The Magical Mystery Crate Tour Part 1: Game of Thrones

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It’s taken a while, but Beanie & Biggles have finally realized that their fabric campervan crates are magical. Every time our pups tumble out of them, they find themselves in a completely different place to where they started out. Only last week they climbed into them from our drive at home and emerged in Fort William.

To be honest, Fort William didn’t have much going for it; the weather was hot and sunny, but there were no ice-cream wrappers on the pavements, and no half-eaten sandwiches under the public benches. The pups did get a bit of ear fondling from passers by while they were waiting for their Mum to emerge from the local supermarket, but let’s face it, you can’t eat an ear fondle. As an aside, all of the fondlers were people who had previously owned a Beagle, and that got me wondering again why so many of the people we meet “once had a Beagle”. Why only once? It’s as if the experience of owning a pesky, relentlessly destructive, food-obsessed, furry little suicide-machine on legs somehow makes the Beagle breed less attractive second time around for some people. Honestly, I just don’t get it.

Anyway, once they’d established that Fort William was a dead loss food-wise, Beanie & Biggles climbed back into their magical crates and found themselves in Glencoe, about to embark on a very early morning walk up up a mountain that was sort-of named in their honor: Buachaille Etive Beag(le).

This walk was every bit as magical as the campervan crates; on the way up we passed through a cloud inversion, and saw the crescent moon hovering over a nearby peak (click to see larger version).

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We made it to the summit in plenty of time for sunrise, where I spent a bit too long trying to capture the sun as it spilled light onto the ridge. I know this because Biggles not only had time to chomp through all his chews and biccies, but got so bored that he had to embark on a digging project. In the end I had to time my shots carefully to avoid motion blur as a certain energetic white bottom reversed into the tripod legs.

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Things got a lot more interesting on the return journey. There may not be any sheep on the Glencoe mountains we’ve visited, but there can be deer, and I think his lordship’s sniffer caught scent of one..

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The invisible but smelly deer was the least of our problems on the way back down the mountain. Instead of using strips of Duck Tape to prevent Beanie Houdini-ing her lead off the harness attachment point, we’d used a short canicross “neckline” to make a second, fail-safe link between the lead and her collar. This was without doubt a safer option, but it quickly became annoying; about every minute or so she’d get one or both of her front legs caught in the line and I’d have to assist.

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Beanie’s canicross neckline is visible in this shot. This was captured on one of the rare occasions she didn’t have a leg caught in it.

By the time we’d got back to our starting point I’d trained Beanie to stop and hold up her paw in response to the words “You’ve done it AGAIN”. Still, I’d rather that than watch her disappearing after a deer.

After breakfast the crates worked their magic again, transporting the Beagles to Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. If you’ve flicked through popular landscape images you’ve probably seen photos of the huge crag with the lighthouse just beyond, but I can tell you nothing comes close to seeing it through your own eyes.

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You can walk right to the top of the cliff pretty easily, in fact I’d recommend it for two reasons:

  1. it’s one of the very few spots at Neist point that doesn’t have sheep, and
  2. all dogs who go up there but don’t pull their attached humie over the edge in pursuit of a seagull, get a Pedigree Mini-Jumbone each

It should be noted that point #2 above is based on a sample of only two Beagles called Beanie & Biggles, on a single visit. It should also be noted that the Mini-Jumbones are awarded even if death-by-seagull-pursuit is attempted, but unsuccessful.

Our next destination was a car park at the summit of the Applecross pass, and truthfully I’d have been happy to get there by means of a magic crate myself. The pass – or Bealach na Ba as it’s known – is not the easiest of drives. It’s a steep and narrow single track road with hairpin bends and fatal drops guarded only by thin, heavily dented crash barriers. The entry to the pass has a large sign warning that it is not for inexperienced drivers, large vehicles and caravans. No shit, Sherlock! Having travelled from Skye, our first taste of the pass came in the dead of night. To be honest that’s the best time to tackle it: there’s little chance of meeting anyone going in the opposite direction, and you can’t see the drops. It’s almost fun, because you get to play a round of “where the hell did the road go?” every time you get to a bend.

Once at the summit Beanie & Biggles were finally able to discover where the Magical Mystery Crates had deposited them, and the grass around the car park got a thorough watering. This was to be our home for the night, and in the morning I was due to walk up a nearby hill called Sgurr a Chaorachain. All we had to do now was get some sleep – something that had previously proved difficult in the van due to the bed only being built to accommodate two Beagles, not two Beagles plus their owners. We were so tired by this point that we didn’t even bother pulling out the bed; we just tossed some bedding on the floor of the van and settled down. Faced with the option of staying put in their comfy chairs (Beanie in the driver’s seat, Biggles in the rotating passenger seat), or joining us on the floor, our pups chose the former, and I got the best few hours’ campervan sleep I’d had to that point.  What’s more this one night set a precedent; for the rest of the tour Beanie & Biggles were content to sleep on their seats.

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In the morning I set out on my walk, leaving Susan and the Beagles tucked up safely in the van. The hill I climbed was only 1200ft above the car park, but given that the car park itself was more than 2000ft above sea level the views were not to be sniffed at, especially since I didn’t have the professional sniffers with me.

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View from Sgurr a Chaorachain

Applecross lies in a region called Wester Ross and like its fictional almost-namesake, it became the focus for a “game of thrones”. The throne in this case wasn’t forged from a thousand swords, but from rigid white plastic, and had the words “Porta Potti Qube” written neatly on the front.

While I was heading back from my hillwalk, Susan was readying our portable chemical toilet for its most important duty. Beanie & Biggles were apparently sleeping on their chairs, the curtains were drawn, all was ready for that most private of bodily functions. Susan carefully positioned herself on the plastic throne, blissfully unware that fate was about deal a terrible blow (if only she’d seen the GoT episode where Tywin Lannister died, she’d have realized that bad things can happen when you’re on on the crapper). Anyway, just as her first deposit hit the bowl something strong and determined began levering her off the seat. She was ill-prepared to resist, lost her balance, and toppled bum-first to the floor. Looking round desperately to identify what had dethroned her, she saw Beanie dipping her snout into the bowl and retrieving the freshly laid prize.

The good news is that on my return, Susan told me what had happened before Beanie had chance to give me a “welcome back” kiss. The bad news is that I was due to brush her and Biggles’ chewing gear later that same day.

Chomp! Part 3

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Moving on from Camas nan Geall, we drove to the base of Ben Hiant – Ardnamurchan’s highest point. On our last visit there we climbed up in the dark to catch sunrise from the top. This time we were heading up at the opposite end of the day, but one thing remained the same: it was very cold and windy at the summit.

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We didn’t hang around on the summit for long, preferring instead to walk back down to a lower point that was much warmer and gave us a very pleasant view of of the setting sun.

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Beautiful though the sunset was, it didn’t hold Beagle attention for long

Soon after that last shot we continued down the hill to the Beaglemobile, arriving just as the light was failing. My first task on getting the van open and the lights on was of course to prepare two bowls of Chappie for the pups. From this point until the bowls were put down on the floor, Biggles became Ardnamurchan’s honorary Town Crier, proudly announcing teatime to any sheep, deer and humans in a 5 mile radius. We humies had our tea also, but not having my own inbuilt megaphone I was unable to broadcast the event as effectively as my little big-gobbed boy.

By now the Corran ferry service had closed for the day, so we had a choice: spend the night on Ardnamuchan, or just accept the somewhat longer drive back to the campsite. The lure of the showers and our extraordinarily comfortable tent won out pretty easily. What’s more although the drive would be longer, we expected it to be much easier at night; there’d be less traffic, and headlights would provide ample warning of any oncoming vehicles. As it turned out we were mostly right, but a few pesky deer still managed to get the adrenaline flowing.

The next morning I took the pups for a final walk round Glencoe while Susan packed up the tent. Whenever I’m responsible for the first morning walk on a campsite I always try to get Beanie and Biggles through the exit gate before they relieve themselves, but I rarely succeed. Perhaps the urgency in my walk translates into urgency in their lower bodies. Regardless, plot number 13 got doused by Biggle pee, and not for the first time on our little holiday; I guess the number 13 really is unlucky.

After a stroll around the nearby Lochan Trails we returned to the campsite, where we encountered another Beagle. He or she burst into howls of outrage as we passed, but my two trotted on calmly without responding. It’s not often I get to play the owner of well behaved dogs, but when it happens I make the most of it. “I don’t know, some Beagles!” I said, shaking my head as we walked by.

The drive back home passed quickly and soon I was leading Beanie & Biggles through the front door. I unclipped their leads and as usual Beanie immediately embarked on a whirlwind tour of the house to make sure that everything was as she’d left it. While she buzzed around, Biggles drained the water bowl, found the comfiest seat in the lounge and plonked his big white bum on it. Once Beanie’s internal checks had been completed she requested access to the back garden. I let her out and stood watching at the door, expecting her to go on her customary mad sprint of freedom. Unusually, it didn’t happen;  she just calmly patrolled the garden borders then had a relaxing sniff round our tree.

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From my point of view our holiday with the campervan and tent had involved more doggy restrictions than previous breaks in the caravan; after all there’d been no off-lead time in the tent at all (unless you count that brief moment when Beanie unclipped her own lead). Perhaps being tethered but able to go in and out of the tent or van at will actually gave our pups a greater feeling of freedom than being off lead in the confines of the caravan?

 

Chomp! Part 1

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When at home our Beagles rarely have problems communicating their needs to us. A paw on the arm while either of us is sat on the sofa means “I want a blankie”. If the water bowl has been emptied by a thirsty Bigglet, Beanie requests a refill by repeatedly banging the bowl against the wall and making a sound that’s a cross between a groan and a muffled fart. And if someone needs to go to the outside loo (or just snoop around the kitchen) then a bit more paint gets noisily scraped off the kitchen door. Unfortunately when we’re away from home some of those signals just don’t work.

For example, let’s say you’re a silly Beagle boy tethered to a stake in the ground just in front of The Beagle HQ Tent on a Glencoe campsite during the recent heatwave. The irresistible urge to pee takes hold of you but there’s no kitchen door to damage. What are you gonna do? Well if you’re Biggles, you whine briefly, and when that doesn’t work you go up to one of the crucial guy ropes on the tent and sever it with a single chomp.

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Yeah Dad, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments but I had to improvise. All things considered, I’m OK with it.

By a minor miracle the tent didn’t collapse; by a more significant miracle the four nights we spent in the tent went brilliantly well. Having said that, I only properly experienced three of them because at 1am on the first night I headed off for a solo ascent of nearby peak Meall Dearg.

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As it turned out I could have spent an extra hour in bed; I made the summit with nearly 80 minutes still to go before the sun appeared. Still, my early arrival left me plenty of time to check out possible photography angles and to admire the summit cairn, which looks uncannily like one of Beanie’s poos. You see Beanie’s not content with outputting simple log shapes; she prefers to create little sculptures with her number twos, and Meall Dearg’s cairn is a classic Beanie design: a curling base with the raised central column offset at a fashionable angle.

In addition to having a poo-shaped cairn, Meall Dearg is connected to neighboring peak Sgorr nam Fiannaidh by the infamous Aonach Eagach ridge. This is apparently the narrowest ridge on the British mainland, and I was happy to be photographing it rather than walking it.

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The other views from Meall Dearg weren’t too shabby either..

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It was a shame not to experience Meall Dearg with Susan and the Beaglets, but this was really a scouting mission to see if it was properly Beagle-able. Now that I know it’s just a hard slog with no technical challenges or scrambling, I think it’s a fair bet there’ll be a real Beanie poo up alongside the cairn in the not too distant future.

Back at the campsite the sun was fully up, and the heat was building rapidly. We opened up the tent for maximum ventilation and kept Beanie and Biggles tethered to a stake just at the front opening. This worked surprisingly well; the Beaglet’s leads were long enough for them to sunbathe on the grass or seek shade in the body of the tent, but just short enough to stop them reaching our cooking gear and food stores at the back of the tent. Biggles quickly took a liking to the inflatable chair we’d brought (even though it was a bit wobbly) and when tiredness caught up with me and I crashed out on the bed, he was able to join me and use my legs as chin rests.

In due course we added a windbreak at the front of the tent to form a sort of semi-enclosed “garden” area.  There are plenty of reasons for having a windbreak on a campsite: to provide shelter from the wind and the sun, to increase privacy, and to stop curious Beagles from seeing things that might lead to noisy howls of outrage. I’ll let you guess which one of those was the most relevant to us.

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By the afternoon I’d caught up on sleep enough to be semi-functional; I grabbed the laptop to check if I had any emails that needed attention. Susan was outside the tent, preparing to light our little portable barbecue. I glanced over towards the Beaglets; Biggles was on his comfy chair, and judging by her lead, Beanie had retired to her travel crate for a private nap. It was warm and sunny, with just enough breeze blowing to keep the temperature comfortable. This was one of those serene, perfect moments that happen all too little in our busy lives.

My relaxed contemplative moment was interrupted by the laptop signalling that it had booted, and I began sorting through my email. Just then, Beanie trotted happily by me, her tail raised and wagging gently with the movement of her hips. My eyes switched back to the laptop, but in the back of my sleep-deprived brain a little alarm bell was starting to ring. Hadn’t Beanie just gone beyond the limits of her leash? Had it become detached from the stake? I looked back to the front of the tent, and was relieved to see her leash still safely anchored to the stake, with the other end leading into her open crate.

Hang on! That’s not right!

Yep the Beanster had decided to go on a little solo tour of Glencoe and being a very resourceful little girl, she’d unclipped her lead just as she had done on the top of The Merrick a few years ago. Fortunately this time her multi-hour “yahoo” didn’t happen; she was quickly apprehended by Susan and frogmarched backed to the garden area of our camp. This little almost-adventure served as a timely reminder of why I wrap duck tape round the release clip of her lead when we’re out on hill walks.

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Crap! Foiled again!

Biggles has never managed to unclip his lead, but judging by his quick work on the guy rope, I don’t think he’d need to; a quick chomp or two would work just as well :)