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A short walk down Gleann Laoigh

Just wanted to share some photos from our walk down Gleann Laoigh today. Phew . . lucky I’m not trying to post in order anymore so I don’t have to finish my draft about trekking poles or my un-started post about a two day trip to the Cape . . . . (Laoigh is pronounced something like “luurrrrrrr” or maybe “luurrrrrre”. Gleann is glen.)

We are staying at a friend’s place at the moment and had the whole day free so I asked for a recommendation on where to walk. Gleann Laoigh, between Cul Mor and Cul Beag, was suggested, with a decent track to start with, soon petering into a typical Scottish track. Actually, despite not being on a map, it was actually better than a lot of the tracks that are marked.

The glen is incredible. The diversity of flora and habitat type is amazing, ranging from grassland, bog and even woodlands, with the plants to match. The fauna was also different to what I usually see. Then, of course, you have the scenery. Towering mountains, full of interesting shapes and multiple peaks, on both sides, with outcrops of blocky sandstone cliffs, divided by a river that varies from smooth and languid to a frantic torrent squeezing between steep sided gullies. Oh, and the lochs. Beautiful, long, winding, sandy beached lochs.

I was stunned that such a beautiful, diverse place existed within an hour’s walk of the main road, and yet is virtually unknown and certainly unexploited. I wanted to share it with the world, put a sign up, maybe even improve the path slightly . . . . and then I realised I kind of like it this way!

Some of the things I saw . . .

And I decided that I didn’t have enough photos of Merlin, so took some more:

For those who’ve reached this far . . . I actually had to leave my county of Sutherland for this walk, something I’ve done less than 10 times since getting here (Sutherland is that big). The walk was in Wester Ross so you almost got a post starting with . . . “I went for a walk in Wester Ross today. I took The Hound with me – he likes running around The Mountain. I guess you could say the landscape was a little Stark, but there wasn’t any Snow. Winter is coming though.” Then I realised I’d struggle to fill an entire post with Game of Thrones references and I’d rather just write about how wonderful the landscape was instead!

Best in Show at “Crofts”!

That’s “Crofts”, not “Crufts”!!

About a month ago we attended the Assynt “Crofts” Fun Dog Show in Drumbeg. One of my work colleagues has told me about it and since I was heading down that way anyway, I thought we should drop in.

We won “Most Handsome Dog”, “Most Obedient Dog” and “Most Agile Dog”, and were shortlisted in “Best Sausage Catcher”. We also entered “Shaggiest Dog” and “Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home”. The winners of each class were then in the “Best in Show” competition, which I am very proud to say that we won!

Other categories available were “Bonniest Bitch”, “Waggiest Tail”, “Most Appealing Eyes” and “Dog That Most Looks Like Its Owner”. Clearly we played to our strengths when we picked our entries!

The event was a fundraiser so we entered quite a few events, bought quite a few scones and a few raffle tickets to adequately support the event.

It was quite an impressive turnout, with 30 or more dogs, and even more people. It was also another great event for me to get to meet some more local people and be part of the community, this time close to my work rather than my home.

Competitors starting to arrive.

Competitors starting to arrive.

The growing crowd....

The growing crowd….

Lots of interest from the spectators.

Lots of interest from the spectators.

Who is the bonniest bitch?

Who is the bonniest bitch?

With his rosettes and "Best In Show" Trophy. (Red = 1st place here. Weird.)

With his rosettes and “Best In Show” Trophy. (Red = 1st place here. Weird.)

Tick removal and prevention

This is a bit of an information post, rather than my usual story telling.

Tick Removal

There are lots of different tools out there for tick removal, and even more pieces of advice about how to do it. It was pretty hard for me to tell what actually worked when I first encountered ticks, so hopefully this will help someone else. Initially I was prepared to use tweezers for tick removal. Luckily I didn’t actually have to try this. One day in a mountain/hiking supply store I bought a small tick removal card (like a credit card, with a little notch to remove the tick). It seemed professional, well made and fairly official, so surely it would work?

No. I completely botched my first tick removal job. Whether this was because the card was useless, or that I used it incorrectly, I don’t know. Either way, if something can be botched that badly by a novice, it is probably not a good recommendation for tick removal anyway.

I had seen the O’Tom Tick Twister advertised online but was suspicious that it might just be another gimmicky tool that was hyped up but actually useless in practice. It looked too good to be true. One day a friend’s dog got a tick and she had one of these tools, so she showed me it in use. It was exceptionally easy and almost fool proof. Having seen it in action, I bought one.

When the time came to use it, it really was that easy. You simply slide it under the tick from the side, and then twist it around in a circle, or two or three. The tick detaches very easily and comes out.

I’m not going to explain any more, or rave about it. You can see everything about it on their website, including quite a neat explanation about why it works so well, whereas pulling at ticks (ie the way every other method works) doesn’t. I just want to tell everybody that this tool actually does work, and as easily and effectively as they say it does.

There are probably other non-brand-name (copy-cat) products out there, and they may work just as effectively, . . but seriously, the original Tick Twister is not expensive anyway!

Here is an image I ripped off ebay. Hopefully they don’t mind.

Sharing that information was the main reason for me writing this article. However once I was on the topic, I thought I should share some other information about tick preventation as well. After all, if you can stop them biting in the first place, removal is not necessary. My main concern with ticks is transmition of diseases and while proper and prompt removal can minimise the risk of this, it can still happen from any bite.

Human Prevention

When I first came over here (Scotland) to go hiking I was very concerned about ticks, not because I’m squeamish about creepy-crawlies, but because I thought that if you got bitten you had a pretty high chance of getting Lymes disease, and that it was untreatable. It turns out that actually quite a lot of people are bitten by ticks and don’t get Lymes disease, and also that if you do get it, and are treated with antibiotics reasonably quickly, it is almost always completely curable. Still, I’m very glad that I took the care I did and didn’t get any tick bites on my hiking trip last year. The precautions that I took were:

  1. Always wear long sleeves, long pants and use gaitors or trouser twists (which basically tuck your trousers in so the ticks can’t climb up your legs)
  2. Treat clothes and tent with permethrin (the treatment lasts for several washes or several weeks, whichever comes first)
  3. Avoid unnessary contact with vegetation
  4. Thoroughly check for ticks every night, and spot check hands/wrists after pushing through bushes.

As I said, I was paranoid. However I only saw two ticks, and didn’t have any bites, and believe this is at least partially due to my precautions.

Please note, if you are going to treat clothing and equipment with permethrin, do your research and follow the instructions. Make sure you use the correct concentration of chemical for your own safety. For the safety of other things be aware:

  1. Permethrin is poisonous to cats.
  2. Permethrin is poisonous to most aquatic creatures. Do not put freshly treated equipment in streams, especially do not tip excess into waterways. I was even careful to wash my treated clothing in a bucket and not directly in natural waterways. I think once the chemical has bonded to the fabric it is safe, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
Me, in full tick prevention attire.

Me, in full tick prevention attire.

Animal Prevention

This year, I brought my dog with me. I was much more concerned about ticks on him, partly because I can’t use any of my human precautions on him so he would probably get bitten (dogs can get Lymes disease, and other diseases, too), but also because I was worried he would bring ticks back and then they’d bite me.

I investigated tick collars, but since the chemicals are usually toxic to aquatic creatures and Merlin spends half his life sitting in streams, this wasn’t really a responsible option. There are also a lot of warnings associated with tick collars (although possibly only because not as much research has been done on them) so I wasn’t that comfortable with them.

I chose a spot-on treatment. There are several different chemicals used in spot-on treatments – some of these prevent development of the critters (these things usually affect fleas as well, amongst other things), some attack the nervous system, killing the critter. Most treatments use a combination of chemicals. A very common treatment, Frontline, uses fipronal. However, research indicates that fipronal is only 60% effective at killing ticks (when used as instructed), whereas permethrin is 99% effective. This difference is startling, and I was not willing to use a product that is only 60% effective. Interestingly, Frontline is much more common, and comes with fewer warning signs, to the point where the permethrin products (eg Advantix) are actually dispensed as “prescription only” in the UK. This is possibly because, as already mentioned, permethrin will kill cats so you need to be extremely careful if you have a cat as well.

Having just done a little more research (you can see some additional papers in the links on the right hand side of the page of the research above), there are actually quite conflicting results. I just happened upon the one that massively favoured permethrin . . . but it is also the research specifically done using the main transmittor of Lymes disease in Europe. Feel free to do your own research.

I chose Advantix and my experience with it has been extremely good. Firstly, no side affects. Secondly, Merlin has had hardly any ticks. Actually, there have only been two instances where he has had tick bites and they were both just before he was due to be retreated, during a cycle in which I washed him with shampoo a couple of times. Advantix is water-resistant, after 24 or 48 hours, so Merlin can swim as much as he wants and I can wash him down with water as often as I need to. This is essential for me. However, the instructions clearly state that washing with shampoo will reduce the efficacy of the product. I’ve found I can usually wash him once with shampoo in a treatment cycle (1 month) and it is still OK, but washing him twice does seem to reduce the longevity of the product.

I’m also happy with this product because not only does it kill ticks, it either does it quickly enough that they don’t bite him, or else it also repels them ie I’m not finding dead ticks stuck to him all the time. Many of the products warn that death is not instantaneous so ticks may still be able to bite the animal, but will then die. Not what I wanted as this means they could still be transmitting diseases.

Based on this, I would recommend Advantix. If you chose to use it, you should obviously read all the safety instructions and be aware of the following:

  1. Don’t let the dog into natural waterways 24 or 48 hrs (I can’t remember which) after treatment – as mentioned, permethrin is toxic to aquatic organisms. Once it’s soaked in to the dog it’s safe, but not immediately after treatment.
  2. Likewise with cats – if you have cats don’t let them near your dog immediately after treatment.
  3. Wash with shampoo as little as possible, and re-treat earlier if you have to wash them

We have tested this product thoroughly, although not scientifically. Merlin spends many hours running through thick heather, bracken, tall grass and occasionally woodlands. He is quite often around sheep and wild deer (amongst other animals). We have frequently been out with other people and dogs where they have found ticks, and we have had none. He is also submerged in water at least every second day, if not several times a day, so we can vouch for the water-resistance of it.

Please be aware that ticks do vary from country to country. Paralysis ticks in Eastern Australia are a particularly different case I believe, so if these are your concern, please do your own research specifically about them.

A typical scene with Merlin.

A typical scene with Merlin.

If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer. There is also loads of other information out there about ticks, tick diseases, treatments, prevention etc etc. I’m pretty sure you can find it yourself, rather than me providing a huge list of links. (If you would like some links to further information, just let me know)

Apparently at this point I’m supposed to write some disclaimer about how I bought all these products with my own money and nobody’s paying me to say this stuff. I did, and they’re not. I wish they would!

Walking in Wales . . . sort of!

WARNING: This is not so much a hiking post as a “travelogue comedy of errors”.

My walking companion from Australia was coming over to the UK and planning a week of walking in Wales so of course I had to go with him! After all, Wales is only 800 miles or so from where I live. I really need to stop reading miles and thinking in kilometres . . . . 800 miles really is a lot further than 800 kilometres! Still, he had come 9,000 miles to see me, so it only seemed fair. OK, he actually came to see his daughter . . . .

He wanted to walk part of the Offa’s Dyke trail, from Welshpool to Knighton, then follow the Glyndwr’s Way trail to complete a loop. Deciding he didn’t have enough time for that, he decided to get to Machynlleth on the Glyndwr’s Way, then take the train back to Welshpool.

I considered taking the train down to Welshpool (starting with a bus from here to Lairg) but that was going to take over 12 hours of actually travelling, plus another few hours in transit, plus probably a night in a hotel and over £100 in train/bus tickets. I decided to buy a car and drive down instead. Actually, buying a car was already a priority for other reasons, but this certainly gave me a firm deadline to aim for!

The driving option was made possible by a website called “JustPark”, where people can offer private car parking spaces (eg driveway space) for rent. I found a place near Churchstoke (about halfway between Welshpool and Knighton, a couple of miles from Offa’s Dyke) where I could leave my car for the entire week for only £10! Excellent!

So, the dog and I took off on a big road trip. Wednesday afternoon we drove to Inverness, bought the last few supplies for our walk and stayed the night in a friend’s flat (Merlin did very well at 3rd floor apartment living!). The following day we drove the 7 hours to Welshpool . . . . only stopping once! I probably should’ve stopped some more as I was quite tired for the last bit, but my mentality when driving is the same as when walking – I don’t like stopping for rests!

I met up with Steve, and we headed down to Churchstoke. We had decided to have dinner at the Horse and Jockey, and stay in the caravan park behind the pub (in our tents). Merlin came into the pub while we had a pint, argued over our maps and traded jests with the barman (or innkeeper, as I called him). Merlin kept fussing around, completely the opposite to our local pub where he just lies down and sleep, so when it came to dinner time, I put him in the car while we ate. Unlike Australia, there was no problem leaving the dog in the car as there’s never any sun to make it heat up!

Campsite at the Horse and Jockey

The following morning we drove to our parking place. Or tried to. We got to where it should’ve been, but couldn’t find anything that looked like the photo, AND there was a big “NO PARKING” sign in the only available place. I tried calling the space owner, but got no answer. Steve went and woke the neighbours, who knew nothing about the parking, but did say that the guy who used to live next day was a bit of a crazy unpleasant man. Possibly he’s still advertising the spot even though it’s not available. So, the parking thing was a complete failure! I still think JustPark is a lovely idea though, and they were excellent when I spoke to them that afternoon, refunding my money straight away and being particularly concerned that I had somewhere else safe to leave my car.

Luckily the innkeeper had said the night before that we could’ve left the car there, so back to the Horse and Jockey we went. There was no-one around yet, so we parked the car in an out of the way corner and wrote a very polite note explaining the situation (“Dear Mr Innkeeper, you mentioned that we could leave the car here and we hope that this is still OK because we’ve been screwed over by our parking spot . . . . ) which we slipped under the back door of the pub.

Setting out.

Setting out.

FINALLY we were away, and only an hour late! Our first task was to get to the Offa’s Dyke. We tried to follow some public footpaths, which wandered through open fields, crops and, at one point, someone’s farmyard. This is quite common around here apparently. Despite much scepticism from Steve, we eventually found a sign for the Offa’s Dyke trail. And the dyke itself, which is hard to miss!

Trekking across fields to find the dyke. Steve wants everyone to know that the bedroll on his pack is Merlin's and he would never normally pack like this!

Trekking across fields to find the dyke. Steve wants everyone to know that the bedroll on his pack is Merlin’s and he would never normally pack like this!

Where we found Offa's Dyke

Where we found Offa’s Dyke

We started off in beautiful woodlands, . . possibly the prettiest part of the walk all day. Then it was through a variety of fields and country lanes. Merlin was a bit slower than normal, carrying all his food for a week in his packs, but still bounded around happily . . . which caused some problems when he suddenly yelped and came back limping badly. I assume he put one front leg down a rabbit hole. I took his packs off him straight away, hoping that he’d recover, otherwise it would be a very short hike! Within a few minutes he was back to normal, which was good, because those packs were too heavy for me to carry for much longer!!

Following the dyke through forest. Merlin packless for a while.

Following the dyke through forest. Merlin packless for a while.

Pretty soon we got to the hills. The dyke was built straight across the countryside, regardless of the terrain, and we were following the dyke. We went up and down and up and down and up . . .and up . . . I think we may’ve had one flat section. For a few metres. The hills were not small either, and were incredibly steep (see the elevation profile of the walk).

The first steep hill - quite a pretty section of dyke

The first steep hill – quite a pretty section of dyke

Us, heading up the steep section of the dyke (behind another lady)

Us, heading up the steep section of the dyke (behind another lady)

Another steep hill.

Another steep hill.

Another photo of me? Really?

A nice foresty bit between hils.

Probably the only thing worse than the hills were the stiles. We started dreading them, and would walk a fair distance out of the way to find a gate to go through instead. They would’ve been fine for us, . . . but Merlin was not keen on them. His reaction to stiles was to put both front legs out in front of him and push as hard as he could away from the stile! We started off both trying to lift him over from one side. Then we tried with Steve going over first and catching him after I lifted/pushed him over. Then we gave up trying to get him to walk up the steps and I’d just lift him over, backlegs first, the same way I do over fences up here. Sometimes it was easier to actually lift him over the fence next to the stile. On some lucky bits he could fit through a gap in the fence next to the stile. There was maybe two like this. The other 20 or so stiles we had to take his packs off, get Steve over the stile, perform a juggling act with an uncooperative dog, get me over, then put his packs back on. It was slowing us down a lot, not to mention destroying any kind of walking rhythm we had. That said, by the last one, he almost got over it all on his own – walking up the steps on one side and, with some help, stepping over the top and jumping off the other side.

Maybe half of the fences had gates in them. To those people, . . . we salute you. Thankyou so much!

A lovely daisy field . . approaching an even lovelier gate.

A lovely daisy field . . approaching an even lovelier gate.

Newcastle (on Clun?)

Newcastle (on Clun?)

During the afternoon, the rain started. And it didn’t stop. (so, no more photos) Luckily the stiles finished at this point. Lifting the dog over the stiles was hard enough as it was. Lifting a wet, muddy dog would’ve been too much. So much so that when we came to a choice between following the path up and over another hill, which was bound to have more stiles on it, or following the road, we chose the road. We talked to some other walkers that evening and found that there were lots of stiles on that section, so it was a good choice!

We eventually arrived in Knighton, to find a sign welcoming us to Wales. What? I thought we’d spent the whole day walking in Wales? No, apparently we started in Wales, and within half an hour went back into England, and spent the rest of the day walking in England!

The problem we had now was that we had nowhere to stay. There is a campsite in Knighton, but they don’t allow dogs. This was a big problem with our planning for this walk. Not only did I have to adjust to the non-Scotland rules of NOT being able to camp wherever you want, I was then hit with a horrible anti-dog policy in half the campsites on our planned route. Out of 6 staged stopping points (based on the guide books), only 2 of them had campsites that allowed dogs. Frustratingly, these 2 places both had 2 campsites that allowed dogs so we had plenty of options in 2 places and nothing at all in between.

This had been weighing on our minds. We were also going a lot slower than expected, due to the stiles, with no expectation that this would change in future days. This put us at risk of not getting back in time. The countryside had been rather boring farmland for most of the day too – another thing which we didn’t expect to change in the coming days. Oh, it was pretty, . . . but not really what either of us wanted in a walk. We were also cold and wet by this point. Any 2 or 3 of these things, we could’ve dealt with. All 4 . . . we decided to bail out!

Luckily we found a very helpful lady in the Knighton Tourist Info Centre, who booked the local taxi for us to take us back to Churchstoke. We had a couple of hours to kill so went down to the George and Dragon pub, for a pint. They let Merlin in and he soon curled up in front of the fire while we started to defrost and shared stories with some other walkers we’d seen on the trail.

Tired, wet dog.

Tired, wet dog.

We arrived back at the Horse and Jockey in Churchstoke (confusing, because there is also a Horse and Jockey in Knighton!), much to the surprise of the innkeeper! Some more banter, another lovely meal, and we spent the night in the same campsite we had the day before!

As snug as a bug in a rug (or a setter in a doona). Sleeping next to the car meant we could use all the extra blankets and bedding we wanted!

As snug as a bug in a rug (or a setter in a doona). Sleeping next to the car meant we could use all the extra blankets and bedding we wanted!

We were up to about plan K at this point, and started coming up with L, M and N. Eventually we decided to go and visit a blogging friend of mine (who’ve I’ve never met in person) who lives in the Peak District (“on the way home” if you look at it through squinty eyes). However, there is a dog equipment supplier in Wales (also loosely “on the way”) that I wanted to stop in and see. I’ve been thinking of getting Merlin a coat and harness, but didn’t feel confident buying one online. This way I could actually try them on him. Unfortunately my “marking it on the map” consisted of circling an area that was roughly 5 miles across in some random rural area of Wales! The Sat Nav (which I’d borrowed from Scott and had served us quite well up to now) couldn’t find the town name I was looking for so we had to use it to get us nearby then try to follow road signs. We drove around tiny villages and backroads for about half an hour before we finally found the town I thought I was looking for. Still couldn’t see any dog supply shop though! I asked in a store in town and they knew exactly who I meant and gave me directions to get there.

We arrived at Cammwdr Canines to be greeted by several cats and a horse, but no humans! We did find some eventually and Ann was extremely helpful at suggesting what we needed and fitting things on Merlin. I came away with a lovely new coat and a harness . . . which would’ve been really helpful for getting Merlin over stiles!

An uncooperative model (there are cats outside)

An uncooperative model (there are cats outside)

Then it was on to the Peak District. All smooth sailing except that the Sat Nav stupidly took us off the motorway and through what felt like the middle of a city where it took us 10 minutes to go about 100m. OK, I don’t know that there was actually a better way to go, but that isn’t going to stop me complaining. We finally got to my friend’s place (after a scenic drive along some stunning backroads because the main road into town was closed off for a parade) where we had tea and cheese on toast and cakes and a wonderful chat.

I had a plan that we could go and see Lake Windermere so I programmed “accommodation near Lake Windermere” into the Sat Nav. It did an amazing job. We had a smooth drive up there and arrived at an absolutely stunning campground. Stunning in both its organisation and facilities, and the views over the Lakes and to the hills. Sadly also quite expensive!! Still, a good spot to pitch our tents and a really lovely meal at the restaurant made up for it.

Merlin showing off his new coat and helping Steve make camp (I had already finished!)

Merlin showing off his new coat and helping Steve make camp (I had already finished!)

Dinner time!

Dinner time!

The following morning we went for a short walk up the hill behind the campsite for more stunning views and some interesting looking sheep. At least we were getting some walking done!

(I’ve included extra photos of me, because I’ve been getting complaints that all my photos are of the dog. This is one of the few times I’ve had someone else to take photos of me!)

We then headed back to Scotland. Plan Q now was to go up to Kings House, walk up the Devils Staircase and back, camp there then send him off walking south on the West Highland Way the next day. We stopped at Milngavie (the start of the WHW) to get some maps for Steve. Sadly, it was past 1pm on a Sunday and everyone that sold maps was closed. I knew there was a GO Outdoors (outdoor store) nearby so googled it (thankfully the mobile phone signal was enough to give me internet here . . . down in England/Wales it had been woeful!) and the Sat Nav successfully directed us there.

We looked, and couldn’t find any WHW books or maps. So we asked. They had sold their last copy yesterday. What!!? It really felt like this walk was just not meant to happen. They directed us to another outdoor shop nearby, which is also programmed into the Sat Nav. It took us almost into the centre of Glasgow, and then tried to make us drive through a railway line! Apparently the roads have changed since it’s been updated. At least the general area was correct so we walked around a bit and finally found a shop, and finally found a WHW guidebook!

It was too late to get to Kings House now . . . so much for Plan Q. Onto R, and then S, T and U! We eventually drove to Tyndrum and checked into a campsite. It had started raining, a lot. We couldn’t face wet tents, and the campsite was actually not renting out tent sites because the ground was so soggy, so luckily they had a “trekker hut” that we, and Merlin, could stay in. As soon as we got inside, Merlin jumped on the bed and stayed there the rest of the night. He had this look that said “don’t you know I’m a bed dog? You’ve been making me sleep on that stupid mat on the ground for the last 3 nights!”. At least the mattresses were coated in plastic!

Plastic coated beds!

Plastic coated beds!

Merlin not happy about being locked inside the Trekker Hut

Merlin not happy about being locked inside the Trekker Hut

Hot showers then dinner and a pint at the Tyndrum hotel, then home for a sleep on a proper bed!

The following morning the weather had improved slightly – it was only raining 60% of the time! Steve headed off south on the WHW and I accompanied him down to Auchtertyre farm, before returning to the car and driving home. It was a long, wet drive home, but I got home by about 5pm . . . in time to go to the quiz night that night (see next post). Steve walked for another couple of days down to Balmaha before catching the bus/train to Edinburgh to meet his wife. From all accounts it was a wet, but still enjoyable, walk.

More sheep, near Auchtertyre Farm (West Highland Way) - Merlin showing off his new harness.

More sheep, near Auchtertyre Farm (West Highland Way) – Merlin showing off his new harness.

Buachaille Etive Mor through the terrible weather driving home. Actually stationery at this point - stuck in traffic for roadworks.

Buachaille Etive Mor through the terrible weather driving home. Actually stationery at this point – stuck in traffic for roadworks.

So, not at all how the week was supposed to go, but at least we made it work for us . . . eventually!

 

Here is the route/elevation for the Wales part of the walk:

Wales_Route WalesElevation

Meall Meadhonach

Last week I decided to walk up to the top of Meall Meadhonach, the hill (423m) just to the south-east of the village (I need to remember to call it “the village” instead of “town”!). I am hoping to go walking with my Bib Track walking friend in Wales next month, so need to start getting organised. Most of my gear is still OK from my last visit here but I’m not in practise and I have the added complication of the dog. I’d like to take him with me so need to get him accustomed to multi-day hikes. I haven’t got him used to the tent yet so have been thinking of doing a two day trip to Strabeg bothy (just to the south of Loch Eriboll) and back which gives us the overnight experience without the hassle of the tent. Hopefully the view from the top of Meall Meadhonach would give me a better feel of the lay of the land in that direction.

20150409_route

20150409_elevation

It didn’t really take me 5 hours – I just forgot to turn the logger off. And stopped for tea and cake at a friend’s place! Also, given its propensity to over-read, it was probably only 12ish km.

We were also testing my old dog packs on Merlin. I discovered pretty early on that anything I was going to put in them would have to be completely waterproof. They sat very well though and didn’t seem to bother him at all. They also made him a lot easier to spot on the hillside!

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It was a beautifully fine, but reasonably windy, day when we set out. It was warm enough though and I soon took my beanie and gloves off. The start of the walk followed the trail from just east of the Smoo Hotel turnoff, up to the bealach. Just before the high point on the pass a quad (ATV) path turns off to the right.

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This is where the path leaves the main track. You can only just see it.

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The path becomes much clearer after a while

I started following this but as usual, the “path” was worse than walking cross country. I also kept wandering off it without noticing, looking around to realise that it was “over there”. Eventually I gave up on the path and took the much more interesting route wherever my feet took me. Besides, straight up the side and then walk along the top is a much more fun way of doing it than following a path!

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Looking back down to realise I’d missed the path again. You can also just make out a marker post to show this is a “real” path. Loch Eriboll in the background.

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The way I went instead

and I was rewarded by a view of this lovely lochan

and I was rewarded by a view of this lovely lochan

I headed up close to the top of the ridge then headed west up towards the peak. I got distracted at this point and decided to head to the southern end of the peak to have a look down towards Strabeg. This section was reasonably rocky, with what looked like slabby quartzite. It was good to see that Merlin wasn’t worried by the uneven rocky surface.

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Looking north-east on the slabby ridge end. Merlin obediently posing for me. The mouth of Loch Eriboll to the left.

If it was reasonably windy when we started, it was now extremely windy. It was very difficult to stand still, let alone steady enough to take photos and Merlin kept walking into me, misjudging the wind as he walked past. I had to be very careful when standing on the edges of the peak or on rocky ground, especially while taking photos. The wind actually made it so cold that I couldn’t leave my mouth open or my teeth started hurting! Merlin seemed a little bemused by the wind, but was at least obliging enough to stand for a photo. See, no more dodgy selfies now that I have a reasonably obedient companion!

Looking south-west to Beinn Spionnaidh (it is on my list)

Looking south-west to Beinn Spionnaidh (it is on my list)

Looking south-west to the end of Loch Eriboll. Strabeg is somewhere beyond the water to the right.

Looking south-west to the end of Loch Eriboll. Strabeg is somewhere beyond the water to the right.

From here it was onto the peak proper. If anything, it was even windier up there. Merlin almost knocked me off the edge by walking into me (blown by the wind) when I was standing on the edge. He then hid behind the cairn while I tried to get some scenery photos. He did peer out to try to work out what I was doing standing out in the wind for so long!

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The view back to Durness from the summit.

The view back to Durness, Faraid Head and the Kyle of Durness from the summit. The closest loch is Loch Meadaidh, with the smaller further one being Loch Caladail.

I had brought a sandwich for lunch and was going to hide behind the cairn and eat it but remembered a comment I read recently about “cairn hoggers” and how it should be illegal to consume sandwiches at a summit cairn. Even though there was no-one else around I obligingly descended a little way (luckily to the north, away from the wind) and found a nice outcrop to hide behind. The gloves and beanie definitely came back on at this point!

I wanted to traverse the rest of the summit on the way back so headed north, then north-west, across all of the subsidiary peaks and up and down a series of lovely gullies. There are some beautiful long outcrops of pink granite in these. There is actually quite a lot of very coarse grained pink granite up here, mixed in with the dark grey gneiss, creamy limestone and white/grey quartzite.

Looking east-ish along a gully.

Looking east along a gully.

Pink granite streaks in a gully

Pink granite streaks in a gully

I came straight down from the side of the hill, making a beeline for the bealach path just to the west of where it crosses a stream (saving me from crossing the stream). It was not the ideal descent path, being quite steep and very slippery. However, I do like taking the direct route, especially on the way down!

Looking back to where I came down from where we rejoined the main track.

Looking back to where I came down from where we rejoined the main track.

I think Merlin was actually tired by this point. He walked along next to me for a while (rather than bounding through the heather and criss-crossing backwards and forwards). He soon decided that this would ruin his reputation though so started play-bowing and trying to play with me . . . which was amusing until he wiped mud all over my nice yellow fleecy!

The walk back was lovely for the view ahead of me, but also kept interesting by the fighter planes flying over me and the occasional booms and puffs of dust from An Garbh-eilean, an island off the coast of the cape. I did capture a dust cloud on one of my photos, and actually saw the flash of one bomb. It was taking about 25s for the sound to reach me though so it was a matter of seeing the plane fly overhead, watch it till I lost sight of it in the clouds, then guess how long it would take to get to the target and not blink for as long as I could!

On the way back into town.

On the way back into town.

This is just a crop of the previous picture. You can just see the dust cloud coming from the island where the bomb has hit it.

This is just a crop of the previous picture. You can just see the dust cloud coming from the island where the bomb has hit it.

They were doing aerial bombing exercises all this week. On Monday I walked out to the end of Faraid head to watch them – unfortunately the cloud cover was so low (and it was wet, cold and windy) that I didn’t see a single plane, or the bombs, but did see lots of dust clouds and a couple of light flashes.

The view from Faraid Head earlier in the week.

The view from Faraid Head earlier in the week.

I actually did some flora identification when I got home, after taking a photo of an interesting looking plant. It is called “Fir Clubmoss”, and the photo also contains Ling Heather (the commonest type I think) and Cladonia Lichens (I think – the stringy looking white things.

The green thing in the middle is Fir Clubmoss

The green thing in the middle is Fir Clubmoss

I also saw a lot of grouse (which Merlin startled but completely failed to “set”, and some of which he didn’t even notice when they flew up from under his nose!) and took a photo of some grouse tracks for you, which Merlin kindly walked across to give you some idea of scale (bear in mind he is huge).

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Our first proper Scottish walk

The box with all my hiking gear in it arrived today!

The box arrived safely in one piece (only just)

The box arrived safely in one piece (only just)

and then exploded!

and then exploded!

As well as meaning I now have a lot more warm clothes to wear, it also means we could finally go for a “proper” walk. It was a lovely day – mostly sunny, dry and relatively warm (8 C), so perfect for a walk. We headed up to the bealach (pass) between Beinn Ceannabeinne (ben kenn-a-bayn) and Meall Meadhonach (haven’t learnt this one yet, but something like “meyowl mea-ernurch”?). I had decided to ease into things, not actually going all the way up a hill. There is also a nice path that goes up there (I learnt on my last trip that walking off-track in Scotland makes things approximately 10x harder). Apparently it used to be a commonly used crofter’s (small scale farmer) path from Durness to Laid. On the way home, we turned right just after Beinn Ceannabeine and came back along the track towards the Smoo Cave Hotel. This cuts uncomfortably close to someone’s house, but it is marked on all the walking books so I assume it’s OK. Map

We had an interesting encounter with some local sheep on the way down the main road (an A road). They were being herded up the road straight towards us. Luckily the shepherdess came over the hill on a quad bike first and warned me to get Merlin under control, and luckily he came back, even with a flock of sheep running at him. The sheep then proceeded to walk right up to both of us! Maybe they thought Merlin was on their side? Having some understanding of sheep, we stood very still while the two border collie sheepdogs did their work and eventually pushed the sheep on around us. Having stood calmly through this, Merlin THEN went nuts! He went on the lead soon anyway as the first field we had to walk through had sheep all over the road and we’re not quite ready for that yet. We followed the track from near the Village Hall towards Loch Meadaidh (m’dee), then turned left towards the bealach. It was wonderful to be out here again. There were some wee burns (streams) burbling past enthusiastically (it has been a bit wet the past few days) and those beautiful, nobbly, wild, NW Scotland hills that I love so much. Only 10 minutes from town and you couldn’t see any civilisation other than the muddy track I was walking on and the only sounds were the burns, the wind and the occasional bird. Oh, and a big red dog bounding and splashing across the landscape.

A small pond on the way in from town and an energetic big red dog!

A small pond on the way in from town and an energetic big red dog!

Merlin in front of Meall Meadhonaidh

Merlin in front of Meall Meadhonaidh

Merlin in front of Beinn Ceannabeinne (this is the "mum told me to STOP. What is she doing??" look)

Merlin in front of Beinn Ceannabeinne (this is the “mum told me to STOP. What is she doing??” look)

Merlin part way up Beinn Ceannabeinne. This is full zoom. He's certainly not clingy!

Merlin part way up Beinn Ceannabeinne. This is full zoom. He’s certainly not clingy!

I have been up this way before last year but never all the way. Last time I turned and went up Beinn Ceannabeinne before the top of the bealach. It was DEFINITELY worth walking all the way this time. It took a long time to get to the top of the saddle, with a lot of false tops, and the edge always seeming to be just a bit further away. When I got there though, it was unmistakeable . . . and breathtaking. The view suddenly opened up into panorama of snow-capped mountains with Loch Eriboll glistening in the foreground. DSC03340

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I think that is Ben Hope in the background

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The walk home was very pleasant (gently downhill), and the views back to Durness were also beautiful, if not as stunning as the other direction. ???????????????????????????????

We saw a few small birds, a couple of red deer and some large clumps of what I assume were frog eggs in some puddles on the road.

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Merlin had an absolutely fantastic time and, despite disappearing from time to time, always came back when I called him. He really does fit in well up here . . . . other than the fact that it took about 10 minutes to wash all the mud out of him when we got back!

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Obedience with an Irish Setter

Continuing with the theme of Merlin:

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve also been doing some obedience trials. After failing a LOT of them, we took a break to reassess our training methods and give him a chance to grow up (and give me a break from the disappointment of failing trials).

We started again in November this year, entering two trials only a week apart. We started training again a couple of weeks beforehand, working very hard on focus (ie keeping him listening to me for more than 2 seconds) and then on delayed rewards (ie keeping him listening to me for more than 2 minutes without any treats or a ball in my hand).

When we arrived at the first trial he was being an absolute lunatic. We walked about 5 laps of the trial ground just to calm him down! Then we had to wait 3 hours until our turn. By this point it was after our normal bedtime so I was more worried about him falling asleep in the ring than doing anything stupid. I shouldn’t have worried. He was as lively as ever, but also reasonably switched on. We passed, and not only that, got a third place! OK, only 3 dogs passed, and our score was not great, but it’s still a pass, and still a third place!

The following week, we had a huge panic – I thought the trial started at 6:45pm, and just as I was about to start getting ready, I re-read the information and saw that I had to be there at 5:45pm! Panic!! I grabbed anything I thought we might need, threw Merlin in the car and rushed out . . . into peak hour traffic. There was no way I was going to get there on time!! At the first traffic lights I stopped and checked the info again . . . I’d read the wrong event info. It was 6:45pm! We got there very early so stopped and bought some dinner nearby, then went over to the trial. This time we were the first dog in the ring, so it was lucky we got there nice and early. He was not quite as well behaved as last time, but still passed every exercise and just scraped through with enough points overall. We also made some new friends – a Rottweiler, who’d been the dog after us at both trials, and his owners. Very lovely people.

There was one trial left this year. I hadn’t entered it because it was hosted by the Dobermann Club and Merlin loves Dobermanns. As in . . . really loves them. There is no way he could pass a trial if he was mooning over a bunch of Dobermanns. Still, my new friends convinced me to enter it, and I did really want to get our last pass before the long summer break (trials don’t start again until February). We didn’t do a lot of training in the lead up. A lot of work on one exercise he had struggled with in the last two trials and just a bit of freshening up on the other exercises. There were a few Dobermanns around, including the bitch that he originally fell in love with. There was also a lot going on – heaps of dogs, people, wind, food . . . . I was pretty worried.

He started off brilliantly . . . then got distracted!! I got him back with an extra command and we managed to get through it. We were the first dog in again, and luckily there were only 7 dogs in total so we didn’t have to wait long for the group stay exercise. There was only one dog between him and the Dobermann bitch he loves. Oh dear. He fidgeted and whined the whole way through his down stay but somehow didn’t move. Longest 3 minutes of my life!!

So, another pass, and another third place, this one with a decent score and we actually beat some other dogs. And, most importantly, his novice obedience title (“CD”).

I said I’d be very excited with our first obedience title, and I was (and still am). I always said I would get his obedience title but for a while there I didn’t really believe it. In the end, it was almost anticlimactic – three consecutive trials. I’m very proud of him!

MerlinSmiling

You may wonder why this is such a big deal. Hundreds of dogs achieve their obedience titles every year. I achieved several obedience titles with my last dog. However, Merlin is an Irish Setter. Irish Setters have a reputation (usually incorrect) for being stupid. More accurately, they are independent and not bred for the kind of precision, attentiveness and lack of mad running around that formal obedience trials have. Merlin is quite good – my dog friends have decided that he’s not actually an Irish Setter because he comes back most of the time when he’s called. However he does still have all the other Irish Setter traits. He simply doesn’t have that “what do you want me to do now?” drive that the popular obedience dog breeds have. His is more “I know what would be fun, let’s go do that. We can do your thing later”. He learns everything easily enough, and will do them when asked, but spends most of his time looking (and smelling) around him for all the other exciting things that are happening. It’s hard to convince him that he needs to watch me the entire time for that one tiny instant when I wave my hand (or turn a corner) and he needs to respond without a second request. We’ve settled on a compromise: he has very frequent glances back at me and I do my best to make very clear, loud commands . . . . or stall for time until he’s looking, for anything that needs to be done without a verbal command!!

Very few Irish Setters obtain obedience titles and there are none others trialling in WA at the moment. Most people have been very encouraging (even when he’d put in an incredibly demoralising but hilarious performance) and the judges have generally loved his happy nature. The rules do request that the dog is happy and willing, but a lot of the working breeds (most obedience dogs are border collies, retrievers and shepherds) are so focussed on their work that “happy” is not a relevant concept. Sometimes I think the judges give us a bit of extra leeway because he is so happy, . . . but he did pass some trials through some pretty big distractions that a lot of other dogs failed, so we definitely earnt it.

So basically, yes, it is a really big deal! I’m looking forward to having a go at the next level up now, as that will really turn some heads!

For those who’re interested, the novice obedience test consists of:

  1. Heelwork: off lead, heel, sit, stand, down, left and right turns(90o), left and right about turns (180o) and walking around a figure eight, with no talking except to say heel, stand and down when the judge tells you to do those things. This is our biggest challenge as he just doesn’t stay focussed long enough.
  2. Stand for Exam: Stand still off lead (away from me) while the judge walks up and strokes his back, sides and legs. He kept moving his feet or turning towards the judge so we did heaps of practice on this one and eventually got it right.
  3. Recall: Sit, stay, I walk away then turn and face him. When the judge signals I can call him and he has to come and sit in front. Then when told, he walks around behind and sits next to me. He was always great at this, except once when he was too excited, came barrelling in, couldn’t stop and did a lap around me and then sat in front. Still a pass, . . just lots of points lost!
  4. Change of Position: Stand, stay and I leave him (not too far away). When instructed I tell him to lay down. Then I return to him.

All of these are done individually, then when everyone has finished, you all come back in together and do the stays as a group.

  1. Sit Stay: 1 minute, off lead.
  2. Down Stay: 3 minute, off lead.

There are 5 different levels of class:

  1. CCD (Community Companion Dog). This is an optional class and since it wasn’t around when I first started trialling years ago, I didn’t bother doing it.
  2. CD (Companion Dog) or Novice
  3. CDX (Companion Dog Excellent): You need to have your CD title to attempt this class.
  4. UD (Utility Dog): You need to have your CDX title to attempt this.
  5. UDX (Utility Dog Excellent): I assume you need to have your UD title to attempt this but as it is also a new class (like CCD) and it is so far from where we are, I know nothing about it!!

Happy Old Year’s Day, and another fun vet visit

I’m getting in early with the Happy New Year’s – there are some benefits to being in Australia (eastern edge of the eastern hemisphere)! Have a safe night and best wishes for 2015 . . . . .

ahhhh, who am I kidding? This is just an excuse to tell you another story about Merlin.

We were down at my mum’s farm over Christmas and I decided that it would be a good time to get him desensitized to sheep. He’s a city dog (and for good reason, as you’re about to find out) so is fascinated by sheep. “Fascinated” in the sense that he loves to bound towards them at full speed then chase them as they scatter wildly. A lot of this is just because they’re new and exciting so I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time wandering around the paddock (on lead) near the sheep to get him used to them.

I let him have a run around at the far end of the paddock to settle him a bit. All good so far. Then I put him on lead and we started walking around close to the sheep. He was reasonably good (for a first go) until . . . . . he suddenly starts shaking his head a lot and tilting it to one side. A sure sign of a grass seed in the ear. I have no idea how he got one while walking around calming on lead in short grass, when he didn’t get one while tearing around in the long grass further down the paddock!

This was Saturday evening. What is it about Merlin, vets and non-business hours?? There is no after hours vet in my mum’s town. The nearest is three towns away. I was not going to take him in that night but we did take him across the next morning. Being Sunday, we still incurred hefty after hours call out fees. Merlin was quite calm about it all so I was beginning to wonder if there really was a grass seed in there. Turns out there was, and quite a nasty one too! At least we didn’t go all that way for nothing.

We also combined the vet visit with a trip down to Walpole to pick up my friend’s dog and see some tall trees and art works, so it ended up being quite a lovely day out.

The funny part of this story is what we did next. This is the second grass seed Merlin has had in his ear while staying down at the farm in summer. I was not going to let this happen again! I also was not going to stop taking him outside. Instead, we needed to find a way to pin his ears down to his head. A stocking seemed a likely solution.

Here are some pictures of Merlin running around the field like a proper Irish Setter, and of him learning to ignore sheep, all while sporting a stylish stocking offcut which made him look either like a very demure young lady with a scarf, or a war victim with a bandage around his head. I thought it was funny, hopefully you do too. It was effective though!

Quartering the ground like a proper setter.

Looking like a proper setter (other than the headgear)

Posing obediently for a photo. The sheep have wandered up to the top of the paddock (you can just see them)

Posing obediently for a photo. The sheep have wandered up to the top of the paddock (you can just see them)

$200 vet visit vs free but slightly silly looking old stocking. I’ll take the stocking any day!!

(In case anyway wanted to see the sheep a bit more clearly, here they are:

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Merry Christmas and an old story. . .

Merry Christmas from me and Merlin! I didn’t bother posting on Christmas day as I assumed you would be inundated with Christmas posts from all kinds of social media. Plus, I hope you were spending too much time with friends and family in the real world to read my post!

We have seen a lot of lovely snowy northern hemisphere Christmas photos recently, and this is our response:

Christmas at mum's place. Blue skies and yellow paddocks.

Christmas at mum’s place. Bright blue skies and yellow paddocks.

It has actually been a very mild summer here so far, and everyone is trying very hard not to say or do anything that will jinx it and bring the wrath of the summer gods down on us. This post is walking that line very closely! These photos were taken on Christmas day, which was a good 10 degrees (Celsius) cooler than normal. There are actually still hints of green in the paddocks and water in the dam (although there may not be after Merlin has finished with it!)

And now for the story . . .

Seeing as you already have a photo of Merlin, I’ll continue with the theme of him. I’ve already written to you about his win at the Royal Show. What I didn’t tell you was the adventures we had BEFORE the show! The show was on Tuesday. On Sunday night, we had people around for dinner and had a big roast lamb . . . and I then mixed some pan drippings (including a lot of rosemary) in with Merlin’s dinner. (Yes, I know . . . silly me!)

That night, at about 1am, he woke me up, fidgeting, trying to throw up (and only getting some white foam) and generally looking uncomfortable. Irish Setters are prone to bloat (GDV), which can kill a dog in under an hour, so I was alarmed . . but not panicky yet. I watched him for half an hour then googled his symptoms . . . which of course came up with bloat! I’m pretty sure you could google almost any symptoms and come up with bloat! I was slightly more concerned so got up, at which point he drank some water. Surely he can’t drink water if he has bloat?? No, google says “my dog tried to drink when bloating and just threw all the water straight back up again”. Oh good . . . . for 5 minutes until Merlin started spitting up all the water he’d drank! He was also quite uncomfortable and looking very unhappy by now. Panic time. Call the emergency vet and jump in the car. It was at least 15 minutes away, so I was driving as fast as I could (it was almost 2am by this point), trying to work out how fast I could go without losing my licence for speeding on a double demerits weekend! Then my GPS took me 10km further north than I needed to go. Aaaaarrrrggghh!!! All this time, Merlin was laying down in the back of the car so I couldn’t see him to tell if he was still OK.

When we arrived at the vet, he happily jumped out of the car and started running around the carpark sniffing everything, then ran around the entire vets, investigating everything. I had to explain to the vet that he definitely wasn’t this lively when I’d left home!!

Anyway, it turns out that he probably just had something irritating his throat (roasted rosemary maybe??!) so they gave him some painkillers and gel stuff and sent us home. We did get an X-Ray done just to make sure he wasn’t bloating. Back home, and in to bed by 3am . . . to get up for a rowing time trial at 5am! Yay.

Merlin was still unhappy and lethargic for most of Monday but at about 4pm, he decided he was OK again, and demanded to be taken to the park where he ran around happily for an hour. This gave me just enough time to wash and finish grooming him for the show the following day!

Here is a photo of his stomach as a momento. X-ray and vet visit: $300. Speeding fine: $200. Happy healthy dog: Priceless!

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Merlin’s day at the Show

I know, I know . . . I owe you hundreds of hiking posts full of amazing pictures and inspiring (or at least interesting) stories. I was going to say it is an issue of time . . . but it’s really more to do with mood and motivation. Looking through my photos is lovely, but also a bit sad because I’m not there anymore. Also, I want to present such amazing blog posts for you that I want to get all the photos, information and stories “just right” and THAT will take more time than I have. However, I’ve just read some travel posts from other bloggers and been inspired so will lower my standards and start getting some posts out for you soon.

In the meantime, here is a short ‘congratulations’ to Merlin:

This fortnight is the Perth Royal Show. I entered Merlin in the Dog Conformation Show (beauty contest). We entered last year and won “Best Irish Setter in Show”, sadly through the default of being the only Irish Setter there. This year we succeded in again winning “Only Irish Setter in Show”! To his credit, he behaved and presented very well and I had done a reasonable job of grooming him. Everybody said he looked lovely. He was also very social all day, earning lots of fans from the hundreds of children (and a fair few adults) who patted him.

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