… 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 :
(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.
Just before bedtime
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.
(For anyone new to my blog a very big welcome; I’m Ben, a young Border Collie. You can find out all about my big adventure here Ben’s Blog but, this particular post is my third record of such v. v. v extraordinary times)
Well Ben isn’t usually lost for words, but this one has me beaten – almost. How can I capture, how is it possible to articulate, the joy, the absolute – unreserved – bliss, of resuming my walks in Maibie Forest, post lockdown.
Never, ever again, can Ben take the freedom of his daily forest walk for granted. As soon as we hit the rumble strips, before turning into the forest, composure went right out of the window. My usual excitement, represented by a little song and dance routine on the back seat, was an unrecognisable relation of today’s elation, when the wolf within escaped in great howls of ecstasy; Ben was back.
All morning the sun embraced the trees with a hue that lit up every track, and a glow that warmed not only my back but, the very cockles of my heart. I glided into our old routines with a fluidity that dispensed with the privations of the last three months. Not in all my six years had my senses been so alive. The symphony of running water changed it’s mood dependant on the particular landscape that orchestrated it, and it’s taste – oh, the purest of all nectar – refreshed my jubilation, as I ran and romped and swam in a myriad of streams. The smell of pine brought Christmas to this party too, which I did think a little odd as it’s the middle of July! Meantime a couple of squirrels scarpered up trees playing – frustrating – way out of my reach, just before a deer darted across our path, leaving only a tantalising scent for my nose to follow, before the whistle called me back.
Above all, in the quiet of the field or the buzz of the car park, meeting and greeting my old friends Oscar, Holly and Molly was the icing on today’s celebration cake; as respective owners allowed our leads to extend for a touching of noses, while maintaining this strange new social distancing thing they are going in for nowadays. I even sat patiently while our people exchanged their v. v. v lengthy lockdown narratives in which, all agreed, our specialism in unconditional love had been the saving grace; we too, had played our part.
At home sleep was sweet and, as I drifted off, I could have sworn someone whispered, “Munros soon”, or was that a dream.
(For anyone new to my blog a very big welcome; I’m Ben, a young Border Collie. You can find out all about my big adventure here Ben’s Blog but, this particular post is my second record of such v. v. v extraordinary times)
This Coronavirus epoch that I seem to be living through is, for Ben, good and bad in parts. I must say I like having David and B hanging around all the time and, on balance, I’d say there’s a bit more activity in the treats department. Of course, all the extra calories, alongside a drastic reduction in the walkies outings, will have to be paid for with a one heck of an exercise regime later, in the freer peri coronavirus days to come; I’m up for that.
Even then, it seems like I’m going to be banged up close to home for sometime and I’m sooooo missing my pals in the forest; that’s the bad part. I haven’t had a run out in my car for so long and the Munro project has ground to a halt. I do get walks but they are so much shorter and, what’s more, there isn’t a ball to be seen, as far as the horizon.
Admittedly, Shieldhill never was a mecca of night life (more’s the pity) but this is just plain weird. All around us nature has sprung into life as normal, which means: our daffs were blown to smithereens, the tulips had their one, and only, day of standing tall, and David has the lawnmower on it’s back, trying to coax the rotary blade into action. Elsewhere, lambs joyfully bounded and my kinsfolk tried their best to bring them into some sort of order, while quad bikes stationed nearby, were ready to take these canines home for a spot of dinner, after their day of hard labour.
In fact, those four wheeled drovers represent the full extent of motorised traffic populating our lane. Someone has pressed the pause button and all is silence. Every now and again something in a vivid shade of lycra passes, propelled by the human personification of science – where a meeting of bio mechanics and physics – accounts for the brief and repeated moments of levitation that appear above my hedge, punctuated by pounding feet on tarmac. Then, as if this wasn’t enough excitement for one day, my ears resound to a cylindrical whoosh as the Bradley Wiggins gang, out in force, give our lanes the once over.
Now though, at last – horrah – there seems to be talk of some relaxation and all is confusion. I’m not good on change myself, as anyone regularly reading my blog knows, and the butterflies have grown to their full maturity in my tummy, making for a very unsettled Ben. Apparently, I now have to adjust again, from what had become my temporary new normal, to – navigating the pace of change carefully – a medium-term new normal, and all that might – or might not – involve. The wings of those flapping butterflies are creating havoc deep inside, in these winds of change. I’ve heard tell of a vaccination and I’m not big on needles either, so that isn’t helping matters one iota. However, I’m practicing my mindfulness and finding solace in the natural world around us.
Gold Finche nesting in our privet
A bird on the wire
A very proud boy
Nearly Ben’s bed time
While waiting for the latest news I try to keep abreast of word from the dog on the street, not that there are many of them about these days. Different opinions rebound amid all the speculation, and what the response of the human species might be. Serious concerns have been barked about any slackening of lockdown. One commentator suggests that, once they are let out there will be great difficulty getting them back in again. Clearly, we are fearful of a nation of wild hooligans running amok with their new freedoms. Quite on the contrary, a number of studies – by clever people – paint the reverse picture, suggesting that everyone is now too frightened to go out at all. Having scared them witless, with endless healines about the very worst of the virus, our people have been successfully imprisoned in their homes. Where will it all end?
Time will tell, but I hope you like the lockdown pictures I added in, and now for my very favourite photo of this time.
Friends, collies and all companion animals, stepping up to the mark.
(For those new to my blog I’m Ben, a young Border Collie on a big adventure, you can find out about it all here: Ben’s blog )
“Well I never, actually none of us ever… what uncharted seas we are tossing about in (that word, unprecedented, is getting me down a bit). Uncertainty isn’t one of my strong points and circumstances here are very strange. I haven’t had a clue what is going on. This is not good news for the butterflies in my tummy which, now it is spring, are just about to hatch.
The first thing to happen was that my person, B, stopped going out in the morning. Now she sits at our table all day long – with MY laptop – tapping away, or else putting that speaker thing to her ear, having totally meaningless conversations because they never include words like walk, or ball.
The next thing was that, at 5.00pm on a Saturday night, David, my male person, was still stroking me. Now this was a momentous change, all “changed utterly”. Lovely and scary at the same time. David always, ALWAYS, goes out for an hour or so on a Saturday, when we are at our caravan (as well as a Friday and a Sunday too) and, it has to be said, comes back really quite jolly. Oh my goodness me, what was going on.
Now, I’m normally a pretty level headed sort of canine and I do try to keep a sense of proportion but, when I heard about all this panic buying, and no one was making a move to top up my food store, it was the last straw; all those butterflies went in for a bit of premature birthing and started flapping about uncontrollably in my tummy. Apparently, we’ve got someone called Covid 19 coming for a visit. At first, I thought we were putting up our defences in case an unruly teenager was putting in an appearance but, apparently, I’d got the wrong end of the lead. It turns out that the unwelcome guest is a horrible little infectious disease, a real carbuncle on our lives. But, v. v. v big BUT, I’m not at risk at all. Oh, great relief for Ben.
However, I’m not off the hook that easily. It seems I still have a big part to play and I’ve got to be with my people through thick and thin to help them out. Suddenly, all that responsibility seems a bit scary. I don’t even know how to turn the oven on yet and I’m more than a bit concerned about something called stock rotation, it sounds very complicated and David is a real whizz at it. Still I’m going to step up to the mark and do my best… tomorrow.
So, 2020 has arrived and I’m now living in a new decade, which sounds awfully exciting; I’ve not done that one before. Apparently the chips are down on the chances of my seeing another one, but I don’t want to think about that just now. Instead, let me take you on the grand tour of Ben’s life in 2019.
Right at the end of last year’s review David had just got back into a little bit of walking. That was after the horrid, awful, terrible (do I make myself clear?) three months, following the big fall and broken pelvis which, in itself, came fast on the heels of saying goodbye to the old girl. The worst part of being on a mountain, with an incapacitated David, was the whirligig thing that hurt my ears and stole my person from the mountain.
However, I’m so happy to report that right from the beginning of 2019 it has been back to business as usual, by which I mean the rightful reinstatement of my morning routine, consisting of: a lovely early morning drive to Mabie Forest; meeting up with the gang to discuss the weighty issues of the day and then – oh, what unconfined joy – playing ball and lots of it, my absolute – incontrovertible – favourite thing, apart from a spot of dinner, of course. In celebration of this return to normality, I’ve developed an ebullient little song and dance piece, that I perform on the back seat of the car, as soon as we hit the drive that takes us deep into the forest.
During the winter afternoons that follow this morning ritual, I’d while away the time with vivid dog dreams about “… gold lama baskets and choice cuts of meat …” 1 until woken from my slumbers by the sound of Wainwright biscuits hitting porcelain bowl. Reality tore me from luxurious fantasies but, the familiarity of home wasn’t half bad. About this time of day, B’s smell – round and about the house – has faded to the level at which I knew she was about to arrive home (oh dear, I’m so sorry my fellow canines. I’ve just given away the mystery of how we know when our people are coming back. Incase anyone didn’t know, dogs do it with noses ). So, after tucking into a nutritionally balanced – fat free – meal, I’m up at the window waiting for B to drive in. In my excitement I throw myself into her arms, the same v. v. v big welcome home every night. I’m not altogether sure that my exuberance is fully appreciated. Bags seem to go everywhere and sometimes we find ourselves in a confused heap on the floor. She particularly doesn’t like it when one of my paws slides down her face, leaving a big red scar for days on end. I like to think of it as a term of endearment.
Leaving the worst of the winter behind us heralds the start of the caravan season, when we return to our mobile home (that doesn’t move), in The Lake District. I’ve done it every year of my life, the same pattern, with gleeful anticipation of the spring, summer and autumn that lie ahead. This year I was robbed of such happiness. As soon as I crossed the threshold I could smell her. It hit me like an incense bomb and was everywhere – the unforgettable scent of our old girl, Maisie. I curled up in my cushion and got all depressed. Eventually, a little bit of dinner brought me out of myself and, a game of ball on Moor Divock the next day wonders but… every time I got back to the caravan the black dog, instead of our old girl, was my companion.
It took a lot of hard work but I had to pull myself together, because me and B had work to do and helping others is always such a tonic. We needed to get David confident on the hills again, after the big fall, and – even though I say so myself – we done good. Thus, on 30th March 2019 – exactly six months after the accident – me, B and David, did a return to Place Fell and, on this occassion, actually got to the top.
March also held another red letter day and gosh, all fiddlesticks – my tummy still gets excited remembering. It was a case of out with the old, in with the new. Though in this case it was just a bit newer. On 11th March 2019 we crossed a line. No more sleeping cramped on the floor of an unreliable VW Caddy van. Now me and B were going up in the world. The future heralded not only a more dependable car but also, one we were going to convert with a micro camper kit.
Nevertheless, despite the excess of comfort, it was with a tear in my eye that I said goodbye to my faithful – if unpredictable – friend of three years. The ally that had got me and B going on the Munros and witnessed my first 47 climbs, and 52 of B’s.
Perhaps you can imagine how eager I was to go Munro bagging again and try out the soft furnishings in our new Munro mobile. Sadly, I had to exercise something called patience, which is soOOO hard for me to do.
April of 2019 brought in yet another big, BIG event, in our small lives, and it had to be marked. David had one of those birthdays with an 0 at the end of it. I’m not meant to tell you which one, so I’ll put it in v. v. v small numerals and you can pretend you never saw it. (70, hee, hee). For Dog’s sake, HOW MANY DECADES IS THAT? It seems we were heading east to celebrate and I had to test out a whole new suite of soft furnishings. Home comforts aside, I’m not a great fan of sudden change and definitely at my best when running on well oiled lines, with a bouncing spherical object to cement my happiness. Therefore, when we set out on roads I had never, ever been on before, the lava from last year’s butterflies started to hatch in my tummy, giving me a very strange sensation indeed and, not at all to my liking. Of course, all’s well that ends well, and the very first thing to happen, when we arrived, was that I had a lovely big dinner. After that, secure in the knowledge that my food had travelled with us, I set about testing out the buoyancy of the soft furnishings, in this home from home.
For the next week we ranged far and wide across somewhere called The North York Moors. The landscape was gynormous, with vistas stretching into space across bracken and heather hillsides, broken only by deep sided valleys that had – in the geological mists of time – been scooped out of the very earth we might have stood on. These vales took some considerable effort to tumble down and then climb back up so that, by the end of our walk, we needed to stop for refreshment. I would have my dinner beside the car and then B and David would warm their paws, and the cockles of their hearts, in a pub called The Lion Inn, at Blakey Rigg. Unfortunately, I couldn’t join them because of my propensity to take objection to the frightening smell, accompanying the odd human, which brings on a defensive nipping of ankles and makes me canine non grata. Instead, I was left to ponder on the whereabouts of this lion, how fail-safe the locks on our car were, and just why the windows had been left so open. On their return, D & B’s happy disposition met my relief and made for lovely companionable evenings.
Once home, from the birthday celebration, my enthusiasm to get Munroing became a bone of contention, so to bark. First of all the weather was against us but, even when it wasn’t, I was excluded. Apparently, B just happened to be working in Glasgow and it made sense for her (and not me ), to take off north from there. Unbelievably, inexcusably, it was July before I put paw to Munro. However, over that weekend, and another in August, we put another 10 summits in v. v. v heavy bag, which stamped it with the impressive number of 84; me and B had done 57 of these together. The fiery sun played hide and seek behind Cumulonimbus clouds, and then danced on the shimmering waters of high mountain lochans which – in sequestered corries – were protected by cliffs that rose in awe-inspiring towers that beguiled and terrified, These were blissful times together and, on the highest Caledonian hills, we soaked up panoramas that brought the heart, and soul, of a young dog alive. Gasps for breath, from the bi-ped beside me, suggested the heart wasn’t quite up to the job; as for the soul – well, that’s anyone’s guess.
Lots of photos on my special slide show. It’s a bit on the slow side but you can use the arrows to move forward
Of course, as mentioned in so many of my blogs before, being away with B is never a totally easy experience and nothing had changed in the last year, unfortunately. On the first day of our July weekend – luckily after we had bagged Bynack More – I was brought down to earth, literally, by the exploding tyre beneath me.
And then, the very next day, I was met with a compromising situation in the safety department as our navigational aids – that provide my security – were made redundant, in a catalogue of neglect. The straw that broke the collies back was when our map – the very foundation of our whereabouts – blow off in the wind. Somehow, I survived to tell the tale.
B went bagging again briefly, in both September and October but, by this time, I was having something they call divided loyalties, which is a very nasty condition. With the old girl gone back to ashes, I couldn’t bare to think of David – home alone, when I was away with B. On the other paw, when I kept David company, the thought of B on the mountains, without the protection of her Munro buddy, sent me into a tumult of guilt and anxiety. This unconditional love business isn’t always easy. I felt like I was becoming a tug of love dog.
After October, it was better – lovelier – we were all together, all the time. We had such companionable walks in the Lake District, me with my ball, B & David with that incessant chatter thing that humans do. Then alas, it was the interregnum (from the caravan site) and we were banned from the Lake District till March. The season of mellow fruitfulness had given way to winter and I took to the indoor life, disporting myself around the soft furnishings, while catching up on a spot of reading.
It has to be said that, my absolute best read of 2019 is a little tomb called, ‘The Enlightened Spaniel’. I need to qualify that sentence in a couple of ways. The book is in no way little. In fact, IT IS MEGA. It has changed my whole outlook on life. And then, of course, there is the issue with the breed (not my favourite, since an unfortunate little altercation, regarding the property rights of a certain spherical object, a couple of years ago). Clearly, the book should have been pawed by a noble Border Collie but, it seems, the floppy ears got in first. That said, I think this way of being may have something to offer.
For instance, you are – apparently – meant to live in the moment. Well, let’s face it, that’s easy peasy for me. That moment could be blissful, with one of my bestest humans throwing my ball over an arch of sky, or it might be some scary instance requiring the nipping of ankles; either way, when it’s done it’s done – nothing of the past remains and, as for the future, it’s a foreign county; anything could happen. Another facet of this world view is about unconditional love and – say no more – that’s what we go in for, big style. I might even have to let the Spaniels in on that one – reluctantly.
According to Buddhist philosophy, which is big on this enlightenment stuff, we get born and born again – ever improving – on a path to somewhere called Navana, which is the bees knees. Did you know that bees have knees? Nivana is the best place imaginable and you have to be v. v. v well behaved, caring lots about other creatures, to get there. Honestly, I really was doing my best but then along comes Christmas and well, let’s face it, we all indulge ourselves a bit – or a big bit. All those presents, eating too much, loafing about and, of course, the excess of dog beer – it may have set Nivana back a bit.
Nevertheless, just a few more incarnations and I fully expect to be there. The first Border Collie ball dog at Wimbledon… perhaps next year.
In the meantime, more dog dreams.
1 Carroll, D H (2013); Dog Dreams. This England, Vol 46, No 2, Thompson Publishing, London.
Finally, I can spill all the beans about the biggest competition yet this year.
Wow, gosh and Shiver me Timbers. I thought it was only Border Collies that were clever. What brilliant responses I’ve had to my photo caption competition. Me and B have loved reading them all, what laughs. Thank you very much to everyone who entered.
Like I have said, it has been sooooo hard to choose but in the end I’ve had to divide my prize into a first and three runners up.
Lynda gets the first prize for spotting what was going on. She recognised that locked gaze as a game me and B play, when we are looking at each other; it’s called ‘First One To Blink Forfeits.
Lynda thought I was saying, “Whoever blinks first carries the rations. But I think the eyes say it all. Love you Mum.”
Of course she also caught that look of unconditional love that I’m so famous for.
However, it wasn’t totally correct because – although food would usually come into all of my communication, in one way or another – on this occasion I had just had a nice big dinner and therefore, settling down for some lovely zzzs was top of my agenda. Those of you who spotted me willing B to blink first, so I could have a lovely comfy bed are the runners up.
Denis said, “Remember it’s my turn in the bed tonight”
Liz was of a similar mind, “I wanna sleep in the big bed Bea! Xx”
And, Evelyn suggested I had v. v. v elevated aspirations ” Have we booked into a 5***** tonight, B?”
AND, so to the prizes
First prize is a delightful little book I’ve been reading and one of my very special, limited edition, Mucky Boots and Flawless Paws pens. There will only ever be 120 of these in the whole wide world. They may even become a collectors item .
Two dogs go on a quest to find out all about
why their person disappears for something called meditation every night, and then they try to follow a path towards enlightenment. I thought that was going to be a breeze and sailed through the unconditional love and living in the moment parts, but then I got stuck on the bit about patience.
The runners up prizes consist of one of my very special pens and a pack of Wainwright treats for their best pal (s). Or, if they don’t have a best canine pal (can such things really be?), the best pal of one of your best pals – ummm, well I know what I mean.
I’m going to drop everyone a reply to their guess on the original post (Ben’s New Year Competition) but, before then, I’ll need lots of zzzzs.