I love that view of The Cobbler, it’s just a hint of what it really looks like, but it goes straight from the road to the South Peak in one breathless ascent and I just had to pull over and take a shot.
All very nice, very normal and I was in no hurry. But, I was also about to have the strangest hill day I’ve ever had in my life.
The weather was changeable, I drove through drizzle, but I wasn’t fussed, I was just happy to be out.
Parking at Lettermay is a pain in the arse though and I ended up on the no man’s land between some holiday shacks and a forestry track, padding around in the mud getting tooled up for the day. Lunch stowed and waterproof accessible I strode off on optomistic feet towards the forest track.
Once I was through the already open gate and climbing into the trees a wee dug passed me and turned to look at me. It was an old timer, a collie I think, it’s eyebrows and chin bristled with white, it was like looking into a bizarre trans species mirror. He fell in at my heel, occasionally glancing up at me as a tried to explain the situation politely, dogs are no good at reading a situation.
I was making little progress with my instant companion as I walked on when my new shadow’s two wingmen shot past me. I was suddenly a dug magnet. We were joined by a younger version of the original and a black a white mutt, a colour scheme which applied to it all over, right down to one white eye and one dug coloured eye. They ran circles around me, ran ahead and waited for me and even stopped and gazed up at me expectantly. What they hell they wanted I do not know. So I though sticks, back they way the came and tried to duck out of sight around a corner or behind a tree. I had just created a game.
The rain increased its presence to shell jacket level so I nipped under a tree to pull on my waterproof and the dugs sat around me in a semi circle waiting for the next trick. It occured to me right there that they might have been trained to lure folk into the wilds then kill them, but the evidence was against it, three distinct personalities were already emerging and people eater wasn’t in there.
On I went, on we went, now far from Loch Goil and heading into the heights of Cowal. Crags rose above the trees and the sound of running water was everywhere as the cloud broke a little and shed a little less rain all the time.
I was taking my own route to Beinn Bheula and steep ascent south to avoid the forest saw the furry trio feeling the strain a little. The old timer proved wise, we’ll call him Jimmy, when I rested, he rested and he slurped water when we passed it. The other two were as useful as scotch pies on springs, tripping themselves, me and Jimmy and reading the terrain with all the skill of a rolling barrel. Ned was the black one, the patchy one later became known as Poopy Pooch.
Despite myself, and folk that know me well will raise an eyebrow as I’m not a pet minded person in any way, I warmed to my team, even talked to them. I found myself discussing route choices, offering encouragement and playfully mocking moments of stupidity. We were now far distant from the village, pretty high up and ws looking at a rocky summit with some elses dogs on my heels.
A fence lay ahead, a nice new fence above the loch. I could see a parting of the ways coming up. There was relief mixed with a little sadness, I’d enjoyed the company.
Jimmy bolted past me and launched into the air, his two front paws deftly and lightly brushed the top wire of the fence and was down on to the other side where he rolled into a lying/shooting position facing back at me. Come the apocalypse he’s coming with me.
The other two looked bemused, bashed their faces against the fence and looked totally lost and confused. I squeezed through a nearby gate and as I did so Ned shot through a gap that wasn’t there to join Jimmy on my side.
I sighed as Poopy Pooch paced with increasing panic on the other side. This was a real dilemma, despite all my attempts to ditch them these dugs were now an imposed responsibilty. If I split the group what would happen? Would they make it over the summit? How the hell did I find myself in this position.
I let him through and we all walked on. A beautiful spot, the loch stretches away with rocky ridges tumbling beyond, trackless empty terrain all of it. Glorious.
The final slopes were ahead, oh some sheep. Ned and Poopy Pooch ran for them as Jimmy sat still and I swore loudly. I chased after them screaming which did nothing so I stopped and breathlessly whistled as I couldn’t think of anything else. They looked as if they’d tripped over a low step and looked back at me, I had their attention. I turned and ran back to where Jimmy was still sitting after a few seconds the other two arrived, frolicking amongst themselves.
As Jimmy looked up at me with a wry grin it all became clear. Jimmy was either a country dog or an ex-working dog here on holiday, the other two were big city retards.
I needed to get back over the fence and rather than tackle the ridge again I took the forest option, there is a track in there and it seemed like the quickest fix. I wasn’t getting to the summit, so I’d make the best of whetever came to hand.
The same newly built fence held back the trees and it posed the same obstacle as before, except to Jimmy who repeated his trick, this time with a little more flair and some added smugness. The other two apprached the fence again like angry waves trying to get past some rocks on the beach. Poopy Pooch nearly trapping his head in the wire. I tried to entice them over, then under where a burn ran, all to no avail. I had to get these psycho mutts out of the sheep zone so I lifted them over the fence. Sounds like nothing, for me it’s a thing.
The dynamic changed here, Jimmy seemed free of responsibility and now ran ahead on point with Ned while Poopy Pooch stayed glued to me. Poopy had previously been the nervous one, having had real trouble crossing water and watching me like I was a potential threat and his best pal at the same time. Does that say something about the owner?
The intitial section of track follows a steep running burn where I struggled on the slimey surface and Poopy stayed inches away and once on the level lower down he ran between me and the other pair up front. I felt that we were on safer ground, the dugs seemed to recognise the track we had been on earlier once we cleared the trees and quickened their pace towards home, but still the black and white shape flitted back and forward between us.
I wasn’t done, I wanted to see some more stuff. Jeez, I wanted to sit and eat and have a cuppa. At the track junction I took a sharp left, Jimmy and Ned were gone down the track, out of sight and sound, but Poopy hesitated as I walked away, paced and circled as I continued downhill and finally decided as I started to round the corner. It was now just the two of us.
We had lunch, shared a Greggs cajun chicken bloomer, a yumyum and it also turns out the plastic bottom cover of a Jetboil is a great wee dug bowl. It was er, nice.
A climb to the loch on the other side of the glen was a joy, it’s so accessible here but any tracks are overgrown and it all has a wonderful feeling of abandonment, nature’s taking it all back.
Holly has her favourite words right now, poop and poopy, and they are applied, often in tandem, to everything. Once I’d said “pooch” out loud as we approached the loch, the dug had been named. What the hell, why should 3 year olds have all the fun.
Once back down to the picnic spot with its roaring waterfall it was forest road all the way back, a long way back it was too on tracks that Ordnance Survey don’t know exist. The views up to an unfamiliar skyline with a darkening blue behind were quite lovely, we walked at an easy pace with the occasional throw of a stick until we found two sheep and the bubble burst.
I can’t believe how fast a sheep can run or loud I can shout.
Some corner cutting through estate buildings got us to the road, I now just wanted to get back to my point of origin which was close to where the dugs had appeared and ditch my troubles, but the monochrome terror just wanted to meet sheep at great velocity. However, it seemed that my voice now overuled the desire to taste sheep and I managed to keep us on the right side of trouble.
We parted company in the village where the few folk I met didn’t know the dog and suspected a holidaymaker who’d been spied with multiple hounds.
I sat in the motor with relief and many thoughts. Were they pests of hell sent to torment me or guardian angels sent to keep me off the hill on this particular day? Jimmy’s change of demeanor when we turned back points to the latter, but most of the rest points to the former.
How the hell did I end up in the position anyway and what would I have done if I’d met the owner when I came back?
I’ll tell you this though, but don’t tell anyone else, there were times where I loved the company, dare I say cameraderie, something I won’t admit to again if questioned. A dug of good temperament and well trained must be a great pal right enough.
The hills? Awesome, Cowal rocks and we should all go again next week.