Nearly five years ago Beanie decided to escape the confines of popular walking routes and go off on a solo romp in the Galloway hills. She unhooked her lead (which she was able to do back then, before I employed extra security measures) and went on her own Big Yahoo of an adventure.
After some hours of merrily following her nose she returned, tired but happy. I’ll never know what she got up to during that time, but I do know that after carrying her the 8km back to the car, the two of us spent the next day thoroughly knackered, with tender feet and sore muscles.
Last week Beanie returned to the Galloway hills, had an even bigger adventure away from the popular walking routes, and again spent the next day recuperating. This time however I know exactly what she got up to, because me and Biggles were with her every step of the way.
Our walk started by Bruce’s Stone at Glen Trool, but instead of following the well-trodden route up The Merrick, we headed out towards Gairland Burn and Loch Valley to try some of the lesser-visited hills.
The first part of the walk followed an old drystone wall and offered beautiful views back to Loch Trool. The weather was perfect; dry and bright but not too warm. It strongly reminded me of the hilly farming regions of North Yorkshire I enjoyed as a boy.
The next section was long, boggy and boring for anybody not in possession of a highly-tuned sniffer, but when we emerged from it we were by Loch Valley, getting our first view of the hills we’d be sampling.
Looking forward towards the hills
It was here that we answered a question that’s been foremost in the minds of top current affairs experts of late. No I’m not talking about the Brexit implementation details, or the Russia/Syria thing, I’m talking about the really big issue, specifically: “are Earl’s Air-dried Beef Steaks any good?” Our pups have had growing respect for Earl – who seems to be a Golden Retriever who makes the cheap doggy stuff at chain-store Aldi – ever since they tried his dental sticks. Knowing that a big walk was ahead of us I’d grabbed a serving of Earl’s latest creation and stuffed it in my camera bag, but I had no idea whether it would pass muster. And the answer? Well if speed of consumption is any guide then yep, Earl knows his stuff and his beef steaks are well worth speed-swallowing.
Moving on we passed the long-abandoned “sheepfold” between Loch Valley and Loch Neldricken, sniffed it, peed on it a bit, and then headed uphill. The hillside was covered in a thick layer of dried, reedy grass which was so soft it sucked the energy right out of my legs, but made very comfortable bedding material for his Biggleship.
After no small amount of climbing up and over things we eventually ended up at the top of a hill that actually has a name: Craignairy. The weather had been cycling between heavy cloud and bright sunshine up to that point, but as we reached the summit plateau and looked out over Loch Enoch towards The Merrick, we got the perfect combination of the two.
Beanie and Biggles sipped from the pool of fresh, clear drinking water that had been so thoughtfully provided by the summit cairn, and I continued to take a few shots.
Deciding that this would be a good time to confirm the initial conclusions regarding Earls’ beef steaks, I put Beanie & Biggles into “wait” position by my feet, and placed one “steak” on the top of each of my boots. After a short wait, I gave them the go-ahead, at which point Beanie promptly grabbed the steak that had been intended for Biggles.
In the split-second that followed, I saw a range of emotions pass over Biggles’ little face. First there was shock, then panic, and then resignation, even though there was still one steak sitting untouched on my other boot. I started pointing and trying to get the words out to Biggles before Beanie could gulp her steak down and go for round two: “Oi! Biggles! Quick, get the other one!” It was close, but he came to his senses just in time. Beanie of course was aware of her missed opportunity, and complained loudly:
What?? I was going to have that!
As often happens Biggles didn’t really understand why Beanie was woofing, but decided to join in anyway, so I got stick from both of them for trying to keep things fair.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right.
Now we had to choose which of Craignairy’s neighboring hills we would visit next: the worryingly named “Dungeon Hill”, or the larger “CraigNaw” that was sort of on the way back to the van. Given the light and the time of day, I decided that CraigNaw was the better choice.
The way ahead to the start of Craignaw
Craignaw took longer to climb than I expected; every time we reached what I thought would be the summit, yet another short climb was revealed ahead of us. Regardless, there were plenty of great views to be had on the way up, including one that made even Biggles feel a bit inadequate.
Looking back to CraigNairy
And other views from the top
We had our final round of beef steaks at the very top of Craignaw, and this time there were no mishaps.
The walk out to this lovely region and the hill climbs from it had all been great, but now we had a long, boggy trudge back to the van. For most of this I edged around the worst mud and marsh spots, but the closer we got to the finish line, the more slapdash I became. At one point, having untangled Beanie & Biggles’s leads for the umpteenth time, I thought “Why bother avoiding the wet stuff? My feet are wet anyway, and this will go faster if I plough straight through it”. So that’s what I did at the next muddy pool, and almost went over as my entire lower leg disappeared into bog. Ever the caring Beagle, Beanie came straight to my side, and used my sudden loss of height to gain access to my trouser pockets. I gently but firmly extracted her snout from my trousers, then not so gently extracted my leg from the bog, and returned to my original “avoid the bog” walking strategy.
We were all tired and hungry when we finally reached the van; I reckon we’d probably walked around 18km in total, and a fair proportion of that had been on hills. I served up the pups’ tea and while they half-swallowed, half-inhaled it from their bowls, I perched on the back seat in my mud-soacked clothes, sipping an instant cappuccino and demolishing a bag of bacon rashers crisps. Now two days later I still have muscle-soreness from carrying all my camera gear on that walk, but I know that at some point we’ll be back to do the hills we missed.