Saturday, 6 February 2021

Birthday Carriage

I had a lovely birthday yesterday. My dearest T went to great lengths to make it very special. I began by opening cards and presents. I received plenty of good wishes from family and friends. I got books, vouchers and an illuminated manuscript created by a retired monk. Later on there would be a three course dinner from a restaurant, cake and candles, the full works. But first, T took me to a secret assignation that she had arranged. The journey was mysterious. We drove into the hills between our house and the Mournes. After a while we turned into the yard of a remote farm. I was gobsmacked to encounter a carriage and two horses.

We were introduced to Fred and Navi, two six year old geldings, by Liz and Mervyn. I patted both horses on the neck and they nodded their welcome. The carriage was magnificent: shiny black wood with silver detailing, four great spoked wheels, a bench seat for the driver and a rear step for the postillion. It was a replica of a landau from 1780. Fred and Navi were harnessed. Mervyn opened the carriage door. We stepped up and into the plush red interior. There were two bench seats. We sat on either side, glancing out of the open windows. Liz took her place as the postillion. Mervyn cracked the whip. Fred and Navi shook their heads. The carriage jerked forwards and we were away.

There is something magnificent about the sound of a horse’s hooves. We clip-clopped along misty back lanes. From the carriage, we could see over hedges. Animals in the fields ran towards us excitedly. Apparently, even wild animals would stop and stare. Fred and Navi trotted along, panting a little on the slopes. The misty air was suffused with the beat of their hooves. We had gone back in time. It could have been 1780. I imagined that we were on a journey to the local town. I kept expecting us to be stopped by a highwayman.

Horsepower, or Shank’s pony, was how most people had travelled until the last century. For thousands of years the world had been arranged around the speed of a horse. By carriage that would be ten miles in an hour. And you would be stopping every twenty miles or so at a coaching inn to change the horses. You would glad of a break too. For even with rubber edged wheels and a tarmac road, the landau jolted around a good bit.

My father always loved horses. My grandfather had a milk round. As a boy, my father led the horse around village lanes doing deliveries, until he ran away from home aged fifteen to join the army. At that time, the army still relied on horses. Many army units only became mechanised in the run up to the second world war. My father fought in tanks across the Western desert, until he was captured and became a POW. After the war he left the army and worked in a number of factory jobs. Horses remained his love. Although, with a wife and three kids, he couldn’t afford to keep a horse as well.

Our hour in the carriage was so special. All too soon we were back at the yard. Fred and Navi were unharnessed and were champing at the bit for something to eat. We patted them and made our farewells to Liz and Mervyn. We’d highly recommend L & M Carriage Driving. Heading back home in our car, I reflected on what I really liked about cycling. It was the wind on your face as you travelled through the world at a slower pace, fully part of your surroundings. On a long day out, I would plan my cycle routes on an average of ten miles an hour, including stops for food and drink. That was a horse’s pace. I realised that for me cycling was the nearest thing to riding a horse.


  1. What a truly special Birthday present, you lucky man.
    I don't really believe in Astrology but so many of my acquaintances in the Arts have their Birthdays just this week including myself.

    1. Thank you very much. I also don't believe in astrology, but who knows.