Candida Lycett Green developed a passion for horses and The Ridgeway as a child and  in her late sixties, she was finding her way back to the beginning again. The Way Home is the story of  her journey.

October 2009

Then the trouble began: Sweeny started his jack knifing trick. When we got to a T junction and I asked him to go left he would try and turn round the way we had just come. I had to get out of the cart as quickly as I could and rush to his head in time to stop the cart tipping up. It was a close run thing.

Still enormously fat, even after three days trotting, I shut Sweeney in the small paddock on our return home, in an effort to ration his grass intake. Within an hour he has heaved the furniture off the wooden gate and escaped into the big field. I then shut him in the orchard instead which has a metal gate and, presumably out of annoyance, he proceeds to flatten four quite hefty tree surrounds and snap in half three cherished apple trees which Rupert and I had planted ten years before. I decide to try riding him. Perhaps he will redeem himself after all. His stride is short, his response to my aids minimal and at a certain point on the edge of the village he begins to jib and turns on his hocks for home – nothing will induce him to go forward short of dismounting.

Not long after the jibbing incident I looked out of our bedroom window one morning and saw the incisions of Sweeny’s hooves all over the lawn. They are so deep they have clearly been made at a gallop. Sweeny has been out in the night and brought all the ewe lambs with him . They have had a midnight feast on the roses. I find Sweeney in the feed shed with his head in a bin and the sheep grazing in the front garden. On his rampage Sweeney has broken the new fence which replaced a former scene of his devastation. He has also  destroyed the fence panel belonging to the neighbours due west of us who so cherish their beautiful garden. Sweeny has now landed me with the dreaded  job of owning up to them.

As a picnic horse he has proved disastrous because he cannot be tied up to a convenient fence. He simply tries to muscle in on the food.  He is an all round failure. I enter Sweeny in next week’s Reading Sale. With an uncanny sixth sense  he makes a break for it  by pushing the furniture off a picket gate leading into the garden and, once across the lawn, he trots straight into the village. It is evening rural rush hour time and pitch dark. I can hear his  clattering hooves fading away and then crescendo-ing again as he does the mile circuit up Broad street and round High street a. I take a torch, a headcollar and a scoop of nuts and go searching for Sweeny. Several cars have stopped on the side of the road, their drivers are standing in worried chattering gaggles. “ Shockingly dangerous” I hear one say as I walk with my head hung low past Tom Brown’s school.

I spend an hour securing every gate with extra re re-enforcements and thank God Sweeny is still in the field early the next morning when the lorry comes to collect him. At last my troubles are over and he is gone. At end of the day though .he returns in the lorry unsold and  with a lot number stuck on his bum with extraordinarily strong fixative.  He has failed to reach his reserve of a £1000. Sweeny is not only useless to me but also unsellable.

I have no alternative but to relegate  him to the Hams with our flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep , a stranded  fourteen acre field we rent half hidden between Uffington and Woolstone. It is surrounded by both thick thorn  hedges and a barbed wire fence through which Sweeny will not barge. The sheep treat him as their leader within minutes. Two overgrown hedge lines which fifty years before had  divided the field into  three  have now  become  sheltering thickets  and are laced with  ancient may trees under which the sheep gather. There is a reedy damp patch in the middle where wild duck sometimes settle.  I turn my back on Sweeny  and walk away, leaving him in limbo ,his fate unsealed . Is Sweeny’s bad behaviour my fault?

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September 2009


Sweeny arrived on the first of September. I had bought him with an unexplained boldness.  He is a 14.3  skewbald gypsy cob cross trotter who comes from a golden ironstone farm near the A5. I drove him down the road among the speeding vans and articulated lorries remembering my mum’s instructions “the chief requisite for a carriage horse today is that he should be GOOD IN TRAFFIC and make certain he is good with lorries etc before you think about buying him.” Sweeny’s owner Chris, who was brought up driving milk floats in Daventry where they stabled the horses on two floors, has driven all his life. “Best horse I ever had” he says about Sweeny. Even if he was not a riding horse he was certainly a brilliant driver. So he fitted half the bill.

The afternoon he arrives I harness him up to the trolley cart and drive, along with the next door neighbours, to the White Horse Pub in Woolstone.  Sweeny behaves like a dream, waits at crossings, changes pace at my command, pulls like a power boat, trots at high speed and we cover the couple of miles in next to no time. I unhitch the cart and tie him to the usual post where I used to tie Axl in years gone by. We are sipping our drinks  when a man asks casually, “Is your horse meant to be galloping up the road?” I rush out only to see Sweeny’s rear end disappearing into the distance. He passes the church and is out of sight . I run panting behind and find him careering up and down beside the fence line of some extraordinarily expensive thoroughbreds. The family who own them have spilled out from their immaculate eighteenth century farmhouse house onto the yard including a child in a tutu and several young boys. Overwhelmed with embarrassment I ask if I can borrow a smaller head collar as clearly Sweeny had wriggled out of his own. In his tightly buckled headcollar I tie him once more to the usual post and settle down at last and sip my white wine. Within two minutes Angus the publican tells me Sweeny is loose again. This time a horsey girl has caught him with her boyfriend’s belt. The only way I am going be able to finish my wine is to make a neck strap and hold onto him. He is clearly a Houdini. I realise now that he can extract himself from anything including his bridle with great ease. What a horse.

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February 2009

I try to wrap my mum’s brave spirit around me and arrange to look at a “smashing once-in-a-lifetime-cob” advertised on the net. The public school voice had something to do with my being seduced by the description, “Oh yes he’s PERFECT gentleman, we can hardly bear to part with him.” “Does he shy or buck?” “ Oh good Lord no, he’s an absolute sweety.” It’s a beautiful day. A glittering hoar frost lingers through the morning as I cut across counties to Steep, the sometime home of the poet Edward Thomas. There is hope in my heart. In “Bob’s Lane” he described shovel-bearded Bob who so loved horses. “he himself was like a cob/and leather-coloured. Also he loved a tree./for the life in them he loved most living things/But a tree chiefly. All along the lane/he planted elms where now the stormcock sings.” I remember elms and miss their grandeur. The white sun still shines and all along the way I marvel at the intricate architecture of the trees, like charcoal drawings against the white sky.  In winter you can see their structure and strength: the way a branch might grow horizontally as though it is floating.  I have never before wondered at the  cantilevering heart of a tree.

I take a trickle of a pot holed lane on the level land behind the wooded hill and for a moment, dip into another person’s life. Seven barking dogs of varying sizes bound out of a tile hung cottage and surround my car.  A chubby lady with hair like the Queen’s stands foursquare in the immaculate yard, her hands pushed deep down into the pockets of her puffa waistcoat. “Are you man or mouse?” she seems to imply.  I feel instantly inferior and unworthy and for some reason in the wrong as I brave the pack of  dogs leaping up at me from all sides. She leads out Pilgirm who looks like a bony Indian cab horse and I know he’s not for me the moment I see him. I am too embarrassed to say so and watch helplessly as more and more extra  equipment is piled onto Pilgrim – breast plate, martingale, extra stopping reins.  Three paces out into the yard towards the wooded hill and the ghost of gloomy old Edward Thomas’s, Pilgrim shoots sideways at a redundant tractor wheel lying in the grass. What it this thing about a toff voice which makes me think it speaks the truth? Having successively shied Pilgrim now settles into being the laziest horse I have ever ridden.  I try to canter him up the side of a watery field but fail to get him out of a trot.  I pick a stick from the hedge and whack him. He bucks but still he won’t canter. Mrs Puffa is watching me as though she is a Pony club instructor at a rally marking me for my B test.  I have clearly failed.

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January 2009

The view from this attic window in the gable end of our cottage looks out across a small sloping meadow to the willow edged stream where Axl used to stand. Beyond, a continuous ridge of downland like a long humped back whale rises half way up the sky from the level sea of farmland below. The light and shade on the downs is forever shifting, sometimes making them look nearer and sometimes further away. Today I can just discern Marcella Seymour’s sheep scattered across the undulations of a shadowy shoulder. Marcella farms more than 700 acres of the high country as her father Arthur did before her Her farmhouse, sturdy lambing barns and milking parlour  are hunkered down in a scooped out combe below the spread eagled darkness of Britchcombe wood.

To the west of the hanging wood the line of downland rises in a slow arc above the famous chalk white horse of Uffington, outstretched at full gallop across the steep slope like a primitive cave painting. Whatever belief system has been in place,  its  reassuring presence for over five thousand years has never ceased to capture man’s imagination. As a small child I was taken on a pony by my mother up the low curving lane beneath the horse  and up to the seemingly mountainous horizon. There, the Ridgeway, the oldest road in Europe follows the crest of downland for twenty miles in either direction. Those far off journeys began anchoring my heart to these chalk uplands . There is consolation in their empty openness: to be up there on the downs makes everything alright.

My quest for a horse  is in full swing. I get on a train to Leeds and watch the landscape changing through the window – the farmhouses, mostly brick, getting taller through the midlands and the stone of the villages growing grimmer and blackened the further north we go. Margaret, a jaunty platinum blond in a blue pick up truck is here to meet me, her silent husband Walter beside. I climb in the back next to the silent sixteen year old daughter, her lids so heavy with mascara she can hardly open her eyes. “She’s lost interest in riding,” her mother says about her “she wants to study “Health and social” at Huddersfield college or maybe “travel and tourism”, mind you she hates flying.” Charlotte stares out of the window as the pick up strikes out through the round a bout –ed  hinterland of Leeds and into a pocket of wasteland between motorways where three caravans are parked beside a large pile of stones beside. “ That’s our new bungalow” Margaret says brightly. They need money to start building and Billy, the coloured cob, is all they have to sell she explains. There are terriers in tiny cages, goats in pens , men standing about among a collection of make shift shed, gossiping and I am happy to be part of Walter and Margaret’s life for this brief moment.  Billy naps when I ride him down  the empty lane towards a raggle taggle farm between strips of concrete and thistles. He tries to turn for home and refuses to go forward, doing little rears instead. As though she knows he will misbehave, Margaret who has been running behind me desperately out of breath says “I’ve never seen him do that before”. My heart sinks. She insists I go for a drive but I become alarmed sitting beside Walter as he whips Billy on down the busy main road at high speed with me as passenger.  Buses and lorries pile up behind us. Billy spooks into the middle of the road and the oncoming traffic and I can see he is far too headstrong for me to hold. He naps and turns for home, the cart jack knifes and Walter leaps out to catch hold of Billy’s head and stop the cart from tipping up. This has been a disastrous escapade for buyer and seller alike.

“Darling”, my mum wrote to me at school in 1954, “I think we had better NOT take dadz out in the cart with Merlin. I have just been for a lovely drive to the top of Sincombe hill, all along the Ridgeway and down the lane into Letcombe Bassett. But along the Childrey road about a quarter of a mile from the hollow, there was the biggest combine I have ever seen working on the edge of a field to the left and roaring like several jets. Merlin took one look at it and plunged onto a bank and down the very steep further side into a cornfield. I had Bernard Connoly with me. I thought Merlin would go on plunging and break the cart but the farmer, who had stopped his combine, calmed him down. Just FANCY if dadz had been with me!! Bernard insisted on walking on foot back to Wantage!..”

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December 2008

I will simply start again. On an abstract level it is time to abandon  the empty nest and strike out . Practically speaking, my role as a mother has ended: I have moved to the wings from where, occasionally, I might be asked to prompt .  Could I  now not return to a life less responsible and re capture  that   freedom  a horse  provides.? Could I still be that bold  heroine on a horse  ? The love of them never goes afterall. Should I not ride through the next decade of my life and re-affirm my love for that landscape half way up the sky ?  On the other hand, am I  simply looking for the  arcady  of youth to ameliorate some unexplained loss?.

While Rupert sleeps beside me and the Fresian cows in Common Farm meadows dozily chew their cud I am still awake in these early hours of the morning. This is the stolen, ungoverned time where I am anonymous:no longer captive to the structure of my days. No public self goes before me of who people think I am. There is no order, no guilt and no sense of duty. I can linger instead in cyberspace fishing for my alter ego. Gradually I become the bold imagined heorine on a horse I never was: even at fourteen, there was no reality to my courage. But now, in these illicit hours before the dawn chorus crescendos into daylight, I can imagine that anything is possible. I have been trawling the net for weeks now, as a single woman searches for her perfect partner, I have been searching for my perfect horse.  This is no different to online dating but there is a desperation in my trawling now for I am at the other end of my life, the far end, the deep end.                    

I scroll down the pictures of coloured cobs leaping over show jumps. The “Feisty little roadster” for sale in the apple orchards of Worcestershire is described as being  “a super chap” with a “scopey jump” and “a bold, uphill canter”. Is this the horse which will carry me through thick and thin?  The old urge stirs: the desire to win, the remembrance of being presented with a rosette. The feeling of the silk ribbon held between my teeth as I cantered round the ring in a triumphal circuit, the brown envelope with a ten bob note in it, safe in my pocket. That top thrill carried me through the hell of trotting  home from gymkhanas in the drizzle, five or sometimes ten miles, on boring endless evening roads.

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October 2008

Too soon after Axl’s death  I went down a  concrete road near Wantage where the local police will not venture. Past dead beds and prams in the hedge, past kennels full of pit bull terriers and caged game birds to a scrappy yard. Among the group of caravans and mobile homes five men sat on white plastic chairs in the sun, putting the world to rights, while a boy washed the most beautiful appaloosa stallion I had ever seen. “I’ve come to see Alfie Downs about a horse”. “Which Alfie Downs? There’s three of ‘em. Granddad, dad and son.” I chose the middle one who rose from his chair. “What d’you want then?”. “A coloured driver”, I said. “I’ve got  six ‘undred of ‘em between Swindon and Reading.” He took me to look at a dozen or two, tethered and scarecrow thin around the old aerodrome where I had learnt to drive a car fifty years before. He told me how they were all brilliant drivers and had been up and down the main roads and round Wantage Market place no trouble. Nothing came near to Axl. Later I tried a coloured mare who emerged from a tin hut in a scrap yard near Frampton on Severn. I drove her lickety split up the road but when I came to cross the metal canal swing bridge she leapt sideways and terrified the living daylights out of me. I let things lie while the horse chestnut leaves blew all across the garden and caught in deep drifts along the hedgeline. Anyway, how on earth could I ever replace Axl?

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September 2008

Sometimes on balmy evenings we went to Waylands Smithy or to the back of the White Horse from where, 900 foot above the vale, we’d watch the sun go down.

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