Abby Ch. 27byKezza67©
The next day James phoned early. "The weather looks good for today, so how about taking the horses out for a little canter today?"
"A ride yes." replied Abby, "but canter no. It would be good to be out for a while and I have got nothing on today," she heard James laugh and forestalled his comment, "James behave! I am sure you were just about to make a comment about Lady Godiva."
"I wasn't actually, but now you mention it..."
Abby stopped any further comment."Enough! It will be great to ride, where shall we go?"
"I thought we could go up the valley on the western side, that way we will get the Sun in the morning, and come back down the old track, when the Sun is in the South West. What do you think?"
"Sounds good to me, I'll go and get some warm clothes on. Oh and I'll ask Mary if she can put together a packed lunch. Shall I come up to Lyney House?"
"Yes, that would be best. I'll go and get the horses saddled ready, what do you think, about an hour?"
"Good thinking, I wouldn't want to put Mary under pressure."
Mary had no trouble about producing her usual picnic lunch for four or five people. Abby had to remind her that if she were to eat her fair share, then she would not require much in the way of an evening meal. Mary demurred.
"It's a nice day, but with a little chill in the air, you will be quite hungry later. Now there's soup in this flask, and coffee in the red one. I have put cold beef with mustard in the rolls, and there's a couple of Pork Pies as well, I didn't think you would be wanting any salad today."
The nerves that Abby experienced the first time she rode Jason were long gone. With less fear and greater confidence Abby could enjoy the ride and the scenery and James' company without reservation. They had taken the road that led up the hill behind Lyney House, and after about a mile and a half mile turned off onto a bridle path that followed the contours of the valley. At first they rode through a wooded area, with very little view to be seen, but gradually the trees thinned and the watery Sun found a way through the foliage. There was little warmth in the light, and Abby was relieved that she had put on warmer clothing, even so James had insisted she wore one of his Fleece jackets, apologising that it was not too clean. Abby had no problems with that, she believed she could smell him on the jacket and that pleased her. James explained that this Bridle path was originally the drover's road, by which cattle were herded to Paverton.
"Why didn't they use the road?"
"This was when it was an umade track and there were no bridges, so there were two or three fords on the lower track, they became impassable when the river was running high, and so this was the way they used. It did go back all the way to South Molton as well."
"All the way from Paverton to South Molton?"
"Yes, but higher up the valley the road now uses this route. You know where the road crosses the river higher up?"
"That is where the road was laid over the old Drovers path. In the other direction you can follow the path as far as the River Bray, but beyond that it has disappeared." Abby nodded. It no longer amazed her how the old and the new became synonymous here.
"Do we see the old railway from this side?"
"Yes we will. In fact we can ride along the track bed for about two miles, instead of the Bridle path."
"I would like that."
James now had the little smile on his face. "Of course two hundred years ago the smugglers would use this path.
"Smugglers!" Abby thought James was making it up. "But we are miles from the Sea."
"We are, but smuggling was no good unless you could get the contraband to the buyers. It also made sense to get the stuff away from the coastal areas, where the Revenue men would be most active. There would have been lots of places where the contraband could be hidden. I believe that one of my forebears', William Comberford may have known more about the business than he ought to."
"Ah, why am I not surprised that the Comberford's would be involved somewhere." James looked over to her with the grin on his face.
"Now don't be too quick to condemn, remember he may be one of your forebear's as well." Abby had to laugh; he had caught her neatly in a trap.
"I thought that Smugglers landed on the South Coast. Being nearer to France."
"They did in the main, but with the profit to be made, particularly on stuff like Brandy and Silk, it was worth the haul round Lands End. The smugglers would not do that journey themselves, but would meet the ships out in the channel and transfer the load."
"Risky, I would have thought."
"Yes, but they couldn't be seen out there in the channel and it lessened the risk as they could bring their contraband in to small coves; of which there were many; where the bigger ships could not go. The Revenue men could not stake out every cove and the smugglers had good intelligence from the locals as to where the Revenue men were. The smugglers were locals, the Revenue men weren't. All they were doing is what you did in the City. Take a risk to make lots of money." Abby smiled broadly.
"Yes, but what I was doing was legal."
James shrugged his shoulders. "It's a funny thing when you think about it, we change our laws over a period of time, and many things that were illegal three or four hundred years ago, are acceptable and legal now. The smugglers were free enterprise blokes; they bought wines and spirits in France and sold them over here. Now they would just take a white Van over and back on the Tunnel train. Same enterprise, different transport."
"Just a little problem of the duty to be paid?"
"How many people go on package holidays and come back with stuff in excess of the allowance yet don't declare it, cigarettes, perfume or booze. Same crime, except two hundred years ago you could be hanged for it. Now it's just confiscation and a fine." Abby ran that through her mind, he was right of course, although she would not tell him so. She had done just that, walked through the Green Channel with an excess of Perfume in her bags. She giggled. James looked to see what had amused her. She explained.
"I've done that, came back with more Perfume than I should. I felt that everybody's eyes were on me, and was so relieved when I got out the other side without being challenged. If I am a product of the Comberford genes, then who was it?" Her memory came up with the name. "William Comberford would call me a chip off the old block." He smiled at her.
"No Abby not a chip off our block, of that I am certain, but Thomas Tregonney would be mortified that one of his family had committed a sin."
"I had forgotten about him. Yes I really would be in his bad books."
To Abby it seemed that they had now reached high ground, yet the path did not appear to climb. She looked over to the left and could see the valley floor, a collage of varying shades, green fields, woodland, some green, some turning a brilliant rust, grey rock outcrops, and the copper of the Beeches. Interspersed were occasional cottages, some still in the white Cob, and others built in the grey stone of the local granite. Abby pointed them out to James.
"Are those built on your land? "
"Yes." He sounded gloomy. "They are on estate land and I get ground rent on them. But they are residential not agricultural. My father had to sell the properties as he needed capital. I will never be able to get them back."
The road from Combe Lyney to Paverton showed quite clearly from time to time, but of the old railway track there was very little evidence. It was remarkable that the railway could sit so well in the environment, yet the road, even a very minor one, slashed a scar across the landscape. The track took them through a small side valley, they splashed through a little rivulet that zigzagged down, hurrying and then pausing in little pools before tumbling down again on its way to join with the Lyney. The path kept to the contour and eventually they rounded the spur that brought them back into the valley proper. Ahead of them lay the Viaduct, the first time she could see evidence of the railway. It was still some distance away and James chose this moment to ask if she wanted a coffee break. Abby nodded enthusiastically. They stopped where there was a good view over the valley. Below a tractor was towing a trailer spreading dung over pasture. James watched intently for a while.
"Geoff won't graze that next year. But the year after that it will be excellent for his cattle."
"Yes, sorry, you haven't met him yet. Geoff Corliss, that's White Rock farm. He has more sheep than cattle, and has rights of grazing on the moor. His Lamb is superb. Very distinctive flavour."
"In what way?"
"His sheep graze on the moor for much of the year. Sheep don't eat Heather as such, but because they browse so close, they will eat young Heather shoots by accident. Just flavours the Lamb slightly." Abby remembered the lamb stew Mary had served, and had wondered what the subtle flavour she detected could be. Now she knew.
"I have had some. I had some of Mary's lamb stew. That was the flavour!" After all this time the mystery was solved. "Does he know about the co-operative?"
"Yes, Roger talked to him, and he is quite interested. I suspect he will be asking to discuss this with you very soon."
"How many more will there be?"
"That's it really. There's Fred Bayley, but he is just a smallholder, only five acres. He keeps a few dairy cows, small herd of sheep, a number of pigs and some Goats. Very good vegetable garden though. He doesn't sell any of his stock commercially. Slaughters just enough for his own needs."
Abby was astonished. "How does he survive then?"
James tapped the side of his nose. "Churns his own Butter, makes Cheese with the milk and goats milk, clotted cream. Sausages, Hams. Not certificated, tells the Health and Safety busybodies it's all for his own consumption. But he will sell to those who are in the know as his produce is absolutely out of this world. Pays me the rent in cash. Quite useful really."
"You are making my stomach rumble; I shall have to try some sometime."
"You have tasted it. You have had Sausage at the Inn, butter and cheese. Mary is one of those who are in the know. Now you are as well." Abby smiled to herself. This place was sucking her in, and making her an accomplice to their irregular dealings.
"So the cash he pays you isn't declared I take it." James shook his head.
"Oh yes it is. The Inland Revenue keep a close eye on me. But I take it out as income, save bothering the Bank."
"Why do they keep a close eye on you? Have you tried to evade tax at any time?"
"No, not me. But father did. Don't know the exact details but they hit him with a huge sum. Went back seven years. That's when he sold those properties; even then he had to borrow against the estate. The mortgage was still outstanding when he died." Abby went quiet. She was certain that no-one else knew of this, and to think that James was prepared to share this with her, gave her a very warm feeling.
"Is it sorted?"
James gave her a smile. "Yes it was sorted a couple of years ago." He was slightly embarrassed, and hoped that Abby didn't think that he had told her hoping to elicit a loan. Abby was equally embarrassed. If there was still monies outstanding would she have offered a loan? She may have done, she couldn't be certain. If she had would he have accepted, probably not, his pride would not allow it, and he would have, in all likelihood, been very angry. Good job the situation hadn't arisen. They finished their coffee in silence, standing apart as if their thoughts had driven a wedge between them. Abby moved closer and snuggled to his side; his arm went round her and held her close. Then he murmured softly.
"I think that sister or no, I am getting to a situation where I will want to make love with you Abby, even if I go to Prison for it."
Abby turned her face towards him wearing the loveliest smile James had ever seen her wear. She reached up and kissed him. "Thank you, James. That is the most wonderful compliment I have ever received.
The path now was quite open and to Abby's eyes level. James looked over to her. "How about a Trot for a while."
"No I don't think so, James. I don't believe my riding skill is up to that." James reasoned with her.
"Abby, as you intend to stay here, it would make sense to improve, then you can ride as often as you wish. Come on," he cajoled, "just a little, say about a hundred yards."
Abby was fearful, but didn't want to show that fear in front of James. "Oh, alright, but just for that hundred yards. What do I do?"
"Well you have to transfer your weight onto your legs, and as Jason trots you will find the way to rise and fall, without slamming back into the saddle. Lean forward, get most of your weight in the stirrups and let your knees grip the side of the saddle." Abby did that. The strain on her legs muscles caused them to quiver.
"This is difficult."
"It will get easier when Jason trots, believe me."
"How do I get him to trot then?"
"Just rap him smartly with the reins and click your tongue a couple of times so he can hear." Abby did that and Jasons' ears flicked up and back and immediately quickened his pace. The strain on her legs was strong, but she soon found that the rise and fall motion helped a lot. James was beside her, riding easily, but watching her closely to make sure she was safe.
"That's good, you've got it." The horses trotted on and Abby was sure they had gone much further than the one hundred yards that James had suggested. She looked at him in alarm, and he immediately told her to pull back on the reins with both hands. She did so and Jason dropped back to a walk.
"Phew! I don't know if I would want to ride like that for any distance."
James was grinning again. "You did well for a beginner. When you get your leg muscles used to it, you will find it quite comfortable. Then when you get to Canter and Gallop, it is exhilarating."
Abby shook her head. "No James. I shall content myself with walking Jason. That's quite enough for me." Her leg muscles were shaking with the effort, but gradually calming now. "Your mother rides Jason a lot when she is down, doesn't she?"
"Yes, she is absolutely mad. Takes the horse up to the moor and gallops him furiously. I am certain that she will break her neck one day. Jason arrives back sweating like anything, and Lizzie has to wipe him down and walk him around for some time to calm him." He broke off to point out to Abby the Viaduct which was almost abreast of where they were.
"We can get on the old track soon." He explained.
That was sooner than Abby expected. The Bridle path turned casually to the right, and Abby saw the crossing just fifty yards away. It was obvious from the stout timber posts that were still in situ that the railway had treated this almost as importantly as the crossing at the station. The gates were long gone, but other artefacts reminded the observant of the use that had been made of the crossing. A hard rubble packed with soil and weed was all that remained of the ballast, yet Abby could define where everything had been. The track bed was obvious, unlike the track bed further down the valley, here little use had been made of the way, all it required would be ballast and rails and trains could run once more.
James pointed out the way to the right. "If we go down that way it isn't far to the viaduct."
Abby agreed. "Let's do it." They turned the horses heads and rode side by side. Abby commented on why the track was still evident after all these years. "I mean the track down by Combe Lyney is still there, and has become a agricultural way, but here it is as if nothing has happened in forty years."
"No point. The road and railway ran almost parallel to Paverton, and there is no farm hereabouts that could find a use for the track. The Forestry Commission use it from time to time, but that's it."
Abby thought about that. "So this track can be used all the way to Paverton?"
"Almost. The station site at Paverton has been cleared, and is now used as a light Industrial site, but you could ride pretty well all the way if you wished." He saw the eagerness in Abby's face. "We will do that, but it would be better to wait until next Spring, the winds across the moor can be pretty fierce."
The track, due to its purpose curved gently through a turn of some ninety degrees, and brought them to the threshold of the viaduct. Abby looked across to where they had stopped on the first ride. It seemed so long ago now. James halted them and Abby dismounted. They were in a small cutting from where the track seemed to launch itself onto the viaduct. This was in the Sun, yet excluded the light breeze that had brought a little chill to the air.
"As good a place as any to take lunch." James suggested. Abby agreed. She looked around for anyplace that it would be more comfortable to sit, There appeared not to be anywhere that offered a seat, so with resignation she prepared to sit on the ground.
"Wait a moment, Abby." cried James, and he delved into his saddle bag producing a groundsheet. This he laid in a place where they could see all the valley, but remained out of the breeze. Abby sorted through the lunch that Mary had prepared.
"That's soup, beef rolls, and there are some Pork Pies."
James ears pricked up at that. "Let me see. Ah yes." He handed them back to Abby with a smile. "Fred Bayley's Pork Pies, well Arabella's to be precise, you'll like these." They ate with an appetite sharpened by the ride and the air, and Abby did like the Pork Pie.
"This is delicious. There's some flavour there I can't place though."
"Thyme and Apple." James informed her. "Bella insists that the secret of using flavouring is that no-one should be able to tell exactly what herb or Fruit has been used. It just adds to the taste experience. Her words, not mine." He was laughing now. "I am unable in my own puny culinary efforts to be as subtle as she is."
"But you keep trying."
"Yes. I keep trying."
Abby was sipping coffee as James walked out onto the Viaduct. Watching him she saw a contented, happy expression come over his countenance. She walked out to join him, taking a coffee for him as well. He didn't say anything as she joined him, took the coffee but continued to look over the valley. She stood in silence looking at him, looking at his valley. She would have said that it was a look of love; she understood that men don't admit to expressions like love. Instead she remarked. "You are really happy here."
He nodded. "Yes. Knowledge of other places had convinced me. This is the only place I want to be."
"Well I suppose compared with the Falklands that is understandable."
"No I don't compare with the Falklands. I compare with other places in Britain. I went to Birmingham University for interview. That was when I was going to do a History degree. I looked out of a window whilst waiting and all I could see was rows and rows of houses, and factories. The only green was around the University itself. I thought of spending three years there and that was a dismal prospect. That didn't make my mind up though. The Lecturer who interviewed me was a long-haired hippy. He didn't want to know about my academic record, but mocked me as I had turned up in a suit and wearing a tie, he was wearing grubby Corduroys and a baggy Sweater. I believe he made his decision based upon political beliefs, he was definitely left wing, and I suppose he had me down as a Fascist, reckoning that I came from the privileged classes. Huh! Look at me. Privileged class? I knew I wasn't going to get on there, and to be honest I am glad. I was in no doubt that he would present a perverted view of history. History should be about facts, and shouldn't be taught with a political slant, which tends to slide over facts which don't fit the teacher's bias. It is the student who should be allowed to make up their own mind on the facts presented."