DIARY – VISIT TO CHURN STABLES IN BLEWBURY
TO SEE MENACE, THE TWITTERATI SYNDICATE HORSE
SATURDAY 03 SEPTEMBER 2016
Menace at the top of the gallops
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Noel Williams Racing:
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This was my third yard visit of the summer, following that to Graeme McPherson’s yard near Stow-on-the-Wold and to Jamie Snowden’s yard in Lambourn. Noel Williams had recently moved to Churn Stables at the western end of Blewbury, expanding his yard as well as permitting Eve Johnson-Houghton to take over Whiteshoot stables in order to expand hers too.
Instead of owning a satnav, I currently like to research my journey using Google Earth Street view – it enables one to visually travel a journey without leaving the comfort of an armchair! The postcode provided for Churn Stables didn’t register as being the actual yard, but a property closer to the main road did. However, when I continued along the lane, on screen that it, it turned left and a short distance later there was a green sign to the left denoting the entrance to Churn Stables. Surroundings do change over time, but it was sufficient for me to know exactly where I was heading!
Fortunately I was fit to attend the visit on this day too, having suffered a freak injury in a local graveyard the previous Monday morning. As I was arranging flowers on the family grave, the stone which ran along the side of the grave began to collapse under my weight; I’d been standing on it at the time. As it was only partially dislodged, I tried to push it back into position but, as I was attempting to do this, I experienced a very sudden sharp pain to my lower ribs. Fortunately it was only 09:00 and the graveyard was deserted, so the only ones to hear me swear were those long gone!
In the end, and despite efforts to lift it back into place, I had to leave the stone lying on the grass beside the grave; my older brother was able to replace it later that day. In hindsight it really isn’t sensible to attempt heavy lifts of any kind when I’m borderline osteoporosis and at a risk of fractures.
Anyway, it made for a painful Bank Holiday; I managed to clear some dead wild flowers from the old vegetable patch at home, but decided to abandon my plan to wash my car having suffered a further sharp pain mid-morning. I soldiered on as normal, as you do, although the pain was at its worst when I was lying in bed at night; late Thursday and early Friday were particularly bad.
However, not to be defeated, my visit to Blewbury was still going ahead as planned. It had been requested for no-one to arrive before 10:15 for a 10:30 start. This being the case, I didn’t need to get up until 06:30 with an aim of leaving at some point between 08:30 and 08:50. I showered and washed and dried my hair, before applying my make-up and eating a breakfast of two croissants.
I’d been having a problem with the skin below my eyes for a few days too – I think it was because I’d been sitting at work with a fan blowing in my face due to the hot weather in recent days. In fact the skin was sore, itchy and wrinkled. It didn’t look too bad after I’d applied my moisturiser and concealer but it certainly wasn’t ‘normal’.
My outfit today was dark blue M & S jeggings, dark blue with yellow and beige flower-patterned Per Una top, burgundy M & S frill edged cardigan, light blue BHS raincoat, black and white graphic-design Kipling handbag, black M & S snow-boots, also Chaotic Rainbow ‘Cool Harmony’ necklace with earrings.
In the event, and after a bit of procrastinating, I was ready to leave at 08:47. My route took me around the local ring-road, down London Road to the London Colney roundabout and onwards along the dual carriageway to reach Junction 22 of the M25. I joined the anticlockwise carriageway and began my journey around to the M4 … or at least that was my original plan. The traffic had been moving freely until I reached Junction 16, speed restrictions were then being notified on the gantry above the motorway. This being the case, I made a split second decision and took the slip-road to join the westbound carriageway of the M40 instead. It had been sunny at home but clouded up the further west I drove.
According to Google Maps, the quickest route to Blewbury was M25 and M40, before leaving at the Junction 6 and travelling through Watlington, Benson and Wallingford. However, as this was my outward journey, my feeling was that it was ‘better the devil you know’ rather than discover a new route. This being the case, I left the motorway at Junction 4, High Wycombe. I then travelled down the A404 to reach the M4 at the junction designated 8/9. Having joined the westbound carriageway, I continued to Junction 12 before heading along the A4 for a short distance and taking the A340 to Pangbourne.
I remember there was a lorry parked outside a vehicle dealership in the centre of the town, thus making it difficult for traffic to overtake if they were heading from the opposite direction. My route took me under the railway bridge and along beside the River Thames. A short distance along the road to the right-hand side is Beale Park, a wildlife park. A number of cars pulled into their driveway; notices stated that the attraction opened at 10:00.
I continued over the narrow traffic light controlled bridge spanning the railway line, through Lower Basildon and down the hill into Streatley. Once the traffic lights at the cross-roads changed to green, I continued ahead on the A329, before bearing off to the left along the A417. The road enters Oxfordshire shortly afterwards. Being the fifth time I’d travelled the route in this direction, I really think the distance across the downs should seem shorter by now … but it doesn’t!
The road meanders and rises and falls on its way to Blewbury. Normally upon reaching the village I turn left almost immediately, opposite the petrol station, to drive up the hill to Whiteshoot stables; however, now, I needed to locate Boham’s Road at the western end of Blewbury instead. I knew it was opposite the entrance to a garden centre, so I continued along the road, past the Blueberry Inn and a small green before locating the correct road leading off to my left.
The road passes between the local croquet club and tennis/cricket club before heading uphill towards the downland. There were two vehicles ahead of me, a mini and a 4x4. However, the former appeared to be caught out by the satnav location and turned into a driveway leading to two houses; the driver soon realised their mistake, but not before the 4x4 and myself had driven by.
The road eventually bears to the left, at the point where another drive joins from the right. I continued along the road to reach the driveway leading to Churn Stables; en route a mountain biker passed by heading in the opposite direction. I’d lost sight of the 4x4 by this point, but I headed up the driveway and followed the signs which directed me between hedges around a one-way system and into a parking area adjacent to a large barn.
However, having parked here, along with the mini which had followed me in, it became apparent that there was a further sign directing vehicles along another section of the driveway; I presume the current parking area was used by the occupants of three adjacent dwellings, amongst others. This being the case, I backed out of the original space and drove along this route, at which I discovered a row of maybe fifteen to twenty vehicles parked on the grassed area ahead. I parked at the far end of the row; the mini driver had followed and halted next to me. It was 10:20 when I arrived.
I changed into my snow-boots and, along with the young lad who owned the mini, walked over to the barn entrance. I discovered Theatre Goer in the nearest occupied box to my left and, just a little bit further along, my favourite mare Chance Taken. I went to say hello to John Powell from EPDS Racing; their three horses Daliance, Menace, and Kincora Fort, along with Authorized Too, were tacked up and soon led out of their respective boxes to be taken outside to the warm-up area to the far side of the barn.
My work colleague Caroline, a fellow Menace syndicate member, her teenage daughter Darcy and partner Guy had driven down from Yorkshire to visit Noel’s new yard too, so we said hello. Today’s EPDS syndicate member turnout, evidently, beat the record of 30 established just three weeks earlier when visiting Jamie Snowden’s yard.
Noel has 38 boxes in his new barn, with just 16 named horses following the sad demise of Kokomo at Stratford a couple of weeks previously. These are Authorised Too, Bingo D’Olivate, Briery Queen, Chance Taken, Daliance, Hot Whiskey N Ice, Kincora Fort, Menace, Midnight Jitterbug, Midnight Merlot, Oast House, Pattara, Primo Blue, Theatre Goer, Undisputed and Wild Murphy.
Friendly Society was no longer an inmate, perhaps moving on to a new career – he’d developed his own ideas about the game. Also King Kayf and Krackatoa King had moved yards; Noel mentioned that their owner wanted to win the Welsh Grand National so had transferred them to Kerry Lee! However, Noel had a number of youngsters which they were breaking in, purchased at the Fairyhouse sales.
Soon the visitors were rounded up and we headed out to the grassed parking area to be loaded into four 4x4 vehicles. The driver of my vehicle had not driven it before but, after one aborted attempt to start the vehicle without stalling it, we were on our way at the back of the ‘wagon-train’ heading for the gallops. We exited via a gate, before turning left to skirt around another barn (unused), then right and left and right again before bearing left to begin the long climb up the hill across from the gallop. There were three steeplechase fences on the grass area to our right, where the ground was flatter.
Having reached the top of the hill, the vehicles parked up and we got out of them in order to view the horses as they headed up the 6-furlong woodchip gallop towards us. The gallop needed to be reinstated prior to Noel’s move, because the yard and its facilities hadn’t been used since 2009; it’s still bedding in. It was windy on the exposed downs, but the views were widespread.
The initial section of the gallop was flat, with a steep hill at the end of it; Kincora Fort led the way, from Menace, Daliance and Authorized Too. Daliance was wearing a fly-mask; evidently he’d been plagued by the little blighters, which had resulted in a lot of headshaking before this solution had been found.
Originally it had been the intention to give Menace just one gallop this morning, the other three would have two. However, after consulting his work rider Jan (pronounced Yan as he’s Eastern European), Noel gave the go-ahead for him to do another. Menace ran at Stratford on 25 August and after all of his races he gets a little stiff; as such, they have to ease him back into work again. So Kincora Fort, Menace, Daliance and Authorized Too headed back down the hill to reach the far end of the gallop and begin all over again.
Noel spoke about some horses being good workhorses, others not. Evidently Theatre Goer was rather slow on the gallops and often Menace accompanies her so that he can win sometimes! He also mentioned that the Alan King-trained Voy Por Ustedes was a very poor workhorse, despite winning a number of Grade 1 races, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase … with Choc aboard of course! Noel also mentioned that he sometimes uses Hughie Morrison’s gallop on the other side of the valley.
The second gallop having been completed, the horses milled around on the area just behind the parked 4x4’s so that we could take photographs. Noel removed Daliance’s fly mask at this point; previously he’d looked like ‘Robohorse’! The horses then began their walk back to the yard and we bundled into our vehicles once more to follow them back.
Choc’s name was raised by me somewhere during a conversation with my vehicle companions. Our driver said he’d been at the yard the previous weekend, ‘Yes, he was’ I replied. He’d visited with Jennie and William – I’d seen a photo on Instagram. Noel is now wearing a shiny new wedding ring, so I wonder if it was a reception or the like; his partner is Clare Ludlow who was riding out aboard Authorized Too today.
We overtook the horses lower down the gallops and retraced our route back to the car parking area across from the barn. Having left the vehicles, we headed inside to see the horses. At this point someone asked about vacuum cleaner inventor James Dyson, owner of the Beeswax Estate where Churn Stables is based. He has become a bigger landowner than the Queen and other aristocratic families in recent years. Evidently it’s possible to pass on some agricultural property free of inheritance tax, so it’s a sensible investment for the billionaire.
When Menace and his pals returned, the EPDS horses were unsaddled and taken to the horse-walker to warm down. Clare took Authorized Too, pet name ‘Arthur’, to his stable. I spent time with Menace’s stable mates, including my favourites Chance Taken and Bingo D’Olivate; all three were housed in the same row of boxes. Chance didn’t want a polo mint, so I fed one to Midnight Merlot instead as I know he likes them.
Later in the morning Hannah Bishop, who is Mrs Prowting’s Racing Manager, arrived; she was acting as chauffeur, to enable a couple of syndicate members to attend the yard. I said hello. She and Noel also went into Midnight Merlot’s box to have a discussion – perhaps the horse had a minor issue to be sorted out. During my tour of the horses, I also noticed that Primo Blue’s forelegs had been bar fired at some point.
I went outside to see Menace, Daliance and Kincora Fort walk around the horse-walker too. Although I’m not keen of them since I heard about Skipthecuddles’ accident in which he lost his tongue; that horse is trained by Graeme McPherson.
Menace was led back in by Noel first, then Daliance, and finally Kincora Fort. It was also dinner time, so we waited for Menace to eat his hay, before he had a roll, and was finally ready to greet his visitors! His feed was in his trough but he left that for the time being – on a previous visit Noel had mentioned that Menace likes to wait until everything is quiet before he tucks into his food!
Chance Taken and Midnight Jitterbug, plus another horse, went out late morning for their exercise gallop; warming up outside the barn first. Having seen those three outside, I did take a peak down the second aisle of loose boxes, but there were no horses’ heads looking over the doors – maybe they were eating their lunch; after all, the youngsters must have been kept somewhere!
At the end of the visit I said goodbye to John and thanked Noel before heading back to my car ahead of departure. There was a very fine drizzle as I headed into the open air. I chatted with the young man who had arrived in the mini; the one which had got slightly lost on the journey up Boham’s Road.
I’m not quite sure exactly what time I left, I know it was well past midday and probably gone 12:30 too. I also spent a few moments checking my map book, reminding myself of my intended route home. I drove across the grass and onto the gravel driveway in front of the barn; I noticed Noel and a member of his staff in the other side of the barn, and one or two of the occupants had been led out of their boxes.
Having reached the tarmac parking area in front of the barn I turned left, only to notice the sign reminding me that it was a one way system; I was heading the wrong way! Whoops. I reversed and headed out via the other driveway. This took me to join the main driveway which passed by a large indoor school. I headed along this thoroughfare, over a couple of speed bumps and out onto Boham’s Road; I turned right and headed back to Blewbury.
Having arrived at the T-junction where Boham’s Road joins London Road, I turned right; I recall seeing two people standing on the corner waiting to cross the thoroughfare, presumably they were wishing to visit the garden centre opposite. My route took me back through the village and out onto the downs upon the A417. As I wished to return home via the scenic route today, rather than use the M4, I could have cut through via the narrow Halfpenny Lane to reach the northbound carriageway of the A329, or even have driven through Cholsey to join my chosen route instead.
However, I continued along the A417 to the outskirts of Streatley; a flurry of leaves greeted me as I approached the village – a reminder that autumn was approaching. At the T-junction with the A329 I turned left to head towards Wallingford. The road meandered through fields of crops before arriving at Moulsford; just prior to the village I remember overtaking a cyclist. The road through the village was lined with trees and, a little further on, there was a preparatory school situated on the right-hand side.
The A329 heads over a narrow railway bridge; too narrow to accommodate traffic heading in both directions. This being the case, it is controlled by traffic lights and I had to wait for these to change to green before proceeding. The road actually passes through the outskirts of Cholsey and there were traffic calming chicanes along the way; their station is situated along one of the roads leading off to the left.
Further on was a large roundabout just prior to Wallingford; I turned right at this point, as traffic is encouraged to use a new bridge over the Thames rather than head through the town and over the old bridge. The bad news is that I was then stuck behind a slow moving farm vehicle as I drove down the A4130, along with a number of cars in front of me; the good news is that it turned right at the next roundabout, whereas I turned left!
I was then heading in a northerly direction towards Benson. There was a further roundabout at Crowmarsh Gifford, where a right turn would have taken me back to Henley via Crocker End – I know it well from my rambling days! However, I continued on the A4074. I was following signposts and there was a sign indicating Benson to the right so I took this route, Church Road; it turned out to be a shortcut and I wasn’t at all keen on the exit at the far end! It would have been better to continue to the next roundabout instead, before turning right.
As it was, having turned right I had to make a split second decision to then turn left almost immediately afterwards, in order to travel along the B4009 to Watlington. Phew, that was a close call, I nearly missed that one! Anyway, the road meandered its way through Britwell Salome and onwards to Watlington; away to my right was Ewelme, I’ve been there for a ramble too! I also remember passing a field filled with pigs and their field shelters.
Approaching the Oxfordshire town, there were speed bumps in the road to slow traffic. I turned left where signposted to drive through the centre thereof. It was a Saturday and a bit of a nightmare. The thoroughfare was narrow but, in a couple of places there was a break in the double yellow lines thus permitting residents to park outside their houses. Unfortunately these vehicles were parked on our side of the road, making it more difficult for those heading in the same direction as myself.
Then, at the clock-tower, there was a blind corner with traffic heading from the other direction having the right of way. Eventually there appeared to be a break in the flow so I moved forward in order to see around the bend and enable me to negotiate a short single file section … only to discover there was a car heading in the opposite direction and the driver just kept on driving towards me regardless. Whatever happened to manners? I was forced to back up again.
The coast was then clear for me to move … only for a family of two adults and two children to decide that now was a suitable time to cross the road right in front of me. My god, some pedestrians have absolutely no road sense whatsoever; I had just a matter of seconds to make the manoeuvre before further vehicles would block the road again and they were determined to delay me. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Despite having now negotiated the blind corner, the road remained narrow and, further along, more cars were parked on my side of the road. And the cars just kept on coming from the opposite direction. In fact it almost resulted in gridlock, because they were now tailing back in a queue and I had only just enough room to squeeze through the gap between a stationary car and the last one in that queue in order to free up space. It would seem that Oxfordshire is not far enough into the countryside for people to retain their road sense and good manners! I’m used to a lack of road manners in Hertfordshire, but this situation it has obviously spread far and wide!
Anyway, I was finally free to continue my journey along the A4009 to Junction 6 of the M40; the road passes Shirburn Castle and, further along, there were numerous vehicles Parked below the viewpoint on the Chilterns’ escarpment. Having chosen a cross-country route, I remained on the A4009, rather than join the motorway; the A40 crosses the A4009 shortly after the motorway junction. My journey then took me through Aston Rowant, and presumably past the entrance to Lawnie Hill’s yard too, through Kingston Blount, Crowell and on to Chinnor; I had to take a left turn at a roundabout and then a right turn further on in order to remain on route. The road passes close to Bledlow and, a little further on, the driver of a white van had to wave me around his vehicle because he’d parked outside a cottage on a blind corner!
The road soon passes under a disused railway bridge, the route is now used as a cycle way. There was a narrow railway bridge further along and then a roundabout. At this point I had a choice of a right turn or straight on; I chose the latter to head for Little Kimble. What I had forgotten, was that I needed to go via Princes Risborough and Great Kimble in order not to miss the turning which would take me through Ellesborough and Butlers Cross and on to Wendover.
So my chosen route took me to Little Kimble, where I turned right to head under another railway bridge and join the road to Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury. I turned left here and soon arrived at a hamlet named Terrick. However, I was still determined to go travel via Halton in order to get to the A41 bypass road. I therefore remained upon the A4009, crossing over the A413 en route and entered the outskirts of Wendover from the northwest!
I knew there was a turning to the left along the main road but, for some strange reason, I took an earlier turning … but I somehow knew that it would cut off the corner, so I followed it around a sweeping bend and ended up exactly where I expected! Although it had been instinct on this occasion, I’d actually been along the road before, many moons ago when we’d parked there prior to a ramble with Mark!
I turned left at the top of this road, which again was the A4009, and headed through Halton which is below Wendover Woods and Aston Hill. Fleetingly I even thought of driving up the latter to head through Cholesbury, one of my favourite Chiltern villages, but time was getting on by this stage. My route continued along the A4009 to join the old A41 road. I turned right at this point and headed up the hill to reach the new A41 bypass.
There are double roundabouts, one each side of the bypass; I negotiated the first one, drove across a bridge and then turned right at the second one to head down the slip-road to join the dual carriageway. There were event marshals at the top thereof and another at the next junction; a cycle event evidently. Surely it would be very dangerous for cyclists to use the bypass as part of their route?
Anyway, I remained on the A41 all the way to Hemel Hempstead. I then headed down the steep hill to the traffic lights just prior to Two Waters Way. There was a short delay on the approach to the ‘Magic Roundabout’ due to weight of Saturday lunchtime traffic. My route then took me up the steep hill heading in the direction of the M1; I then travelled through Leverstock Green and onwards to St Albans.
My route took me around the ring-road and home. I love driving along the Marshalswick Lane section of the aforementioned ring-road, where there is a speed ‘smiley face’ on either side of the road. He turns yellow and smiles if you are driving at 30mph or below and turns red and frowns if you are speeding … I’m so easily pleased because I love it when he smiles! I think they should be installed everywhere – they are powered by solar panels. Evidently he’s called ‘Smiley SID’ – Speed Indication Display.
I arrived home at 14:45; that’s 15 minutes later than I did when I went to the Cotwolds … and I took a diversion that day, via Witney! It was still warm and sunny at home, but that changed late afternoon when heavy rain arrived.
Having worn make-up all day, the skin below my eyes was sore, itchy and slightly flaky by the time I removed it! But, I believe I may have found a solution – lip balm and/or Vaseline! And a lot cheaper than the skin products designed for the eye area that I’d already bought in an effort to resolve the situation. It’s a shame I’d not thought of this measure earlier. And it’s also possible to apply concealer too, over the Vaseline, if you leave it for a few minutes before applying one over the other.
And my back was also playing up during the evening, along with my ribs. I’d hardly had a twinge all day, until after I’d eaten my evening meal before settling down to watch the Strictly Come Dancing season ‘Introduction’ show. The worst time continued to be when lying down in bed, as regards discomfort around the rib area.
Click here to view my photographs taken on the gallops
Click here to view my photographs of Menace’s stable companions
Click here to view my photographs of Menace