Travel Journal March 20, 1999
Heavy Horses That Move the Land Under Me.


Rent a car and drive Northeast along the coast road to Stonehaven, a quiet fishing village near Dunottar castle. This is my favorite castle in Scotland, a bleak but spectacular place to walk and imagine what it must have been like to defend or attack. Stonehaven itself is worth visiting merely to get a sense of the quiet and hospitable east coast villages. The people are every bit as nice as the better-known folk in the west, and different in accent and culture. -- Richard Foss

I started early, at around 10:00 am, heading for Stonehaven. However, about 5 miles out of Perth I noticed an interesting sign (one of the friendly brown tourist-information signs you see everywhere), which said "Heavy Horse Centre". This seemed like it was worth checking out, so I got off the motorway at the designated intersection. The place was well-marked with signs and very easy to find.

The Heavy Horse Center is a sanctuary for rescued or retired heavy horses, mostly Clydesdales. These are working horses that are either past their prime, have suffered debilitating injuries, or have been abused by their former owners. It costs a pound to have a look around the place, or you can "adopt" one of the horses for ten pounds per year, and get a signed certificate and a photo of your adopted horse.

When I told them about my internet journal, the lady said "Oh, you should talk to our computer man" and led me into the office, where an older gentleman was working away at a Windows-based computer. He proudly showed me the web site that he had created, which you can find here. He told me that he's going to install "a PGP system" so that people can donate money through the web. (Unfortunately, PGP by itself is not a solution; methinks that perhaps I should send him some email, giving some guidelines for setting up an efficient e-commerce site.)

After a bit of sociable conversation, one of the ranch hands took me out to the fields to see the horses themselves.

A picture of the Centre.

  This is Ben, who's mother was rescued and died shortly after he was born. He's a bottle-fed brat. The brochure describes him as "an escapologist, frequently changing paddocks."

These creatures are huge, and yet very mild-mannered and gentle. I was able to lean on one of them. This one slurped my jacket.

In case you have ever wondered, "Clydesdale" is actually a county in Scotland.

Right now, the farm they are on is rented. They are trying to raise money to buy a permanent place; Fortunately, land is so cheap right now that one pound will buy a square meter of land. Feeding them is also very expensive, they go though a truckload of produce in a week.

This is Stella. The fellow I was with told me that when they found her hauling timber in the forest, she was so overworked and undernourished that her collar bones were literally showing through the skin. She weighed 650 kilos she weighs 950!

Acording to my guide, Clydesdales are very much creatures of habit.

He told me a story of "Charlie" a Clydesdale who used to work at a fire station many years ago. When the fire alarm went off, Charlie would always trot over to get his harness on, and then, harnessed up, would go stand in front of the wagon. With Charlie's help, the firemen could be out of the building in three and a half minutes after the alarm rang.

That is, until one day the young man from the government (an Englishman) came and told them that Charlie was too old to be galloping around, and they would have to get a younger horse. Charlie would be moved to a more sedate job -- pulling a "cleansing cart" of sewage from the above-ground toilets.

With the new horse, it took ten minutes to get the fire truck out the door.

One day, they were racing off to a fire, and they passed by ol' Charlie, who, upon seeing the fire truck, immediately raced after them, still hitched to his cart full of excrement. After putting out the fire, the firemen noticed that there was no one else around - so they unhitched ol' Charlie, and put the new horse in his place. When the young man from the cleansing house came running up, out of breath, the firemen told him "now there's you're horse, young man, and don't you be lettin' him get away agin." Charlie ended up happily serving with the fire department another five years...

A couple of Shetlands. The Centre also cares for a few of the lighter breeds of horses.

Our heels were "dogged" the whole time by this cattle-herding fellow.

All in all, the Heavy Horse Centre is one of the most interesting and enjoyable places I have visited so far.


Here's some pictures of Stonehaven and the North Sea.

I had intended to stay the night here, but met with a number of unexpected dissapointments. First, the tourist information office looked like it hadn't been opened in months -- behind the glass door was a pile of mail and parcels. I asked around, and apparently it doesn't open until after Easter.

The first B&B I tried had no vacancies; At the next two there was no answer at all. The fourth one had no vacancies either.

I started to get the picture: In the off season, the whole town (or at least the part that caters to the tourist industry) pretty much closes up shop. I decided to go look at Dunottar Castle and find another town in which to lodge.

Dunotter castle, from a distance. Looks kind of cool...

...but once you get up close you begin to see why this is Rick's favorite castle.

Unfortunately, it's also a closed castle. It's not open on Saturdays or Sundays in the winter months, and today is Saturday. Oh well...anyway, the castle is still very pretty from the outside.

After than, I drove to Aberdeen. This is a city that bustles with pedestrians, cards, and ships...a city that works for a living. I found driving around the city very confusing and stressful. The tourist office was closed (closes at 2 pm on Saturdays - Aaaarggh!). I was starting to feel very discouraged.

Eventually I found a hotel room in Kintore, about 10 miles north-west of Aberdeen, for 35 pounds a night. Now, if they would just stop playing the loud disco music in the dance hall...