THREE decades after her horse ride through west Ireland, the founder of Bradt Travel Guides dusted down her notes and published Connemara Mollie.
Adventurer Hilary Bradt MBE nearly didn’t have the option, for she left the only copy of her manuscript on a wall outside during a house move and somebody stole it.
She had to leave to guide a tour in Madagascar, but friends found a gypsy dowser who said it was at the local school. However, a thorough search produced nothing and Hilary was resigned to having lost her work, until six months later a teenage boy rang to ask if the £50 reward still stood.
“I got it back and read it through and thought it not fit to be published,” Hilary told us.
Bradt Travel Guides, of which Hilary is a director but not takes a back seat, went into travel narrative writing last year.
“I said ‘I’ve got this at the back of the loft.’ I’ve done a lot of work on it and it’s been very well received. That young man did me a good favour.”
It was published last July and tells of the then 42-year-old’s solo adventure during the summer of 1984.
And the explorer, who had barely ridden since childhood, will be in the Borders next week to tell that story.
“I went to Ireland not knowing where I was going to find a pony. It was all unplanned.”
Hilary bought Mollie, a nine-year-old, 14.2hh trekking pony from renowned Connemara breeder Willie Leahy in County Galway.
“I wanted to be completely independent so I got two saddle bags and I didn’t plan the route. I carried a tent, sleeping bag and a stove, so I could camp wild or ask a farmer for the use of a field and occasionally, when I needed a good wash, go to a youth hostel.
“Mollie was lovely, she was very phlegmatic and quite stoical. She wasn’t terribly happy about her job to begin with because she missed her friends, and finding herself stuck with me was pretty depressing, but what was so lovely was we really bonded and she started to enjoy herself.
“It was something I had always wanted to do. As a child I consumed pony books at the rate of at least two a week. I thought it would be wonderful not to always have to ride home at the end of each day or after each hour.
“I didn’t want to do an epic journey like John O’Groats to Land’s End, I wanted to meander. My aim was to see the most beautiful parts of Ireland, but as I continued and measured my mileage every day I decided a nice target would be 1,000 miles.”
She said of her talk: “I’m looking back on a really golden era of Ireland before its boom and bust and it was a much simpler place than it is now – though I’ve just recently been back and it’s not changed much.
“I learned so much. The reason I did it was that year my marriage had just broken up and I wanted to learn to be on my own and be happy on my own, and I achieved that.
“But I wasn’t on my own because there was always the horse to talk to.
“It was a lesson in self-sufficiency and I loved it. That changed me. I’m proud of what I achieved, looking back.”
Hilary’s talk is on Tuesday, January 29 at the Eastgate Theatre at 7.30pm. Tickets (£8) at the door.