Devon Adventurer and photographer Tracey Elliot-Reep recounts her travels on horseback
PUBLISHED: 13:33 07 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:28 20 February 2013
The idea of a ride across Europe was first hatched in 2011, when I was on the other side of the world. Early that year, I was in New Zealand, at the time of the Christchurch earthquake.
Riding by faith
Adventurer and photographer Tracey Elliot-Reep recounts her travels on horseback across southern Europe
The idea of a ride across Europe was first hatched in 2011, when I was on the other side of the world. Early that year, I was in New Zealand, at the time of the Christchurch earthquake. On that fateful day, I was due to deliver some cards and book samples to a shop in the city centre, but I was running late, so narrowly avoided being involved in the catastrophe.
I gave several riding adventure presentations in New Zealand and later in Colorado, where someone told me about Lord Bates, who was embarking on a peace walk from Greece, and planning to reach London in time for the Olympics. It was agreed that I would meet him and take photos of part of his walk.
I have completed many long-distance rides around the world, so thought it would be a good idea to meet him on horseback. As on previous occasions, this meant buying ponies in the country in which the journey began in this case, Greece. I prayed that Id find someone who could help me. Just three weeks before I was due to leave, I bumped into a Greek woman while I was giving a riding presentation for charity in Jersey, whose cousin bred racehorses near Athens! He agreed to help me.
It was early June when I set off with two 14-hand companions, Ermis and Yoana. I planned to alternate, riding one and leading the other, which carried the pack. As it turned out, Yoana, the mare, was the strongest and best suited to carrying the pack, so I rode Ermis, the gelding.
I very soon discovered that travelling across the mainland was far removed from holidaying on a Greek island. The main roads were dangerous, and lined with memorials to people killed in accidents. Whenever I could, I found alternative routes along winding mountain roads, which took three or four times longer. It was worth it for the peace and quiet, although we were continually attacked by biting insects.
To save money, I slept in a tent and survived on a diet of tinned tuna and crackers, although generous locals often invited me in to sample their food, or gave me delicious delicacies to carry with me. Mind you, the proprietor of a caf generously offered me lamb but it turned out to be a solid slab of cold fat, with only a slither of meat attached!
English teabags were one of my most essential supplies, and I always started the day with a cuppa, except in Greece, when the period of time between dawn and the heat of the day was so brief that I had to set off as soon as it was light and safe enough to travel on the roads. By midday, I made sure I had found some shade, where I could cool off, water the ponies and write my diary while the ponies grazed (and kicked at the flies!).
I soon realised that I wasnt going to catch up with Lord Bates, who was now in Albania, and that life on the roads in that area of Europe wasnt ideal for a woman with two ponies. So I decided to cross over to Italy.
It is not possible to take your horses to Italy, said a Greek Ministry vet, to which I replied, All things are possible with God. Eventually, all the paperwork was done, and I made it across the Adriatic.
I arrived in the midst of a heatwave and this, combined with added humidity, made it tough for the ponies, and for me. Even my Greek ponies were sweating, and the heat from the roads meant the soles of my feet were soon raw.
Again, I ran into bureaucracy, with a requirement for the ponies to have a Coggins test in order to continue, and papers to confirm they were not for human consumption. I was rescued by Moira, originally from Scotland and now running a riding stables in Italy. With Moiras help, I made it north to the Alps, and to a complete contrast in temperature: now I was shivering at night in my sleeping bag.
The views were stunning, but crossing the Alps was dangerous. Many times I had to unload the packs, drag them up a slope, then return for the ponies running and scrambling up steep rocky inclines and hoping they wouldnt slip.
The original plan was to travel north through France to the Channel, and home to Devon, but instead I felt the need to go south. After resting the ponies and making a quick trip back home to Dartmoor to catch up with my business, I returned and began following an old pilgrim route through France and over the Pyrenees the Way of St James (El Camino de Santiago in Spanish).
Languages continued to be a challenge: just as Id gained a grasp of basic Greek I was in Italy and trying to make myself understood there, and then over the mountains and digging deep to remember my school French. Once across the Pyrenees, and into Spain, I was really muddled!
Another challenge on the vast, dry plains of northern Spain was finding food for the ponies. So I loaded them with sacks of grain and walked on with blistered feet, leading the ponies for most of the 800km to wet and grassy Galicia. It rained every day there, reminding me of home on Dartmoor!
Finally we reached Santiago, and carried on to Finisterre, which was once considered the end of the world. The Spanish authorities said I couldnt take my ponies back to England but I trusted in God that it would be possible. I had promised them as we travelled through Europe that Id take them home to the green, green grass of England!
We made it to Devon in November. To my surprise, it turned out that Yoana had been in foal I had no idea when I bought her and she gave birth the following spring. Unfortunately, the foal died soon after, due to a suspected virus.
Now Yoana is happily grazing with my Highland pony Callum, who I rode down from the top of Scotland and around southern Ireland several years ago. Ermis, who probably spent his previous life on the end of a tethering rope in Greece, is on loan to a teenager near Tiverton who is taking him pony clubbing. Hes having the time of his life!
Adventurer and photographer Tracey Elliot-Reep was born and grew up on a Dartmoor farm, near Widecombe-in-the-Moor, where she now has her own business producing postcards, greeting cards, books and calendars. To see Traceys stunning photographs and read more of her captivating adventures, see her book, Riding by Faith Across Southern Europe, which is out now, priced 19.99.