Feb 19
Oh Biggles!!!
icon1 Paul | icon4 02 19th, 2017| icon32 Comments »

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Prior to my ascent of Beinn Luibhean every single major hill I’d climbed had involved zig-zags; they’d either been part of the path – trading increased distance for a gentler gradient – or had been forced on me by natural obstacles. More than once I’d considered them irritating and unnecessary, and wondered what it would be like simply to set my sights on the top of a hill and head straight for it in an uncompromising straight line. If you’ve ever wondered that too, I can tell you right now exactly what it’s like: awful, especially if you’ve got deep snow to go through.

It’s even worse if you’ve got little boy called “Oh Biggles!!!” tied to your waist. Yes, during the course of our most recent hill climb I did indeed change my boy’s name from plain “Biggles” to “Oh Biggles!!!” with no less than three exclamation marks, but sometimes five or six. He earned this new appellation by constantly – and I do mean constantly – getting himself tied up in his own lead, forcing me to grind to a halt and untangle him. On several occasions he even got himself caught up in Beanie’s lead while I was still trying to free his back legs from his own.

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Munching on cow ears before the final push to the summit, and Oh Biggles!!! has got himself tied up yet again

The supreme irony of this whole venture was that I’d chosen Beinn Luibhean as a nice “warmup” hill for 2017 due to its modest height, easy path-free navigation (set your eyes on the summit and start walking), short length (less than 5km) and safe grassy surface. Thanks to the snow and my little furry numpty on legs it mutated into the freezing cold mother of all workouts. At times I was forced to scramble on all fours to get past the steeper snow-covered sections; Beanie & Biggles were scrambling on all fours too (it is after all their default state) but it wasn’t working for them. There was one particularly rough bit that went something like this:

  • Dig my hands into the snow for extra purchase and take one big step up and forward
  • Discover that Biggles is stuck behind me; pick him up and lift him forward, and in doing so, slip back one foot
  • Extract Biggles from the tangle he created almost immediately on being released
  • Discover that Beanie is stuck behind me; pick her up and lift her forward while sticking my head under Biggles’ bum to stop him slipping back
  • Extract Beanie’s lead from between Biggles’ legs (he’s just re-tangled)
  • Repeat all the above, over and over again

I’d long given up hope of getting any decent photograpy from the summit due to the white-out conditions; now it was just about beating what should have been a pretty trivial hill. Beanie at least was fully behind the “get to the top” plan – she was the first to get moving again after our cow ear-break.

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Onward and upward! Beanie’s never happy until she’s reached the top.

By the time we reached what appeared to be the highest point I was more than ready for my traditional summit treat – chocolate milk – except that by now it had frozen solid. Fortunately other treats – specifically a packet of meat and cheese nibbles with a picture of a happy labrador on the front – were unaffected by the conditions. I saw no point staying up there in the cold with nothing to see, so we started back down even before all the nibbles had been fully nibbled.

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No Dad, one serving is not going to cut it this time!

If going up a steep snow-covered hill is extra hard, going down is extra easy and extra fun. Even if you slip you’re guaranteed a soft landing! The lower we went, the more the white-out cleared, revealing glimpses of neighbouring mountains. And of course it got it warmer too; as our van came into view at the bottom of the hill my chocolate milk had thawed enough to drink, and I gave myself a thumping ice-cream headache with my first gulp.

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Doggy breakfast was served at the van, after which we drove just a couple of miles up the road to visit an old pictoresque stone bridge known as “The Butterbridge“. I’d had the satnav coordinates for the bridge in my phone for over two years, but had always given it a miss, often citing the excuse that the weather was “too good” – it’s one of those sites that looks disappointingly bland under sun and blues skies. On this day, there was no such problem :)

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Feb 6

Every morning Beanie & Biggles join us in bed for a snuggle, and every morning they start out being very accommodating bedmates, seamlessly adapting to the way we happen to be lying. Just as we’re drifting back off to sleep they start to stretch out and claim extra space. Susan is typically the first to be forced out of bed, at which point I actually feel the squeeze even more because I’ve got a Beaglet on both sides of me with no protective buffer. As our biggest pup, Mr Biggles has more raw pushing power but unlike Beanie, he doesn’t use his claws. In my semi-conscious state I usually just go with the flow, contorting away from the pressure, then wonder why my back, legs and shoulders are stiff when I finally exit the bed.

This morning however I fought back against those pushing paws. I don’t know what caused this reaction; maybe Beanie’s acupuncture woke me up more than usual, or maybe I’d sub-consiously absorbed some of Victoria Stilwell’s message when her  “It’s me or the dog” training show had been playing on the gym TV screens the previous day. Regardless, instead of reflexively moving away from Beanie’s spiky paws, I lifted the covers enough to study what was really going on. Beanie was lying on her side with her head facing down into the depths of the bed, her fluffy little bum just a few inches from my face, and her rear legs fully extended and pushing hard into my stomach. I took a deep breath and blew a focussed stream of air right at her little pink-brown bum hole, and quickly but gently folded her legs back under her as she reacted and pulled away. I got an extra five minutes of unharrassed snoozing because this, but she got her revenge later during the offlead bit of our beach run, slamming her paws into my groin to decelerate abruptly as she sprinted back for a chicken top-up. I call this “collision braking”, and while there’s no denying that it’s effective, it’s also quite painful.

Happily there was no pain involved on our recent trip to Salloch Bay, although Biggles did damage his pride. Heading off in darkness, we arrived just before sunrise.

Loch Lomond jetty at sunrise [5D3_4205]

Sallochy Bay is on the eastern side of Loch Lomond, and while I’d driven past it many times in pursuit of hills to climb, this was the first time I’d actually stopped there. I can heartily recommend it; you get an easy, peacefull stroll along by the loch shore with the option of doing a stretch of the West Highland Way. We stuck mostly by the water, and every few hundred yards we came upon another little self-contained bay with it’s own private beach and paddling facilities.

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The day started hazy and misty and it stayed that way, but from time-to-time the sun broke through and the surrounding hills and mountains became partially visible.

Loch Lomond Islands [5D3_4208]

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At one point we came to a fallen tree and Beanie correctly sensed that I wanted to get a shot of her posing on it. She hopped up and balanced there effortlessly, looking out into the distance until the shutter clicked and it was time for payment (Pedigree Tasty Bites – cheesy nibble flavor – in this instance).

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Biggles wanted in on the act but didn’t seem confident about jumping up there, which is weird because he can easily jump so high he headbutts me as I’m carrying his bowl out of the kitchen. Anyway, I grabbed the handle of his swanky new red harness and liften him onto the tree, keeping hold until he seemed to have got his balance. I backed away slighty and raised my camera, but there was no Bigglet visible in the viewfinder as I prepared to shoot. Instead there was Bigglet on the ground, flat on his back and looking slightly puzzled as though trying work out how he’d got there. That old adage about falling off a log is apparently true if your name is Biggles. I gave him a much safer shore-line portrait to make up for it. And some Tasty Bites. Obviously.

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We headed back to Sallochy for breakfast and a coffee in the Beaglemobile, then headed up nearby Duncryne hill. Although a trivial walk, Duncryne is said to offer amazing views of the little islands on Loch Lomond on a good day. Unfortunately the haze had turned to thick mist by then, so we had to be content with a good sniff, a few choice leg cockings and another round of treats. That said, the amount of deep snoozing that occurred when we got back home told me that our visit to Sallochy had been thoroughly enjoyable.

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The shoreline at Sallochy Bay

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The way back from Duncryne Hill

Jan 21
Scallywags!
icon1 Paul | icon4 01 21st, 2017| icon32 Comments »

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It seems that our Beagles have thoroughly embraced the tradition of the New Year’s resolution. Beanie’s pledge was apparently to play more tug games, and thus far she’s been doing a great job of sticking to it. She’s always enjoyed a good tug when invited, but over the last couple of weeks she’s been initiating play sessions herself by grabbing a toy, dropping it at my feet and making very purposeful eye contact. If I fail to respond in a timely manner, indignant howling ensues.

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I know that standard training advice says that it should always be the human who decides when a game kicks off, but I’m having a hard time sticking to that rule because a tug session with the Beanster is really, really nice. If I get down on all fours with her I can pull her close and get something approaching a cuddle. It doesn’t last for long of course, but that’s about as good as things get in the Beaniverse – unless she’s scared that is, or I’ve spilled hot chocolate down my t-shirt.

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If I had to guess Biggles’ resolution, it would simply be this: “Get more things”. It almost goes without saying that socks rank high on his list of qualifying “things”; his sock acquisition rate for January 2017 has already smashed all previous records. Just the other day he got four in the space of a couple of hours, and successfully swapped them all for treats and chews. Filled with pride from this achievement, my little boy was quite a handful on his evening walk. He spotted a Golden Retriever frolicking on a patch of grass across the road, locked eyes with him, and squatted down for a huge but well-formed dump on the pavement. It wasn’t just a poo, it was a statement, and Biggles wasn’t the least bit surprised when I started loading it into a poo bag; as the holder of the new world sock trading record, of course his poo was going to be a keeper!

I held my bag of brown gold under a streetlight for a moment in the hope of identifying a foreign body emerging from one of the logs. After a couple of seconds I realized it was the remains of a little plastic dipping pot that Biggles had snaffled two nights previously; lined with chilli sauce, it had been hot and spicy enough to make him cough, but just like everything else it had eventually succumbed to the awesome processing power of my boy’s gut. Buoyed further by my satisfaction with his output, Biggles unleashed a biblical woofing on the Retriever, causing the owner to quickly put him on lead and steer a wide path round us. The Bigglet was truly having a Conan The Barbarian moment: “Woof at your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their owners”.

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A distinctly less “Conan” moment occurred early one morning when Susan opened the crates. Disturbed by the sound of the crate latches but still not properly awake, I slipped into my well-practised morning routine: shuffle over to make a Biggles-sized space at the edge of the bed, wait for a paw on my arm, then lift the covers and issue the “Go on, get in” command. The paw signal didn’t come however; instead I heard a thump on the floor followed by a series of grunting noises. Even in my partially conscious state I was able to recognise the sound of a roll in progress, and  slipped back into a light sleep while waiting for it to finish. The next thing I remember wasn’t a paw on my arm, but Susan laughing and saying “Paul, you’ve got to look at this!”

I sat up, struggled to open my eyes, and there at the base of the bed was Biggles, standing motionless the way he does when he’s got himself into trouble and needs help. I rubbed my eyes to get better vision, and finally saw the cause of Biggles’ predicament. He was wearing Susan’s knickers. I have absoutely no idea how he’d managed to get himself into them, but there they were, stretched across the back of his shoulders like a mishapen rucksack. Susan extricated him and he crawled into bed with me as normal, but he was a little subdued for the rest of the day :)

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