Out For a Duck!

Maybe it’s due to the time of year or the predominantly windy and wet weather we’ve had recently, but the beach has been mostly free of those tasty little birds that Beanie so likes to chase after. This has made my furry personal trainer less inclined to surprise me by doubling the length of my runs, or by giving me unplanned sprint sessions (preferably after leg day at the gym), but earlier this week she did come very close to getting me swimming in the sea.

The main inspiration for this change in training focus was a little family of ducks. They were bobbing about on the water about twenty metres off the shore, and for some reason Beanie felt the urge to go after one. I have no idea why she decided that a distant floating duck was a better target than any of the obese, foolishly brave seagulls on the beach, but regardless it was duck that was on the menu, not seagull.

She tore into the water heading straight at the group of quackers, and without knowing what was going on (and probably not caring anyway) Biggles followed her. Within a couple of seconds the water was deep enough that Beanie had to switch to swim mode, but that didn’t deter her one bit. As it happened I had applied their ritual spot-on flea treatment the previous day, so I guess now was a really good time for full immersion in that protection-shortening seawater.

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I stayed on the shore, happy to stop running and just watch the proceedings; I was very confident that soon either the ducks would take off, or Beanie would see the impossibility of the task she’d set herself. Yep, any second now there’d be two bedraggled Beagles heading back to shore. Any second now. Of course, that’s not what happened.

The ducks saw the Beanster slowly closing on them, but they didn’t panic, they just calmly turned and headed further out to sea. Beanie was now twenty metres off the shore – where the ducks had been at the start of the chase – and it was clear she had no intention of giving up. Biggles was just a few metres behind her,  but he was having second thoughts about this whole swimming thing. With his big paws and powerful legs he’s actually a strong swimmer, but he’s not all that keen on having water up near his face. I called to him (to them both actually, but I knew Beanie would ignore me) and got the reaction I wanted; he turned around and began heading back to the shore. “Well at least I’ll soon have one of them back” I thought. But even that turned out to be a false assumption.

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Beanie resolutely continued her pursuit of the ducks, and she was doing well enough to keep the gap between her and her prey from widening. It was impressive, but I really just wanted her to turn back like Biggles. His Lordship was now just ten meters from the shore and close to getting his paws back on something solid, but he was starting to doubt his decision to leave Beanie. He turned sideways in the water for a second or two as though torn between my outstretched hand full of chicken, and THE most fun sister in the world, ever. Then, to my surprise and dismay, he set off after Beanie again. She was now 30 metres out, and still chugging away like a little train after those pesky ducks.

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Thirty-five metres. Forty metres. This was getting serious. The tide was incoming – I’m always careful to make sure that’s the case when I let them offlead by the sea – but still, Beanie was getting a long way out and the next stop was twenty miles away on the Isle of Arran. Time for intervention! I pulled the headphones out of my ears and started taking off the armband that holds my mobile phone. Fortunately before my swimming preparations got any more advanced, the ducks finally got spooked and took to the air. Even then Beanie kept after them for a moment before she gave up the chase and headed inland. I was seriously relieved to see her coming back, but not half as relieved as Biggles. As soon as his feet made contact with the still submerged sand he bounded out of the water, waited impatiently for his sister to arrive, then gave her a very vocal dressing-down.

For my part, I just attached their leads, gave them chicken, and got thoroughly sprayed by sand and sea as they shook themselves off. Pesky Ducks! Almost as bad as sheep. And little birds. And squirrels. But not rabbits, because the traditional prey of the Beagle is something both our hounds are afraid of:)

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Catalogue of Terror / Attack of the Zombie Fish

We’ve had two moments of unbridled terror this last fortnight.

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The first was prompted – rather surprisingly – by a Kleeneze catalogue. In case you’ve never heard of “Kleeneze” before, I’ll explain a bit about it. As I understand it, Kleeneze entices gullible souls to pay up front to be door-to-door salesmen for unremarkable cleaning products. They buy catalogues, shove them through your letterbox in a ziplock bag, then come back to collect them a few days later hoping that you’ve either:

a) elected to buy something from which they can earn commission (unlikely in the extreme), OR

b) kept the catalogue safe from your Beagles and resisted dumping it in the bin along with all the other junk that’s landed on the doormat including:

  • 37 charity bin bags you’re supposed to fill with old clothes
  • the latest phone directory (seriously does anybody still use them?)
  • some appalling waste of paper and ink from local politicians
  • bank statements that have been arriving twice-weekly ever since you signed up to their paperless scheme
  • a voucher for £1 off your first deep-fried tandoori-and-Mars-bar-flavored pizza from Bob & Jim’s Delhi-Belly TakeAway.

The Kleeneze model dates right back to the 1920’s and frankly it’s astonishing that it’s still going, but unfortunately it is, and we got one of its damned catalogues. I didn’t have the heart to bin it outright, and Beanie would have ripped it to shreds if she’d got her paws on it, so I just dumped it outside the house to be collected at some point in the future, hopefully without any ringing of the doorbell.

As it turned out, collection time came some days later while I was washing the Beaglemobile. A little kid ran up our driveway and intercepted me just as I was opening our front door to go back inside for a coffee.

“I’ve come for the Kleeneze catalogue” he announced.

“OK” I replied, “It’s just down there.. or.. it was.”

I pointed to the spot by the door where I’d left it, but it was already gone. Presumably a recent storm had grabbed it and whisked it away. The kid started to say something to me, but was drowned out by the sound of Biggles huffing and puffing. He’d been fast asleep on the sofa, but the sound of our voices had stirred him to leap to his feet, cast off his favorite orange blankie and sprint right through the open door. I immediately commanded him to stop (well, it’s always worth a try, right?) and reached down to grab his collar as backup.

The command failed, and so did the grab, but it didn’t matter because the kid’s reaction brought Biggles to an abrupt halt. I don’t know whether the kid was just plain afraid of dogs (even ones with big comedy ears and tufty white bottoms) or had misinterpreted my rush to secure The Bigglet as a sign of danger, but regardless, he screamed and raised up his arms as if performing an old-school upright row with an invisible barbell. Then after a slight pause for dramatic effect, and with his arms still raised in that curious and infamously shoulder-unfriendly position, he turned and ran off down the street.

I was left kind of stunned by this, and so was Biggles. Fortunately I came to my senses before he did, so I was able to hook his collar with my fingers and lead him back inside, closing the door firmly behind us. We haven’t had any more Kleeneze catalogues through our letterbox since.

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Our second terror-filled encounter came during the offlead section of an otherwise pleasant beach outing. Needing a day off running, I walked Beanie and Biggles far enough up the beach to avoid unwanted encounters with other dogs and under-age Kleeneze representatives, then unclipped their leads. I had my camera with me – hoping to get some shots of them playing – but as Sods Law dictates, they sprinted away without even looking back; by the time I’d got the lens cap off they were just dots on the horizon. Happily those dots didn’t shrink further and disappear; instead they kept to-ing and fro-ing over the same patch of beach as Beanie chased after birds, and Biggles chased after Beanie.

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It took a while, but eventually they tired themselves out so much that they were happy to hang out near me and get regular servings of chicken. I strolled with them further up the beach for a while, until something ahead caught Beanie’s eye and she and Biggles went to investigate. At first it looked to me like a strange lump of seaweed in a puddle, but as I drew closer I recognised it as a dead fish, beached by the receding tide. Beanie was first to arrive at the fish, and Biggles drew up alongside her, sniffing the corpse tentatively to assess whether it had any potential as food. Within a second Biggles concluded that he wanted no part it; he trotted on past, casting Beanie a backward glance that said “trust me Beanie, no good can come from that, whatever it is.”

Beanie should have trusted him. He is after all the world’s least fussy eater; if anything is remotely edible, he’ll have a piece of it. He’ll even chow down on his worming tablet without me having to coat it in yoghurt, hide it in a treat, or just plain thrust it down his throat like I have to do with her royal haughtiness. So, when Biggles told her to leave it alone, that’s exactly what she should have done. But she didn’t. She inched closer and closer to it, until she could nudge it with her nose. The instant her sniffer made contact, the “dead” fish renanimated and flipped itself over in the puddle.

The movement of the zombie fish was shockingly fast and abrupt, coming without any prior warning. The movement of the Beanster was even faster. Without flexing her legs she instantly leaped back nearly a full yard. On landing she composed herself then trotted back to me deperately trying – but failing – to appear unshaken. Biggles turned to come back to me too, and gave his sister a robust but unhelpful “I told you so!” woofing.

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A mutual “let’s put this behind us” shake followed, after which I got them both back on lead and back to the car.

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Since that unfortunate experience The Pupplet has been spending even more time in our bed than usual. Maybe she believes that zombie fish know and respect that age-old rule: nothing scary can get you if you keep the covers over your head.

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The Magical Mystery Crate Tour Part 2: Better Blown Than Bitten

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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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