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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May 17
Chomp! Part 2
icon1 Paul | icon4 05 17th, 2016| icon34 Comments »

On the next day of our holiday we all piled into the Beaglemobile for a trip to Glen Nevis. It’s a great place to visit on a hot sunny day; easy parking shaded by trees, with lots of sniffy walks among bluebells and mountains. And you’re never far from cooling streams if anybody gets too warm.

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Oddly enough on this holiday it was Beanie who felt the heat most, even though she has much shorter and thinner fur than The Bigglet. Maybe Biggles’ thick white fur serves as a reflective insulator, keeping him cooler so long as he doesn’t start generating lots of heat with his muscles?

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On the other hand, maybe Beanie was just the more animated of the two; certainly there was very little on the walk that didn’t get thoroughly investigated by the Beanster.

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On our return to the Beaglemobile we hooked the pups up to the handle at the side door of our van. By happy coincidence this anchor point – coupled with the length of their leads – again allowed the pups to choose whether to be in the van with us or to lie on the grass outside munching on a cow ear. There was even enough free play for Biggles to nick my seat.

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The final day of our break was a little cooler, allowing us to be a bit more active. We took the ferry to Ardnamurchan, and drove for an hour along the crazy single-track roads to reach “Camas nan Geall“.

I’d experienced driving around Ardnamurchan before in the car. Our campervan is of course a larger vehicle, but somehow the elevated driving position combined with automatic transmission made the journey easier. That said, it was still like playing a level of a nerve-shredding video game that goes on too long. You think Doom is intense? Try Ardnamuchan, BFG Edition. I was very happy finally to park up on the hill overlooking our coastal walk and have a soothing cuppa.

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After that cuppa and a change of underpants I went a little way down the hill towards the start of our planned walk. Like most remote Scottish locations Ardnamurchan is infested by sheep. Susan had taken great care to find a route that would avoid any woolly encounters and I was keen to see if she’d succeeded. It looked like the walk itself was indeed sheep-free, but the 300m between our van and the start of the walk was a single-track sheep gauntlet. I returned to the van and delivered the bad news, and Susan started up the barbeque so we could consider our options over lunch. The barbecue certainly distracted Biggles from the sheep below us; once the smoke started flowing he sought shelter in the footwell by the driver’s seat. Only when our food was served up did he feel like emerging from his little cave.

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I’m not frightened at all. But I’ll just stay here if you don’t mind.

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It turns out silica gel dry packs make a decent headrest for smoke-averse Beagle boys.

After lunch we decided to brave the gauntlet. It was just a few hundred yards after all. How bad could it be? Well, amazingly, not bad at all. I’ll probably never know why some sheep send Biggles (mostly) and Beanie  into explosive aaarrrff mode while others just get ignored, but the sheep at Camas nan Geall fell into the latter category. On the way out there wasn’t even the slightest loss of composure from either of our Beagles and we were truly able to enjoy our walk along the distinctive – at some times almost alien – coastline.

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H. R. Giger was here. And so were Beanie & Biggles.

On the return trip Biggles’ halo almost slipped, but a few well-timed biccies from Susan pulled him back from the brink and we made it through the gauntlet – only to discover that a group of sheep had wandered up close to the van. Again The Bigglet almost lost it, but recovered his composure without any aaarrffing episodes. We spent another hour or so at the same spot with sheep just yards away, and both Beanie and Biggles behaved themselves impeccably.

In the past I’ve always taken something like this as a sign that his Biggleship has finally overcome his problem with sheep. This time around I was smart enough just to be grateful for sheer dumb luck, but I do think that a few hour’s calm exposure to sheep must have done some good.

 

May 17
Chomp! Part 1
icon1 Paul | icon4 05 17th, 2016| icon3Comments Off on Chomp! Part 1

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When at home our Beagles rarely have problems communicating their needs to us. A paw on the arm while either of us is sat on the sofa means “I want a blankie”. If the water bowl has been emptied by a thirsty Bigglet, Beanie requests a refill by repeatedly banging the bowl against the wall and making a sound that’s a cross between a groan and a muffled fart. And if someone needs to go to the outside loo (or just snoop around the kitchen) then a bit more paint gets noisily scraped off the kitchen door. Unfortunately when we’re away from home some of those signals just don’t work.

For example, let’s say you’re a silly Beagle boy tethered to a stake in the ground just in front of The Beagle HQ Tent on a Glencoe campsite during the recent heatwave. The irresistible urge to pee takes hold of you but there’s no kitchen door to damage. What are you gonna do? Well if you’re Biggles, you whine briefly, and when that doesn’t work you go up to one of the crucial guy ropes on the tent and sever it with a single chomp.

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Yeah Dad, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments but I had to improvise. All things considered, I’m OK with it.

By a minor miracle the tent didn’t collapse; by a more significant miracle the four nights we spent in the tent went brilliantly well. Having said that, I only properly experienced three of them because at 1am on the first night I headed off for a solo ascent of nearby peak Meall Dearg.

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As it turned out I could have spent an extra hour in bed; I made the summit with nearly 80 minutes still to go before the sun appeared. Still, my early arrival left me plenty of time to check out possible photography angles and to admire the summit cairn, which looks uncannily like one of Beanie’s poos. You see Beanie’s not content with outputting simple log shapes; she prefers to create little sculptures with her number twos, and Meall Dearg’s cairn is a classic Beanie design: a curling base with the raised central column offset at a fashionable angle.

In addition to having a poo-shaped cairn, Meall Dearg is connected to neighboring peak Sgorr nam Fiannaidh by the infamous Aonach Eagach ridge. This is apparently the narrowest ridge on the British mainland, and I was happy to be photographing it rather than walking it.

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The other views from Meall Dearg weren’t too shabby either..

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It was a shame not to experience Meall Dearg with Susan and the Beaglets, but this was really a scouting mission to see if it was properly Beagle-able. Now that I know it’s just a hard slog with no technical challenges or scrambling, I think it’s a fair bet there’ll be a real Beanie poo up alongside the cairn in the not too distant future.

Back at the campsite the sun was fully up, and the heat was building rapidly. We opened up the tent for maximum ventilation and kept Beanie and Biggles tethered to a stake just at the front opening. This worked surprisingly well; the Beaglet’s leads were long enough for them to sunbathe on the grass or seek shade in the body of the tent, but just short enough to stop them reaching our cooking gear and food stores at the back of the tent. Biggles quickly took a liking to the inflatable chair we’d brought (even though it was a bit wobbly) and when tiredness caught up with me and I crashed out on the bed, he was able to join me and use my legs as chin rests.

In due course we added a windbreak at the front of the tent to form a sort of semi-enclosed “garden” area.  There are plenty of reasons for having a windbreak on a campsite: to provide shelter from the wind and the sun, to increase privacy, and to stop curious Beagles from seeing things that might lead to noisy howls of outrage. I’ll let you guess which one of those was the most relevant to us.

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By the afternoon I’d caught up on sleep enough to be semi-functional; I grabbed the laptop to check if I had any emails that needed attention. Susan was outside the tent, preparing to light our little portable barbecue. I glanced over towards the Beaglets; Biggles was on his comfy chair, and judging by her lead, Beanie had retired to her travel crate for a private nap. It was warm and sunny, with just enough breeze blowing to keep the temperature comfortable. This was one of those serene, perfect moments that happen all too little in our busy lives.

My relaxed contemplative moment was interrupted by the laptop signalling that it had booted, and I began sorting through my email. Just then, Beanie trotted happily by me, her tail raised and wagging gently with the movement of her hips. My eyes switched back to the laptop, but in the back of my sleep-deprived brain a little alarm bell was starting to ring. Hadn’t Beanie just gone beyond the limits of her leash? Had it become detached from the stake? I looked back to the front of the tent, and was relieved to see her leash still safely anchored to the stake, with the other end leading into her open crate.

Hang on! That’s not right!

Yep the Beanster had decided to go on a little solo tour of Glencoe and being a very resourceful little girl, she’d unclipped her lead just as she had done on the top of The Merrick a few years ago. Fortunately this time her multi-hour “yahoo” didn’t happen; she was quickly apprehended by Susan and frogmarched backed to the garden area of our camp. This little almost-adventure served as a timely reminder of why I wrap duck tape round the release clip of her lead when we’re out on hill walks.

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Crap! Foiled again!

Biggles has never managed to unclip his lead, but judging by his quick work on the guy rope, I don’t think he’d need to; a quick chomp or two would work just as well :)

 

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