An Adventure of Beagle Proportions!

Last week Beanie and Biggles sniffed, pulled and aarrffed their way up no less than two distinct peaks in one day: Ben Luibhean and Ben Ime.

An adventure of Beagle proportions [5D4_5613]

We’d had a go at Ben Luibhean earlier in the year, but that expedition had been marred by snow. We had made it to the top, but it had been a very hard slog with no pay-off other than a handful of overly-refrigerated meat and cheese nibbles. This time around with no snow to fight through I was sure our journey would be easier and more rewarding.

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As it turned out it was a little easier, but not much. Instead of frozen earth with a thick coating of snow we had to trudge our way over slippy, boggy ground; it soaked up energy like a sponge and gave nothing back. To add to the difficulty we also encountered groups of sheep which made certain team members very noisy and prone to pulling in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, after about a hundred minutes of slog we finally got to see what the summit cairn looks like without all that pesky white stuff on top of it.

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I was a little worried that its central upright stone might suffer a mishap when I dug into my pocket for the first serving of mini-jumbones; things always get exciting when the edibles come out and Biggles seemed intent on winding his lead round everything he could. He tied up my legs, he tied up the legs of my tripod, and he even tied up his own legs, but somehow he didn’t knock over that pretty summit marker.

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We hung around the top of Luibhean for a few minutes while I took photos, but I was very conscious of the need to get moving if we were to reach the summit of neighboring Ben Ime before sunset. For her part, Beanie was very conscious of the fact that there were still two mini-jumbones in my pocket, and became very irritated when I refused to release them. She was clearly unware that we had another climb ahead of us, just as I was unaware of the trouble I was storing up by not serving all the treats in one go.

Ben Narnain & The Cobbler from Ben Luibhean [5D4_5673]

Ben Narnain (left) and the distinctive serrated head of The Cobbler to the right

Ben Ime & Ben Chorranach From Ben Luibhean [5D4_5638]

Ben Chorranach and Ben Ime in shade on the right. 

Before we could get started on Ben Ime we first had to make a partial descent of Ben Luibhean and cross the very marshy “Bealach a’ Mhargaidh”. This part of the route was as pretty as it was wet. I tried to use Beanie & Biggles as indicators of the best and worst places to tread to avoid going deep into the mush. Biggles seemed particularly good at finding unexpected mud baths so I put my faith in Beanie, but as I discovered not everything that supports a nimble eleven kilo Beagle can also handle a human.

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Crossing Bealach a’ Mhargaidh. Presumably “Mhargaidh” is Gaelic for “wet feet” (if it isn’t, it should be)

Ben Ime looked a lot bigger as we got closer to it. I’d climbed Ben Ime solo some years before and found it pretty tough, but that had been in snow and from a much lower starting point. Still, I began to have doubts about my ability to get to the top before sunset, especially with the “help” of Team Beagle. Don’t get me wrong: put our two pups on a well-trodden path and they’re great, in fact Biggles could even be described as an asset for hillwalks in the right conditions. However, on an open grassy hill with pockets of sheep and no clear path to follow they can best be described as.. troublesome. I decided I’d be happy enough just to get to a reasonably high viewpoint, but every time I set myself a target and checked my watch, I found that we could go on just that bit further. Quite suddenly we intersected with a path coming from Ben Narnain and our rate of progress increased dramatically. We reached the summit very shortly afterwards!

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The summit cairn of Ben Ime has a low stone windbreak around it, but on this day the windchill was pretty mild. 

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Cloud blew over us almost as soon as we arrived, but I still managed to grab a few shots.

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In between those photos I handed out treats to my furry companions (obviously), but I made a crucial error in judgment: I served up the two big cow ears in my bag instead of first dishing out the remaining jumbones from my pocket. This might not sound like a big deal, especially for food-obsessed Beagles, but it demonstrated the huge difference in outlook between Beanie and Biggles.

Biggles is a “glass half full” kind of a boy. He approaches each day unburdened by expectations; when something good happens he just enjoys the moment. When I held out the cow ear to him on Ben Ime he wagged furiously, grabbed it, found a place to settle down (within the bounds of his lead) and set about chomping down on it.

Beanie is the polar opposite of The Bigglet. She’s acutely aware when routine isn’t followed, and is always careful to ensure sure she isn’t being cheated out of something owed to her. At mealtimes if a crumb hits the floor she’ll pursue it obsessively,  even if that blinds her to the many bigger, easier mouthfuls of food still in her bowl. Accordingly when I gave her the cow ear, she was still thinking about the other treats that were still in my pocket. She took the ear half-heartedly, but then dropped it and started scratching at my pocket and grumbling. I pointed at her ear (the cow ear, not her big furry lug flapping in the breeze) and tried to convince her to go back to it, but she wasn’t interested. Biggles however was. “I don’t mind if I do!”  is a phrase we often attribute to Biggles, and it was written all over his face as he merrily grabbed Beanie’s ear and carried it over to his own.

Beanie wasn’t immediately concerned about the ear she’d just lost; all that mattered currently was the jumbone still in my pocket that had her name on it. Stupidly I gave in and handed it to her, and she devoured it in record time. Biggles was still knee deep in cow ears at this point, but he’d noticed that extra food was on offer and of course shot me an appealing “can I have some too?” look. I directed him back to his ears, which he accepted quite happily; in Biggles’ world it’s always a good idea to ask for things, but if it doesn’t work out that’s OK too.

As you might expect, the moment Beanie finished her jumbone she remembered the lost cow ear and began whining about it. I could easily have taken an ear back from Biggles – he wouldn’t have objected – but that just didn’t seem fair, so instead I gave Beanie the remaining jumbone. That finally seemed to settle the issue, but now of course Beanie and I had to sit on our bums for an extra ten minutes watching Biggles battle through jaw fatigue to finish the last chunk of cow ear.

After this – even in the dark – the journey back to the Beaglemobile passed surprisingly quickly and easily; from time to time I could see the eyes of sheep glinting in my torchlight but the pups thankfully remained oblivious!

Biggles’ Choice!

It’s Biggles’ 9th birthday on the 28th and to mark it his lordship has had quite a fun week.

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On Wednesday he became – for just over an hour – one of the highest dogs in the British Isles when he climbed to the summit of Ben More (Crianlarich version, not the Ben More on Mull).

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I’d had my eye on Ben More for a while but it had been looking as though it would be a strictly solo adventure; the standard route often puts walkers face to face with unfenced cattle. Fortunately a bit of research turned up a longer, less popular but cattle-free route and my solo expedition became a team event.

Forest Section Below Ben More [5D4_5191]

The early part of the walk involves a woodland trail and this went down very, very well with the pups. Bird song mixed with the sound of synchronized power-sniffing as we made our way through the trees and drank fresh, clear water from the streams we crossed.

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When we emerged from the forest we had to cut through a long, long boggy field covered in overgrown grass and heather on our way to Ben More’s northeast ridge. Beanie in particular loves the scratchy feel of heather and will always make a point of walking through the densest patch she can find. Biggles probably doesn’t mind it brushing against his undercarriage too much, and the opportunity to pick up deer ticks is always appreciated. Even I didn’t mind the trudge too much on the outward journey; we had blue skies and sun yet there was a gentle cooling breeze to keep the insects away – just about the perfect day. It stayed perfect even as we made it to the ridge and began to gain height rapidly.

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The sun went into hiding behind heavy cloud as we reached the very grand summit cairn of Ben More, but I was confident that it would reappear in due course; we had well over an hour to go before sunset and the only pressing duties to be carried out involved a change to a clean, dry top for me and the opening of a packet of mini-jumbones for my companions.

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So, about those jumbones Dad.. there’s no rush, but now would be a good time.

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The almost-birthday boy got his chew first of course!

Sadly the cloud never really cleared, the sun never reappeared, and we got only the briefest glimpses of the views Ben More has to offer before I was calling time on our adventure.

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Jumbones round #2 – synchronized this time!

[Group 0]-5D4_5275_5D4_5281-3 images

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The next day was all about recovery: a pre-walk massage from their Mum, a gentle walk up the farm road to sample fresh blackberries, and extra large servings in their bowls afterwards.

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When people use the phrase “It’s a dog’s life” this probably isn’t what they mean..

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But then Beagles aren’t quite like other dogs..

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And our two are probably even more pampered than most Beagles.

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All that would have been enough to make this a good week, but there was still more to come! A while back I signed up Beanie and Biggles to the VIP program at Pets at Home, and seeing that Biggles’ birthday was close they sent me a voucher for a free “Whimzees” toothbrush-shaped chew. A visit to our local pet shop was on the cards!

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Since the toothbrush chew is free, his Biggleship gets to choose something else as a paid-for pressie. That is how it works, right?

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The long, arduous selection process begins…

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.. and is temporarily halted when something is detected under the bottom shelf.

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Beanie briefly morphs into a Basset hound with its head on the wrong way round.

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Biggles may not be the smartest boy in the world..

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..but it didn’t take him long to figure out how those flip-top containers work.

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Another attempt at retrieving some unidentified treasure ends in failure. He’s nearly nine years old and he still hasn’t learned the “Spider-Beagle” technique. A demonstration from the master is required!

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Yep, that’s how you do it! Beanie’s going to hit the decade later this year, but she’s still unbeatable when it comes to Spider-Beagling.

Still empty-handed (apart from a pair of matching toothbrush chews) we eventually passed by a display of long chewable sticks, and Biggles finally knew what he wanted for his birthday!

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His reaction to it was amazing. I’m not sure what it’s made of (I saw references to cereal products on the label) but he wanted it really, really badly. More than chicken, more than cow ears, more than any toy, he wanted one of these. So of course we got two of ’em. He was a very happy boy as we left the store, and for the first time I can honestly say that Biggles really did choose his own birthday pressie!

Biggles 9th Birthday Portrait [5D4_5541]

An unexpected breakfast

I set a dangerous precedent on Wednesday morning: I served Beagle breakfast without a preceding walk. While the sudden and unexpected appearance of full bowls was welcome, the break from routine caught our two pupplets completely by surprise. Biggles was so thrown he forgot to make his customary, very noisy pre-breakfast announcement, and Beanie had a mad scramble to escape the covers on our bed – only just making it to her serving position in time. After breakfast confusion ensued – was this a gym day, and if so, shouldn’t they be visiting the outside loo before reporting to their crates for a dental chew and a nap?

As it turned out they did end up in their crates, but only after a couple of hours’ digestion time, and the crates in question were in the Beaglemobile as we headed to Inveruglas for a walk to the summit of Ben Vane.

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On arrival at Inveruglas there was another irregular feeding as we all had packed lunches to fuel us for the coming walk. For the sake of convenience I just popped the lids off and served the lunches in their Tupperware boxes – but just as Susan had predicted this approach had a significant downside; I had to interrupt my lunch to rescue one box from Biggles who figured he would try eating it as well as its contents.

By mid afternoon – just as other walkers were heading down the mountain – we were heading up, with the intention of staying until sunset. As is common with Scottish mountains the first section was boggy, but the ground quickly firmed up as we gained height.

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Ben Vane has a reputation for two things: a surprisingly steep climb, and a seemingly endless stream of false summits. In all honesty the climb didn’t seem that hard, but this was our first hillwalk in daylight this year so maybe that golden sun made things seem easier. The false summits prediction however was spot on; I could see from their body language that even Beanie and Biggles were getting a bit tired of aiming for the top, only to find yet another level beyond it. Nevertheless we made it to the true summit in due course, finding a huge puddle of fresh, sheep-poo flavored water right by the summit cairn. The puddle was a bit smaller by the time Beanie & Biggles had finished drinking from it; though somewhat tempted I just made do with slightly warm bottled water.

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View From Ben Vane [5D4_4869]

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We spent our time at the top exploring the views from all directions, we muched our way through Pedigree Mini-Jumbones and cow ears, and then with my head torch at the ready, we started on our way back to the Beaglemobile. The descent of the mountain itself went smoothly, but things went comically wrong when we reached the boggy field at the bottom.

In the daylight it had been relatively easy to see where other walkers had trodden, but now it was really, really dark and even with my head torch at full power I couldn’t see any definite paths. Direction wasn’t an issue – I knew that we just had to keep heading right and we’d emerge by a firm, gravel covered forestry road that would take us back to the van. The problem was just getting to that road without injury; the field was covered in thick, tall, almost uniform grass, but underneath that grass the ground was anything but uniform. Time and again I put my leading foot on what I thought was solid earth only to have it plunge down into deep, sticky bog. Seeing an opportunity to get me face-down in the mud, the pups started with their time honored double-act; Biggles pulled unpredictably, and Beanie stopped dead right under my foot, always at exactly the wrong time. They succeeded in getting me over more than once, and the one time I fell without their “help”, they exchanged curious glances at each other as though to say “Hey, I didn’t even cause that one, was it you?”

Eventually of course we did escape from that horrible field. Back at the van I served water and cow ears, pulled the boots off my feet and made myself a coffee. It was now quite late and I wanted to drive us back home before I felt the call of sleep. I started assembling one of the travel crates but even before I’d finished it and installed a cosy bed, Biggles had taken up residence. Boy was he ready for a nap! I faced the opposite problem with The Beanster; she’d curled up on the driver’s seat and was very reluctant to budge. I had to pick her up, plonk her in the crate and zip it up really fast before she could escape back to the seat. The drive home was uneventful and very, very quiet (if you discount the snoring).