PLODDING along in some of England's most scenic landscape with new pals Pansy and Fay was pure heaven for my 11-year-old Flossie.

For her dad Kenny, brother Ruaridh, 14, and myself, the solid rain thundering down on our heads was putting a slight dampener on the day, but Flossie's declaration that, "it's just rain, I love rain'' spurred us all on and, truth be told, we were all loving our fell pony trek with Tom Lloyd in the Lake District.

Tom's enthusiasm for his long haired friends was so infectious that we soon forgot the relentless downpour and instead gently relaxed and enjoyed our day in the beautiful Grizedale Forest.

Fell Pony Adventures was set up by successful film maker Tom to allow him to work with the animals with whom he has spent all his life.

But as well as providing eco tourism, there is a serious message behind his treks. In 2021, there are only 200 breeding mares left out on the fells and it is Tom's mission to raise their profile and keep them going.

He is in good company with the late Prince Philip a great advocate of these hardy horses, using them in his carriage driving days, and The Queen is the patron of The Fell Pony Society.

And you can see their attraction when you spend time with these good natured creatures. It was a dream come true for animal-mad Flossie, who would gladly swop the bees and the hens she keeps at home for a pony.

Early one morning, we met Tom in the deserted car park which leads to the forest. There is a lot that goes into getting the ponies ready for their day's trek and Tom was happy for Flossie and Ruaridh to help him tack up and feed them a pre-journey apple treat.

Fell ponies are born to help their master and can carry heavy saddle bags with ease. Tom’s dad Walter established the Hades Hill herd in Lancashire in 1957 – named after part of the unenclosed Shawforth Common, a pack horse trail, which runs across from Rochdale to Clitheroe, where the ponies were traditionally used to carry slate and charcoal along old drover’s tracks.

Walter's wonderful description sums the ponies up. "Look for feet that sound like a ring of bells as they trot down the road towards you – so much hair the farrier has to part it to rasp their feet – and bone – plenty of bone. After that a bit of fat will cover up any faults.''

Nowadays Tom's ponies Pansy and Fay carry the provisions needed for a day trek and within minutes of meeting us, they were raring to go.

In 1977 Grizedale Forest, the largest in the Lake District, was awarded money for an arts project and a lovely sculpture trail was made for visitors to follow.

This is just one of several routes that Tom follows, with longer wild camping trips for the more adventurous.

A stickler for detail, Tom completed a mountain leader's course and planned and walked all the routes throughout the Lake District before launching his business in 2018.

It's a hard life, but Tom made the decision to start his treks to keep the herd going. His semi-feral ponies live all year round in their natural habitat, no blankets and indoor heaters for these ponies.

They need to be in a familiar environment to allow them to survive but it’s a costly business, with the ponies regularly needing new shoes which cost over £200 a time. Tom works hard to keep his prices down but, as he says, “everyone wants a slice of the cake.’’

“They have to work for a living," says Tom. “Sadly, breeders are getting older and the gene pool of ponies less, so it is more important than ever to keep them going.’’

As well as the treks, Tom has set up a podcast which promotes the Fell Pony Heritage Trust which is working towards providing a visitor and education centre to promote the horses and pay for research into the benefits of the ponies grazing on the upland eco system.

Our six-hour trek is a slow plod. Flossie and Ruaridh are in charge of the ponies as Kenny, Tom and I amble happily along.

An excellent teacher, Tom is patient and urges the children to show the mischievous ponies who is boss as they make friends.

Pansy, a lovely brown-haired lady had the perfect manners and waited patiently for Ruaridh to get the hang of leading her on. Fair-haired Fay, on the other hand, was a match for Flossie and her impatient tapping of hoofs as she waited to head off was a sign of things to come!

After a few tussles, Flossie soon had feisty Fay in check and it was lovely to see them striding along with Flossie happily regaling her new friend with tales of school life

A little more sensitive than his sister, Ruaridh, was a bit more gentle, but paid the price when Pansy decided to take him on a merry dance and dragged him into a ditch, so she could have a munch of the tasty trees.

But they both soon got the hang of it and the rhythm of walking for a while, then stopping to look at the weird and wonderful sculptures, which divided our opinion on the nature of art.

The 4,000 hectare forest is home to a wonderful collection of sculptures from some of the leading names in contemporary art and has gradually grown as the years have gone by.

Some are a bit strange, like the modern Please Close the Gate picket fence by Gregory Scott-Gurner , in contrast to Richard Harris's Dry Stone Passage which snakes you along and affords some lovely views across the lakes.

More traditional sculptures like Alannah Robins's Lady of the Water showing two ladies showering each other, to Linda Watson's 17 Degrees South circle dominate the skyline and there is always something to grab your interest as you turn a corner.

Trekking is a hungry business for us all and a few hours into the journey, Pansy and Fay pulled us off route and to Grizedale Tarn, the only natural hill pool in the forest. It was used as an emergency water supply for the nearby Grizedale Hall in Second World War, which was being used as a prisoner of war camp.

Under a weatherproof tarpaulin, we tucked into a forest feast of local cheeses, meats, beetroot biscuits and wild teas as Pansy and Fay took a well earned rest.

Tom regaled us with tales of his travels with his ponies, his clear favourite being to make the annual journey with daughter Flo to Appleby Fair, an annual gathering of gypsies and travellers held in June in the small Cumbrian town.

“We meander our way there with the ponies and if we fancy, just pull off the road for a few days and enjoy the slow pace.’’ said Tom.

In the world we are currently living in, that sounds pure bliss.

From a day’s trek to three days wild camping, you can enjoy a slow pace and take in the beauty of the Lake District through the eyes of the gentle fell pony.