Merlin had been annoying all morning, and I felt like getting out, so I decided to walk up Beinn Ceannabeinne. I had walked up it last year, but Merlin hadn’t been up and it was a nice enough day for a walk. A bit windy, but otherwise nice. (“A bit windy?” you say. “What a surprise for Durness!”)
We headed up the usual path towards the bealach (as per our Meall Meadhonach walk) then turned left along the quad track that heads up Ceannabeinne. It was a lot easier than I remembered from last year. It was certainly a lot drier, which always helps. The track was still boggy but it was easy enough to walk just off the edge of it.
Everything was going well until I realised I hadn’t seen Merlin in a while. Oh great. There was no point in yelling as the wind was so strong that he wouldn’t be able to hear me unless he was directly downwind of me. I’d last seen him heading off to the west, so walked up to the nearest high outcrop. I couldn’t see him anyway but did see some sheep. This concerned me as I wasn’t expecting them this high on the hill and if he saw them, he’d chase them. Luckily they were looking quite relaxed so I guessed he hadn’t gone that way. I wandered around for a while looking for him, called a few times, then started getting really worried. What if he’d seen some sheep and was chasing them into town right now? (There have been a few sheep in town killed by dogs recently so this would be terrible) What if he’d gone all the way off the hill and wandered across the main road and got hit by a car? What if he’d fallen off the edge of one of the outcrops and was lying injured somewhere? What if he was stuck in a bog somewhere? This area is huge – I could never hope to search it all and find him! Honestly, it was the first couple that concerned me the most as they were the most likely. So, I started wandering around between the high point and where I’d last seen him, yelling futilely.
After about 10 minutes of wandering around yelling, I saw 2 quad bikes below me. I ran down the hill (probably looking like a crazy person) to ask if they’d seen him (at least that would rule out one area I had to search). “Excuse me, have you seen my dog? He’s about this big (hand held at waist) and reddish.” They hadn’t, but said they’d keep an eye out for him. They also said they thought they’d heard yelling, but assumed it must’ve been the wind. “No, that would’ve been me.” Just as we were about to part ways, I saw him in the distance. He was back where I’d last seen him, looking for me. Unfortunately as he was still upwind I had to jump around and wave my arms (looking like a crazy person again) to get his attention.
He was pretty tired. Presumably he’d also spent the last 10 minutes running around looking for me . . . or maybe the last 5 minutes anyway. The first five were probably spent having a great time exploring whatever smell he’d followed! A short dip, and drink, in a small pond (bog) soon helped this though and he was soon running around again. At least he was staying a bit closer now though.
We headed on up to the summit, which was, again, much easier than I remembered. It was very very windy on top, to the point where it was quite difficult to walk in a straight line. My feet kept getting blown sideways as I tried to put them down. Luckily at this point it was blowing me onto the hill rather than off it!
We had lovely views from the summit and could even see a warship in Loch Eriboll. They have military training exercises here for the next two weeks (or “NATO war games” as they are reported on the news) so lots of things going “boom”, the occasional helicopter and fighter plane, ships out to sea, and military personnel around town.
I decided to walk along the ridge to the north-east and descend from there. It is not the conventional method, and there is certainly no path, but I think we all know by now that it’s my preferred method of hill walking. At least this time I followed the easy sensible path up, then took the crazy path down (I learnt a little from my ascent of Fashven last year which I tackled the other way around).
Unfortunately once we started along the ridge edge, Merlin started wandering off again. The wind was coming in from the south-west and he just kept putting his nose into it and going towards the smells it was bringing him. This meant he was NOT going the direction I was and was always upwind so he couldn’t hear me calling him. Suffice to say there was a lot of yelling at this point.
I decided to cut off the western side of the hill to minimise my road walking and picked a section that looked no worse than any of the other bits. That is, it was very steep, but not too rocky or slippery. A little tough on the knees, but good practice and conditioning for when I start doing some proper hills.
I meandered down, generally keeping to the higher sections as this gave me a better view of the way ahead to pick the best route. At the bottom I had to cut through some fields. I spotted a gate in one corner so walked towards it, only to find that it was wired shut and there was a very good 6’ fence all the way along. For me, this wouldn’t have been a problem. For Merlin, it definitely was.
We backtracked to the next field where the fence was only a standard 3’ fence. Again, not a problem for me, but still one for Merlin. He could jump that easily, but so far he doesn’t think to jump fences and I really don’t want to give him the idea. Finally I found a section that was low enough (maybe 2.75’??) that I could lift him over. He’s 35kg, with very long, dangly legs. And covered in mud. It wasn’t pretty, but we managed. And he didn’t seem too traumatised by the whole thing.
The next field we had to walk through was an old townsite. Lots of ruined buildings, foundations and walls. Also some trees that were quite obviously planted as gardens. It was quite sad to see all those homes just disappearing.
At least at the bottom of that field was a proper working gate . . . although it did take some effort to break the rust to loosen the catch! From here we were on the road, and Merlin was back on lead. He was still quite tired so wasn’t too worried about it except that he’d been running free for so long though that he kept forgetting he was on lead and trying to walk off and do his own thing!
It was a very pleasant and picturesque walk back into town, with very little traffic on the roads, and beautiful scenery and seascapes to look at.
Unfortunately this was the dirtiest Merlin has been so far – it took a very long time to wash him, and even longer to pull all of the heather out of his coat!