Boardwalk Beagles

The day following our big walk up Arran’s Cir Mhor was largely spent touring Arran in the van. Ordinarily the pups travel in their fabric crates for maximum comfort and safety, but since we were doing lots of short, low speed journeys on quiet roads we figured a different arrangement would be in order. While one of us handled the driving, the other sat in the back of the van to keep the pups out of mischief as they lounged on the floor and rear seat.

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Yes Biggles, you get to be chauferred around Arran and you don’t have to be in your travel crate!

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But you will still have to vacate the driver’s seat!

Beanie absolutely loved this! While Biggles simply snored through the tour, she insisted on having the window seat and watched intently as Arran’s scenery passed by. Much of the time we had the window open slightly, and I’d often see her little black nose twitching away as each new scent reached it. She was so taken with the view that we even managed a few soppy cuddles without provoking a yawn and lip-licking.

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We had one activity planned for the third and final day of our stay: a walk from Whiting Bay to the ferry terminal at Brodick along part of the Arran Coastal Path. The walk started on regular footpaths before dipping down onto the rocky beach across from the lighthouse on neighboring island Holy Isle.

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It then swung briefly inland before returning to the coast for a throughly enjoyable stage that kept us right by the water’s edge. Much of this section involved alternating stretches of boardwalk and algae-covered rocks. The rocky bits were both slippery and smelly (not that the furry types complained about this) but the boarded stretches were great fun for all of us. There must have been several kilometers of boardwalk in total, constantly winding and undulating, all the while lined with bluebells and other wild flowers.

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The final section took us from Lamlash to Brodick, and the first bit of this was intensely boring. It gave us a closer view of Holy Isle, but the route followed a dry and largely featureless road. Even Beanie and Biggles couldn’t find anything worth sniffing on that surface, so we upped our pace in the hope of getting to somemthing more interesting. Before long I spotted a family taking lots phone selfies out by the water. I couldn’t figure out why they seemed so keen to keep taking shots, and then beyond them – just twenty metres from the shore – I saw a seal sunbathing on a rock. I had a long lens with me so headed out towards the seal, wondering how the pups would react to him. Predictably he returned to the water before I could take a shot, but I decided to hang around for a bit to see if he’d return. He teased us a few times – bobbing his head up out of the water – and when Beanie spotted him she began to growl, but it didn’t seem to put him off. We had plenty of time before the ferry sailed from Brodick, so we hung on a bit longer, and a bit longer still. Eventually, our patience paid off!

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Beanie was just as enthralled by the seal as I was

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Biggles wasn’t quite so impressed.

Satisfied with the little show the seal had put on for us, we got back on the trail to Brodick and arrived with ample time to pillage the local chippie before boarding the ferry. The ship was absolutely packed with holiday makers returning to the mainland and we counted ourselves lucky to get seats. Though breezy it was sunny, and we were all set for a relaxing journey back home when Beanie spotted a handful of crisps that a kid had dropped on the deck. Beanie was sitting on Susan’s lap at the time, and now she laid down, with her head angled directly towards the crisps. Any non-Beagle owner observing her would have thought she was well on the way to a snooze, but we knew better; she was ready to pounce instantly if she sensed the slightest lessening of the grip on her lead. All that was required was a lapse in concentration from Susan, and those crisps would be in the Beanster’s stomach. Then without any warning, her plans for those little dropped savories went straight down the toilet; a terrier trotted into view and hoovered up the lot of them. I’m willing to bet that no dog anywhere in the world at any time has suffered the torrent of verbal abuse that Beanie hurled at that poor little mutt. Beagles! Can’t take them anywhere. Especially if there are crisps on the floor.

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Cir Mhor and The Great Meaty Strip Disaster of 2018

We’ve been on several trips to Arran in recent years and climbed two of its hills: Goatfell and Caisteal Abhail. Each time I’ve taken photographs of the surrounding peaks, the best shots have always featured a very distinctive, jaggy peak called Cir Mhor. Finally it occurred to me; if Cir Mhor is such a great-looking hill, why don’t we climb it? Well last weekend we did just that.

Cir Mhor from Caisteal Abhail [5D4_1773]

The saw-tooth profile of Cir Mhor from a previous walk up Caisteal Abhail

Our walk landed in the middle of a run of dry, sunny days. Being a resident of Ayrshire I can’t describe such conditions as “summer weather”, as summer usually means long days of rain and high humidity, but regardless it’s been beautiful and uplifting, but hot. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to start walking well before sunrise so that the pups wouldn’t have to deal with the hottest part of the day, but due to the length of my chosen route (over 17km) and its complexity (covers three neighboring summits and one spectacular ridge along the way) that wasn’t an option. I did however note that a good breeze was forecast, and that a fair proportion of the walk crossed substantial streams, so I figured they’d cope.

Setting out from the Glen Rosa campsite I was shocked at how distant the first of our target hills seemed. In the shot below you can just see our first summit (Ben Nuis) sticking its little pointy head up over two foreground hills on the left. That summit marks the half-way point of the outward leg of the walk! Still, I was fully loaded with water and treats for myself and the pups, including biccies, mini-Jumbones and a thick pack of meaty strips. If you’ve got enough treats, you can tackle anything.

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Even with enough breeze to keep the insects away we were starting to feel the heat. As we approached our first stream crossing I could hear Susan’s instructions repeating in my head: “every time you get to flowing water, just dunk the pups whether they want it or not!” I didn’t need to take any action with the Beanster as she went straight in and paddled to the other side, thoroughly soaking everything below her neck. Biggles on the other hand was carefully picking his way across the taller rocks when I grabbed the handle of his harness, picked him up and plunged him into the water.

My boy is a sensitive little soul and I was concerned that he might interpret this enforced wetting as some kind of punishment, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. To be honest I don’t think he even realized that I had been behind the dunking. To him, it was just another one of those mysterious “acts of god” that happen to boys called Biggles on a daily basis. Sometimes good things happen, like a humie absent-mindedly putting their food within his reach, and sometimes not-so-good things happen, like falling in the water even though he’d been balancing on the rocks quite well.

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Biggles ponders one of life’s little mysteries: first he was dry, then he wasn’t.

We continued to the next water station which wasn’t deep enough for a dunking, so I just splashed their tummies with my hand. This time both pups were well aware what I was doing, but they didn’t seem to mind. I was baking in the heat, but the furries kept motoring along without any hint of panting.

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After what had been a very easy going preamble we finally made it to the base of Ben Nuis and the climbing started in earnest. As we gained height the breeze grew stronger to compensate, and brief periods of shade also came to our aid. When I’d first read the route I’d dismissed Ben Nuis as nothing but a waypoint on our journey, but in truth it was enjoyable and worthwhile in itself, with impressive views of the ridges and peaks that lay ahead of us.

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At the top of Ben Nuis we encountered only the second hill walker we’d seen that day. This was a bank holiday weekend and though Goatfell probably had a queue of people trudging their way up to its summit, the less popular routes like this were still blissfully quiet. I was reasonably confident they’d stay that way so long as we didn’t meet any sheep or goats.

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The twin peaks of Beinn Tarsuinn came next on our itinerary, offering more great views for very little effort. Even in full afternoon sun the temperature remained comfortable thanks to a near constant breeze, but not being a Beagle I still had to keep applying factor 50 to my baldy bits.

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Now came the hardest part of the walk so far. Instead of climbing we had to descend steeply through huge boulders. More than once I found I wasn’t quite tall enough to stretch my legs from one foothold to the next, and had to lower myself using my arms. With even shorter legs the pups needed an occasional airlift down to the next level; those carry handles on their harnesses made this so much easier.

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Getting down through that was not at all easy for those with short furry legs!

Now we followed a narrow and undulating bypass path around the back of the A’Chir ridge. The ridge itself is a graded rock climb so that was never an option, but at least it would have been cooler and offered some great views. As it was, our path was sheltered from the wind, largely devoid of eye candy and surprisingly easy to lose whenever it crossed a big slab of rock. Perhaps sensing my occasional moments of indecision, Biggles took point and stuck to the path like glue. He really is an asset in situations like this, and I’ve come to trust him so much that I just keep my eyes down and follow him. If I were to try the same with Beanie I’d end up miles from the official route with precipitous drops all around me, and a big pile of goat poo at my feet.

After what seemed like an age we came out at the end of the A’Chir ridge with the final climb to Cir Mhor ahead of us. I took a moment to clamber up a few rocks back onto the ridge to take some shots. They don’t even come close to showing the scale of it; respect is due to anyone who’s done this thing the hard way.

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A'Chir Ridge, Arran [5D4_1086]

A'Chir Ridge [IMG_7114]

Although it only lasted about ten minutes, I found that last climb up to the summit of Cir Mhor really punishing. Maybe I was tired from what had come before, but I was struggling and I sensed impatience from Beanie and Biggles. I have a tendency towards summit fever, but seemingly Beagles get it really bad.

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Cir Mhor Summit [5D4_1203]

Glen Sannox from Cir Mhor [5D4_1176]

The tiny summit plateau had some great views, but it was very exposed; the wind was so strong I had to keep one hand on the rocks to stay on my feet. At one point Biggles started digging up a mossy patch and suddenly I got a faceful of little moss fragments when the wind caught them.

Just a few steps over to the other side of the summit we were in shelter; it was warm and merely breezy, and we had terrific views of neighboring Caisteal Abhail, Goatfell, and the path that had led us here. We were all comfortable, and with the sun getting lower in the sky I decided to hang around to see what golden hour and sunset would bring. I began dishing out treats to kill time, and when the really good photography light arrived we were down to our last two meaty strips. I withdrew them from the pack, and holding them in a “V” configuration I offered one of them to Biggles. It turned out the “V” wasn’t quite wide enough, and unwittingly I’d given Biggles one his better “act of god” moments. Both strips were in easy reach of his mouth, so he took both in one quick, decisive movement. Chomp! Chomp! Gone! Beanie came right up to me, expecting to get hers, and I had to explain that.. well.. there weren’t any more.

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The news was not well received, but a nibble out of my protein bar helped her over it and I got some spectacular shots in that gorgeous late evening light.

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View from Cir Mhor [5D4_1295]

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Shadow of Cir Mhor on Goatfell [5D4_1305]

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Caisteal Abhail Golden Hour [5D4_1339]

Sunset from Cir Mhor [5D4_1360]

The best thing about the route I’d chosen was that the way back was very straightforward; we only had to descend from Cir Mhor, then branch off and down into Glen Rosa. The first kilometer or so was steep in parts, but after that it was easy going and we were soon back by fresh, flowing water. I was out of bottled water by now so filled up and took a shot looking back up to Cir Mhor while I waited for the purification tablet to do its thing. The three of us finally reunited with Susan and the van at around half past midnight, and after a brief drive to our camping spot we all slept very soundly indeed until the next morning.

Cir Mhor Gloaming [5D4_1372]

Ben Venue

Ben Venue has a reputation for providing a lot of view given its sub-Munro height, but previously I’d dismissed it due the route length (14km) and reputation for being a bogfest. Our recent long but very enjoyable slog over and around the Galloway hills convinced me to reconsider it, and when I discovered that its path had been upgraded just a couple of years ago, I decided it was worth a go.

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Ben Venue as seen from an early point on the route from Loch Achray

At 1am, having had a few hours of suprisingly good sleep, I stumbled out of the van with my two furry companions securely attached to my belt. Purely out of a desire to keep the van safe – and not at all due to the crazily early departure time – Susan had offered to stay in bed, so it was just the three of us.

Sleep-deprivation aside I like really early morning walks best of all. I take a perverse pleasure in heading out in the dark when all sensible people are tucked up in bed, guided by my head torch and two enthusiastic black noses. As is usual our first mile was very stop-start due to sniffage, pees and poos, but after that we made rapid progress thanks to a firm, mostly dry path backed by frequent signposts to eliminate navigation concerns. After about an hour we passed a notice that we’d come to the end of the signage, but the trail continued as normal up ahead and I commented to the pups that this was going to be one of the easiest hills we’d ever done. That of course was something I should never have said out loud, and shortly afterwards we came to the start of a field where the path flat-out disappeared.

I scanned the field ahead carefully with my torch, and saw a couple of wooden stakes in the ground. With nothing else to follow, and the map suggesting that we should continue in roughly that direction, I took a few steps into the field towards the stakes, and sank past my ankles. Bog juices immediately seeped into my boots and I let out a long sigh. Beanie and Biggles both turned to look at me and I told them what they already knew: “well pups, it’s bog time again!”

We trudged our way across the field to the start of an incline, where PathFinder Biggles quickly latched onto other walkers’ footsteps; a little further on we rejoined the path. This wasn’t quite as dry and firm as the first section, but it led us almost directly to the trig point on one of Ben Venue’s two high points with 75 minutes still to go before sunrise.

Beanie and Biggles love climbing up and down hills, but they don’t like hanging around for ages in the cold and wind. Fortunately I was prepared for this eventuality, having strung our big orange Vango Storm Shelter from my camera bag. In my head, this was how the next hour or so was about to play out: I’d throw the shelter over the three of us, giving me a wind-free place to swap my sweaty base-layer for a dry thermal and to put on the pups’ coats. We’d then while away the time until sunrise in our torch-lit abode having treats and cuddles. Basically it was going to be a bit like being under the covers with a torch as a kid.

That is not at all how things went. I unpacked the shelter easily enough and got it over me and Biggles, but Beanie – who always feels the cold the most – was stuck outside. Pinning the base of the shelter against the rocks with my feet to keep it from blowing away, I coaxed Beanie inside, at which point Biggles somehow ended up outside. I reached out and dragged Biggles in, only to watch Beanie sneaking back out under the rear edge of shelter. This was crazy; inside the shelter was warming up nicely thanks to the elimination of windchill, but I couldn’t keep the three of us together inside it for any length of time. At one point I tried getting Biggles to park his bottom on the base and settle down so that I’d have both arms free to haul Beanie in and get her onto my lap. I was almost there when suddenly the shelter was whipped out from under my feet and up over my head, leaving both me and The Beanster outside. My first thought was “wow, that must have been a powerful gust of wind” but in reality it was Biggles, who’d decided to make a bed and was rapidly winding the shelter round and round himself. He was cosy now, but the rest of us were shivering in the cold and dark. After a struggle I freed the shelter from his lordship’s grasp without ripping it, but never succeeded in getting us all inside simultaneously. If Vango storm shelters could have a theme tune, it should be The Hokey Cokey.

The struggles with the shelter did at least kill some time, and between that and a few expeditions between the two summit points on Ben Venue, we lasted out until the sun finally appeared.

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Not long until sunrise now..

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And there it is…

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The view towards Loch Katrine was superb!

Loch Katrine From Ben Venue [5D2_7022]

Big ears over Loch Katrine [5D4_0924]

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Loch Achray & Loch Venahar from Ben Venue [5D2_7024]

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I kept trying different shots and rewarding the pups for their patience until, in a moment of carelessness, I spilled the remaining contents of the treat bag on the ground. For once in his life Biggles was alert and immediately set about vacuuming everything up while Beanie was still trying to get her snout into my trouser pockets. With no treats remaining, I had a choice: face the most intense woofing I’d ever experienced, or share some of my own private stash of extra tasty coated peanuts with the furry types. You can probably guess which option I chose.

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Biggles takes in the view, while Beanie stays focused on my peanuts

The journey back was peppered with stops for layer removal as the temperature rose, and as we got back onto that splendid first section of the path the pups were happy to slurp from, and cool their feet in, the various streams we crossed.

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When we got to within 50 yards of the van Biggles started pulling like a train and Beanie began dancing on her rear legs. I assumed they were overjoyed at the thought of being reunited with Susan, but then the real reason became apparent: Susan had filled their breakfast bowls and left them out by the entrance to the van.

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Contented post-breakfast naps for two, please!

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I’m not saying that Beagles don’t offer unconditional love like other dogs, but a big serving of breakfast definitely helps.