A couple of weekends ago, we ventured into deepest Englandshire, well, Ford and Etal. Hardly the Home Counties, but anything over a 10-minute dash into Kelso for the odd message is A Day Oot round here. We don’t get off the reservation very often – too many animals and endless DIY that just soak up any spare time.
Having said that, when the bin lids are off school, we are never in. One poor soul is left as the ‘dog/chicken/turkey/quail/washing/cooking/DIY-minder’ and the rest set off on a jolly.
This week, we had A Grand Day Oot at Hay Farm, where they had a two-day festival dedicated to farming methods of yesteryear, called Looking Back. I had spotted the poster in Rothbury’s bakery in Kelso: a lovely poster with a background of the head of a proud heavy horse, complete with harness and blinkers.
Gamford, born in 19-canteen, left school at the tender age of 14, and went to work on the farm. He remembered the heavy horses and their colouring, quirks and characteristics. I still love the tale of the mighty Tinker, frightened by a mouse running along the top of his trough, pulling back so hard on his tether that the rope snapped and he shot backwards out of the stall.
Out in the field ploughing, the furrow horse carefully walked the narrow trench, placing one foot carefully down in front of the other like a supermodel on the catwalk. At Bowshaw Farm, ‘Gee a bit’ and ‘come here o’er’ were the spoken commands for left and right. The memories darken as he remembers the first tractor coming, then another. And the hard-working Tinker, Prince, Bonny and Punch being put in the lorry and taken off to the pie factory. Such was the fate of most heavy horses from the 1940s onwards. We are lucky that places such as Hay Farm exist, and that heavy horse enthusiasts put so much time, effort and hard cash into breeding, showing and working these magnificent animals which were made redundant by machinery.
So that is how the YMs, Gamford and I set off for a ‘mystery’ Day Oot the other weekend. And you couldn’t have bought the golden moment which was the happy realisation spreading across his face when we turned off the lane and into the farm entrance, and he spotted the signs announcing the event.
That day, watching Gamford as he watched the Young Master ‘have a go’ at ploughing with one of the three teams working that weekend, I felt the tears prickling the corners of my eyes as I wondered, was he seeing himself, just a few years older than the YM, with Tinker and Prince on a glorious autumn day in Derbyshire, almost 70 years ago?