The area we live in doesn’t seem to get much Autumn color; one minute the leaves are on the trees – green and happy – and the next they’re lying on the ground, brown and soaking wet from relentless rain, and there doesn’t seem to be much in between. The region around Callander however is different, so we headed there in the Beaglemobile one weekend when work eased off.
Our first stop was at Bracklinn Falls, a popular beauty spot with an easy circular walk that takes in not one but two pretty waterfalls. It was while we were on this circuit that I realised why I don’t generally get a lot of Autumn photographs: the weather is usually really, really crap at this time of year. In this case we were fortunate and it was only moderately crap, but it still kept trying to rain every five minutes or so.
The colors however were spectacular, as were the sniffs. This was one of those rare walks that perfectly hit the sweet spot between stimulation and excitement; Beanie and Biggles eagerly scampered around from one nasal treat to the next, their noses sounding like Geiger counters, and yet there was no desparate pulling or baying outbreaks. By the time we got back to the van the pups were seriously ready for a naptime, even though they hadn’t gone much further than on a regular walk at home.
We spent the night in the van close to Loch Lubnaig, and though Beanie and Biggles started out in their own beds on the van seats, they didn’t stay there for long; even before the clock had ticked over into the next day there was a bed migration. Beanie was the first, curling up neatly by Susan’s stomach, and shortly thereafter Biggles also burrowed into our bed. I’ve noted in previous years how Biggles often seems to acquire a new ability after each birthday; I’d have to say that his eighth birthday has granted him the power of extreme expansion. I’m well used to him taking way more space than his little 13kg frame requires, but on this night he took it to a new level. At one point he actually managed to force not only me and Susan out of bed, but Beanie too. If the Beanster hadn’t been so sleepy she’d probably have bitten his bottom, but as it was, she ended up perched on a corner of the bed with no covers and a look of drugged bewilderment on her face. I was actually grateful when my smartphone’s alarm sounded; it meant it was time to embark on my hillwalk in the cold and dark, but even that was preferable to spending more time contorted around The Incredible BiggleHulk.
The target hill this time was Beinn Each. At just over 800m high it belongs in the “corbett” class, but the actual ascent listed on the Walkhighlands site is only 693 metres, so I wasn’t expecting it to be particularly taxing. My feeling of confidence seemed to rub off on my furry companions as we walked; despite having slept poorly the Beanster had a spring in her step and Biggles was walking wide and tall, his back legs making extra room for an enormous pair of imaginary testicles. Perhaps it was those imaginary testicles that had forced the rest of us out of bed. Regardless, this morning he was a Beagle at the top of his game and he wasn’t afraid to let the world know it. He started aaarrrffing, not necessarily because he smelled something, but just because it felt good. About ten minutes later he really did have something to bay at – a couple of sheep – and his cries sent them scurrying away. Perfect – just the way things should be! He let out another warbling, grunting aaarrrfff in triumph as the sheep disappeared from view but then suddenly – out of the darkness – something answered him!
At first the response sounded a bit like a group of disgruntled politicians in the House of Commons, but then it grew deeper, louder and more piercing. It lasted for what seemed like an age, and when it had finished Biggles wasn’t in the mood for aaarrfffing any more. He had his head down, pretending to concentrate on a sniffy bit of the path, and his tail was lowered. Even Beanie was looking round at me in the torchlight, her face asking “is it OK Dad, or would now be a good time to put on my soothing Christmas jumper?” I didn’t answer her straight away; for one thing I didn’t have her Christmas jumper in my backpack, and for another I was still trying work out what had made that sound. After a second I reasoned that it had to be a deer, but one with a really, really powerful call – every bit the deer equivalent of Beanie’s Howl of Death. I relaxed now that I knew what I’d heard and this put Beanie’s mind at rest too, but Biggles stayed silent for the rest of the walk; his bubble had been well and truly burst.
It soon turned out I’d been over-confident too; despite its modest ascent and length, the later stages of the climb were surprisingly challenging physically. The weather didn’t help either; the forecast had promised sunny intervals, but all we got was mist, rain and wind. We made it the summit in time for sunrise, but the only visible confirmation of that was the mist turning a slightly lighter shade of grey. The three of us huddled by the summit for a few minutes. I figured it was worth hanging on a while to see if the weather would clear, but once we’d run out of cow ears and bone-shaped biscuits we had a show of paws to determine if we should call it quits, and I lost. On the way back down we got an occasional hint of the color and beauty that was hiding behind all that mist.
About half-way down the hill I felt the irresistible urge to do one of the many things that bears do in the woods. As we weren’t actually in the woods at that point I just a took a little detour off the path and prepared to squat; the only complication – other than the absence of toilet paper – was that I had two Beagles tide to my waist, one of whom had previously snacked on her Mum’s forbidden brown fruit. Biggles genuinely showed no interest in the proceedings, but Beanie was watching me closely, and believe me, I was watching her right back. I held up a cautionary index finger as I finished and pulled up my pants, and she held her position. As I reached down to pick up my backpack my eyes slipped from hers for a split-second, and though she lunged forward slightly, my finger brought her to a halt before she reached the drop zone. Ever seen that Doctor Who episode where deadly angel statues can only move when you’re not looking right at them? The writer of that episode must have owned a Beagle. Anyway, I was almost there.. I just needed my tripod now. I reached to pick it up but fumbled slightly and my concentration on Beanie wavered a second time; unfortunately this was long enough for Beanie to tick another item off her bucket-list.
I guess I learned three lessons from our trip to Callander:
- Never trust BBC weather forecasts in Autumn
- Never aaarrrfff at a deer because it might answer back
- Never accept kisses from Beanie when she’s been on a hillwalk