… and a very warm welcome to my dog blog. I’m so pleased that you’ve found me, Ben, a young Border Collie. I do hope you will enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of my great adventure. I would love it if you joined in the saga by dropping me a line in the comments box. As you will see I’m going to need all the support I can get.
This my v. v. v big tail!
I started my blog in 2015, as a young orphan puppy from West Cumbria in the United Kingdom. It will record my big walking adventure – climbing the 282 Scottish Mountains over 3,000 feet. Me, an agile young dog and my person – a creaky aging thing (called B) – aim to complete the task by the time I am 10 and she is 70. We are to spend many hours in some of the most wonderful and remote parts of the UK: walking, camping, eating, drinking, writing and growing ever closer and closer. My primary purpose is to attract people who would like to follow me and see if I achieve my goal. I aim to raise £32,000 for two v. v. v good causes. I have promised not to use any of the dosh for even a tiny morsel of a treat, how hard is that?
The money we raise will be spilt between a charity for search and rescue dogs, and Canine Partners, which trains assistance dogs to support disabled people. These dogs are sooooooo clever. This is Bumble and Sandra’s story. I am in love with Bumble.
There are film clips of the clever canines at work below. If after watching them you think what amazing creatures we dogs really are, and you wanted to support their work, you could always drop me a penny or two for my fundraising, just here :
Please join in the chat, by adding your thoughts below and become part of the adventure. It will give me encouragement and I’m going to need it, by the bucket full
By the bye, all my blog posts are here, on my home page, but I have other more specific pages too. You just need to click a mouse (ouch!), on the options below, or on the tabs below my lovely photo at the top, to access them:
Ben Speak – Understand the dogisms, and the odd philosophical musing in my blog.
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v adventurous challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
There has been a lot of interesting activity at home, over a number of days, getting our van ready for this years Munro adventures. The sleeping bag is ousted from hibernation, the rucksack is inhabited with all manner of gismos, and the hope of new life has been – desperately – applyed to old walking boots – a forlorn hope. My paws are – of course – ‘Flawless’😂.
I was getting all excited – as were the butterfilies in my tummy – but then, oh deary me, I’ve just learnt that I’m not going this time. Our B is heading to the far north and is going to be away lots and lots of days. Back at base, a house is not a home without a dog – far, far too quiet – and so I’m keeping David company with a tad of relaxing on the soft furnishings 😊 . It’s quite a scarifice actually and, honestly, I don’t feel good about it at all. Of course I’d much rather be up there in the sleet and snow, teetering on the edge of An Teallach 😉. Still, needs must, and I’ll just have to make the most of home comforts – hee, hee.
Still, I have been doing my bit – over all those long winter months of lockdown – helping B with the exercises, to keep us both agile.
I’m a little late with the results of my competition and I am so sorry, but it’s such difficult work. What a fabulous collection of names for the cocktail me and B devised, to celebrate David’s Covid-19 vaccination. Thank you so much for entering, it makes my tummy all warm. Between this blog, Facebook entries and e mails, what a lot of suggestions. However, at the end of the day the winner is… BIG FANFARE … but… before that…
Here are the entries:
Hot Ginger Whinger
Spice Up Your Life
Children of the 60s
A Shot in the Arm
A Stab in the Dark
And the winner is…
Then again… before annouching the winner – aren’t I a tease, hee, hee…
A big bark out to Lynda for all her suggestions. Lynda is my bestest, biggest competition entrant. My person says the coffee is on her, when Nicola says we can go for one, even though you didn’t win this time.
BUT… here we go… the winner is… ‘Salvation Toddy‘, a late entrty from Jean Elgar, who – capturing both the drink and the occassion – is rewarded with a supermarket voucher. In these days, when the presentation of a physical trophy is banned, this e voucher is for Jean to buy the ingrediants to make lots and lots of Salvation Toddies.
Judging is such hard work and I hate letting my fans down, must sleep it off.
In celebration of David’s Coronavirus vaccination today, me and B concocted a cocktail to mark the aupicious occasion – using our Christmas left overs – but we are short of a name. What shall we call it? Please post your suggestions below.
Rooted in the orient, and complemented by the sun-kissed hills of Tuscany, this deceptively simple little cocktail excites the senses while warming the spirit; the perfect antidote to a year with Coronavirus.
5 parts ginger wine
2 parts fresh lemon juice
Hot water to taste
A big prize awaits you on 1st March. In the meantime, a few zzzzs for Ben 🙂
There is, after all, a great dog in heaven, even though our faith has been sorely tested over the last four years of vacuous tenancy. But, HOORAY! two brave, intelligent and, I have to say, adorable canines, now rule all the matters of state – from thier gold lamé baskets – in the White House; Compassion is restored.
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v adventurous challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
Well, who ever would have thought it. Me ‘The Ben’, at the tender age of 6 years old, becoming the canine chronicler of our age, recording a world public health crisis in the annual review of my year. Back at the beginning of 2020, an age of innocence, words that now slip off the tongue so easily, like pandemic and epidemiology, were beyond the scope of my Border Collie imagining. What an education this year has been.
In January, the comforting normality of our annual cycle had announced itself. A lethargic Ben was sprawled in front of a lovely hot fire, recovering from the ravages of an exceedingly merry festive season. Daily walks were still on the cards but enthusiasm, for more than a modicum of chasing ball, was somewhat wanting. Across the airways something in the Far East – a new virus – was reported but didn’t resonate. Of much more concern were references to the way animals were bought and sold. I really thought it was time to form the Border Collie branch of the Animal Rights Movement: ‘Black and White R Us – Zero tolerance for live animal markets’. However, at the time, I was a prisoner to one of those deadly sins, the one called sloth, and my radical career was sedated by golden flames of warmth.
As January flooded into February carefully timed outings avoided the worst of the wind and rain, and my people muttered something about a nasty flu coming our way, as the big cheeses on infectious diseases began to take up more of our radio listening. But still, as in every year past, the white flowers of snowdrops – those fair maids of February – bowed their heads in deference towards the earth.
In March, I was rudely awoken when we resumed our Lake District visits, and long hours of fell walking replaced long hours of dozing. Apparently, me and B were on a programme of Munro preparation. Spring was here and the revolving wheels of my year were so reassuring familiar, even if a little exhausting. However, each morning we were greeted by scientists who hijacked the radio waves, projecting forebodings of gloom onto our day. Meantime, our political masters, or in my case mistress, instructed us to go in for a new fad called social distancing, which – mere dog that I am – sounded like a contradiction in terms.
D’s day finally came on 20th March. Though he left the caravan in rude health at 5.00pm, as was customary, he returned less that 2 hours later as a shadow of his former self. An ashen pallor had replaced the rosy complexion that usually returned from these outings, and the jocular spirit was replaced by a numbed presence devoid of speech… he was in shock. My David’s raison d’etre had been whipped away from under his pint – THE PUBS WERE CLOSED DOWN, by order of the Prime Minister.
From here, it was but a matter of two days before being banged up for the first time ever in our lives. We were instructed to go nowhere and the law kept us tied to home; the fabric of my life was torn to shreds. It seems that this supposedly little bug, working it’s way across the globe, was, in fact, a malicious Coronavirus, specified as COVID-19; it wanted to invade our lungs and stop us breathing. Now there were going to be no more Lake District walks and, not even a short trek in Maibie Forest to meet my best pal Oscar. In this period of readjustment I had to go in for one of those steep curves, making my brain hurt with all the new words to learn. For a start, we had to stay at home to stop the nasty virus thing spreading, before exponential growth took over and caused a crisis in the NHS. It was all quantified in something called the R number, which told us – if we had any inkling of what was going on – how quickly the spiky monster was working it’s way through the population. During this time of national crisis all non-essential business had to shut down and the bloke with the exquisitely tailored outfit, who holds the purse strings (no, this most definitely wasn’t the Prime Minister) said, “You can all stay at home and I’ll pay you”. Actually, it wasn’t his money but it could easily have been because he is v. v. v rich, and also a bit suave for my liking, but that’s another story. Normally, people who stay at home and draw on the governments dosh are called scroungers, who should get on their bike and look for work. Now though, people who sat at home and watched telly all day, while the government paid them, were national heroes, saving the NHS; it was all getting a tad confusing. Anyway, all this gave rise to another term I had never heard of before, furlough, which sounded a bit like those things tractors drill. After the seeds have been popped in they need sustained TLC to grow and prosper; I wonder…
Hardest of everything I learnt in these early days of the Coronavirus epidemic were the acronyms: PPE and ICU. Till now, my blogs have always been a light-hearted take on my life, looking for the humorous and commenting on the small absurdities of our everyday lives. However, the bombardment of news about the COVID imposter got underneath my skin. Because of this Coronavirus lots of people got sick, many of them needing to go to hospital and into special care. Even in these most extreme circumstances we still needed to stop the virus spreading and the arrangements for this were breathtaking. No one could visit you in hospital, to hold your paw and tell you how much they loved you. If you died, and eye-watering numbers of people have, there could be no celebration of your life to which the mourners could come. And, even though you represented every point of the compass to someone, they couldn’t even get a hug of comfort. Coronavirus was eating away at the core of our people’s humanity.
Us three counted our blessings, we were so very, very, very lucky. Not getting my usual walks, or meeting up with Oscar, was such small fry it didn’t signify at all. Our own lives slid effortlessly into a tranquil pace, walking on our lanes at home, while small miracles of nature nourished our souls (yes, Ben has one too!!). Cows, in the field seen from our kitchen window, satisfied an itch by rubbing against a fallen tree, such clever bovine creatures, or spoke sweet nothings to a special pal. Meantime, goldfinches hopped from hedge to fence, before jumping down to feed on our lawn, and virtually every evening for the three months, in that stupendous spring and early summer of 2020, light bleed into a crimson sky as the sun set.
Hurrah, at last, the end of our first lock-in. It seemed that all was under control and we could go about our normal business or, for me, normal pleasures, with only just a few limitations – yipee! Alas, I still had lots more to learn and we still had to cross a threshold into something called ‘The New Normal’. Round about this time shopping trips became quite scary expeditions where my people turned into bank robbers. In fact, everyone turned into bank robbers. Scariest of all was the sign on the bank where they secure all our money; these weren’t normal times at all – new, or otherwise; the world had gone all topsy turvy, asking bank robbers to take off their masks for identify puposes. At this point, I began to get rather worried that, with all these bank robbers knocking about, there might not be any of the readies left to buy my dinner. But then I rationalised that, if the national debt could run to trillions, someone, somewhere, would surely be able to russell up a bite of dinner for Ben. After all, us canines, and quite a few other furries, had been the main source of comfort for millions of households across the land. We had been their numero unos, so to speak. In my case this wasn’t too tricky as I was the only numero.
Our new normal did at least open the door to what me and B had been missing so much, our beloved Munro bagging. So, we set out at the end of July for a weekend in the Southern Highlands. As drove off, the wings – belonging to the butterflies in my tummy (apprised of the banking situation mentioned above) – tickled my nervous bits with concerns about where my dinner was going to come from. They really needn’t have worried because there it was, in my bowl, bang on time, every night. In fact, apart from one transient incident with a temperamental battery – which I won’t go into here – we achieved all our aspirations for that weekend, notching up a further four Munros, the last of which – Cruach Ardrain – embroidered the magical number of 100 onto our bag.
Alas, looking out from the summit cairn nothing was visible. Cloud, our frequent companion, was hobnobbing with the peaks and obscuring the view. Nevertheless, me and B liked to summon up the landscape in our imagination. Ben Lomond presided over the south, of course, her head inclined towards the loch, just as Ben More and Stob Beinn struck their doubled-sided shoulders into the sky line of the north-east. Meantime, directly north the hills of Orchy, & possibly even Glen Coe, would be issuing their own seductive invitations. Closer to our hearts were yesterday’s conquests and mighty Ben Oss – in the north-west – would be opening his arms to the heavens, through which Beinn Dubhchraig might just be visible. It was all a tad overwhelming to be up here now, in this moment of history that amplified the fragility of life – gratitude and humility coexisted; tears were shed.
During this weekend I had climbed high, waded tummy deep in bog, walked above the clouds, paid homage to the Robin Hood of the highlands, and run myself into the ground; dear dog in heaven was I done in. It’s just possible I might have raised my head to say hello to David, once I got home, and for a bite of dinner, but otherwise I slept the sleep of the just for days. Pottering around the lanes at home during lockdown, and relaxing in the garden with bottles of dog beer, didn’t – I found out – tune me up for the task of Munro bagging.
Then, as July reclined and August lifted its face towards a new tomorrow, I could sense the vibrations of something major afoot; it might even include me – oh my golly gosh, how exciting was that. Colour, joy, and I might even suggest pageant, marinated the day, as the sun tracked its golden course around the circumference of our garden. Hooray, there was liquid refreshment and tasty bites (in that order), to trace every part of the rotation. B had been working at home for a few months, always tapping away, ignoring me. Now though, she had gone in for something called retirement and, what’s more, she was never, EVER, going out in the morning to leave us alone again; my world of walks and playing ball would always be hers – FINALLY, she had seen the light.
Alas, it was only a short while later that I had to comprehend the word dilemma, and come to grips with it. Coronavirus wasn’t only the beast that was going to upset the equilibrium of my easy life. Now that I was the only numero at home (after our old girl had finally gone to sleep a couple of years ago), I needed to choose between two – equally important – roles. Either I could be B’s buddy, during Munro bagging expeditions, or I could be the the comfort at home, ensuring the home fires – burning bright – weren’t devoid of canine company; in the end, I stayed with David. Munro bagging was fine for two, three, or even four days but B, getting further north, was going in for longer shifts. In all loyalty I couldn’t desert the family homestead for so long. By the end of September B had been away on three more adventures while, every night, me and David had sent her our very best vibes – telepathically – from the comfort of our king-sized bed , warmed by a late burst of central heating; I might just have made the right decision.
As the nights got shorter another Munro season drew to a close. Despite the spiteful Coronavirus, and it’s encroachment into our civil liberties, me and B had put the 100th Munro in the bag and she had etched up a further 38, on those solo trips. But, for now at least, we were all at home together and, blow me down with a golden ring, there was another celebration on the cards.
It turns that a v. v. v long time ago, long before my biological mummy and daddy got it together, my people had tied a knot. I’m not quite sure what nautical purpose it served but, in so doing, they had to vowed to stay together forever and ever, and not to run off if one of them got ill, or had no money in the bank. Since entwining their bit of string they had opened their home to a menagerie of predecessors, who had warmed up my place on the sofa. Sam was the first Border Collie, and Sheba – his feline friend – gave way to Willow. She liked to cradle the neck, from the front or the back, looking for cuddles. Next came Toby who, like me, was a bit of a handful. There were a couple of wild creatures too, Cocky, the Cockrell (I know, I know, it’s not a very original name), and Fuchsia, the farm yard cat, so-called because they put out food for her under a Fuchsia bush (I suppose that’s a little better). Then, so sadly, there was Angel, a tiny kitten who appeared in a very bad way and, even though my people rushed her to Andy – the best vet in the world – he wasn’t able to save her, but… he could take away her pain, kindly. Last, most importantly of all, there was the old girl – Maisie – who was in situ when I arrived. She just couldn’t put a foot wrong and the number of times I was exiled to the porch is legendary, just because I wouldn’t give her a look in when B got home from work. So, there we have it, 40 years of marital bliss, obviously complete now that I’m on the sofa.
By October, that brief summer interlude – of glorious celebrations and Munro achievements – seemed like a lost Elysium, and Autumn, usually lit by bronze, began to take on darker shades. Just a couple of months earlier we had all been given a bit of dosh, encouraging us to eat out so we could help out and get the economy going again; I just can’t tell you how miffed I am that I never benefited from that particular little scheme. Shortly after though, because such mixing and mingling had got the nasty COVID fellow up and running again, we all had to batten down the hatches once more and get back onto Zoom.
Throughout the pandemic so many generous, inventive bipeds, had made their intriguing endeavours available on line, helping us to keep mind, body and spirit together. After a night time of slumber we could have greeted the new day with a spot of yoga in bed, before indulging in a delicious slow breakfast of coddled eggs, enlivened by a flambé of roasted goats cheese on fingers of burnt toast. Then, after putting the garden to rights while learning Portuguese, we might come in for a bite of braised squid resting on a bed of lightly seasoned Marigold leaves – before getting stuck into a streamed production of the ‘Ring Cycle’ for the next 17 hours, while quaffing shed loads of home made nettle beer. Finally, just in case these contributions weren’t sustaining enough, there just had to be a website somewhere that could teach a Border Collie how to play the penny whistle, something I’ve always aspired to. Sadly, my people aren’t really technical so I missed out on it all. However, of all the free on line offerings Zoom outclassed them all, because it brought people who loved each other together, seeing their faces: laughing; smiling; crying. I could see the attraction but, frankly, it wasn’t for me. My famous friend Honey had it just right, the flaw at the heart of the Zoom phenomenon. “I can’t get a biscuit on a Zoom call” she said, “I can’t do my wee sad face that gets me lots of treats on a Zoom a call.”
What Zoom really sounded like was something we all wanted to do – double quick – get past this horrible year. But, progressing towards winter was an art form – holding it together, shutting down here, there and everywhere – to salvage some semblance of a Happy Christmas from the jaws of the virus. A whole confutation of restrictions tried to contain the beast, as noises demanding to know what we might do – or might not do – over the festive season, got louder. Implicit in all the restrictions was the understanding that, if you do this now and suppress the virus, WE might let you have one or two people around, for a diminutive turkey and a small glass of Smoking Bishop. And, it has to be said that all our hard efforts, avoiding everyone in sight, seemed to reap some reward when, after a meeting of chief Cobras, on 23rd November, we were promised five days of celebration. Oh deary me, what fools we mortals be, when ever we believe a politician – spectacularly, when there is a world pandemic doing the rounds. But… oh, how we wanted to believe it, how we needed too.
Hence, almost predictably, having all the presents wrapped and the larders loaded, our dreams were wrenched from under the Christmas tree and the most dramatic U turn of our age ensued. It turns out that the COVID monster had another string to it’s bow, and Ben had more lingo to get his head around. The ‘new variant‘ I’m told, is a mutant variation on the original ghastly fiend. It seems that this one-time nasty bug had another surprise up it’s sleeve and we were back in the land of R numbers. Apparently, our new visitor could nuzzle in even more cosily, replicating its ill effects at an alarming rate and, before you could say Happy Christmas, thousands and thousands of people might be in hospital and the NHS was overwhelmed. Thus, there was nothing else for it and, on 19th December, Christmas was cancelled. The bitter pill was sweeten by saying you might have just one buddy around to help you soak up the misery, on Christmas day only. Even then, my mistress in Scotland, kept suggesting it would be much better if me and my buddy went for a long walk, instead of snuggling up by the fire after a lovely BIG dinner and lots of dog beer. I’m all in favour of a long walk myself, but I was more than a little concerned about the effect of the sub-zero temperatures, that dominate Scotland’s weather at this time of year, on all those granny’s we were going to be knocking about with.
Anyway, the long and the short of it was that, me and my people cancelled our rented cottage for Christmas, near to where we meet our special Christmas friends. We couldn’t even cross the border to England, though our caravan site was opened throughout the year, for the first time ever. Having planning an extravaganza, at said caravan – as plan B – our decorations were (are still!) in situ. Finally, after the infamous day itself was over, my B couldn’t go and see her other people in Devon – something of a tradition that she loved. From my point of view though… IT WAS TOTALLY BRILLIANT, my best Christmas ever. The butterflies in my tummy didn’t even need to get started, as no packing up commenced. Nor did I have to stay out in the cold car, during pub drinking hours, and B was home… THE WHOLE TIME. We slept in till late, had a lovely walk and game of ball in the snow, before comming home to sit by a warm fire, tucking into Christmas treats. Finally, after a lovely dinner, we all settled down for a Midsomer Murders video fest, as a suitable ending to such perfect days. What dog on earth could ask for more than that?
As the end of 2020 collided with 2021 we were still in the vice like grip of the new variant, but had reason for the biggest of all celebrations. The scientists, saluted at the beginning of my blog, had come to everyone’s rescue by pulling out all the stops out and producing a vaccine. Vaccines, it seems, are like buses. You wait an awfully long time for one to arrive and then two come along at once. We had one produced by Pfitzer in Germany, and another by Astra Zenica, from research in Morse’s own territory, Oxford. Normally, vaccines take a v. v. v. v. v. v… exceptionally long time to develop, measured in years, but it seems that – where there’s a will, and an awful lot of money, there’s a way. Thus, in the wink of a clinical trial, the solution to a world crisis was in sight.
I’m led to believe that, if everything goes to plan, .both my people could ‘be done’ by the end of February and… I’m just beginning to wonder if my annual booster, due in March, might include something a little extra.
Think I’ll sleep on it
Love Ben xx
PS As I write the snowdrops in our garden, known as the flower of hope, are poking their heads through the soil.
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
Following this mornings saga of the dead engine – reported in my last blog – we set out to resume our quest for two more Munros, by finding the road that had been nowhere to be seen. Strange as it may seem, I find that the only way to get to where you are going is to follow the signs, but it had taken B a number of erroneous attempts to find out this important fact, having studiously looked in the wrong place, on our way to find Loch Voil. We had, in fact, registered the sign post pointing left but, as we were expecting to turn right, B hadn’t bothered to read the name Balquhidder clearly written for all to see. Once the mistake was finally corrected – some hour and a half later – we turned left, as suggested, did a big wheelie thing – steeply downhill and to the right – passing beneath the road we had been on and thus ending up on the minor road going west, towards the evasive village and glen of Balquhidder. By this time I was all done in, just like the butterflies in my tummy, and so joined them in a bit of shut eye.
The frustrating morning of route finding, together with the van problems, had caused considerable delay and our drive alongside beautiful Loch Voil was no different. Even here – somewhat off the beaten track and leading to a dead end – there was scattered development, built over a number of centuries, that snaked along the thin artery. What’s more, the entire population seemed intent on vacating the valley as quickly as possible, driving in the opposite direction to us. Eventually, after a close acquaintance with every passing place, we covered the 8 miles or so to the end of the road. Then, just three hours later than anticipated, we set about the business – with B in those ridiculous boots she puts on and me subjected to lead and clasp – of adding a couple more Munros to our bag, including the significant number of 100.
Our route from the car park caused us to do a bit of a wiggle around Inverlochlarig, including the farm house that is reputedly built on the site of the last home of the infamous Rob Roy.
Thankfully, following the instructions for this walking route was easier than the road map, and we had no bother finding our way off the track and towards the ridge of Beinn Tulaichean, but then even B would have difficulty missing the cairn that showed our way so clearly.
The grind involved in reaching the ridge wasn’t our favourite sort of walking at all. Up and up and up we went, on a vast tract of pathless, peaty mountainside that was inclined to cling to each paw, even as I tried to bound forward; B was worse. Those big boots – that I always warn her about – became cloying shells of ancient bog that weighed a ton. That familiar huffing and puffing became the marker of our long (slow) progress. Getting… “a real sense of Rob Roy country” – when looking back down the glen – was, of course, trying to give legitimacy to my buddy’s need to collapse on the nearest stone; no one fools Ben.
It seems that this Mr McGregor was a bit of a lad in his day. Originally a law- abiding cattle drover, earning big bucks and deep into the property market, he turned clan-land felon after loosing his fortune due to some dodgy contacts. Old Rob, as I like to call him, targeted his revenge on wealthy landowners by operating a protection racket, guaranteeing that the cattle – on his patch – would not be rustled, but only after a lucrative exchange of the readies. From the images I’ve seen, of the man himself, I’d like to hazard a guess that our ginger-haired outlaw was actually the original model for the ‘Jimmy Wig’ – that outlandish piece of Scottish headgear which has many an outing around the drinking establishments of the central belt, communicating – as it does – the sort of robust roguishness associated with the whole history of the highland clans.
In this Scottish era, post lockdown, when international travel is discouraged, the most popular glens have seen a vast influx of visitors. The whole population of Scotland seems to have alighted on the same idea of what freedom means and has, en mass, sought to reclaim the wild highlander within them. Apparently, this includes – in the summer of 2020 – the converted transit van as source of travel, shelter and accommodation, judging by the number of them about. Luckily – just away from the classic views of Buachaille Etive Mor or ‘The Ben’, my namesake – quieter experiences could still be found and, surprisingly enough, contenders for an extensive crawl up the sides of were Beinn Tulaichean were at a minimum, even at the end of July.
Though the going was tough, and the weather belonged to that familiar Dreich fellow, who we so often meet, there was still a joy in our struggle to attain the ridge. No great wind inhibited our success, no sidelong sheets of rain make us miserable. What we had instead was invaluable: health, a certain degree of fitness and the enormous privilege – hard won – of access to walk across this land, a common treasury for all. As if that wasn’t enough to be going on with we also had each other – our silent love a precious jewel; I pulled just a little harder on my lead to help B up the hill.
Attaining the ridge is always a significant mile stone on the way to the summits. One takes a deep sigh, pauses and looks ahead. Then… ‘Oh My Giddy Aunt’… have we still got to do all that. Time for a bite to eat, something that always restores my spirits. As for the creature beside me… well, it was going to take a lot more than a few nuts to get her going again.
But, we carried on as we always do. The cloud that had hung about all morning still deposited it’s mantel around the summits. Ben More, the loftiest of our Munro neighbours, had not been seen all day and right across the mountainous panorama peaks were hidden behind the stubborn cloak – a moist, thinning shawl that hugged us with the warm embrace of familiarity.
Much exertion, more huffing and puffing, a fair degree of determination, and some vocabulary coloured in blue, were the features that pre-empted the arrival of the number 99 onto our Munro bag; numerals that smiled back at us in glorious curlicues of happiness.
From the perch on Beinn Tulaichean our next goal, and 100th Munro – seen over the ascending undulations of the ridge – seemed unobtainable. But – as surely as night follows day, and as eggs are eggs (don’t ask me what any of this means) – we were going for it. Thus, after more exertions and exhalations, we were onto the shoulders of Cruach Ardrain, heading for her crown.
During the 2020 confinement, exercise at Shieldhill had been an indulgent stroll along the lanes – slowly going nowhere fast, before getting home for some comforting treats. As a result, I had succumbed to a new medical syndrome called, ‘The Pooch’s COVID Pouch’. Yesterday and today had broken the spell, reminding us that putting numbers on our Munro bag involved immense physical effort, facing a demanding mountainous landscape, which wasn’t to be underestimated. Our motivation was the immense satisfaction that came from overcoming these efforts, and the views – which pumped adrenalin directly to our souls – were our reward. Suddenly – in this year that had amplified the fragility of life – being up here, on top of our 100th Munro, was a tad overwhelming. B’s tears stroked her cheek and, in falling, were witness by the sentient world as they mingled with the summit cairn, becoming part of the human story. They certainly added a new element to our Munro bagging ritual, and I’m not sure yet if this is going to be a permanent feature; I do hope not, it can be a tad embarrassing in a crowd.
Number 100 🙂
The sun finally took his hat off as we descended and the reflection of it’s rays illuminated the scene, bringing a sharper – more beautiful – definition to the colours of the landscape, enlivening our senses. Further down, the penetrating warmth and extended activity began to activate something called wilting, not such an attractive side effect of the sun in its splendour. B doused our buffs in lovely cool water from the stream and watched the droplets sparkle on my fur; I had become a spectacle!
We wiggled once more around the farm at Inverlochlarig and then, walking back towards the car park, considered our plight if the car battery refused to sparkle. But, we need not have worried, spark it did, in the turning of a key. Then it purred all the way even as we pulled in, to let the returning population of the glen come home. We stopped at church in Balquhidder and paid homage at the graveside of our highland rogue, who is often described as the Robin Hood of the highlands. One such incident, that gave rise to this comparison, involved a Campbell knight who was commissioned to enforce the law on a neighbouring farm, but old Rob intercepted him, ducking him in Fillan’s pool near Tyndrum, saying the virtuous properties of the waters there may improve his sense of honour, so he might never again deprive poor men of their lands.
St Fillan of course… but, perhaps we’ve had enough history for one blog, and his story belongs to another Munro anyway. Though we were going back to Dalrigh, close to the remains of St Fillan’s Priory, it was just for an overnight stay. I just couldn’t wait to get home the next day to tell David all about my adventures but, before then, I needed dinner and lots of zzzzzzzzs
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking here. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
Me and B were tucked up nice and early last night and slept the sleep of the just.
Happy Bedtime Reading, Love Ben xx
What, with a sleepless night on Friday, followed by the gigantic hike across two v. v. v big mountains, we were just about dead on our paws by the time we got back to my van yesterday. So, when the 26th July popped by to introduce itself, through a chink in our blackout arrangement, you couldn’t have found two less inclined Munroists. I was quite disposed to follow the mood of the day and, being a dog, not burdened with this thing called guilt, which you humans seemed to have saddled yourselves with. B, on the other hand, was struggling to overcome her default setting by making strident efforts to embrace the day, instead of snuggling up with someone called lethargy.
She seems to have succeeded, because it wasn’t even 6.30am before we were on the road, heading for Lochearnhead and then, just south of Loch Earn, turning off towards Loch Voil… or so I thought. However, the road off proved exceedingly elusive and, while trying to discover the minor road, we became very well acquainted with a three mile stretch of the A84, driving backwards and forwards several times.
Eventually, after turning off the trunk road into a cul de sac, and giving our map the once over, we were about to resume active service. Sadly, resuming and active were too things our van just couldn’t do. Oh deary me, we had been here before hadn’t we, in our much loved – but not long lamented – old VW Caddy; there was no life in this battery either. At that moment, the road that had disappeared off the face of the earth was the least of our problems, where we might fetch up tonight before I got my dinner was uppermost in my mind.
B looked at me, raised her eyes and, after a bit of scrabbling about, unearthed a couple of spanners that I didn’t even know existed. To be honest, I don’t think B knew about them either. Anyway, with a degree of confidence that impressed even me, she found the latch for the bonnet and… with that great achievement under her belt, stared into the mysterious abyss of my van’s engine. This was followed by something called tinkering after which, challenging my cynicism, she turned the ignition key. Well…, blow me down with a combustion spark, we were up and running.
Good news doesn’t always spell calm to a clever, but nervous, collie like Ben – tinkering success is not far off pure luck, in my book. Now, the mysterious disappearance of the minor road was coupled with uncertainty about my van. Would it ever start again, once turned off? These troubles were only compounded by the precariousness of phone signals in these parts, which is constant source of anxiety for Ben. The butterflies in my tummy were going in for a spot of unsynchronised sky diving and, all-in-all, it was mayhem down in my viscus. I just can’t tell you how v. v. v relieved I was when I heard David’s voice from the other end of that ear phone thing. Reason and reliability were two words that came immediately to my mind. Phrases like, “I can come up”, “collect you if I need to” along side, “just walk along the till you get a signal”, were all music to my ears. With such a certain backup it seemed we were still going to find this mysterious road, park in the middle of nowhere and climb our 99th & 100th Munro. The extravaganza in my tummy was quelled, the butterflies exhausted.
Whatever the fate of the myserterious road I needed sleep.
(A big hello to anyone new to my blog. I’m Ben a young Border Collie on a v.v.v important challenge. You can read all about it by clicking this link. My blogs tell the whole story, paw by paw. I do so hope you will like them and want to follow my adventures).
Firstly, let me apologise profusely for my person’s time management, neglecting my blog for sooo… long. Over three months ago I wrote up my Munro walks. I ask you, three months… and she’s only just got around to doing the technical bit that I haven’t quite mastered yet. “Better late than never” she said, and I only have to hope that you agree.
Back in July I thought being locked up was forever and I was very down in the tail. In fact, as long ago as May I waved a paw at the Munros and shed a tear, while barking, “hope to see you all again next year, dear friends”. Me and B looked up photos of past achievements and went online to see other peoples’ beloved memories, which flooded the internet during the pandemic lockdown. My conclusion form this cinematic exhibition was that… B really needed some help in the photographic department.
But… leap forward from such thoughts to the end of July and there I was, back in my Kangoo heading north, holding my head up very high indeed. We really were off and I was going to help B put the number 100 on our Munro bag, or so we hoped. Life is never straight forward when we go away together, as those who follow my exploits know only too well. We’ve had the tales of blown out tyres, defunct batteries, hours of – easily avoided – traffic delays and, of course, the tragedy of the locked in key – safe inside with our phone and money – while we were most defiantly on the outside, rather lacking in personal possessions, except for my lead.
I digress to the past, but such history accounts for the state of the butterflies in my tummy as we drove north; they were certainly not in any kind of lockdown. It wasn’t until we drove alongside the beautiful Loch Lomond that they finally settled, and there was no one as surprised as me when we turned into the car park at Dalrigh, and my dinner was served BANG ON TIME.
Unfortunately, neither me or B sleep well on the first night away from our wonderfully comfortable Eve mattress. Thus the long hours passed with much tossing and turning, each of us waking up the other, all through the night. Finally at 5.30am, we decided that getting up was the better part of exhaustion, safe in the knowledge that climbing a couple of Munros was bound to solve the problem of sleep that night.
I would love to say that B and I set off for our 97th and 98th Munro with a spring in our step and a song on our lips but… I’d be fibbing. Very nearly a year had elapsed since I had set paw on a Munro and I’m afraid ‘Tide of Trepidation’ was the tune that resounded in my head space. What with being so unfit, thanks to that imposter Mr COVID, having snatched sleep in 10 minute intervals last night – amounting to less than two hours, and the description of a route that sank the spirits becuase the walk promised to sink Ben’s body. All-in-all, this was going to feel like a v. v. v long day. Bog for the dog seemed to be the order of the walking, lasting almost to the ridge and, what’s more, we had to return though it all again on our way back. B looked at my white bits with fondness, similar to the way you look back on the past with great nostalgia. Nevertheless, a Munro is a Munro and every climb is an achievement rewarded by an ascending numeral on our mountain climbing bag. So with eager paws, if not buoyant ones, we set off; Ben and B were back in the Munro bagging business.
Ticking off all the landmarks we progressed along our route: crossing the white bridge, striding out beside the railway heading for Oban, going over the track and then turning right into the swamp we had been warned about “the ground is waterlogged in places”. EXCEPT, oh happy days, the invisible path building sprites had been out under the radar of the Walk Highland authors – much like the mice who saved The Tailor of Gloucester’s bacon – and constructed a bog proof path across the mire… just for Ben. Thus, when we crossed the bridge over the beautiful Alt Gleann Auchreoch my paws were lovely and dry.
From the white bridge looking back to Ben More and Stob Binnein
The Oban Line
Bridge over Alt Gleann Auchreoch
All the glory of summer was ours, in the Coille Corie-Chuilc, one of the remnants of the great Caledonian Forest that covered Scotland after the end of the Ice Age. The Scots Pine trees here are direct descendants of the those that had arrived in 7000 BC, a fact that was prone to make a young Border Collie’s brain hurt a bit, as he cocked a leg. They reached high into the sky filtering the sun so that our immediate surroundings sparkled in what seemed to be a million shades of green, while the vivid golden spires of bog asphodel were showcased in vivid yellow against their emerald neighbours. The sun may have illuminated our way but unfortunately it hadn’t penetrated the mulch – the path builders not having crossed the bridge themselves – and, as a direct result, I was often tummy deep in muck. The ‘Flawless Paws’ of our venture couldn’t possibly reference the current state of my pedi-care.
Thankfully, our ascent was punctuated by the diverting song of the river, as it frolicked in a changing topography. Sometimes small waterfalls cascaded into dark rock pools while elsewhere, less dramatically, the water tumbled down and, massaging great slabs of rock, created a river bed of polished stone. Seemingly, exploration around these steep-sided banks was dangerous for Ben, the alarm in B’s voice causing me to abandon the escape, though it’s quite possible my safety wasn’t the primary reason for such shrill tones. In pursuit of adventure my long lead had trailed behind me collecting, along its journey, an awesome decoration of bog detritus. Who in their right mind would want to pick that up? This aversion to the contents of the mire made for a rather prolonged, meandering progress, as we adopted a very circular approach to the way ahead, in a doomed mission to keep B’s feet dry.
Eventually, we reached the ridge and were on dryer land so, in turning south east towards Beinn Dubhchraig –the first summit of 2020 – a song of mountain joy did eventually escape from our lips. Alas, my partner didn’t quite manage the ‘spring in your step’ bit. Huffing and puffing – the musicology of my Munro memory – was once again the score that notated our slow advance. But, like every other year, the caress of the summit cairn was like touching gold and prompted an immediate, to me miraculous, return of B’s energy. After a good look around and with the photoshot complete – including, of course, the summit hug – we returnd to the bealach.
Loch Lomond with it’s own Ben
Summit of Beinn Dubhchraig
Though the morning had started clear, pockets of inverted cloud had gathered and, in rising, they cloaked our return to the bealach where, after being reunited with the myriad of small rock pools, we made out way west to claim Ben Oss. Though the initial climb was steep it became less noisy as we made our way across the final, more gentle incline, to put no. 98 in the bag.
Up here we stood erect amid a panorama of mountain peaks while the glens still captured a confluence, where the sun-kissed air was rejected by a cool valley and, as a consequence of this encounter, clouds formed as a sea of pure white whose waves rose, wafted and dispersed. In this rapidly changing vista trying to spot Ben Lui, the captivating view we had been promised, had become a game of hide and seek.
Summit of Ben Oss – without Ben Lui
Summit of Ben Oss, with Ben Lui
Taking leave of the views that had nourished us we retraced our steps to the rockpools that had announced our arrival on the ridge. The exquiste mood that accompanies mountain ridge walking had quite overtaken me and it wasn’t until we were about to leave that I remembered the quagmire we still had before us. Despite the treacly peat, and B taking me on very long diversions from the path again, we still were in seventh heaven. A little thing like a world pandemic wasn’t going to stop us and, having completed our first Munro expedition, we looked firmly toward tomorrow and the v. v. v big landmark – singing out in large numbers on the second summit – Munro 100.
Even us dogs have been in changed times because of this COVID interloper. While we have done a sterling job, keeping our people happy, I’m now allowed to spread my paws a bit more, so I need to put all those coronavirus related words – that have invaded my head space – behind me. Then I can enjoy my walking and, of course, write all about it for my blog. I think the best way to do this is to wipe out the whole experience in one big cathartic A – Z.
However, I’m stuck on J. So, help me out please, on my alphabetic tour around a canine experience of Coronavirus – one of Ben’s special prizes could be yours 🙂
A = Anti Bacterial paw gel
Doesn’t half sting when it penetrates the cracks in my pads.
B = Boris
A nasty little whipper snapper I sometimes bump into. He’s nothing like the great British Bulldog he seeks to imitate.
C = Clap for carers
Double the money with my four paws, though what they really need is lots more of that money so they can have lots of nice treats too.
D = Disinfectant
Really, what bleach? won’t I have to keep touching up my roots?
E= Eye sight
Colour blind myself, but still seeing red about that Orwellian squealer at No. 10.
F = Furlough
Does it extend to working dogs?
G = going, going…
H = Hancock
I heard mention of a protective ring. Are we talking Frisbees?
I = Incompetence
Barks for itself.
J = Can you help me out please?
K = Key Worker
Thank you, with all my heart, to everyone who has kept Pets at Home open.
L = Lockdown
I’ve put on a heck of a lot of weight so, who is it I contact for one of those free quad bikes? Do I still qualify if I take part in the “Eat out, to help out” scheme? I’m v. v. v interested in helping out here.
OMG – I dare you!
N = Nicola
I’ve grown to admire her greatly. She’s the dog’s b…, but apparently I’m not allowed to say that.
O = Online
The only way to keep in touch with your pals.
P = PPE
I’m clued up on the pees, but never done e’s before.
Q = Quarantine
Now I know why the caged dog howls.
R = R number
Speaking for myself, I wasn’t allowed to reproduce.
S = Shielding
I’ve got Pedigree Chum home delivery on speed dial, just in case.
T = Test and Trace (by smell of course)
Get those working dogs out of furlough – we’re across it.
U = UN-precedented
If I hear that word once more… dogs obviously have longer memories than our people (1258…, & then again, 1918 – to mention just two episodes).
V = Vaccine
I don’t do needles – full stop.
W = wide berth
2 metres, I’m thinking lamp posts.
X = Xponentially
It’s just possible I’m dyslexic.
Y = Yellow Peril
Could this describe a cheeky little Shih Tzu I’ve just got to know.
Z = Zoom
A new punchy cocktail, made just to celebrate my person’s retirement this Friday.
Oh my goodness me, that was hard work – need to essay the soft furnishings.
I just knew there was something a foot last night. Racking my big collie brains brought distant memories of summer evenings, with lots activity around my van, were always followed by a big adventure for me and B the next day.
Looks like we’re off at last and, learning to live with this COVID person, we’ve got to take lots of paw gel too; the van is full of it. So, that dream I mentioned in my last post wasn’t a dream after all. It’s very exciting and equally scary.
Wish me luck. I might have a little doze on the way up.