A dogs life
Saturday 8th August 2020
Most of us have fond memories of a dog or dogs that have been in our lives.
During those fine years spent with our four legged friends we have petted, groomed, molly coddled, trained, scolded, forgiven, fed, watered, walked, hiked, scrambled, chased, picked up after, talked to, vented to and sadly in the end we have experienced their body and minds age accelerate past our own into winter and then beyond.
Jazz was a fine border terrier pup, she was from a litter down in the borders where the breed gets its name from. The pick of the litter she was and in the beginning she could fit right there in your hand, like a wee, fat sausage, rendering even the coldest disposition into a cooing, smiling flower petal.
Very quickly the family became extremely fond of the dog, whenever we came in through the front door she would squeal with excitement and unable to control her bladder she would leave a trail of pee on her way to greet us. Somehow I found this very endearing.
As the months progressed we started to see the true character of the dog come through the cloud of puppyhood, we found that she was rather different to other dogs we had known in that she seemed not to associate herself with others of her species and instead thought she was more like one of us, a human trapped inside a dogs body.
For example our other dog Sam will eat almost anything... a carrot, cabbage, a wine cork, a dirty tissue (his favourite). if you had to give him medicine you wouldn't have to conceal the pills oh no, Sam would willingly swallow them down no bother at all.
On the other hand Jazz wouldn't entertain the idea of eating most things out of your hand unless it was extremely desirable (hobnobs) and would generally only eat her set meals.
Another example was that Sam would love to find the smelliest thing on a beach, usually something dead and extract its cologne by rolling around in the fragrant carcass getting as much sent as possible deep into the lower layers of his fur... real dog like behaviour you might say. Jazz, again was apathetic to the rich aromas of the coast. She seemed aloof to the other canines who came sniffing and if they ventured too close she would snap at them as if to say "how dare you think i'm one of you".
If she had a weakness it was probably her fondness of sticks, balls, cats and hobnobs but which dog can resist these simple delights?
The Walk - Knoydart Peninsula - 4 days.
The Team - Jazz, Chris Peebles, Myself.
For me Glenfinnan manages to drop the jaw still, after visiting it many times over many a year now.
It is a classic painting of how Scottish villages should look, according to a hollywood dream. It is a poem describing only what the greatest Bard could possibly fathom when imagining the very best of views.
It is a destination often driven past without much of a thought.
It is fine indeed.
To the south grand high Corbets green and grey stretch seemingly endlessly down the banks of loch Shiel eventually reaching Ardnamurchan.
An island Eilean Ghleann Fhionain sits as a centerpiece at the beginning of the loch although small it dominates the view and is matched on land by the equally dominant Jacobite monument.
North lies the famous Rail viaduct (Harry Potter bridge) and although i much preferred the books to Mr Radcliffe's wooden performance I do think the bridge looks marvelous.
Here lies the beginning of our story. Imagine some fairly bad weather then multiply it a few times and then add to this the time of year... early, January I think or possibly february.
Jazz had her fancy new coat on, only recently purchased and was raring to go, Chris and myself on the other hand were a tad reluctant to step out.
I was actually worried that the tree next to the car might be felled by the high winds and onto the car. After a few long minutes we decided that we should probably stop thinking about how bad it was and just get moving. This proved to be wise as it's never quite as bad when your out and about.
We had arrived in the dark so planned to walk up the track to the nearest bothy just a few k's from the viaduct.
The bothy surprisingly had two fellows in there and they were more than happy to share the fine bottle of malt that we had taken for the long hike and of course provided nothing in return apart from pleasant conversation. After the first two drams the idea of rationing seemed rather silly and contrary to our improving mood so before we knew it the bottle had finished... We all slept very well.
At one point in the night, i presume when the fire was too low to provide much heat, Jazz thought it would be much nicer next to the sleeping bag with me. Fair enough
The weather had improved slightly, visibility was ok now but a howling wind was pummeling straight into our faces.
After a grand hot breakfast we left our friends behind in their bags, no doubt they had enjoyed our whisky a bit too much. I must say I was happy to be travelling in our small company again and didn't even mind the poor weather so much. I found it to be refreshing and almost purifying. The dog certainly didn't seem to mind as she rolled around in the ever deeper snow.
After quite a steep beginning we levelled out for a brief moment on the saddle at Bealach a' Chaorainn. Although i couldn't see them i knew that somewhere above us the mighty Streap (meaning climb) and Sgurr Thuilm (Rocky peak of the Hillock) sat still, strong and indifferent.
Here we were met with quite a large snow flurry.
Instantly our visibility was reduced to nothing, I could see Chris and the dog but that was about it.
A white out is a funny thing, some say it's like walking inside a ping pong ball or in a milk bottle. The front of the group is the hardest place to be as there is no longer any definition. The sky fits seamlessly into the snowy ground below you and you really can't tell if your next step will be up or down. At least at the back you can follow others footsteps. Disconcerting i suppose, panic inducing, it can even bring on motion sickness. However the ground is still exactly the same as it was before the snow and so with a cool head, good preparation and navigation one can just keep on moving through the ghost like halfworld with relative ease.
Which is exactly what we did. Chris was loving it, i think we all were.
Now there is a certain perverse joy you can get from watching a friend suffer a small miss fortune and crossing the river gave Chris and myself just that pleasure.
I won't go into too many details but the river was a bit higher than usual and we ended up fairly wet up to the knees.
The last section of the hike led us through a beautiful mossy pine forest in Glen Dessary. At this point we were rather tired, wet and determined to reach shelter soon. Possibly because we were all of these things, the last section seemed to last for an age. Towards the end, talking had ceased and all thoughts were focussed on finding the bothy and getting some food in our bellies.
Finally Chris who was in the front, began whooping and jumping around like a rabid headhunter so i presumed he had glimpsed the A' Chuil bothy...
We quickly got the fire on the go and feeling sorry for a shivering dog i rolled her up in my sleeping matt and aimed her towards the flames. She seemed to like that.
We had a quick scout for whisky but in the end had to make do with some tea.
Storm Henry they called it, i'm not exactly sure when the Met office started naming storms landing in Britain. The first one that i remember hearing of was 'Hurricane Bawbag' Perhaps the powers at be were afraid of another crewdly named weather event so decided to pre-empt the the naming ceremony.
Today again was white and beautiful, cold and windy too. This however didn't stop us from sweating as we pushed on up the Allt a' Ghiubhais river to the stunning Lochan a' Mhaim. Care is needed here as a wrong step can result in almost full submersion in the boggy terrain. Chris to my delight found this out the hard way and I enjoyed every moment watching him pull and struggle out of the peaty, muddy trap (not something i would ever do with a client, only old friends)
To cheer him up we shared some chocolate and then continued on a bit more carefully.
The last section of the walk is perhaps my favourite of the whole trip. We followed the Finiskaig river and a magnificent heard of deer down to the Sourlies bay. There is an old Croft here which somehow adds to the feeling of isolation.
A quick walk down the beach and we reached the Bothy, I like this one. It's full of treasure (junk) and has a more homely feel to it.
Chris disappeared so i set about collecting wood and making a fire, Sadly due to the wind a lot of the smoke ended up coming down the chimney and made the eyes water*
Chris reappeared ceremoniously having successfully gathered for the tribe, he had with him a fine catch of extremely plump and delicious mussels.... I was impressed.
1 white onion, diced
Half a tub of lurpak
1 chorizo Sausage, Sliced thin
Plenty Sourlies bay mussles
What a meal it was, for a few minutes we managed to forget the Reekie Lum (smokey chimney) and were briefly transported to culinary heaven.
*When Chris reccolects this part of the story he says the smoke line was down almost to ground level and Jazz was "spatchcocked" (fully spread) on the floor
To be honest I was tempted to stay a few days in Sourlies bay, we could see clouds moving extremely fast above us yet it was completely calm by the bothy, the sea was rich with more mussels and plenty of driftwood sat on the beach waiting to be harvested.
However we had a mission to complete and the famous Old Forge Inn was waiting for us, spurring the party on with the promise of fine crafted ales, all the best malt whiskies that money could buy and locally culled venison steaks cooked to perfection, not to mention a hot shower in the hostel too, How could we resist these temptations.
So onwards we pushed around the headland, through the bog and cross the bridge (now gone) at Carnoch ( a very large deserted croft, beautiful and sad to see)
Here the fun begins, a 600m climb up the the last mountain pass of the trip.
It is a very long trudge upwards and was a very sweaty affair, i'm not sure exactly how much Chris enjoyed this part.
Finally we made it to within about 20m from the saddle, we had stopped because it seemed like the entire storm was being funneled through this one pass. It was frightening. Had the ground around us been in any way treacherous we would not have continued, however it was not so we battened down the hatches and pushed on up.
It was like walking towards a jet engine. I couldn't breathe when facing the wind it was so strong and had to turn my head to catch a breath. We crawled over the pass losing both of our hats even though they were firmly under tied up hoods. Jazz again was spatchcocked to the ground and clung on like a limpet following our little peloton until to our relief the wind started to die down the lower we descended.
The journey down to the village of Inverie is a beautiful one, everything seems to be leading and moving towards the bay. Although we were tired our pace quickened the closer we were to the end and our hearts were light and giddy as we stepped into the Hostel.
This was Jazz's last great walk. In the days that followed she never ventured far from that hostel fire. Worried that she might be forced to do the journey in reverse no doubt.
She enjoyed a good few years of retirement after that, still keen for smaller walks right up to her last days.
She died at the fine old age of 15.
She was a good dog and best friend.