Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car in Wales and England along with the numerous roundabouts proved challenging the first few days.
Any trip begins with a single thought. Who with Welsh ponies hasn't had the thought of visiting their pony's homeland. I knew the trip would be a bit daunting but as with anything it began with the first step. I wanted to have a purpose to the visit and decided it would be to get an overview of the Welsh Mountain Pony in Wales and to do that I knew I would have to visit quite a variety of farms so I started with a list. My list was based on Green Journals and ponies I have seen from farms in the USA. I wanted to see hill ponies, ponies who came from the hills and have been bred for the showring and ponies who are shown successfully at the largest Welsh Mountain Pony show. I also had a second purpose which I will discuss later.
I had been to England but not to Wales and it was a big mystery to me. Maps were a little hard to find and the first one I bought on ebay was about 2 feet by 3 feet. It made the distance seem very large between farms which was a good thing as I later found out. Wales is a very rural country with lots of beautifully hedge lined lanes also known as roads that wind through gorgeous country passing through lovely villages, which often are not on the map. Fortunately, Joost Van Gestal from Holland visited our farm in March and he knows his way around the UK. He helped plot the farms on the map and our route was starting to take shape. I asked Monica Nelson if she would like to go and later I asked Dona Currie. I think it is good to have three people because if one cannot go for some reason then the trip is not in danger of being cancelled. I would not want to go in a group larger than three but can see that two would be good too. For us three proved to be a good number. I asked Donna and Monica if there were farms they would like to visit and our list was then complete.
I used the WPCS website to help with locations. Since members have to approve their listings not all farms are on the list. I especially enjoyed ones that had a website and a map locator and physical address and phone numbers. The SATNAV postal number following most addresses is a general locator if plugged into the rental car's navigation system. Be sure to rent a car that is an automatic and that has the navigation system. Although the navigation system is not always right it will probably get you in the general area and then you can ask someone for closer directions. Using a good map is also helpful and getting specific directions from the stud owner. A typical address is Fern Cottage, Sheffield, Herfordshire. Street names and villages were not on my maps. I made contact with the studs through messenger or email.
I found the different studs to all be very welcoming. I scheduled the date with them about six weeks ahead and then followed up the week before I left and determined the time of day at this time. I scheduled 23 studs in 9 days. That allowed for two travel days and two days unscheduled at the end and a day for the Kent County Agricultural Fair which was a great experience. It was an ambitious schedule but very doable. The time to get to one farm to the next was altered because it is sooo easy to get lost in Wales.
We purchased our airline tickets through AAA in late January. We decided to meet in KC and fly out together from there. Our tickets were about $1200 each. We flew AA. After the schedule of farms was confirmed I worked on hotels, B&B's that were either close to the last farm of the day or closer to the first farm of the next day depending on the distance. This proved to be trickier than I thought, as a few farms were added and I had to change reservations with three hotels. I did most of the bookings through Bookings.com and found it easier to change hotels by using them. I chose rooms with attached baths. Rooms cost between $65. and $110 each. I would pay more attention to first floor rooms in the future as it is hard lugging suitcases up 2 to 3 flights of stairs. You can cancel up to about a week before you are scheduled to be there at no charge. Booking with them also gives you an immediate confirmation whereas the few I booked with individually were sometimes very slow to respond. I would definitely go with Booking.com or one similar to book again. Note: none of our rooms were air conditioned. Also, get a hair dryer that can be used in Wales before you go if possible. The adapter blew Dona's hair dryer and most rooms do not include hair dryers. Be sure to take a couple of adapters for phone charging etc.
This hotel, the Rudloe Arms, was our first night's stay. It had beautiful grounds and are rooms were very nice. We stayed here after visiting Springbourne/Blanche and Forlan the first day after arriving in London at 8 a.m.
We only had one chance to do laundry with a washer and dryer. We saw very few grocery stores or gas stations as we were in rural areas. Dress is very casual and good walking shoes and maybe a hat are a good idea. We walked up and down a lot of big hills. If you are along the coast a light jacket with a hood is a good idea as it can be used as a rain jacket also.
If I do this again, I will not visit as may farms so the schedule will be easier. I planned this as if I would not have the opportunity to visit again so I wanted to see as much as we could. I also would make the times more general - if I thought I would be there at two I would instead say - late afternoon. Also, I would ask each farm to call the next to let them know we were on the road. Learning to navigate in Wales is a learning curve. We were very proud when we went to a couple of places later in our trip without getting lost once. The turnabouts are a big challenge. Monica, had good reflexes and was a fast sign reader. We were in some very busy traffic at times and then in remote places at other times - both were challenges. We had a few hiccups along the way but we stayed positive and worked it out. Traveling with ladies with senses of humor made the trials easier. We made it! Tomorrow I will write about the Welsh culture as we witnessed in our brief stay and will include a few pictures (and at least one pony picture). Some highlights of farm visits and pics of ponies to follow in the coming days. Our reward for such efforts - sights like this Section A herd from Cwm-Meudwy.