road for Halsall Parish in the 18th and 19th centuries. In early spring, this trail is a haven for wildlife and on summer days fish can be seen from the bridge, overlooked by heron eager to catch one. The name Trundle Pie points to its original use — this was once a route to market. The path winds through farmland to its end at Small Lane and offers a good spot for a canter. The cutting along the edge of the canal favours many wild plants and birds and early spring flowers.
The Three Halls Ride is an eight-mile circular route in rural Leicestershire, south of Melton Mowbray. It passes three historic country houses — the medieval Ingarsby Old Hall (late 15th century), Jacobean Quenby Hall (early 17th century) and Georgian Lowesby Hall (early 18th century) — each of which can also be glimpsed from a distance on the way round. You will also ride past the deserted medieval village of Ingarsby — one of many in Leicestershire, but one of the few which is clearly identifiable (albeit just as grassy mounds). There are also splendid views across to Bradgate Park and Charnwood Forest, 12-15 miles away. The Black Boy in Hungerton offers the perfect spot for light refreshment at reasonable prices and a post and rail fence to which horses can be tethered.
To discover more beautiful places to ride, visit www.bhsaccess.org.uk
Image: Freshwater beach in Pembrokeshire, by Padyer, CC BY-SA 3.0