Tread Carefully on the Poop Deck


Now that the recent monsoons have abated I can get down to the task of ripping out one of the dodgy boards in our deck and replacing it with a fresh, strong plank that sticks out like a sore thumb.

That dodgy board isn’t the only reason why care is required when traversing the deck however. The other reason is the Biggly Boy, who has recently decided that pooing on grass is passe and that the fashionable Beagle should always favor seasoned wood.



He’s already caught me out, giving me a squelchy “uugghh!” moment when I nipped out late at night to put the wheelie bin out for collection. The flipside of this is that de-pooing the lawn prior to a mowing session is now a much easier process. On balance however I’d have to say that slicing and dicing a bottom-sausage in the mower is preferable to the foot squelch scenario; the smell may be more intense, but it passes quickly and doesn’t require any lengthy cleanup.

Fortunately Beanie hasn’t shown any interest in changing her dumping habits. Instead, she’s been putting her efforts into recognizing her toys by name. I can now tell her to go get “Foxy” and be fairly confident of getting a play session with her favorite fox-styled tug toy. Calling for “Squeak and crinkle” will nearly always result in the appearance of Foxy’s battered, partially dismembered predecessor who no longer squeaks but can still crinkle like a champ. Then there’s “Slipper”, “Loofa-Doggy” and of course “Bone”. I know of other dogs who’ve acquired this ability but I think it’s cool that Beanie can now do it too, and all without any (intentional) training.


Unfortunately it seems that simple “ball” – despite being the toy we’ve had the most play sessions with over the years – just doesn’t seem to have made it onto Beanie’s list of known toy names. Either that, or “ball” just can’t compete with the fun potential of “Mr Squirrel”.


Beanie! Go get your ball!


OK, well Mr Squirrel will have to do then :)


Biggles – World’s Best Mountain Guide


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. Apparently 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.


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


See? Told you so..


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


Cairn on Stuc a'Chroin [5D4_2659]

Looking back to Ben Vorlich [5D4_2781]

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


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


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.



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.


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


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.


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.


The Skullbuster – Beinn an Lochain


“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.

5D4_2298 Stacked

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.


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]







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 :)


A crossed leg is no barrier to The Beanster