May 27

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Biggles is really in my good books right now. In fact he’s earned himself so much “good boy” credit that I didn’t even react this morning when he knocked Susan’s (empty) cereal bowl onto the floor and ran off with her spoon for a licking session. Actually that’s not entirely true – I did react at first, grumbling “Uggh who’s been naughty ?” but when I saw it was Biggles I came back with “Fair enough little boy, you’ve earned it.” And so he had, during our latest hillwalk in the very very early hours of Thursday morning.

The goal this time was to get to “Stuc a’Chroin” by sunrise, using adjoining Munro-class peak Ben Vorlich as the staging post. The first part went really well; we arrived at Ben Vorlich’s summit trig point just an hour and forty minutes after leaving the van. All that remained now was the somewhat shorter (partly downhill) walk over the other side to the “saddle” ridge joining the two peaks, followed by a shortish but reportedly steep ascent up to Stuc a’Chroin. With over a hundred minutes left before official sunrise, I figured we had time for a sit down, a drink, and a serving of mini-Jumbones. Visibility was very poor because we were in cloud but the path seemed easy enough to follow, so foolishly I didn’t bother to re-examine the guide I’d printed out. When the munching was finished (which didn’t take long) I got back up and started confidently along what I thought was the second part of the route. It was indeed the second part of “a” route, just not the one I wanted to follow. I’d been walking for a good while, maybe 20-30 minutes, before we were sufficiently out of the clouds for me to see  my mistake. I had a choice to make: I could drag us right back up to Vorlich’s summit and take the correct path, or just cut across to the saddle ridge from our current location. The second option was both shorter and less steep, but it meant clambering over a lot of boulders and scree. Overall, it still looked to be the better option, so off we went.

Typically Beanie copes the best of all us when the terrain is rocky, being very nimble and sure-footed. This time however she kept making some very bad decisions; more than once she ended up behind a boulder so big and smooth that she couldn’t get over it, and I had to come to her rescue. Biggles on the other hand was doing spectacularly well, consistently finding low but solid footing. In fact he was doing such a great job of weaving his way through the rocks that I started following him. Progress was being made towards the saddle , but the closer we got, the bigger and more challenging the task appeared to be; I started having big doubts that we could even get there before sunrise, let alone up to the summit of Stuc a’Chroin. Then, out of the blue, Biggles seemed to go off course. My eyes were telling me that we needed to keep picking our way up and across the boulders, but he wanted to head down slightly. Shining my headtorch in his direction I saw that he’d found a path. It was narrow and very faint, but there was a line in the scree that looked like it had been trodden underfoot. I knew there was an alternate route between Stuc and Vorlich that cut through scree – maybe this was it? I decided it was worth the gamble, and committed to following the Bigglet. He stayed locked on to the path even when my eyes couldn’t follow it, and in due course we emerged from the rocks and joined the Vorlich side of the saddle.

I checked my watch; we now had barely forty minutes left until sunrise, and Stuc a’Chroin looked impossibly tall. I concluded that we wouldn’t make it in time. On the other hand, the top of Stuc was in cloud; as long as it stayed covered it didn’t matter if we got there a little late. We pressed onwards across the saddle and began the ascent of this second peak. Part way up the path became hard to follow but once again Biggles came to the rescue. His path-finding abilities wavered only once, but that was to send a rogue mountain goat on its way, which was entirely forgivable. As we got closer to what looked like the top of the climb, the path changed from winding to direct vertical ascent. It was if the makers of the path had said to themselves “Right, sod this zig-zagging nonsense, let’s just go for it”. It was tough, but about fifteen minutes after sunrise we popped up onto the prow of Stuc a’Chroin.

Visibility was very poor due to cloud, but I could see the bright disk of the sun through it. I knew that if we could just hang on in there for long enough the sun would likely burn through it. On recent hillwalks any extended waiting has proved both challenging and noisy, but this time everything was in my favor: it was relatively warm and wind-free, there were plenty of sniffy rocks to explore, and my pockets were stuffed with cow ears and dog biscuits. Just under an hour later the pups were at the limit of their patience, but the cloud-base had lowered enough to give us some spectacular views.

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Just in the nick of time, the wait is over. Beanie & Biggles are muddy, impatient, and ready to woof

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See? Told you so..

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But that retreating cloud is fascinating stuff, and the woofing soon gives way to silent contemplation

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Cairn on Stuc a'Chroin [5D4_2659]

Looking back to Ben Vorlich [5D4_2781]

Ben Vorlich, viewed from the head of Stuc a’Chroin

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Looking back along Stuc a’Chroin to its two summit cairns (two little nodules just visible near the top/right corner)

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As the sun warmed the grass it released a host of insects. Given the time of year I expected to be inundated by midges, but they were relatively scarce. Instead, lots of large, strange buzzy things took to the air and insisted on doing regular flybys. Beanie dedicated herself to trying to catch them, and pretty soon Biggles joined in on the act.

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After a while it became clear that the cloud-base was on the rise again so we started the long walk back to the van, which of course now included a repeat ascent of Ben Vorlich. Even before we got to that we had to make our way down Stuc a’Chroin, following the sometimes indistinct path. On my own – in my increasingly tired state – this would have been difficult, but in this case all I had to do was follow the little mostly-white bottom of Chief Pathfinder Biggles.

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While I pause for a drink of water, Beanie & Biggles resume their fly catching activities.

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As we reached Vorlich’s summit trig point I came close to repeating the mistake that had taken us off course originally. Visibility wasn’t the problem this time – but fatigue was. However, once again Biggles stepped in to guide me to the correct path. In due course we arrived back at the van. Beagle breakfast was served first of course, and then I began downing as many caffeine-rich cappuccinos as I could stomach. I’d only had two hours’ sleep prior to the hillwalk, and now I had to get fully awake for the two hour drive back home. The contented snoozing sounds from the furry types wasn’t helping with this at all.

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I decided the only way to get home safely was to deploy the caffeine equivalent of a nuke: Japanese green tea. I mixed an excessive amount of this in my drink bottle with the intention of slugging it periodically during the journey home. As it turned out only a few slugs were required before my eyes felt like they were being held open by that weird gizmo in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Certainly if green tea had been made available to the inhabitants of Elm Street back in the 80’s, Freddy Kreuger’s kill rate would have been way, way down.

Two day’s on from the walk I’m still knackered and the pups are back to their normal pesky selves, but Biggles isn’t getting told off. I don’t know how long it will take for him to use up all the good boy credits he earned on the hillwalk, but I do know it wouldn’t have gone nearly so well without him.

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May 15

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“It’ll break your lungs, your legs, your lower back..”

The words of Steve Austin (the wrestler, not the secret agent with notoriously unreliable bionics) were playing in my head last Thursday morning as I made my way up Arrochar’s Beinn an Lochain in the dark. I’ve no doubt the “Skullbuster” obstacle course is in reality much tougher than a walk up that almost-but-not-quite Munro-class hill, but it is nevertheless a steep little bugger that does everything in its power to break your morale.

Less than 48 hours earlier the walk had been in danger of not happening at all. I’d finished my gym session early and while I was waiting for Susan to finish her workout, I nipped into The Range and ended up in the pet section. They had some new toys I hadn’t seen before and I started testing them out, closing my eyes and imagining that my right hand was a Beagle mouth (my mouth analogue tends to be better at finding good toys for Biggles, while Susan’s “mouth” is more suited to Beanie). In this case, a furry, squeaky slipper felt particularly nice, and though it only had one squeaker it was well positioned and didn’t require a lot of pressure to activate. The slipper fell into my shopping basket, along with a cheap pack of tripe sticks that I figured would be great for the hillwalk. I didn’t try the tripe sticks in my “mouth” as it isn’t good at chewing, lacks taste-buds and isn’t connected directly to a stomach, but I did let Beanie & Biggles try them in person as soon as we got home, along with the slipper. The slipper was a bit of a non-event, but the tripe sticks went down very well indeed. Unfortunately they also came back up really well about three hours later, leaving us with two large piles of Beagle stomach contents – one on the lounge rug and another on the corridor carpet (the much easier to clean laminate flooring was, as always, barf-free). Needless to say the tripe sticks went straight in the bin and I waited somewhat anxiously to see if their ill effects would carry over to the next day. Happily they didn’t and Beinn an Lochain was declared a “go”.

Anyway, back to the hill climb. Beinn an Lochain is basically a big, steep and lumpy ridge, and because it is so lumpy it presents one false summit after another as you climb it. After the first few surprises I gave up trying to determine if the currently visible “top” was the real deal or not and limited my view to the path immediately before me. Even that wasn’t exactly easy; the path kept turning abruptly and skipping round featureless rock as though deliberately trying to hide from the beam of my headtorch. Fortunately my two furry companions were on the case; almost every time my eyes lost the path, a wet black nose found it. Thanks to this teamwork and the heavier leg workouts I’ve been doing recently, we arrived at the real summit well ahead of my expectations.

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Given a choice I’d always rather get to the top of a hill early, but in this case I’d seriously overdone it – we had nearly a full hour to kill before sunrise and Beanie & Biggles don’t do waiting very well. We strolled between the official summit and another close-by high point a few times, consuming about ten minutes. We took another five minutes to munch our way through a total of four cow ears. A pack of 4 Pedigree mini-jumbones (yep, those advertised with the ever-lasting om-noms) was gone in barely 2 minutes.  By the time sunrise was finally approaching, things were getting pretty woofy on Beinn an Lochain I can tell you.

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To make things worse, the clear skies promised in weather forecasts never materialized; instead we got only grey clouds and windchill. I traded a handful of my traditional “summit” peanuts for a long exposure shot by the cairn, and then reluctantly started on the journey back down.

Beinn an Lochain Summit LE [5D4_2322]

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Back at the Beaglemobile I served up two bowls of breakfast for the pups and kicked off my walking boots, hoping to enjoy the last of my peanuts unmolested. Like the sunrise, this didn’t quite work out as planned :)

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A crossed leg is no barrier to The Beanster

May 7

Click here to read Part 1 of this post

So  just to recap: after an evening spent consuming the very best sheep poo in Scotland, Biggles had suffered what could be described in Star Trek terms as a “warp core breach” in our bed.

It was now early in the morning and I was still tired out, but obviously the idea of climbing back into bed had totally lost its appeal; going for a shower and change of clothes on the other hand seemed like a really good idea, and that’s what I did. On my return I took both Beanie and Captain Loose-Sphincter for another walk in the lane by the campsite, leaving Susan to deal with the soiled bedsheets. Almost immediately Beanie felt the urge to squat, and brought forth a slimy dark green log of epic proportions. I bagged it, binned it, and began walking further up the lane. We’d gone barely a hundred yards before Beanie squatted again, resulting in another bag of recycled sheep poo to dispose of. I dragged Beanie & Biggles back to the bin, then turned to go forward. This time we made it nearly 150 yards before The Beanster hunkered down for a third innings, but even that wasn’t the end of it; during the course of the day Beanie made no less than six ample deposits in the poo bank, setting a new personal record. By contrast Biggles only needed three squatting sessions, but then he’d already unburdened himself in our bed.

Back at the campsite I got an update on the bed situation. I’d seen only the lower cover – and that had been bad enough – but apparently the underside of the duvet cover was in an even worse state.  We had no replacements and only one more night to get through, so Susan devised a cunning plan: turn both covers round and use dog blankets – of which we had several – to protect the bed itself and cover the skid marks on the upturned duvet. Certainly not an ideal solution, but a workable one.  With this settled, we drove out to the first of three walks planned for the day – a circuit around the beach near Kilmory at the southern end of Arran.

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The Walkhighlands site rates this as one of the best beaches on Arran, but unfortunately the tide was in and we didn’t get to see it at its best.

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The second walk was much more satisfying for both humans and Beagles alike: Clauchlands Point and Dun Fionn. The outward leg of the route followed a cliff by the coast, rapidly gaining height for some great sniffs and views.

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Wild rabbit poo was in abundance and I was very relieved to find that our pups were more interested in rolling in it than gorging on it.

At one point in the walk we encountered a group of students who made a big fuss of the pups. Beanie did her signature biscuit-summoning dance and though it didn’t work directly, it did put her within striking distance of unguarded pockets and backpacks as people bent down to pet her. For once I was on my game and managed to pull her away at the critical moment; no packed lunches were speed-swallowed on this walk.

The return route took us through a thankfully unoccupied farm field, emerging at a cottage guarded by a very fit looking Spaniel. He eyed us suspiciously as we climbed over the stile, but he didn’t budge an inch from his station and Biggles kept his woofs firmly under wraps; maybe he was still feeling shame from his leaky bottom accident.

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The final section of the route took us through a short stretch of woodland, across a magical little stream and down a pretty bluebell-lined country lane before emerging on the road just a few hundred yards from the van.

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Any time you want to rate a walk from a Beagle perspective you have only to observe the quality and quantity of napping that follows it. On that basis, I judged this walk to have been a great success! Obviously there were attempts at food theft when first got back to the van, followed by a short spell of irate woofing when a group of kayakers emerged from the sea just a few yards away, but after that, the napping was first class.

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Beanie in a deep snooze. You’ll just have to imagine the contented snoring noises..

I had a substantial walk planned for the third outing of the day, but when we arrived at the starting point in Lochranza I suddenly felt the need to revise that plan.

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I was unaware of this at the time, but Lochranza is famed for its large and bold deer population. As we arrived, deer were wandering around the town’s small golf course while golfers were still playing, and there was a concentrated group of them right by the start of our walk. I really didn’t fancy having my eardrums blown out by baying and my arms pulled out of their sockets, so I settled on a there-and-back stroll out past the castle.

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On the return leg we found that the deer had moved in on the more developed part of town. Almost every garden had high fences and I realized now this wasn’t because the people of Lochranza are mostly Beagle owners; nope, those fences are all about keeping the deer out. And the deer were everywhere, munching on bushes and nosing around cars. I braced myself for an outburst from Biggles, but both he and Beanie were stunned into silence. When we made it back to the golf course I paused there for a few minutes, hoping this calm exposure to deer might tone down the dynamic duo’s reaction to them in the wild. Only time will tell if it has the intended effect…

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Our last night on Arran – in the poo smeared bed – went remarkably well. Bright blankets covered the obvious signs of soiling and the smell, though not exactly pleasant, wasn’t intolerable. Let’s put it this way: I’ve smelled Pot Noodles that were worse. Come to think of it, given a choice between sleeping in a bed smeared with Beagle-processed sheep poo versus a bed smeared in Pot Noodle dregs, I’d probably take the hybrid poo option.

We spent the next morning parked close to the ferry terminal, and to kill time I took the pups part way along the so-called Fisherman’s walk in Brodick. This was the scene for the final drama in our holiday.

The outward leg went well; the route skirted a golf course and was well signed, no doubt because the golfers didn’t want all and sundry straying onto their territory. Unfortunately, none of those signs mentioned that the route becomes flooded when the tide is incoming, as it was on our way back. Our little party of three went from a stroll to a forced march when I realized that we were racing the tide, and as we grew close to the finish it looked like we might just make it. I strode over a slightly raised grassy bit between two big puddles, and Beanie (sensibly, for once) followed in my footsteps. Biggles however decided that he wouldn’t mind a little paddle. He started through the puddle. One step, two steps and all was well. He took another step and abruptly discovered that the puddle was not of uniform depth; his chin smacked the water loudly as his body sank like a stone. Any self-respecting dog would have leaped out of there immediately, shaken themselves off and tried to pretend that nothing embarrassing had happened, but not Biggles; he just sat there in the puddle looking up at me with a helpless yet hopeful expression on his face. I reached down and hauled him out by the extra-wide handle on his swanky new Ruffwear harness. Something tells me that the designers at Ruffwear have silly Beagles too. If they ever come up with a poo-proof bed cover, I’ll be first on the pre-order list.

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