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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Rosettes and Exmoors

Or running a horse show on one of the hottest days for many years...

The plea came several weeks ago from the Exmoor Pony Centre on Exmoor – a charity wider known as the Moorland Mousie Trust in honour of a famous 1950s pony story of that title by ‘Golden Gorse’, and about, yes you’ve guessed, an Exmoor pony on Exmoor. The Centre was in financial difficulties, yet again the survival of the Exmoor pony was in jeopardy.

Wild Exmoor Ponies
(possibly the Anchor Herd)
The breed is thought to be over 2,000 years old. The bones of very similar ponies have been found on the Moor, although it is uncertain whether the distinctive ‘mealy’ muzzle and brown coat is original. Go up on to Exmoor today and you are likely to see the wild ponies – direct descendants from those millennia-year-old stock – grazing by the side of the road. But back in 1921, the breed was in danger of extinction, so the Exmoor Pony Society was set up. By the end of WWII, however, only fifty, including four stallions had survived living wild on Exmoor, the ponies, sadly falling victim to the necessity for food, and target practice for soldiers.

The Moorland Mousie Trust was created seventeen years ago to rescue the ponies and the breed. Falling out of popularity (overtaken by the attractiveness of the Welsh Cob) the moorland bred Exmoors, were being sold after every annual autumn round-up for as little as £1-£5, with most, especially the colts, going for the meat market. Into the breach stepped the MMC.
Foals at the annual round-up (October 2016)
(that's Tanana in the middle - who came to us)
Over the last ten years the centre has taken in, handled and rehomed more than three-hundred ponies. We now have four of our own: Mr Mischief we bought as a companion pony when we first moved to Devon, Siren and Tanana we bought direct from the Farleywater herd at round-up, and our latest, Wendigo, we rehomed from the centre. I love the breed, have done so since a young reader mesmerised by the book, Moorland Mousie (I still have my copy and its sequel Older Mousie.

 So, what could we do to help raise funds? My daughter Kathy, and her husband Adam, regularly run show jumping shows as Taw River Show Jumping here in Devon. They decided to run one extra this year, combine forces with Oakfield Showing and give all the profits raised to the Exmoor Centre.

Taw River Show Jumping
North Devon Events
(also coaching & private lessons with
Kathy Hollick Blee)
The venue, Coxleigh Barton Equestrian Centre, near Barnstaple, North Devon, generously offered to charge only half the hire cost for two arenas and facilities. Photographer Gilly Davidson and the catering van made their own profits (competitors reading this - please do purchaser Gilly's fabulous photos!). Judges and stewards offered their services for free: thank you to Mal Phillips and Emma Hunt who came all the way from London to judge Ridden and In Hand classes, Leslie Cambridge and Abbi who manned the jumping arena, and stewards Ashley Witcombe (who did a wonderful job with organising the parking) and Lorna Norris and her mum from Oakfield show team. A professional first aid paramedic was in attendance, while Taw River Kathy and Adam Blee and myself sorted the rest - and thanks to Adam's mum, Marcia who also helped out.

Show Supreme Champion (sponsored by ChemDry Devon)
Gilly Davidson Photography via Barnstaple Equestrian Supplies
The other big cost: rosettes. We wanted nice ones, special ones for a special day, and a few local companies and my wonderful author friends – and publisher – came up trumps to sponsor various classes - and the wonderful rosettes!
poster designed by Avalon Graphics
The weather supported us as well; we had fingers crossed for a ‘nice day’, and Someone Up There was definitely listening but turned the thermostat a tad high – talk about baking in an oven! Phew!

Lorna Norris of Oakfield Showing and Kathy Hollick Blee
contemplating the Supreme Championship
The jumping was a little on the slack side, unfortunately, but the in hand classes were well supported, and some brave riders outlasted the melting conditions to take part in the ridden classes in the afternoon. Running alongside each class was a separate section for Exmoors, with their own rosettes, sponsored by Taw River, and we were delighted with the Reserve Reserve Champion Exmoor – as was his thrilled owner.
Me and the Champion!
I’m biased, but to my mind this lovely Exmoor stole the show!

Lorna, Kathy Emma Hunt & Mal Phillips
In all we raised £351.40 clear profit (with about £100 in the donation pot) so THANK YOU to all the fabulous people who supported us, from competitors, to helpers, to judges and sponsors!

Handing the cheque over ...

But pictures speak louder than words ...
(my thanks to Gilly of  Barnstaple Equestrian for permission to use some of her photographs)

(rosettes patiently modelled by our Exmoor pony, Siren)

Chill With A Book Award

Pauline Barclay

Alison Morton
Roma Nova

SilverWood Books Ltd
In Hand Championship

J.G. Harlond

Victoria Eveleigh

Elizabeth Chadwick
in memory of  William Marshal 

Royal protector, loyal servant, forgotten hero.

The Kingts Greatest Enemy series 
Anna Belfrage
The Graham Saga

 Our Other Sponsors:

Mullacott Quads
Nicky Galliers
Dan Hynds
Shirley Griffey & the Teape family
Torch Equine Vets

Chem Dry Devon
carpet & upholstery cleaning

Other Links:

Article in the Sunday Telegraph (featuring our pony Wendigo, who was, then, at the centre)

and yes I did also sponsor a class for my books!

Helen Hollick


Taw River Show Jumping Dates

Monday 19 June 2017

The Nice Thing About Research - a Voyage to Nassau

Just look at that title - don't go thinking that I've been off on a jolly jaunt to the Bahamas with my dashing hero of a pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, because, for all my wishful thinking (regarding jolly jaunts and my pirate) I haven't.

Traitor’s Knot : Amazon
A dear friend, and author (see last week's blog post about her book and Highwaymen) regularly visits Nassau and offered to supply me with some research information that I wanted for the next Sea Witch Voyage Gallows Wake. Although I have to be honest, it might be for the next-but-one, Jamaica Gold as, not having written Gallows Wake yet, I'm not entirely certain what will, or will not, be included.  Two hints though: Jesamiah finds himself aboard a Royal Navy Frigate, and the threat of the gallows looms... (I hope to have it written for early 2018 publication)

not yet written!
Anyway, I asked Cryssa for a few specifics because they are not easy to find via Google Wikipedia etc, and, bless her pirate boots, she came back with some fabulous information, which she generously said I could turn into a blog article. (The idea being a) gives me something to write about b) ensures I know where to find the info when I come to need it c) is a public way of saying thank you to Cryssa)

So, here's what she sent:

I’m a bit (a lot) shamefaced at the length of time that it’s taken me to write this up for you. You could have rafted to the Caribbean in less time.
I read Pirate Code while I was last down there and thought the bits you included about Nassau were very well done. I enjoyed it as much as Sea Witch which is the one thing a reader can ask for.

Now for Nassau.

December: the sun sets pretty quickly I find, no sooner than you realize the sun has set, it gets dark. I seem to remember the sun falling around 5 p.m and dark by 5.30. Sunrise is around 6.30 a.m. December is very unsettled weather because the cooler air comes down from the Florida coast and mixes with the warmer air from the south. It’s usual for it to be partly cloudy by noon (rather than clear blue skies), though the early morning seems to be more clear. There is always some heavy condensation or dew in the early morning that coats the windows and the chairs, etc. It can also be windy at this time and when the winds pick up they only die down after it rains. They can be windy for a few days in a row before the rain comes.

The half moon is very curious. Here it hangs on the side but there it lays on its back.

It’s hard to say what trees there would have been in the 18th century. I believe the palms were brought over from elsewhere. What is common along the natural coastline is a tree with soft needle like foliage. I wish I could name it but the people I asked had no clue. I can’t see Jesamiah fussing with botany though! It does remind me of an evergreen. Poincianas are also popular there but I’m not sure how far back they go. I get the sense they are native. I believe they lose some of their leaves in the winter.

There is a variety of sea gull that I’ve noticed only inhabits Paradise Island. It looks like a highwayman bandit as there is a dark band like a mask over the face. All the gulls around Nassau have black feet not yellow.

Grouper and conch are main staples down there. Yellow tailed snapper, red snapper, hog snapper are also well stocked. The island doesn’t have the soil for agriculture and they end up importing most of their food. The middle part of the island is higher than the rest of it but the elevation overall is not high. Blackbeard’s Tower, when it was still standing would have been the perfect place to see both approaches to the island.

Paradise Island used to be called Hogs Island because of the wild pigs that lived there. I believe most of these little islands were stocked with pigs, but now they are filled with high end yachts. This a brackish lake (fairly large) in the western part of the island and there are various streams and rivers that empty out into the water around Paradise Island (northern shoreline). It’s a bit sulphurous there and muddy and mucky with lots of ducks hanging out.

Nassau’s shoreline (the part that the hotels haven’t touched) tends to be both rocky and muddy. The rock is yellowish and pitted. The out islands (tiny Rose island, Harbour Island) are famous for their pink sand which isn’t what they have in Nassau.

July/August: By August, you’re getting into hurricane weather. July is hot but not completely unbearable because of the winds that blow in off the Caribbean. I’ve been in Florida during that same time (staying two blocks away from the beach) and the air felt like a closed oven. There is always humidity in Nassau but the shade does provide sufficient relief.

July is jelly fish season. I should know. I discovered them first hand - it’s not hard to get stung in the surf! When we were there in July, we noticed that it usually rained in the afternoon (around 2ish). The sky would go dark and violent as the storm came through, and then within a half-hour blew through. Sometimes there would be lightning. The sand flies are very annoying, they bite at ankles when you are on public beaches. If you see sting rays swimming close to shore, guaranteed there are sharks (sand sharks, tiger sharks) out there and most people prudently come in from the water. In July, I’ve seen warnings over lion fish (though it might have been December?)

Beaches - Cable Beach is just west of Nassau and tends to be somewhat sheltered so that even when it is very windy, you can still safely swim. There isn’t a big undertow there. Goodman’s Bay, which is beside Cable Beach is very shallow. The sand in the water is somewhat spongy.

Paradise Island is the best looking beach, but it can be very dangerous. It’s completely exposed and when the weather is windy and unsettled (no matter the season), you could have six foot waves. You’ll get the roar of the waves crashing there. In Cable Beach, not as much.

Along the west end of the island there are caves but I haven’t explored those. The southern end of the island has fewer beaches. It’s rockier there and has more places to snorkel. It looks a bit rougher too.

I’ve revisited the Pirate museum and have a few pictures, one being a map of Fort Nassau at the time of Woodes Rogers.


Legend has it that 'Blackbeard's Tower' was where he would keep watch on shipping coming in and out of harbour. It is unlikely to have been Blackbeard's - but it was a watch tower!

The tower' is situated on a ridge five miles east of Fort Montagu on the island of New Providence, Nassau. The tower was used as a lookout point, giving commanding views over the sea. Today, the ruins are nothing more than crumbling masonry, and it is not easy to find, as the site is tucked away in an overgrown location and not visible from the road.

It is highly unlikely that Blackbeard himself had anything to do with the tower - it was more likely to be a military installation to keep watch for the Spanish, who raided Nassau several times. 
I wonder if Governor Woodes Rogers was responsible for its building?

There's nothing to say the place wasn't connected with Blackbeard though...!

photos: Cryssa Bazos

This is the view from the base
of the tower facing north.
Cryssa Bazos: 17th Century Enthusiast
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Thank you Cryssa - expect some of the above information in one of the next Voyages!

a few more photos of NASSAU 
My thanks to José Bográn for these photos! 

approaching Nassau - sunset 

 Nassau Harbour
View from the cannon mount at Fort Fincastle (c 1793).

Cannon mount at Fort Fincastle. 
These are replicas, the original weaponry was sent back to England.

View of the other end of Fort Fincastle. 
Fun fact: the castle was shaped to look as a seagoing ship.

View from the bottom of the Queen’s Staircase. 
Carved by slaves in the 18th Century 
(after Jesamiah's time)

Market stalls at the bottom of Queen’s Staircase

I have more Behind the Scenes 
photos of all my books