Jul 17

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About six years ago – not long after we’d moved house – we introduced Biggles and Beanie to our nearest doggie neighbour, and let him have a runabout in our garden. Beanie didn’t mind this at all, but for Biggles the experience was very different. He stood bewildered and helpless as this intruder, a busy little Spaniel, rapidly hunted down all Biggles’ favorite hangout spots and pee-marked everything (and I do mean everything). Ever since that day Biggles has always had more than a few choice words for any Spaniel who crossed his path, but he never got the chance to exact pee-for-pee revenge.

Not until a few days ago, that is.

Susan was busy tending flowers in our front and rear gardens, repeatedly opening and re-closing the gate that separates the two and which – more crucially – keeps the little fury people from going walkabout. I was indoors at the time at work on my computer, Beanie was lying on the sofa slowly recovering from an extended nap, and Biggles was stretched out on the rear patio, snoring and catching rays. At some point in her frequent journeys to and fro, Susan got distracted and forgot to close the gate. She came indoors for refreshment and watched a bit of our favorite 24 hour news channel, which here in Britain has recently offered more drama and political intrigue than even the best Game of Thrones episodes (albeit without dragons and giants, although Boris Johnson looks kind of big when he’s filmed close up with a wide angle lens). Anyway, some time later one of our neighbors knocked on the door.

“Er.. I think Beanie or Biggles has got out” he said.

Hearing this, I stood up and peered over my monitor to check the sofa. Beanie was still there – still comatose – and therefore the Beagle at large had to be Biggles. Susan headed straight out on the recovery mission, while I held the fort. I expected Susan to be back in a minute; after five minutes had passed I was getting concerned. Just as I was reaching the point of putting a lead on Beanie and joining the hunt, Susan finally returned with The Bigglet safe in her arms.

We’ll never know precisely how long Biggles was on his walkabout or exactly what he did during it; that’s Biggles’ secret, and he’s not telling. However, going by eyewitness testimony from the neighbors, the circumstances of his capture, and nearly eight years of observing his habits, I think the following is pretty to close the mark…

Though apparently snoozing on the patio, Biggles would have noted that the garden gate had been opened and not re-closed. He may not be the smartest doggie on the planet, but he’s learned the opening and closing sounds of every door, cupboard, drawer and baby-gate we’ve got, and he has a gift for tactical thought.

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While Beanie would have tried for the opened gate immediately – even while Susan was still on hand to grab her – Biggles would have known to bide his time. About a minute after Susan went into the house, he’d have got to his feet, stretched, and trotted nonchalantly through the opened gate. His first destination would have been a point about halfway up our drive. This is where one of the local cats likes to relieve itself, and as every Beagle knows, you never turn your nose up at a bit of fresh cat poo. I’m always pulling him away from that spot when we head out on a walk, but now he had complete freedom to indulge himself.

Having dealt with the cat poo, Biggles would have been unsure what to do next. My boy is tactical, but he doesn’t plan beyond the initial objective. There have been times when he’s got onto the kitchen worktop but missed some really choice items because he hadn’t considered what to do when he got up there. I’m guessing that he went for a little tour of the nearby front gardens; this is borne out by reports of neighboring dogs raising the alarm at about the right time.

After considerable dithering, Biggles would have eventually realised that he had access to our nextdoor neighbors’ back garden: the Spaniel’s garden. That’s where he was spotted by the neighbor, and where he was subsequently apprehended by Susan. No-one saw him with a cocked leg, but when he got back home he had a huge drink of water and didn’t need to be let out again for some hours. Bottom line: I’m pretty sure that Spaniel is in no doubt that The Biggly Boy was in his garden.

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If you’re a Beagle boy, revenge is best served warm and wet and in lots of little puddles

 

Jun 23

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The inescapable drawback to wild camping at the top of Applecross Pass is that sooner or later you’ve got to drive back down. We chose the ” sooner” option, hoping that an early morning departure would reduce our chances of running into traffic. We timed it just right; the only other road user we met during the more perilous sections of the route was a cyclist, but other vehicles were starting to arrive as we reached the exit. As you can see from this short video of our journey the pass is strikingly beautiful, though you may not be able to fully appreciate that beauty while you’re behind the wheel!

Tucked up in her magical crate and still processing her special breakfast “sausage”, Beanie didn’t even grumble as we negotiated all those sharp, downhill turns that make her slide around on her bed. When she emerged, she and The Bigglet were on a huge campsite by the beach at Gairloch, with a Great Dane as their neighbor. At first the Dane was blissfully unaware that our hooligan hounds had moved in next to him, but when teatime came around all that changed; within seconds of me popping the lid on a can of Chappie, the Biggles mealtime broadcast had begun. Soon every dog on the campsite, and the Great Dane in particular, knew that my little boy was about to be fed and that he was very, very excited about it. It was hardly surprising then that the Dane paid us a visit when he got off lead, which of course resulted in yet more noisy announcements.

Once all the excitement about tea had died down we took Beanie & Biggles for a little walk around the town, where we bumped into a local Beagle called Eddie. He seemed much better behaved than our two, but after a few minutes’ exposure to our two he was happy to join them in hurling verbal abuse at some other dog that happened to be passing by. At least this time it wasn’t an offlead Great Dane.

We slept well that night and in the morning I took the woofers for a stroll on the beach by the campsite. I’d heard great things about beaches in the northwest, and this one was certainly picturesque.

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From a Beagle perspective however, initial impressions were not that great. We strolled around for quite some time without encountering a single dead cow, washed up jelly fish, severed crab claw or McFlurry tub. Where was the stuff to roll in? Where were all those things Beanie & Biggles like to pick up and speed swallow so they can later be vomited onto the carpet at home?

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Beanie & Biggles were close to giving up on Gairloch beach, but then things started to look up.

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Beanie discovers a big rocky outgrowth to scramble over…

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Nice scratchy shells covered in splats of bird poop for Biggles to roll on…

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Rock pools for paddling in

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Yep, on balance Gairloch beach is a worthwhile stop for the touring Beagle!

On our return breakfast was announced and consumed, and then we set off even further north to Durness, by way of Clachtoll. A petrol station owner had told us that the further north we went, the more beautiful the coast would become. It seemed that she was right..

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This was taken from a layby at the side of the road. I still don’t know what beach this is, but it’s certainly stunning. Click for larger view.

However, as the beauty increased, the roads became more challenging. At one point we encountered a fast moving lorry while rounding a blind corner on yet another single track road. There was a crash barrier to the left, a wall of jaggy rock to the right, and several tonnes of heavy goods vehicle coming right at us from the front. As luck had it we made it to a passing place just in time, but the lorry driver didn’t seem particularly bothered either way. I must admit that a little Biggles-style stress fart popped out of bum during that mini-adventure, and I was quite relieved when we arrived in Durnesss and parked at the little campsite above Sango Bay.

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Beanie and Biggles get their first look at Sango Bay from the campsite’s fenced viewpoint

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It became quite windy as we headed into evening, but the crashing waves on the beach below made it sound like a gale. As loud as nature was, Biggles easily managed to woof over the top of it. He and Beanie were safely tucked up in their travel crates in the tent, and at first we assumed that his protests were a response to the smell of the barbeque or the fact that we were preparing to have our evening meal and he wasn’t able to “participate”. However, after several attempts to calm him down failed, we discovered the real cause of his outbursts: my brave little boy, who had verbally abused an offlead four-legged viking doggy not 24 hrs earlier, and who is both feared and admired for his prolific rectal emissions, was scared of a bit of wind. He almost sprinted into the van when we let him out of his crate, and it was obvious where we’d be sleeping that night. Happily he and Beanie were still content to sleep on the front seats, allowing us a much more comfortable night in the pull-out bed.

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Nope, not leaving the van, Dad. Not even for a biccie.

I got up early the next morning for a little photography session on the beach. Although Sango is on the west coast, it gets a great sunrise.

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Once the untouched-sand shots were done I was joined by the furry rabble. I think Biggles still had a little tension to burn off because he was very playful the instant I unlocked his extending lead. When we finally left the beach, the three of us had big grins on our faces.

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After breakfast Beanie & Biggles entered their crates once again and were transported, via even more narrow single track roads, to Assynt. Susan did most of the driving this time, and it became very obvious that she copes much better with the crazy little roads in this part of Scotland. Sitting in the passenger seat I still couldn’t stop my right foot from pumping my imaginary break pedal, but at least I didn’t release any more (involuntary) bottom burps.

We stopped off for a while at beach close to the Summer Isles, then drove to Ardvreck Castle where we spent the night. It was here that I tried out two rather cool gadgets: a cheap eBay popup shower tent and a Hozelock Porta Shower, which is a basically a large, hand pressurised weed sprayer with a shower head. Against expectations both worked amazingly well, but for anyone thinking of trying the same, I offer the following advice:

  1. Make sure you peg the tent down well; the moment you’re in there with your clothes off is the moment the breeze will turn into a 30mph gust
  2. Make sure you keep all Beagles well clear of the tent and the pressurised shower, otherwise there could be any number of disasters
  3. Practice folding the popup shower over and over again before you go, or you’ll regret it

We succeeded with points  #1 and #2, but not #3, and as a result we had a partially folded tent crammed into the van for the rest of the holiday, ever ready to explode into its open state.

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On the final evening of our adventure, the coastal winds that had been a constant earlier in the week died away, unleashing Scotland’s most annoying little beasties (that would be midges, not Beanie & Biggles). That’s the way with midges; you never know they’re around until the wind drops. We’d come prepared for them however, and I was able to observe first hand just how effective, or ineffective, our various defences were.

First we tried a large citronella candle – the kind that sticks into the ground. This was quite difficult to light, but once it was going it proved to be a very effective Biggles repellent. The midges however didn’t even notice it.

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There’s a big candle and a barbeque burning out there Dad. Think I’ll just stay in here…

Next we lit a green mosquito coil just outside the van. This likewise proved useless for repelling anything that didn’t have a big furry white bum. As the midges started to enter the van, I deployed my last two counter-measures: a 12v DC-powered mosquito repellent tab burner, and Beanie. The tab burner proved very effective; it kept all but a handful of midges from venturing into the van. The few that did get in, still had to face The Beanster.

Beanie just loves to catch flies, in fact it’s one of her many obsessions. She stands still as a statue, her muscles coiled for action, until a fly gets just close enough and SNAP! She strikes like a cobra! The only problem is, she doesn’t strike in the right place. Honestly I don’t how Beagles ever got a reputation as hunting dogs, because our two are blummin’ useless at catching anything that moves, and some things that don’t. Fortunately I was able to kill the remaining midges myself using my inferior human senses and reactions. Result? No bites.

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We wild-camped once more that night, had a tasty breakfast the next morning, then dialled in “home” on the magical mystery crates. I’m pretty sure we’ll be returning to the Assynt region in the future; it’s got a lot of dramatic but I suspect Beagle-able mountains that deserve a climb or two.

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Jun 11

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It’s taken a while, but Beanie & Biggles have finally realized that their fabric campervan crates are magical. Every time our pups tumble out of them, they find themselves in a completely different place to where they started out. Only last week they climbed into them from our drive at home and emerged in Fort William.

To be honest, Fort William didn’t have much going for it; the weather was hot and sunny, but there were no ice-cream wrappers on the pavements, and no half-eaten sandwiches under the public benches. The pups did get a bit of ear fondling from passers by while they were waiting for their Mum to emerge from the local supermarket, but let’s face it, you can’t eat an ear fondle. As an aside, all of the fondlers were people who had previously owned a Beagle, and that got me wondering again why so many of the people we meet “once had a Beagle”. Why only once? It’s as if the experience of owning a pesky, relentlessly destructive, food-obsessed, furry little suicide-machine on legs somehow makes the Beagle breed less attractive second time around for some people. Honestly, I just don’t get it.

Anyway, once they’d established that Fort William was a dead loss food-wise, Beanie & Biggles climbed back into their magical crates and found themselves in Glencoe, about to embark on a very early morning walk up up a mountain that was sort-of named in their honor: Buachaille Etive Beag(le).

This walk was every bit as magical as the campervan crates; on the way up we passed through a cloud inversion, and saw the crescent moon hovering over a nearby peak (click to see larger version).

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We made it to the summit in plenty of time for sunrise, where I spent a bit too long trying to capture the sun as it spilled light onto the ridge. I know this because Biggles not only had time to chomp through all his chews and biccies, but got so bored that he had to embark on a digging project. In the end I had to time my shots carefully to avoid motion blur as a certain energetic white bottom reversed into the tripod legs.

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Things got a lot more interesting on the return journey. There may not be any sheep on the Glencoe mountains we’ve visited, but there can be deer, and I think his lordship’s sniffer caught scent of one..

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The invisible but smelly deer was the least of our problems on the way back down the mountain. Instead of using strips of Duck Tape to prevent Beanie Houdini-ing her lead off the harness attachment point, we’d used a short canicross “neckline” to make a second, fail-safe link between the lead and her collar. This was without doubt a safer option, but it quickly became annoying; about every minute or so she’d get one or both of her front legs caught in the line and I’d have to assist.

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Beanie’s canicross neckline is visible in this shot. This was captured on one of the rare occasions she didn’t have a leg caught in it.

By the time we’d got back to our starting point I’d trained Beanie to stop and hold up her paw in response to the words “You’ve done it AGAIN”. Still, I’d rather that than watch her disappearing after a deer.

After breakfast the crates worked their magic again, transporting the Beagles to Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. If you’ve flicked through popular landscape images you’ve probably seen photos of the huge crag with the lighthouse just beyond, but I can tell you nothing comes close to seeing it through your own eyes.

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You can walk right to the top of the cliff pretty easily, in fact I’d recommend it for two reasons:

  1. it’s one of the very few spots at Neist point that doesn’t have sheep, and
  2. all dogs who go up there but don’t pull their attached humie over the edge in pursuit of a seagull, get a Pedigree Mini-Jumbone each

It should be noted that point #2 above is based on a sample of only two Beagles called Beanie & Biggles, on a single visit. It should also be noted that the Mini-Jumbones are awarded even if death-by-seagull-pursuit is attempted, but unsuccessful.

Our next destination was a car park at the summit of the Applecross pass, and truthfully I’d have been happy to get there by means of a magic crate myself. The pass – or Bealach na Ba as it’s known – is not the easiest of drives. It’s a steep and narrow single track road with hairpin bends and fatal drops guarded only by thin, heavily dented crash barriers. The entry to the pass has a large sign warning that it is not for inexperienced drivers, large vehicles and caravans. No shit, Sherlock! Having travelled from Skye, our first taste of the pass came in the dead of night. To be honest that’s the best time to tackle it: there’s little chance of meeting anyone going in the opposite direction, and you can’t see the drops. It’s almost fun, because you get to play a round of “where the hell did the road go?” every time you get to a bend.

Once at the summit Beanie & Biggles were finally able to discover where the Magical Mystery Crates had deposited them, and the grass around the car park got a thorough watering. This was to be our home for the night, and in the morning I was due to walk up a nearby hill called Sgurr a Chaorachain. All we had to do now was get some sleep – something that had previously proved difficult in the van due to the bed only being built to accommodate two Beagles, not two Beagles plus their owners. We were so tired by this point that we didn’t even bother pulling out the bed; we just tossed some bedding on the floor of the van and settled down. Faced with the option of staying put in their comfy chairs (Beanie in the driver’s seat, Biggles in the rotating passenger seat), or joining us on the floor, our pups chose the former, and I got the best few hours’ campervan sleep I’d had to that point.¬† What’s more this one night set a precedent; for the rest of the tour Beanie & Biggles were content to sleep on their seats.

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In the morning I set out on my walk, leaving Susan and the Beagles tucked up safely in the van. The hill I climbed was only 1200ft above the car park, but given that the car park itself was more than 2000ft above sea level the views were not to be sniffed at, especially since I didn’t have the professional sniffers with me.

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View from Sgurr a Chaorachain

Applecross lies in a region called Wester Ross and like its fictional almost-namesake, it became the focus for a “game of thrones”. The throne in this case wasn’t forged from a thousand swords, but from rigid white plastic, and had the words “Porta Potti Qube” written neatly on the front.

While I was heading back from my hillwalk, Susan was readying our portable chemical toilet for its most important duty. Beanie & Biggles were apparently sleeping on their chairs, the curtains were drawn, all was ready for that most private of bodily functions. Susan carefully positioned herself on the plastic throne, blissfully unware that fate was about deal a terrible blow (if only she’d seen the GoT episode where Tywin Lannister died, she’d have realized that bad things can happen when you’re on on the crapper). Anyway, just as her first deposit hit the bowl something strong and determined began levering her off the seat. She was ill-prepared to resist, lost her balance, and toppled bum-first to the floor. Looking round desperately to identify what had dethroned her, she saw Beanie dipping her snout into the bowl and retrieving the freshly laid prize.

The good news is that on my return, Susan told me what had happened before Beanie had chance to give me a “welcome back” kiss. The bad news is that I was due to brush her and Biggles’ chewing gear later that same day.

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