The Long Riders' Guild

Arthur’s Promise

Arthur Patey Elliott and Goldflake’s ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, covering 1176 miles during August, September, and October 1955.

By Phil Elliott

The Genesis of this remarkable adventure, by a pair of resolute characters, has its formation spread over the first half of the twentieth century. Arthur left a few short sentences scribbled on the reverse of some photographic prints; the rest of this true story I have constructed from facts gleaned from the pictures, cuttings and telegrams pasted into his scrapbook. Any conjecture surrounding Arthur’s inspiration for his eventual long ride is simply that; at no time can these possibilities be considered factual. However, I shall promote all the factual material I have at my disposal in order to record the events of the late summer of 1955, as Arthur and Goldflake made their way from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Arthur was born in 1895 at Stover Park, Newton Abbot. He was the younger brother, by eighteen months, of my father Lewis. Their father, Richard, was tragically killed when thrown from his horse at Haldon Bridge near their home. Arthur then lived with his widowed grandmother near Kingsbridge, moving back with his mother after she died. Then followed an itinerant existence in Broadclyst, South Brent, Plympton and Plymouth, before the ultimate upheaval for him and so many other nineteen year-olds - August 1918.

During World War One Arthur served with the Devon Yeomanry, the R.A.S.C. and the Royal Engineers. His index card contains two important facts. He was awarded the S.W.B. (Silver War Badge) indicating an honourable discharge through wounds, or illness. This allowed Arthur to display the reason for his not being in uniform and perhaps receiving white feathers from civilians. The second fact is the R prefix after his Corporal rank and number means that he probably worked in the remounts section - horse breakers/trainers.





Arthur’s RE number was issued by the 2nd Wessex Field Company. The unit was attached to the 27th Division and mainly served in Salonika. This little known theatre of war could have been where Arthur was posted; very few WW1 veterans failed to serve abroad at some point.

Arthur moved with his mother, Clara, to Carbis Bay, St. Ives, Cornwall during the 1920’s. He had followed Lewis to this area and both played for the local Rugby Club; Lewis became landlord of the Cornish Arms and Arthur his best customer! For his living, Arthur ran a small riding school at Lelant, and at the same time continued to live with, and care for Clara at Carbis Bay until her death in 1949. Six years later, at the age of sixty, he set out on horseback in order to ride the length of the country.  Why? This was not a time of many long distance rides in England. Books by Margaret Leigh and A.F. Tschiffely were adored by thousands of avid readers, both before and after WW2, but perhaps the modern world too easily conspired against would-be equine adventurers; their plans thwarted by all the potential pitfalls in 1950’s Britain.

Arthur is quoted in the Edinburgh Evening News “...I had to look after my mother, and I made the promise to her that one day I should (sic.) ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.” The paper describes it as “A strange promise made to his mother when he was a boy...”  Arthur’s father died in 1896, and Arthur himself ceased to be a boy after 1914, so perhaps we are led to believe that his inspiration occurred in this period. Evelyn Burnaby had serialised his own Land’s End to John O’Groats sojourn in ‘The Country Gentleman’ magazine’s equestrian diary during 1892. The following year this was published in book form.  Arthur may well have had access to either of these sources. Clara was a qualified English teacher and would certainly have encouraged reading.  

Sunday, August 21st.1955.

Arthur and Goldflake leave Land’s End.





The next confirmed sighting of Arthur was at the Lanivet Inn, Lanivet, two miles south of Bodmin. The Inn has a characteristic sign of a Panda with Bamboo shoots; easily seen in one of these photographs.





Goldflake is no doubt stabled in an outbuilding, and hopefully not grazing on the landlord’s favourite rose-bush as ‘Violet’ does in Mr. Tschiffely’s ‘Bridle Paths’. Arthur looks hale and hearty here; these are early days yet. The Lanivet Inn send a Greetings Telegram on the 25th.October to Arthur in Caithness, and the other thirteen congratulations telegrams pasted into Arthur’s scrapbook give excellent clues to the places he stayed.

Yelverton near Tavistock is next, followed by a stop at the Bath Arms, Crickerton, Warminster.  He then arrived at Oxford and is photographed on Goldflake, adding a caption on the reverse: "“Hardcase having one at Oxford. It was very hot that day. I am afraid I had more than one. I don’t expect you blame me.”

These cuttings tell us that it is the week beginning 5th September and the two travellers had stayed in Towcester the previous night, passing through Northampton en route to Kettering and Weekley.


Arthur and Goldflake then suffered an accident and injury when a dog jumped out, scaring the mare, and causing a fall. Arthur expected to recover in just a few days; that must be how he earned the sobriquet ‘Hardcase’ referred to earlier! However, Goldflake takes priority and they stayed for almost all of September.

“This is Mr. Thompson on his horse Regent and myself on Goldflake. I stayed there for a fortnight, and had a rest. That was at a place called Weekley nr. Kettering in Northampton.”

Right. “Mr.Thompson and I at the opening meet. Had a lovely day. This journey will give me happy memories.”



After Weekley, Arthur and Goldflake stopped at Gunthorpe, Arnold, Nottingham, then trotted on the Dawney Arms, Shipton, Beningboro’ York. (Both Telegrams). Their arrival in Northallerton is confirmed by these wonderful 1955 scenes.

The pair left Yorkshire for Northumberland and Arthur notes their arrival at Riding Mill, Northumberland on the back of a postcard. The next place was an overnight stay in a flour mill at Dalkeith.  After this stop they headed for Edinburgh and gained the attention of the local press.


The route to Perth from Edinburgh involves crossing the Firth of Forth on a ferry.   Arthur and Goldflake are the main attraction.

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Arthur looks somewhat gaunt here, and the physical hardship of the previous weeks has taken its toll.  The pair of travellers arrived in Perth being accommodated at a boarding-house; the proprietor sending them a telegram when they reached journey’s end.


The team set off north of Perth to the town of Dunkeld and a press photographer has posed the two in a relaxed position on a field gate.

The sash that Arthur constructed can clearly be seen here. The Land’s End lettering on the back is rarely observable in any pictures. His shoulder bag is ex-army and designed to hold a gas-mask. Goldflake is appreciating a protective hand wrapped around the top of his neck.

Well done, lass!  We have done it at last.”

Arthur and Goldflake headed for Inverness, the mid-October weather bringing driving rain and even some snow. The Berriedale hills will have been daunting. At 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, 25th October they arrived at John O’Groats.



The final pictures are tinged with sadness but sufficiently loaded with emotion to have inspired my attempt to bring Arthur and Goldflake’s epic journey to an appreciative audience after nearly sixty years. The 2012 Olympian Summer produced hundreds of sporting finishes witnessed by billions of viewers. Arthur is welcomed by the Hotel’s owner and a few guests, who (apart from the picture taker) are probably indoors. It is almost comedic that we can witness this lonely conclusion; such a contrast to those recent events. Once again, The Times records the event.


Until ten minutes before I wrote this concluding paragraph I had no idea where the next three pictures were taken, but the octagonal window bay and glazing bars suddenly jumped out at me screaming John O’Groats Hotel! Arthur is drying off his ‘uniform’, relaxing, and signing a register of sorts; a scene replicated before and since no doubt, by a succession of travellers.

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Goldflake and Arthur returned to Weekley by train and spent three more weeks with the Thompson family before returning home to Carbis Bay, again by train.

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These photos show Arthur being met and escorted back to Drowpits Farm, Weekley.

Arthur Elliott was to live for about another eight years.  I remember a pathetic bundle of clothing and the scrapbook being sent to us in 1963.  Shortly before he had posted the picture of himself to my sister; he had by then gone blind and used sticks to support himself. His little note on the back reads: “From Uncle Arthur to Rebecca With love.” 


Goldflake, the eight-year-old chestnut mare, and Arthur, the sixty-plus horseman, produced a classic example of teamwork in the early autumn of 1955. The following year William Holt of Todmorden purchased Trigger, the horse that would accompany him on his travels all over Europe. He, too, was in his sixties and had served in WW1. It is certainly possible that he read of and was influenced by my Uncle’s efforts. We, of course, will never know. Arthur and Bill Holt’s legacy is one of overcoming the depravations and effects of war by choosing to go on an adventure with a mode of transport and a companion rolled into one. Our present military situation is not entirely different, and long distance rides offer challenges that may benefit recuperation.

img143.jpg Finally, two snapshots of my heroic pair in Northallerton, in the County of Yorkshire, and not too far from my home. Long Riders would appear to be a hit with the girls!

Bibliography and Acknowledgements.

Burnaby, Evelyn. A Ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. (SLM &Co. London 1893).

Tschiffely. A. F. Bridle Paths. (The Travel Book Club. London 1947).

Ripley. V. J. Arthur Elliott’s Scrapbook. 1955. All the unknown reporters and photographers.  Extraordinary help and inspiration. . The Great War Forum.

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