(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.
Oh my goodness, now this was getting seriously silly. 4.00 o’clock in the morning is no time to expect any self-respecting dog to be up and looking their best and, though she had instigated it, I can personally vouch for the fact that B would have turned out a lot better herself with another couple of hours of shut eye.
Still Munros are Munros, and they’ve got to be done and, what’s more, when this bagging business is followed by a long drive home, they’ve got to be bagged early. This is what happens: get up at some ungodly hour, put a Munro in our bag, get a couple of hours of zzzs, drive home… job done.
This morning’s walk started out down the beautiful Glen Feshie. We set off at what for B was a cracking pace. The clear path beyond Achlean aided our progress so, quite how we deserted this, to follow a track down to a bridge over the river, I’ll never know. Route planning last night had clearly shown that we needed to keep to the north side of the river. I must admit to getting quite worried about this tendency of totally ignoring what was, as plain as the nose on your face, only a few hours before.
Still, on this occasion we rectified the error early and were back on our rightful track absorbing the clarity of light on this glorious extremely EARLY July morning. The route through the glen took us through more of the Scot’s Pine that cloth so many of the glens in the Cairngorms. B had been combing the area this year, most of it without me. Today we were in the south east of the national park and once Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair was in the bag there would be just 3 more routes, to finish off all the Munros in the Cairngorms. After our early mishap we did find our way safely through the forest and then, turning north east, started the inevitable climb. By this time – the fourth day of our long weekend – I had got the treat hunt down to an exact science. I was able to predict with absolute precision the moment when B’s momentum would give out, and she would grind to a halt for a bit of a breather. The frustration of these interruptions to our upward progress was compensated for by the treats that came my way, before we set off again. I just had to look adoringly and, bobs your uncle, I was munching on some nibbles. As these rewards were my main motivation for flogging up mountains I decided to bring forward the moment of administration by pre-empting the next break, sitting down, and gazing with that pleading vulnerability that melts hearts. Alas, we were only a little way into my guise when B cottoned on – she’s not always as daft as she seems. Then she started to tease me, walking for longer than she would normally, even though the huffing and puffing was getting seriously out of hand. I was left sitting behind her with my most pathetic look fixed on the back of her rucksack. I tried racing ahead and sitting down again but she wasn’t having any of it. I think we were playing something called a cat and mouse game, which is somewhat curious because she’s a person and I’m a dog.
Distant views as we ascended
The popular image of the Cairngorms is of huge rounded lumps of remote mountains, characterised by the bogs and hags that lie between them and v. v. v little human habitation; I think it’s called wilderness. Every now and again though, they catch you unawares and take your breath away. Erosion in these parts didn’t always produce smooth, graceful slopes. It could be angry and violent, cutting out gullies of rugged cliffs. Such an episode must have visited the Coire just ahead and, with this awesome prospect greeting us, B and I gave up our game and sat down to soak up the vista. Well, to be more accurate, B was taking in the scene and I was keeping a steady fix on the banana she was eating, being quite partial to a bit of fruit myself.
It wasn’t long after we got going again that we were at the top by another cairn of old stones. Today’s summit was also the culmination of our achievements over the weekend. Admittedly, our mishap on Saturday had cost us the next day’s planned route, and two Munros, but at least we had added five more to our bag, a cause for celebration. After all Friday nights little tête á tête, with the RAC person, had nearly cost us the weekend. B hugged me, I dutifully went doe-eyed and a nice hunk of sausage came my way.
Summit of, and views from, Mullach Clach a Bhlair
We elected to go back the same way sacrificing variety for a bit of saved time. On the way down our outlook was dominated by indomitable presence of those classic Cairngorm hills – voluptuous curves and folds of hills sloped into deeply cut glens for as far as the eye could see, as if the National park was one large sculpture park, set down by evolution, with the sole purpose of pleasing the eye.
Here, in the upper reaches of Glen Feshie, the other half live in splendour able to feast their eyes on the scene from their gardens in all it’s glorious changing seasons. Soon all the hills would be smothered with flowering heather, as it was just ready to burst into a riot of purple.
With less of the readies to splash about, but stores of memories to draw on, B collected souvenirs from the ground. Me and B are going to make a mountain shaped Christmas decoration from the pine cones, to help us recollect all the fun on today’s walk as we have our yummy Christmas dinner every year. The shade of the trees was very welcome as it had become very warm at this more reasonable time of the day, some 7 hours later.
The bit of shut eye, before we drove off, was very timely too but, the most heaven sent thing of all was the sight of my David opening the gate to our house back at home. I got so excited when I saw him and there were no contrived treat driven pranks it was just pure authentic delight. I had so much to tell him.
After our long walk yesterday, and with a shorter walk now planned for today, we were wallowing in a long lie in. However, when at 7am there was no movement coming from the bed next to me I began to see if I could nudge the motionless body into life. After all natures call waits for no man or, in this case, woman.
Our last two days had been a bit of a roller coaster. The puncture on Friday had threatened to sabotage the whole weekend. Then, yesterday’s walk was – in all the ups and downs of navigation – very taxing, to say the least. Today our experience promised to be more sanguine.
We started out beside the Allt a’Chaorainn, crossing it up stream of the bridge, to make a direct route for the corrugated shelter, an unmissable landmark on the walk. At exactly the point we reached the hut dark clouds forged together and emitted a light, persistent rain. B & I amused ourselves in the secluded charm of this basic shelter, etching our presence into bench and, in so doing, married our names with Jan and John, Shirley and Derek and scores of others that had sheltered her for just an hour, or who had put their heads down for their overnight zzzs.
Lots of remote shelters are to be found over the highlands ranging from primitive emergency stopping places, to bunk houses for paying guests. Many of the buildings are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association which is is a charity that maintains about 100 shelters in some of the remoter parts of Great Britain.
With the permission and support of the owners, the shelters are unlocked and are available for anyone to use freely. Maintenance activities are carried out by volunteers and they are always looking for new members to support their work. Without that support, many of the unique shelters would be lost forever.
The Bothy Code
Respect Other Users
Respect the Bothy
Respect the Surroundings
Respect Agreement with the Estate
Respect the Restriction On Numbers
When me and B resumed our walk esumed our walk the rain had stopped and we continued upwards over that most ‘wonderful’ of terrain, bogs and hags. It even sounds horrible doesn’t it?
Eventually, I hauled B up the final pernicious slope wondering how much longer she could attempt this and I could manage. On this occasion we arrived at the top before anyone else. This meant the butterflies in my tummy were sleeping and I could relax for my summit snap, which always makes for a better pose.
Views north, north west and south
On the way down the troops were abroad and I displayed my best behaviour with nearly everyone I met, regardless of how many legs they had. I got petted by two humans and had a nice reciprocal sniff around Meg, Stan and Corrie. I was rewarded with lots of lovely Primular and my tummy – though never full – felt nice and satisfied. No one will ever know, least of all me, why I then took exception to the young man I met next but, while B was talking to the female person, I decided he was a treat to my security. Form there I was on auto pilot with barking, lunging and with the ultimate temptation of a nip, high on my priorities. It seemed that the people moved on very quickly after that, for some reason. B, disappointed as ever, gave me a big cuddle. She seems to be resigned to the butterflies in my tummy getting the better of me and told me that is why she always has to have a v. v. v tight hold of my lead.
By this time we were passing the bothy and the rest of the day passed off uneventfully. It wasn’t long before we were back at my Kangoo with dinner in my bowl nice and early. After that we both had a bit of shut eye and then made for Glen Feshie, to be well positioned for the last walk of our weekend, tomorrow.
B is up and doing long before I have any notion that morning has arrived. I know when she is in determined mood though, and at such times resistance is futile. So, after a few shakes and a number of stretches I was nearly ready to face the day.
We set off to try and bag three Munros in the Monadhliath mountains, starting from Glen Blanchor about six miles west of Newtonmore.
Yet another deserted farm
Yet another deserted farm
Another deserted farmhouse – at the foot of the Monadhliaths
After a hike up Gleann Fiondrigh we found the spot to cross the river no bother, and then began flogging our way up toward Gleann Ballach, in a south westerly direction. It was horribly boggy and the path disintegrated early on. A much younger woman easily caught us up and, after a nod and confirming that she was going after the same mountains, marched ahead; I was left with the slow coach plodding over the peaty hillside, now on a north west trajectory. We traipsed along behind Ms speedy as she frog march over the tough terrain, with us losing ground all the time. Eventually, she disappeared out of sight but, curiously, did not reappear heading south west to claim Carn Dearg, the first Munro on the route. This threw B into a state of confusion. She studied our map; looked at the mountain and looked at the last place we had seen the young woman. It didn’t make sense. In order to solve the puzzle she got out the GPS, to double check our whereabouts on the route.
Oh my goodness, the batteries were dead. Now, rather late in the day if you ask me, B remembered that she’d meant to look at the GPS last night. It had been eating up our batteries lately and she wasn’t sure it was functioning properly. Yesterday evening though, we had to made an appointment with the man from the RAC and, I might add exchange cash, in order to get us road worthy after the wheel underneath me started wobbling down the road. Not only had B forgotten to give our GPS the once over but, having put all the batteries together to try them out, we didn’t have our usual set of spare batteries with us. At this, words that no innocent dog should hear escaped from B’s mouth and, as if in rebuke, the clouds that had been threatening closed in and it started to rain. Carn Dearg, if it ever was Carn Dearg, became invisible.
Things seemed to have reached a head because we started back the way we had come and I began to think it was all off. However, every so often B would stop and look behind her, wearing that desperately disappointed look; she doesn’t like giving in. After some moments of indecision we turned again, walked a little way and then stopped again. It seems she had remembered the app on her ear piece, which would give us a grid reference to tell us where we were on the map. But… not today apparently, because the batteries were flat; another case of navigational negligence, I thought. More bad words issued forth and we about turned again, this time with less of the looking backwards. After about just five minutes the sun came out and B ground to a halt. The mountain, that might possibly be our mountain, was revealed in all its glory. It was too tempting anyway, whatever mountain it turned out to be. For the fifth time we tramped over the same bit of ground, as I desperately tried to get B’s attention. PLEEEASE, I wanted to bark, I really don’t mind which way we go but can you make your mind up. I’m getting desperately dizzy down here.
I think me and B communicate by something called telepathy because it was a long time before we turned back on ourselves again. We headed in the direction of what might, or might not, be the Munro we wanted to bag. It wasn’t that far but it was up a v. v. v steep hill, so we had to have a little sit down and a big snack on the way; it took us a long time and I had to do a lot of tugging to get B up onto the ridge. Once at the cairn I had my photo taken in a spirit of optimism, hoping it was the right summit. We would know soon enough as, according to our printed route, we should come across some rusty old fence posts if the next hill, on our way to Munro No. 2, was Carn Ban.
Looking south east with Schiehallion in the distance
For many walkers this mountain furniture might just be some ugly scrap iron, long past it purpose, but for us it told us that we had just claimed our 76th Munro and were indeed on the right route, heading for number 77, YIPEE. Not only that, but we were promised that these fence posts would take us along the 7km of featureless mountain top that would – otherwise – be difficult to navigate, if the clouds came down again. Goodness knows where the person from this morning had gone but we were going to claim victory from the jaws of defeat, or so we thought.
After about 3km the clouds did descend again, the mist closed in around us, and light rain clothed us as we walked. Just then, B noticed that her map wasn’t in the map case; a further feat of safety carelessness is you ask me. Here we were on top of a featureless plateau, in wind-blown, damp and mucky conditions with rusty fence posts as our only allies. Our own navigational aids had been reduced to one typed up route, with minimal directions, and a compass – the functioning of which B had never quite mastered. Admittedly, the posts would get us to the top of the Carn Sgulain but what then. We had been on the go for 6½ hours and that would be a v. v. v long way back, when on earth would I get my dinner. The upshot of all this was we turned back, except this time we were scouring the ground and it seems that someone – perhaps the great Dog in heaven – was looking after us because, in just about 500metres, there was our deserted map up against a rock.
We resumed our walk but I really didn’t know if I was leading with my head or my tail, never having spun around so many times in one day before. It was still a long way to get to the summit but the good news was that the clouds had lifted and we could see our way. By the time I was having my photo taken we could even see across to the third and final Munro of the day. We just had a fairly short bit of pathless navigation to get there and then were promised a path all the way back. Oh how my little heart leapt with joy; dinner wouldn’t be too late after all.
Clockise: the summit of Carn Sgulain; looking south with Ben Lawers in mist.; looking west to Knyodart
Following the instructions on the route we returned to the last Bealach and headed south west to avoid the big drop between the hills. Then… I’m out of exclamations and I don’t want to use any of those bad words B resorts to – we came a cropper again. Our route now told us to head south east but this was away from what we had thought to be our third Munro, which was now to the north east. What lay to the south east was a cairned mountain top but it didn’t look as tall at all. Nevertheless, routes was routes and ‘Walk Highlands’ routes were gospel. Perspective can be a funny thing on the hills and perhaps the angle we had looked at the initial top had made it look bigger. We continued in a south easterly direction and at one point did seem to be going in the direction of the higher summit. Sadly, we knew immediately we were at the top that we were in the wrong place. One look back along the ridge told us we were lower down and, while the top – of what turned out to be Geal Carn – sported a wind shelter, there was no sign whatever of the massive cairn described in the route.
We looked back and decided – in our psychic manner – that it was just one step too far. Our legs were hurting and our tummy’s were empty. If we substituted tomorrow’s long, long walk, with a hop up A’Chailleach instead, we could have a lie in and a much more relaxing day. It seemed like a much better idea at this hour of the day, even though it would rob us of the two Munros we had planned for the next day.
The essentially flaw in this line of reasoning asserted itself quite quickly. The path we had been planning on to help us off the hill didn’t materialise because we were on the wrong mountain. The pathless way down, was steep and not without difficulty; B was often kept upright only by clutching at heather. I was much more agile but then I am 35 years younger and I have four good legs. Eventually, without a hook or a crook, we got down into the Glen, finding ourselves not at all where we should have been of course but, back on the track we started out on this morning. It was a straight forward trek back to base after that and, after my dinner, I had the best night’s sleep ever.
It was early when me and B gave up on any chance of sleep, due to my uncomfortable sleeping accommodation, which I barked on about in my last blog. We could hear the birds in fine voice greeting the day and I began to remember what this Munro bagging was all about. We’d get up v. v. v early, walk for hours and hours and hours – mostly uphill – with B doing lots of huffing and puffing. Then, right at the top, I had to sit in front of a pile of old stones and smile sweetly while something called a camera was pointed rudely in my direction. After that, I got a nice chunk of sausage and, at the end of the day, all my legs hurt… badly. The best bit was always the sausage.
Today, we were going up a Munro mountain called Bynack More. It’s the one in the far North East of the Cairngorms, in Scotland. We started out, like so often before, through a forest and that rang alarm bells straight away. Forests are known for forest tracks and lots of them. This renders B ultimately vulnerable in the… how do I find my way through here department. Today though, we seemed to be hitting all the landmarks spot on, for a change. Before long we came to the beautiful Lochan Uaine with its delicious, tempting, turquoise water. Al I needed to make my world complete was a ball and someone to throw it.
Let’s play in the loch
Not everything about Munro bagging speaks directly to my soul, especially when it becomes a dialectic struggle (hey, hey, how’s that for a young dog). Apparently, I needed to preserve my energy for the big hill, instead of going like the clappers to retrieve a ball from a Loch, LOTS of times. So we went on, with B tugging away at a reluctant Ben.
Soon we were out of the forest and making our way to the next marker. This is the spot where Bynack Stable isn’t anymore. How odd, I thought to myself, that an empty site can become a navigational reference point. However, there we were, just before the river, looking at an area of flat green ground that housed nothing at all.
On the other side of the Nethy we could see our way ahead as a clear path snaked up into the hills. Just here, over an hour into our walk, my tummy started getting hungry and B wasn’t responding to my pleading looks. It was with a heavy heart that I realised that I needed to get her trained up all over again, in the frequent administration of my treats, after not being on the Munros with her for nearly a year.
We continued to the top, though where the real top was wasn’t immediately obvious amongst the crested outcrops of granite tors. These had been spewed up from the mountain’s entails in some violent peak of seismic climatic change. Further along though, there it was, as bold as any other old pile of constructed stones, our summit cairn; out came the camera, on went my smile.
From here we could see the east facing slopes of five, out of the six, highest mountains in Scotland and, though we were well into summer, the last gasps of snow clung to hollows, like rock climbers clinging on for dear life by their fingertips.
We returned by the same route with wide open vitas right across North East Scotland.
It took us much less time to get back to the bridge over the Nethy, and the vacant landmark beyond. Once again we marched right past that lovely lochan even though I tried my best to bark, to say my legs didn’t hurt at all and I had lots of spare energy. Just when I was beginning to think that actually, a bit of shut eye wouldn’t be a bad idea after all – catching up on some of last night’s misplaced zzzs – out came the map. Its perusal – scrutinised from every angle – was accompanied by a series of deep sighs. It seemed that, just over a kilometre from our Kangoo, we had been beaten by all those forest tracks and didn’t know which one to take. After another half hour of going wrong, flapping maps, and sighs that had evolved into groans, we hit on the right path and were back at the Munromobile, with another hill in the bag and without having encountered too many mishaps.
Me and B had a short nap back at base and were then keen to get to our pit stop for tonight’s sleep-over, close to Newtonmore. A nice big dinner, route planning and some writing would see us ready for sleep, hoping to wake refreshed for the next day of adventure. Oh dear Dog, if only being away with B could be that straight forward. We stopped for petrol in Aviemore and then drove back onto the road. Jeepers Creepers, what a strange sensation assaulted me. Bump and crunch accompanied each rotation of the wheel below me. Newtonmore was off, Glenmore Holiday Park was on, as we wobbled our way off the road ASAP.
B did lots of talking down those things you humans are always tapping away at, or holding to one of your ears. It seemed that someone could come to help us but it might be four or five hours. We had broken down at the busiest time possible. 5.00pm on a Friday evening in summer. At this news I went into a bit of a decline. My tummy was v. v. v hungry and that seemed an awful long time to wait for my dinner.
As I have indicated, B does get us into some awful pickles but, it has to be said, she can come up trumps when the cards are down. Before you could say, “Where’s the RAC”, my tummy was nice and full, lunch was done for tomorrow and B’s tummy was full too. All this happened by the side of the road, from the back of our Kangoo, as myriads of people, and their dogs, were arriving at their holiday chalets. I was just settling down for a few hours kip when – after a quick bit of talking down the ear machine – a god sent mechanic rolled up nice and early. He was from a local garage sub-contracted by the RAC. Oh dearie-me, the news wasn’t good. Not only had my tyre gone for a burton but the spare we were relying on wasn’t in great shape either. There was a lot more talking with words like recovery and home casting a black cloud over our weekend. Then, after even more confusing chat, this time with the man talking into his own ear extension, I got propped up on someone called Jack and he took away my wheel. At this the butterflies in my tummy started a trapeze display on v. v. v high wires.
However, the long and the short of it was that within another hour I had a brand new tyre fitted to my wheel and, to keep the butterflies well at bay, we had a new spare tyre too. Newtonmore was back on and the words recovery and home were flung out the window for at least, we hoped, the rest of the weekend.
My poems for Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge are a take on life from a canine perspective. We poets – and to date I seem to be the only dog-poet – write one of the structured poems permitted and have to integrate, as synonyms, the two words given as a prompt.
This week the words are plan and spend. I am doing a Senryu.
You can find out about the form, and have a go yourself, by clicking below:
Oh my goodness me, what a turn up for the books. As if landing ourselves with a much more reliable and younger Munromobile wasn’t enough, we seem to have gone way up market with, in fact, a Des Res, for our big charity challenge. Read all about it!
It’s all very salubrious compared to my old van (about which – by the way – I won’t hear a bad word). Though I have to admit to being a bit worried about this Des person, I just don’t know where we are going to fit him in.
We seem to have gone high rise with mark 2 and my bunk bed sits on top of a small truck containing all our precious maps, routes and assorted Munrobilia. B’s head is close to mine, with all my food and treats and balls stored under her. I do hope she doesn’t squash them.
Oh joy of joys, what times we are going to have. We spent all Easter weekend kitting it out and personalising it and now we are just raring to go.
I have a very sad addendum to add here. It seems, that after last years aborted efforts, we have a lot of catching up to do and B has to go Munroing whenever she can. Sometimes, that might not include me 🙂 In fact, she did the first weekend on her own, taking the opportunity of working in Glasgow on a Friday, nearly 100 miles north of home, to head further north and do a bit of Munro bagging. She did the same, for the same reason, at the beginning of May and left me behind for a whole week. Mind you I might have been a bit of a liability. B was using her bike to cut down walking through the v. v. v long Glens to the start of the ascents. What, with my strong chase instinct, I might not have been able to have resist a chase and a nip when other cyclists past us. I’m told that lots of them did pass her too (hee, hee).
I’m going to post links to the place where B writes about all her solo Munroing on my blog and here are a few photos to wet your whistle. She’s very slow writing them all up though.
I can’t wait to go bagging again myself, and write up all about my adventures. Watch this space …