AFTER the weirdest few months I can ever remember, it will soon be time to renew my acquaintance with some of my old friends who have spent the summer frolicking on the high fells of Redewater.

I have been invited to take up my muck fork for the winter after spending the past seven months putting on weight at a rate I have not achieved since I was in my mother’s womb.

While mucking out horses is a noisome and occasionally hazardous activity – especially when a half tonne racehorse stands on your foot – it does wonders for the waistline

In the three years or so since I started life as an equine effluent disposal technician, I shed something like four stones of unsightly blubber, without having to reduce my usual intake of chips, cakes or fig rolls, but in my Covid-induced lay-off, a stone and a half has returned unbidden to strain my shirt buttons and snap the buckle off my belt.

I did try keeping fit by riding my bike on a roller in the garden of Hextol Towers for an hour at a time, and taking the dog for lengthy walks, but biking in the same scenery is dull, and the anti-social tendencies of the dog as trippers return to Hareshaw Linn made that walk problematic too.

I am therefore delighted to be returning to the stables, even though it does mean sorting multiple potential problems which may have occurred since lockdown.

First and foremost is the mode of transport I use to cross bleak Hareshaw Common twice a day in the depths of winter. The weather can be blithe and bonny in Bellingham and Otterburn, while a blizzard is turning the eight miles between them to white iron.

Hareshaw has its own mini climate, and I never quite know if my ancient jalopy is going to make it up one side and down the other.

I have a little car I use only for my horse work. It fairly droops with old age, stinks like a dead horse and has more straw about its shabby interior than Worzel Gummidge.

It just about crept through its last MoT with a long list of advisories and considerable head shaking by the mechanic, but it is somehow still running.

It likes to play games with me, by pretending it isn’t going to make it up a modest slope even in bottom gear, but after five miles or so, it will burst into rude health and zoom up the next hill like Lewis Hamilton on speed.

It really needs a new battery, but buying one would probably double the value of the car, so I try to start it every couple of days to clear its tubes etc.

Ironically, Mrs Hextol loves travelling in the front passenger seat, which she maintains is the most comfortable car seat she has ever sat in.

That’s more than can be said for the driving seat, which has a disconcerting habit of sometimes sliding backwards away from the pedals when going uphill.

However, the Clio is very thrifty on fuel, and seems to know how to pick its way through the roughest terrain without getting stuck.

Next on the inventory is my horsey clothes, which have been festering away in the back of the garage since the beginning of March.

They would look disreputable on a tramp, but I maintain it would be foolish to be dapperly dressed when delving in ordure, especially when one has a propensity for capturing smells as efficiently as a magnet accumulates iron filings.

I always have trouble with waterproof leggings, which seem to turn porous as soon as I get inside them.

Whether it is sweat, or they rain in, I do not know, but my jeans always end up sodden.

Waterproofs are always too long too, requiring me to hack off six inches from the bottom of each leg to avoid tripping up even more than usual.

None of the other people I have ever worked with in stables seem to have the unhappy knack of radiating equine odours the way I do.

While they are shabby, Mrs Hextol ensures that my stable clothes are always clean at the start of the week, and on top of them I wear waterproofs and wellies for much of the time, as well as good quality leather glove – and still end the day smelling like a cowpoke’s bedroll.

Despite all this, I can’t wait to get back to work again.