Tag Archive: Walking


Mud Skippers

A solitary truck whizzes past and startles Flora, she isn’t a timid dog, but the sudden noise and powerful waft of air causes her to skitter. As if he could hear me I shout after the departing truck. ‘No need for that! Inconsiderate so-and-so. You could have given us a wider berth!’

SONY DSC

Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood. Particularly in Winter!

The weather has been icy for several days. Cabin fever, like throwing darts left handed, an issue that can’t be fixed unless you switch back to your normal pattern of behaviour.  Dog walking helps to dissipate the frustration, but my agitation is obvious.

No other life forms are walking the streets today, even the main road is quiet. Biting cold has muted the world. A torpid steel grey sky presses upon us, urging abandonment of our walking project. Extreme cold weather is the worst case scenario for my business, it debilitates and destroys confidence. It feels as if the ice will never leave.

Bos ready to play

Bosley, primed and ready 🙂

Bosley stands on his snow patched lawn, blue jacket tucked in neatly like a kindly soldier on parade. His face says.

‘Look at me John I am ready for a tour of duty. Let’s hit the beach heads.’

Ms Lockett is always grateful if we stop by and take Boz along, she has become progressively less able to promenade him since suffering a mild stroke. (Bosley – Lockett  – 07801873600) are the details on the tag dangling from Bosley’s collar.

Ms Lockett is a throwback to the hippie era, free love and all that guff.  She is often working in her garden, mauve scarf tied around her head, baggy cargo pants, black Doc Martin’s and a moth eaten, grey sweater. What she lacks in trendy clothing she compensates for credibly with gardening prowess. Delightful perennial borders to drool over, even at this time of year they possess oodles of interest .

As I open the gate Bosley trots over, always amiable. Flora is subjected to the once over. He inspects chin-nose-sniff your ear-neck routine. Flora laps it up. He then gives her backside a good inspection. I have to laugh because he has the appearance of Dr Bosley doing rounds at the clinic.

‘Hold still Flora, I need to take your temperature’.

Ms Lockett waves from the kitchen window, opens it and hands me Bosley’s lead. Without delay we’re off. All three of us finally brim full of renewed enthusiasm. I resemble an Alaskan with a pair of straining huskies. ‘Mush! Mush!’

SONY DSC

Deer snicket in hedge.

Once we arrive at the unsealed lane I allow the dogs to run free, only an occasional tractor trundles down here, they are safe to roam. As soon as we arrive at a small natural woodland they push through the deer snickets in the hedge to gambol around in the tangle of ferns, leaf litter and broken branches. If I were to go in there and run around with my head a couple of feet off the ground my eyes would be gouged from their sockets in minutes. Imagine catching yourself on barbed wire.

SONY DSC

Cattle grid.

The dogs randomly explore the area until we encounter a cattle grid where Boz takes over. He finds a squeeze between the brambles and gate post then surges away at greyhound speed.  Flora gets some help from me to cross the grid before chasing after him furiously.

Content that they are happy exploring the shoreline I negotiate the frozen ground with intense concentration . Usually soft and easy walking, the abysmal cold has created a treacherous icy surface under my vibram boots. I have to bunch my toes up, as if that will prevent me tumbling . From a distance I must resemble a drunk after a couple of Special Brews.

Ahead a heron lifts up into the air, it’s ultra smooth wing beats a joy to behold. I pause, motionless to absorb the chilly ambiance. I watch contentedly, the dogs away in the distance, occasionally dipping out of sight as they negotiate the muddy channels.

I listen, the air placid, a fragment of intense calm. Trance inducing moments pass, a raven croaks high up on the crag to return me from my meditation. An odd rushing noise is upon me that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, a flock of estuary birds zoom overhead, low enough to make me duck down. Distant curlews call as they rise into the air and adjust their feeding station.

Bos with stick

Boz – ready to play.

‘Yap, yap.’ ‘OOff’, the dogs are digging in the salty mud like possessed demons.

Unadulterated joy to watch them play together. I recall holding similar emotions when my children were small, they would come down here and play for hours in the warm weather. A microcosm filled with fantasy and innocence.

I hop, slide and splatter my way carefully, moving closer to the dogs. They have been out on the hard, silty mud for some time. For no reason in particular I call them to me, one sharp ‘shhhwheet’ and Flora pricks her ears, looks for me and kerlonks a direct line in my direction, she skilfully negotiates the ditches and half frozen brackish puddles. Panting happily she anchors up with scratchy skids, eyes on fire – isn’t it amazing how precious delight in the eye of any creature is hugely uplifting.

Bosley dallies a while, adding some finishing touches to the hole they were digging. Satisfied, he tosses his head and sets off toward us in similar cavalier fashion. He doesn’t hesitate at a large ditch, takes a preposterous flying leap and disappears. Imagine Scooby Doo skydiving. Ears up in the air and legs splayed. Muddy waters splash upward, the eagle has landed.

In no time at all Boz hauls himself up this side of the slimy ditch. It’s obvious that he’s struggling with the slope, front paws dug into the turf, hind legs flailing to make a purchase. His determination wins the day, he gallops over the intervening ground, enthusiasm undiminished. He rocks up, plastered head to tail-tip in mud, chocolate sauce with hints of black treacle. I have to keep backing away, arms in the air to avoid being covered in the atrocious mess. He thinks I am playing so launches himself at me. I jump to one side, my feet crush through the thin icy surface of another puddle and I slip to the deck. Boz jumps on top of me, literally laughing into my face, paws pounding on my jacket.

I roll onto my side in an attempt to push myself out of the muck. Both dogs now hoot like impudent teenagers and bounce around me, a chaotic scene.

It’s futile, but I shout. ‘Stop Bosley. Gerrof me!’ For further effect I add. ‘Flora, where are your brains girl? I am a wizened old man, freakin’ well let me get up!’

Urggh. Icy water has seeped over a boot top and filled one boot, my mittens are soaked through, without overtrousers my jeans are saggy bags of stinking mud, even my hair is satched and matted with gunk. ‘Bosley you are an absolute monster!’

SONY DSC

Flooded shoreline at Humphrey Head. Perfect playground for dogs.

Thankfully I carry my phone in a dry inside pocket. I manage to get a call through to a friend who drives a 4WD work vehicle. He doesn’t hesitate to come down to the shore and pick us up.

As we wait near the end of the lane I pull the dogs to me, sit with knees bent, one dog under each arm, tucked in and keeping me warm. Our body heat is creating a cloud of steam in the chilly air. I have treats for the dogs and a chocolate bar for myself, small comfort.

I love it when dogs sit like this. They are content enough, Bosley gives my cheek a very warm choppy nudge that smells of doggie treat as if to say. ‘It’ll be reet mate. You did your best.’

Bosley keeping warm.

When Mark arrives we tumble into the cabin. He has the heater turned up full blast and a flask of piping hot coffee. Oh my, what a luxury. Bosley has been wearing his jacket all the time and it now has to come off. Mark is barely able to drive as he chortles at my demise. Bosley’s dog  jacket is a filthy mess. Can’t imagine what I am going to say to Ms Lockett.

Winter is an endurance test, but moments like this can help to lighten the load.

Have to thank Ms Lockett for lending us Bosley. We had a fabulous time 🙂

New Boots for Humphrey

Flora must be chasing an imaginary rabbit. She twists and lollops, nose to the frosty ground, ears pyoing randomly, jack-in-a-box puppets as she scoots around the muddy saltwater pools.

SONY DSC

Karrimor KSB Event, a wonderful general purpose walking boot.

Winter is being perverse today, it has provided glorious sunshine with sub-zero temperatures. Whenever the ground is frozen solid we are unable to earn a crust from meaningful contract gardening. After dawdling away a few hours keeping warm in front of the fire I decide to take Flora for a walk, down to Humphrey Head. Primary reason – test out my new walking boots.

The boots have been sitting in the original box for almost six months. Hillwalking used to be my lifeblood, but I abandoned regular distance walking when my last pair of boots began leaking at the instep. It’s time to return to the fray.

To add a twist I decide to use my camera to capture the walk through the eyes of Flora. She views things from a completely different layer to me.

We drive the van to the end of the lane and park up. Flora bursts out and gallops around whilst I fit my new boots. The air has an arctic intensity, so my mitten/fingerless gloves are going to be vital as I operate the camera.

Best policy is carefully watch what Flora does, then follow in her pawprints and photograph the places she visits. Clearly this isn’t going to be easy, she moves rapidly from one tuft of grass to another, stopping briefly to sniff then bobble off to something else.

She is fascinated by the pools of water, rushes and leaps with great agility. Her tongue is already flapping, more grin than fatigue.

Flora

Flora at full pelt.

Instantly I realise that I can’t access most  places she has visited, the ground is a treacherous mix of ice and brackish saltwater, the ice breaks easily under my weight, sloppy mud is ankle deep.

There are no sheep on the shoreline today and no other walkers so I decide to let her run free. Still she comes back frequently seeking a little reassurance. Every time she comes back she touches me slightly, often with her nose, occasionally a simple flick of the tail which patters on my legs.

I stop constantly to photograph. Flora lobs up, eyes glittering with delight, front end and shoulders dip to the ground, rear up in the air. She wants to play, we always play.

All doglovers understand this stance, it says.

‘Stick…get me a stick.’

Her tail wags and quivers rapidly, held high in the air. She bounces on both paws at the same time, issuing gentle ‘uff’ ‘uff’ noises.

I look at her with a degree of sympathy. She is confused by this lethargic start to proceedings. Usually I have my wellies on and we both gallivant over the springy turf, jumping across the small ponds until we reach the shoreline where she opens up and stretches her legs. She runs in giant circles depending on where the watermark is. When the tide is well out she will run for a hundred yards, turn like she has suddenly seen the devil and race back full pelt. Where do they gather such energy?

SONY DSC

We walk away from the soggy shore toward the lane and encounter the first obstacle. Probably an 8 on the doggie scale of difficulty. A cattlegrid. This one is tricky because it also has brambles fully up to the edges of the grid. I observe as she ponders the situation. She looks at me, a glob of slobber flippers off the end of her tongue onto my sleeve.

She looks at me twice, gathers herself in the lunge mode, but decides it is too far. Second choice she puts a paw on the first couple of slats, doesn’t like it at all. I am about to help when I imagine she says.

‘Stuff this messing around,’ and leaps up onto the wall beside the cattle grid then with one more bound is on the other side. She doesn’t stop to take applause, just continues with her adventure.

A little way down the lane she disappears off to the right through a hole in the hedging. I see her mooching around in the small wood. She darts out again through another hole, does a quick 360 and whips back in via the next small tunnel. Clearly she is entertained.

Next a kissing gate which has a high degree of doggie difficulty. In fact this is a 10. She knows what this type of gate involves so waits for me to open it. Through the gate she hurtles up the hill.

My boots are not giving me any problem. I have always found that ill fitting boots only take a mile or two before nagging at the foot. These feel like a pair of slippers, a second skin.

We reach a wind tilted hawthorn, I have to put Flora on the lead, there are sheep in the next field. She doesn’t complain, still able to travel a good sniffing distance. Now she is closer I scrutinise what she finds interesting. To my palette it is disgusting, she seeks out and sniffs at pooh, sheep droppings, old cow pats and rabbit droppings. Don’t you dare pick any up! Urk.

Unfortunately we have to make a swift return to the van. The incoming tide is looking very full today. It bothers me that the van may end up in the sea, so we walk back. Flora stops her play mode and begins to walk in step with me. I wonder what she is thinking at this stage. She doesn’t know why I have turned back peremptorily.

Back at the van she skips up onto the passenger seat whilst I sort my boots out. Sighs,  curls up on the double seat, adjusts her chops a couple of times and promptly hits the snooze button.

Tomorrow is forecast even colder, so I will be going back earlier in the day to get right over the top of Humphrey Head to rest in the sun on a sheltered rocky beach as the tide comes around the headland.

SONY DSC

Humphrey Head on the north shore of Morecambe Bay.

Capturing the world through the eyes of a dog is pretty dang difficult. Flora is so smart that she could probably take the photos herself.

Can we ever know when the moment is ripe and we are about to embark on something epic?

Perhaps you have a dream that you feel can become reality. More often than not it will remain a lovely dream. From time to time we all set out with determination to achieve something, take a few steps before other issues arise and deflect us from our goal. The future for everyone will remain a mystery, no matter how carefully we prepare there can be no certainty of the outcome.

Throughout my life things seem to have just ‘happened’. I firmly believe that you should follow your heart and the future will take care of itself, but don’t quote me on that, I am sure there are lots of people who disagree.

Heather and I had been walking in the English Lake District, occasionally reaching the summit of notable hills. There had even been semi-serious banter of walking the Wainwrights. It took me 20 years to ‘do’ the Wainwrights and I  hankered to walk them again with Heather. However most of our walks had been tempered by Heather’s fear of heights, vertigo seemed to grasp at her randomly, we frequently aborted the more difficult sections. Sometimes it  bamboozled me how the attacks developed. Crossing a stream via stepping stones could generate an anxiety attack, once the seed was set her mind could interpret minor green slopes as the North Face of the Eiger, we would turn back. She was fit and accustomed to walking, but only at low levels. Heather has something in bucket loads, determination, she insisted that we continue to walk regularly and conquer the wobbly demon.

Hillwalking, mountaineering and rockclimbing have always been my passion. Memorable days on the hills continue to live as jewels in my mind, I so wanted Heather to experience something similar. Getting a natural ‘high’ on a mountain, for me, is one of life’s essentials. Most of the time I would walk solo, quickly getting into the flow of a walk. As the last gate to the fell closed another less tangible gate would open up in my head. My eyes would scan the path ahead, then the slopes and the skies. I learnt how to look into the distance, how to feel at home in all weathers, and how to become one with my body and the mountain. Every walk was epic for me, it delighted me to use my body and savour every moment, my senses on alert. I learnt how to be sure footed and agile. I learnt how my muscles and tendons functioned under pressure, and learnt how to relax during prolonged periods of strenuous walking. It would be an entirely different challenge to encourage Heather.

I pondered various options, most of them unlikely to improve the situation and decided to add the incentive of completing the Dales Way, an interesting long distance trail approximately 80 miles. I had walked many sections with my children when they were small, so anticipated that Heather should have little difficulty and the sense of achievement would build confidence allowing us to attempt progressively adventurous walks.

The following articles break our walk down into day sections, the majority were completed on a Sunday, occasionally we would walk both Saturday and Sunday. A healthy, moderately fit person can complete this epic and hold down a regular job, but don’t blame me if the bug bites and you feel the need to plough on, once started this walk will draw you in and on.  The whole journey is on footpaths or bridleways avoiding civilisation as far as possible. It will be possible to select a day walk at random or if you feel so inclined attempt to walk the whole journey from beginning to end, be warned, we have covered almost 1,400 miles of continuous linked walking and have a long way to go. I have an end in mind, but all endings are simply the beginning of something else.

Should you decide to attempt any of the walks, please be sure to take adequate food, appropriate clothing and footwear, inform somebody of where you will be walking, when you intend to return, carry a map, compass, whistle, torch and phone. Above all, take your time, this is a journey to be savoured.

If you walk quickly you may catch us up!

Good luck. John