As I sit here writing this in Tangmere Sussex it is a grey and rainy day outside with occasional thunder and lightning but thankfully it isn’t cold. This is summer 2015 in the UK, changeable and with unusually low temperatures whereas the summer in Cyprus I hear has had unusual rain in July?
The week before I returned to the UK I paid a visit along with my friend Elena, to see Caroline Penman in Lysos. Unlike today in Sussex, It was a blistering day but thankfully Lysos is fairly high up a hill on the edge of the Paphos forest and is marginally cooler than on the coastal plain. I had met Caroline originally at one of Elena’s famous supper club events and then subsequently on several occasions during my stay in Cyprus I kept bumping into her at various locations and events. Caroline owns and runs Ride in Cyprus where she offers a riding experience in the exceptionally beautiful surroundings around Lysos. This experience can be just a one hour trek or a full-blown 7 day experience or even used as a team building exercise for small group bookings. This time of year she also offers a brandy sour sundowner saunter which sounds idyllic as the sunsets can be spectacular. Ride in Cyprus is now in its eighth year and is ever evolving, voted no 1 in Cyprus on Trip advisor for 3 years is certainly an achievement and something to be proud of.
My visit was arranged by Elena so I could hear Caroline’s story, as with all the people I meet who have chosen Cyprus as their home after many years out in the world, there is always a story and I love hearing them. Many British people come to settle in Cyprus after having their first acquaintance with the island through serving with the British Forces when stationed there and this is how Caroline first arrived, stationed at Dhekelia where her husband was Garrison Commander in 2002-2005.
As we sat there with a gentle cooling breeze flowing over us in her living room, the story unfolded. As with many stories it included a lot of extraneous information and veered off course here and there, that’s what makes it all the more interesting. The core essence though, it seemed to me, was that the riding stables happened almost casually you might say out of a challenge laid down by the Commander Med. who was a neighbour at that time, also a keen rider. He knew the area around the Venetian Bridges well and with a keen desire to ride there, sent Caroline a grid reference of the area to work out a route and organise a trek. At that time the Venetian bridges weren’t widely advertised or sought out as an attraction and not many people were aware of them. Caroline’s task was not just to trace a route between the bridges but organise the horses and transportation as well as accommodation en route and to top it all some of the group would only be doing a few days and would need to have transportation to take them back to base. Caroline stepped up to the mark and carried it off triumphantly.The trek involved 8 horses and 22 riders spanning a period of six days, This request involved a year of research and preparation. In Caroline’s own words – “We started at the CBF’s house (Commander British Forces) in Troodos and rode through Foini to Tries Elies bridge then up the prettiest valley to Milikouri below Kykkos where we stayed in the old school house with the horses in the yard. Then we rode through the forest to Kelefos Bridge, Pera Vasa and on to Vretsia and Roudios Bridge – a day ride around the almond blossomed valleys and ancient water mills and back through the forest to Troodos!” That sounds like quite a once in a lifetime experience for all those participating.
Often it seems to me, our lives are changed forever by what seems at the time, as an incidental occurrence or a pleasant distraction which later turns into the ground work for a new way of life. So it was with Caroline. So began the search for a permanent base to set up stables and start the business which has become very successful over its eight years, Ride in Cyprus.
Caroline took us to see the stables and the beautiful horses looking very sleek and healthy, one a magnificent shire horse of 18 hands. My Mum had a particular liking for shire horses when she was alive and her Uncle used to breed them in the Retford area. Recently Caroline has added an extra attraction as she has bought two fabulous yurts. These are set up in fields nearby surrounded by olive and carob trees and offer all sorts of opportunities for future events and happenings. One beautifully decorated yurt is kitted out as a bridal suite and in connection with the nearby Paradisos Hills hotel can cater for the bride and groom’s wedding night after the main event at the hotel. The couple will ride on horseback down the short way from the hotel to the yurt, their way lined with candles and torches, doesn’t that sound fabulously romantic? The yurt looks very cosy and luxurious and will come with its own toilet facilities. The second yurt can offer a space for yoga sessions or story-telling, another great idea is to build a fire pit outside and this would be a fantastic setting for story telling under the stars, I’d certainly be up for that. Many years ago I attended a storytelling evening under the stars in a very ancient Yew forest near where I live. It was magical, sitting around the fire listening to the tales, families came and the children were sitting up in the low branches of the trees,The image of these immense contorted shapes of the yew trees silhouetted against the sky with children sitting amongst the branches was unforgettable.Caroline’s dream is to eventually set the area up as a retreat and what an ideal place to have one, hence the logo ‘Healthy in Tents’. This week Ride in Cyprus has been host to some of the volunteers from the World Wide Village Project https://www.facebook.com/worldwidevillageproject/ who have been helping to lay down the paths around the tents so it may not be that long before the dream will be a reality.
I would be very tempted to even have a go at the sundowner ride but unlike Caroline, who is a rider of many years experience, my few experiences of pony trekking in the past always found me flat on my backside. I seem to have an uncanny knack of falling off things, bikes both pedal and motor, ladders and horses. I was thrown several times from a horse on Exmoor. On our first evening the owner of the stables thought as I was the only one who had been on a horse before ,I could handle a rather nervous and frisky horse!!! She shied at mounting a very shallow verge and threw me unceremoniously on the tarmac leaving me bent double the next day. But I persevered and went out every day. One day there were just four of us on a trek across the moor led by our guide, when the same horse promptly threw the experienced rider leader who managed to get concussion and couldn’t remember where we were. Luckily another member of the party was also experienced and remembered how to get back. As we approached a lovely open bit the horses took off at a gallop and bang down I went again. Who knows though with a few handy hints and a docile horse I could manage an hour surely!
Amendments have been made to the original text. 15.8.2015.