The Magical Mystery Crate Tour Part 2: Better Blown Than Bitten


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.


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?


Beanie & Biggles were close to giving up on Gairloch beach, but then things started to look up.


Beanie discovers a big rocky outgrowth to scramble over…


Nice scratchy shells covered in splats of bird poop for Biggles to roll on…


Rock pools for paddling in


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..

The unknown beach pano [IMG_0350]

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.



Beanie and Biggles get their first look at Sango Bay from the campsite’s fenced viewpoint


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.


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.


Sango Bay#2 [IMG_6659]

Sango Bay [IMG_6683]

Sango Bay#3 [IMG_6674]

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.




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.





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.


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.



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.



Lost at sea

Whenever I get talking to an owner of a “normal” dog (ie. non-Beagle) and start telling them about all our misadventures (well a few of them, because there have been so many), they never seem to get just how naughty Beanie & Biggles really are. “Yeah, my dog did that once too”. Oh really? But does your dog exercise its naughty muscle so frequently and with such intensity that he or she is basically a furry suicide machine on four legs? And does your dog have an unswerving talent for picking the absolute worst time to push the envelope?

Softbox Beanie [IMG_5198]

Even when Beanie’s not being naughty, you can bet she’s thinking about it..

The latest incident occurred on a day when I was physically and mentally done-in. My legs had a bad case of DOMS from the previous day’s gym session, and my head was hurting from wrestling for hours with a computer problem (damn you, Microsoft). Experience has taught me that the best way to recover from both of these ailments is a gentle jog on the beach while listening to relaxing music. And why not combine that with an outing for the dogs?

I prepared for the run just as I normally do: put on plenty of layers to keep the wind-chill at bay, shoved a foil-wrapped package of chicken pieces into my running belt, and loaded fresh music onto my little MP3 playing earphones. I chose Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells III for this run; it’s not his best work by any means, but it’s a good chill-out piece and the perfect remedy for my still-motoring brain. When we arrived at the beach things were looking good. The beach was very quiet so we wouldn’t have any hassles from offlead dogs, I’d remembered my running gloves and beanie (that’s the hat, not the Beagle), and though the weather was cold and windy there was – for once – no storm in progress.

We had the usual bit of scampering, excited woofing and shoulder-barging at the start of the run, but after that the three of us settled into a comfortable, steady pace. I checked my GPS watch and as we passed the first kilometre I decided to let the two munchkins off-lead for a few minutes so they could properly open up their legs. As per our long-established routine I gave them both a taste of chicken, then unhooked The Beanster first. As usual she sprinted off ahead for about 50 yards, then stopped for sniffage. Biggles was next; I could tell he desperately wanted to pull on his lead, but he’s learned that he gets released quicker if he holds still while I fumble with the clip. As soon as he was free he charged at Beanie at full speed, clearly aiming to give her a shoulder-barge to remember. Beanie dodged him a split-second before he hit and gave him her most disdainful “Huh, that brother of mine” look. Of course that look didn’t do anything to dampen Biggles’ playful spirit. He went into an exaggerated playbow, sticking his silly white bottom up in the air, and they both took off on a high-speed chase that quickly ended up right back at my feet for another mouthful of chicken. I fed them and immediately sent them off on another romp: “Go play!”. This time they just ran into the water and splashed around together, staying roughly in line with me as I jogged along. Tubular Bells III had entered one of its “trance” segments, and as I watched Beanie and Biggles playing in the waves I was finally starting to relax. Then Beanie spotted a group of birds further along the shore (not seagulls, because they’re a bit too big and intimidating) and she took off after them with Biggles screeching as he tried to catch her.

If you’ve ever seen me when my Beagles go off on a beach bird hunt, you’ll know that I display several escalating levels of concern which correspond to how far the little buggers have gone away from me, and how long they’ve been away. The first level can be called “watchful but not worried”; I keep running at the same pace, with the package of chicken still in my hand, but my eyes stay glued on the little furry idiots as they take a bit too long to come back. The next level is “mildly irritated”; my pace quickens noticeably, and though you can’t see it, I’ve made the decision that leads will be re-attached when the dynamic duo comes back for the next chick refill. If it becomes a struggle to keep them in sight because they’ve got so far ahead of me, I transition to “somewhat concerned and pissed off”; they could be eating things they shouldn’t or having encounters with other beach users, and it’s going to take a couple of minutes of hard running before I can intervene. This level is marked by the chicken going into my pocket and my speed and breathing rate going into the red. Until this particular day, those three levels of concern was all I had for beach runs.

Newly introduced, level four involves me turning off my music because I’ve now lost sight of Beanie & Biggles altogether and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to hear Biggles’ high pitched baying as he chases after his sister. My running pace actually slows at this level, because I’ve exceeded my lactate threshold for too long.  You could call this level “getting quite worried”. In turns out there’s yet another level beyond this. It doesn’t have a name that can be expressed without using profanity, but its visible characteristics are as follows:

  • I have left the part of the beach that belongs to our home town of Irvine, have passed most of Barassie and am rapidly approaching Troon.
  • I take my MP3 player headset out of my ears and put it round my neck, whereupon (I suspect) a strong gust of wind grabs it and carries it off out to sea without me even noticing.
  • I approach any other beach user I can see and ask them if they’ve seen two crazy Beagles. The answer comes back “no, but I heard this unpleasant noise”.
  • I start running back and forth indecisively because I’m beginning to doubt whether Beanie & Biggles are really daft enough to have come out this far, and wondering if they somehow went up off the beach onto the dunes, or even into town.

Eventually I came across a mother and daughter who were out with their  little terriers. I asked them the “have you seen” question and yes, they’d seen them, still chasing after birds in the surf and even further up the beach. I couldn’t believe that Beanie & Biggles had gone that far, but it was all I had to go on. I headed out diagonally across slippery seaweed-covered rocks toward the very last bit of beach before Troon, and my eyes caught sight of two dots moving at high speed up and down by the water’s edge. I stopped and studied the moving dots for a few seconds; I’d mistaken seagulls for Beagles more than once on my increasingly desperate journey. One dot was ahead of the other most of the time, but on the rare occasions that the slower one caught up, it seemed to swerve into the other dot. Biggles shoulder-barging his sister. It had to be.

I ran towards the dots, and pretty soon I could see that they were also heading towards me. The dots turned into hound-colored doggies with erect tails and silly grins on their faces. I took out my chicken, got the little !£$%&*s back on lead, fed them, and looked at my GPS watch. The numbers confirmed what I already knew: there was a substantial amount of running to be done to get back to the car. Oh well, at least I could put my music back on. Only I couldn’t because as I now discovered, my MP3 player was lost at sea. I pointed myself and my Beagles back towards the other end of the beach and reluctantly started jogging. My legs were really, really toasted by this point. A seven or eight km gentle jog will work wonders for loosening up stiff legs after a hard gym session, but double that and you’re just increasing the punishment. As we passed Barassie a little girl ran towards us from the roadside; it was the same girl who’d pointed me in the direction of Beanie & Biggles, and her mum had very kindly sent her down to me with a bottle of water. Clearly there are some really nice, thoughtful people in Barassie. I thanked her, took a swig myself and offered it to Beanie & Biggles (chasing birds is such thirsty work), then got moving again. It seemed to take an age to get back to the car, and in my knackered state, yep, an age is pretty much how long it took. Even Beanie and Biggles were looking a bit low on batteries towards the end. Beanie had the cheek to give me the “any chance of a carry, Dad?” look that she’d last used during her big adventure on The Merrick. This time she was s-h-1-t out of luck.



Like I’ve said before it’s fortunate that Beagles are so cute, because if they weren’t their owners would probably throttle the life out of them (always assuming the stupid little buggers didn’t manage to get themselves killed first).

How (not) to treat a calf injury

Every now and then one of my body parts decides it’s had enough and goes on strike. At the start of the year it was my shoulder, but over the last month it’s been my right calf that’s rebelled. I struggled on with it for a bit, as I tend to do, until eventually it got bad enough to force me to rest it. This of course threatened disruption to the furry bottomed members of our family. Over the last few years they’ve been able to count on at least two, often three or four, beach runs each and every week – regardless of weather – and always with that all important off-lead-run-amok section in the middle. Suddenly the chief provider of these weekly jollies was out of action! I called them into the lounge, and broke the bad news to them as gently as possible.


I don’t get it Dad, I mean, you’ve still got three other legs you can run on, right?

I don’t think Biggles properly understood what I was telling him. I’m sure Beanie got it though, and she seemed genuinely concerned – not for my injury (obviously) but for the reduction in doggy service that it would cause. She took it upon herself to heal me in the fastest way she knew how! Later that day when I was on the floor foam-rolling my calf and doing stretches and glute activation, Nurse Beanie came to visit.

Now it has to be said that Nurse Beanie doesn’t have the greatest track record with her patients; a green monkey suffered repeated trauma whilst in her care, while an owl became an involuntary squeaker donor. Nevertheless, I decided to trust her and see what treatment options she would come up with. She began with acupuncture, repeatedly walking over my calf and hamstring while digging her nails in. This didn’t actually make the calf feel any better, but acupuncture does get used for some sports injuries so it didn’t seem unreasonable. Unfortunately, things went rapidly downhill from there. I’ve seen a few physiotherapists in my time but not one of them has ever tried to massage a sore muscle by humping it vigorously and letting a little bit of wee out. Nor have they ever snook into my pockets and tried to initiate a tug of war with a stolen poo bag.

Needless to say that particular therapy session didn’t fix my calf, but it did convince me of the need to maintain some level of weekly off-lead adventures during my convalescence. The next day we went for a gentle walk on the beach, but I still unclipped them for a short constraint-free romp. I was of course concerned that without the running they’d be less inclined to stay with me, but for once and against all the odds, they didn’t misbehave (much).





I stayed off running for a fortnight, during which we repeated the above walk several times. On each occasion both my little scallywags mostly behaved themselves. This week I had a couple of tentative but successful runs, and so today I took Beanie & Biggles for a somewhat vigorous 8k on the beach. When the time came for the off-lead section, the contrary little buggers promptly took off after some birds and left me eating their dust. In due course they returned to me for a handful of chicken, but only once they’d got themselves thoroughly covered in sand and seagull poo.

Beagles. You can always count on them to do the unexpected, unless that’s what you’re expecting.