An 80-Year-Old Woman, 1,000km, a Trusty Steed, and a Faithful Dog

For the 40th time, Jane Dotchin has set out on a seven-week pilgrimage along rural byways from her home in Hexham, England to Inverness, Scotland.

How many 80-year-olds do you know who travel 1,000km overland each year? Age is just a number for Jane Dotchin from Hexham, England, who has done such a trek annually since 1972. This year, her 13-year-old pack pony, her disabled Jack Russell terrier, and a few personal items were all she needed for the trip.

Dotchin puts on her eyepatch and an orange safety vest, packs her kit and Jack Russell terrier Dinky onto her horse, and sends it. From her home in Northumberland, near the Scottish border, she’ll ride all the way north to Inverness. It’s a tradition that started decades ago for Dotchin, with a deferred animal care request and an inkling of freedom.

“My mother would look after my other ponies, but she wasn’t that keen on looking after my Haflinger stallion,” she told Scotland’s STV News. “So I rode him down to Somerset to see a friend, which is about 300 miles [480km].”

Despite cultural changes and age challenges, the active octagenarian never lost her inspiration and remarkable trail psych.

 Jane Dotchin 1000km horseback

Along the way, Jane Dotchin sleeps in a tent and boils stream water. Photo: SWNS

Highland trail riding: Dotchin goes north, old-school

Dotchin’s pilgrimage, which started this year on August 31, will take around seven weeks. She and her pony, Diamond, do 25 to 30km days, mostly on single-track roads. She declines to use maps, sticking to routes she knows (presumably quite intimately) and visiting friends along the way.

“It is nice to go and see [people] again,” she said to STV News. “I ring them up in the morning to say I’m going to be there in the evening. I don’t warn them too far in advance, because if the weather suddenly changes or I decide to stop early then they can be left wondering where I’ve got to.”

Her process is simple: eat a simple diet of porridge, oatcakes, and cheese. Resupply along the way, never carrying too much at once — boil water from streams when it’s necessary. Sleep in a tent, tether the horse, dig a hole in the ground when nature calls.

It’s fascinating to think of an 80-year-old woman in England acting out the dreams of John Muir, but there she is. Her one compromise appears to be that she does carry a rudimentary cell phone — however, she only uses it in emergencies, and a single charge often lasts six weeks.

80 year old rides 1000km on horseback

The trip will take seven weeks. Photo: SWNS

 

Along the way, Dinky the Jack Russell frolics in grass patches despite her deformed front legs. She sleeps with Dotchin like a “hot water bottle” while Diamond rests and grazes on a long tether nearby.

A public service announcement from Jane Dotchin: don’t litter!

Over the years, Jane Dotchin has made one alarming observation: trash is now everywhere. Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, just outside Glasgow, especially sets off her litter radar.

“It’s appalling, in particular single used barbecues which are left lying all over the place,” she told STV News. “Cumbernauld is the fly-tipping capital of Britain. There are some lovely people there who let me camp, but some of it is so disgusting and shameful.”

Regardless, she carries on. She also notes that camper vans are more and more prevalent on the UK’s narrow single-track roads. She’s happy to share but notes that some van drivers don’t seem to realize just how much space they take up.

“I was forever just about getting swept off the roads by them,” she said.

Still, her love for the countryside and a worthy adventure endures. And in 2020, The British Horse Society recognized it, giving her its Exceptional Achievement award.

Jane Dotchin, her Jack Russell and horse

Jane Dotchin has made the journey every year since 1972. Photo: SWNS