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Day 3: Loyal animals, dear friends and stunning sunsets

The English are animal crazy.

There’s just no other way to say it.

Our beautiful hotel - the Forest Park Country Hotel and Inn - seems to have almost as many dogs as humans as guests. And Grainne and I love it.

Having left our two dogs back in Dallas with a sitter, we’re always in the mood to pet or get a kiss from a new canine friend. We’ve met cockapoos, cocker spaniels, Jack Russells, miniature poodles and more. And that’s just in two days.

This morning, however, we shifted our focus from canine to equine with a horse ride through the New Forest. Before heading across the pond, we scheduled a ride at Coombe Stables, a short 9 minute drive from our hotel.

Waiting for me was Jethro, a very large horse very well suited to my 6’2” frame. Grainne rode Tammy, a smaller but perky pony. We were led out into the New Forest by our guide Suzanne.

Grainne and Tammy, read to ride

I’m no great horseman - bicycling is my thing. However, I’m comfortable enough in the saddle and did take riding lesssons when we lived in England many years ago. Grainne, however, is much more accomplished. Her family took her on riding holidays as a child and she’s continued to ride both English and Western throughout her life.

Despite our different levels of experience, we both relished every moment of our ride.

As any horse lover will tell you, everything looks better when you’re saddled up. You’re high above the ground, giving you a new outlook on the world. Especially on a day when the weather is perfect - sunny and dry with temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s. As we walked and trotted atop our mounts across the English countryside, we breathed in the fresh air and soaked up the sights of ponies roaming free in the fields and people out on long walks with their dogs.

Animals. They just make life better.

New Forest ponies check out the sun seekers

Also making life better: Seeing good friends

One reason I love coming back to England is that it’s not just a vacation. It’s a return to a place I once called home. Family and good friends are here. And we were thrilled that our friends from Somerset - David and Gail - drove over to see us and have lunch at our hotel today.

We spent two solid hours catching up on our various exploits, family news, politics, and the funeral of the queen, which is ever-present at the moment. It’s little wonder, with people queuing up for 20 hours to pay their respects. This nation’s outpouring of respect for Elizabeth II is one of the most extraordinary acts of honor I’ve ever experienced.

After bidding farewell to David and Gail, we took a few minutes to catch our breath before driving down to Barton on Sea to catch the sunset. From dawn to dusk, this has been an exceptional September day with bright sunshine.

The drive did not disappoint. We caught a brilliant sunset over the cliffs high above the North Atlantic. We looked out over the English Channel towards Cherbourg, France and breathed in deeply, enjoying the briny air. Counting our blessings for being able to enjoy the company of dogs, horses and good friends in a very special setting.

Sunset over Barton on Sea


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