The power in the beast was frightening. The low overhanging branches were frightening. The hard sharp dry stone walls which were a blur either side of me were frightening. My blurred, shaking vision was frightening. And the pounding of the hooves of these out-of-control, wild, fire-breathing, snorting, beasts was frightening.
I wouldn’t have said it started too well. I suppose the theory sounded rather pleasant. I’d certainly been enjoying the canoeing or kayaking, which ever it was. I don’t recall which other activities I did that holiday, but the dragon riding was not my favourite.
Of course these weren’t real dragons, but the huge creature I was introduced to may as well have been one. It towered above me, looking down with gentle contempt at this wee snotty kid it had to trundle around the hills, again. I looked at its legs. Then I looked up and saw its chest. I looked a bit further up and saw its neck. Then cranking my head right back, so I could see the blue sky with those white fluffy sheep-like clouds in, I could see its head.
Huge nostrils twitched, emitting puffs of steam with each breath. Gigantic teeth grinned voraciously down at me. It stamped a frying pan sized hoof, and the earth trembled. As did I. Mouth dry, I looked around for escape; I experienced the “last minute reprieve” syndrome that prisoners on death row know so well. But alas, my only hope of staying alive had already departed, to enjoy a day by the beech; a day of fish and chips and ice cream, no doubt.
I was given steps. A vertiginous step ladder. About 10ft tall, which I nervously and with considerable trepidation climbed, with weak knees. When I’d reached the ascent of this aluminium pyramid, I was faced with a vast, broad expanse of shiny, hard leather, which was to me my seat for the day.
Someone adjusted the stirrups so that my feet were at least inside them; though in terms of any control my boots would or could exert on this creature, this behemoth, it was a waste of time. I would have as much effect on my steed as a gnat trying to steer a hippo. I was handed loose and floppy reins, which upon use were like trying to steer a bike with wet strands of spaghetti.
Then we set off, at an uncomfortable, ungainly gait, rocking from side to side and sure I was going to fall off any second. We went down a slope which pitched me forwards and were it not for grabbing hold of the substantial mane of hair, I’m confident I’d have slid ignominiously off the front of this brown creature from hell to be trampled underfoot. Hoof. Cloven hoof.
We turned left into a bridleway. The bridleway was about 6ft wide, barely enough for two of these wretched creatures side by side. It soon became very steep. The ground was broken, rutted, full of rocks. Then the whole damn pack decided to have some fun; last one to the top’s a cissy!
Now I like motorbikes. I like their instant acceleration that makes even the fastest of cars seem pedestrian. Then I liked bicycles, especially going down the hills in Sanderstead woods. The whooosh! of near total pandemonium as bike clattered over woodland debris was a buzz! My neighbour’s Dad had a V8 Rover which I had a ride in once and I was gobsmacked at the feeling of power that sleek red car had. But nothing in all my years to that point, all 10 or so of them, prepared me for these savage beasts as they charged, chasing down some unfortunate prey that they would no doubt devour; even whilst whatever it was still lived and breathed, dying a painful and bloody death.
Which is what I though was going to happen to me. It would either be a branch, helmet not withstanding; or one of those grey-white blurred stony walls which I could touch, if I had a mind to do so; or the hundred pairs of steel-rimmed feet thundering over the rough old bridleway surface that would grind me to a pulp, well before my alloted time. I did the only thing I could do to save myself.
I closed my eyes.
Tears oozed out though my tightly shut eyelids and were whipped away by the wind. In total blackness, there seemed to be some degree of calm. Time seemed to slow, the pellmell madness seemed to ease. In fact we did seem to be slowing, the noise seemed to be lessening, the sensation of total and utter impeding death and disaster retreated....
... I dared to open my eyes; the walls had gone, replaced with the greens and browns of grass and bracken. The wild ride had subsided to a merely unpleasantly bouncing trot, and the herd seemed to be sniggering to each other....
And the number of people that are put off motorbiking, on the grounds that it’s dangerous...
All I can say is that after horse riding, a Vespa is a paragon of safety.