Saturday, 27 October 2012

Lake District 2012 (5 of 14)

Day five of Blue's holiday had arrived, today was going to be different.

Blue was to have his near dawn walk with his Mum, giving me a break. Truth is that Sue has missed walking Blue in the mornings. They both arrived back obviously their body language told me that a good time had been had. Blue always is keen to greet whether it is you or him arriving back home.

When I say greet, Blue does a mean impersonation of a basking shark, mouth wide open and tail fin giving extra propulsion. With every ouch the greeting becomes more gentle, perhaps one day this will change, but no harm is done there is no malice in the greeting, but the weight of impact is not that gentle, especially if the parting has been prolonged, mind you two minutes in Blues terms is a long time. (I read once that dogs have no perception of time, I do think they just miss company)

So we are all fed and ready to venture out, today our destination was to be Walla Crag.

Today as I said was going to be different, this walk was on our doorstep, the car would not be needed today. Blue had shown no ill effects of his momentous achievement yesterday in conquering Helvellyn, and like Blue it had no long lasting effects on us either.

So off we set down the lane towards Springs Farm, this would be the first challenge, as it is a farm in the past we have had the unenviable task of having to pass the farmers dogs that run free as experienced in the past. But on this occasion they were no where to be seen and the outbuilding they normally reside at is under conversion, so once again today is different.

We had walked through the woodland section on a reasonable steep ascent and Blue was having a great time sniffing and exploring where others had passed previously, the greeting of two dogs travelling the other direction was merely looks exchanged. We had walked this route a few years ago and knew the importance of the next section. A narrow path takes you along at high level over a sheer drop below, with only room enough for two obliging parties to pass, Blue is not high on the obliging stakes, so we were grateful our path was unheeded.

After crossing a small wooden bridge we entered onto a lane which was to take us past another farm, where there was a cacophony of barking from within, Blue was eager to explore, but we moved on past to see a whole herd of sheep behind the cattle gate. This was the cue to step up the pace, Blue had been OK with individual sheep, but a whole herd, who knows what his reaction would be.

For the next quarter of an hour as we moved swiftly on, now travelling uphill along a track/path, constantly looking back. We looked for escape routes in case there was a stampede from behind. But our fears were unfounded, we reached a gate to a field, which allowed us to continue to our destination and with no sign of the sheep following us we all began to relax and enjoy the walk.

With the going getting boggy in places progress was good and Blue had discovered a local delicacy.

Sheep poo!

To us it is dirty habit, but he loves it, but when you tell him to leave most times he will walk past or let it fall from from his mouth, but once he gets the flavour of it he only seeks out more, no kissy kissing tonight then :-))

Although the views were getting better, this meant nothing to Blue as all he would see was the dry stone walling which was our companion as we moved on up the hill. Blue was not able to see what was the other side of the wall, perhaps just as well. The wall separated us from a bull and a herd of cows, who had nothing on their mind than to graze.

As we reached the top of the field we entered through a gate in the wall to make our final passage to Walla Grag. Just then the rain clouds that had loomed in the distance had decided on paying us a visit, so hastily jackets and hats were retrieved from the rucksack, fortunately in the Lake District rain showers can go as quick as they arrive.

We were not prepared for the final bit of the ascent, the path had become a very narrow path over wet and muddy rocks adjacent to significant falls.

Blue wearing his halti followed my direction, well not so much direction, more like wait,steady and good boy said repeatedly. Blue is not exactly Bambi on ice, but he is also no comparison to a mountain goat, neither of which we had encountered on our journey, our final path was hindered by a couple of people sorting out their rucksacks directly on the path ahead, Blue gave them the look which was as much to say shift we are coming through, and they obliged by stepping aside.

Though Walla Crag is not a mountain, it has had its own challenges to ascend, but the views across Derwent Water and of the surrounding mountains were worth every step. Blue enjoyed the celebration of reaching this little summit, treats,cuddles and praise, no kiss's though.

Unlike the previous day we were not being battered by the wind, and today we had the camera tripod and remote control, time for a family photo or two.

Family photo
After having a cupper and a snack enjoying the views, time to return. We decided it was a bit hairy the ascent, so chose a different path to return, only a minor detour but without having to traverse slippery rocks over open ledges. This came at a cost, the terrain was more marshy and wetter underfoot.
Blue and mud get the juices going, he doesn't appear to want to dive or roll in the mud but wants to gallop like a pony, but because there are sheep known to be in the field, there is no way we would let him off led, we know others do, but dogs have been shot dead where they have attacked or worried sheep, Blue will not become another statistic on that story.
But the paws were collecting the mud as we travelled along, Blue was wearing it as a pad moisturiser

Mucky paws
Was it the need to scratch an itch or try the mud pack for a beauty treatment on his face, but Blue gave it a go, he is already a handsome dog, so he was persuaded to leave the beauty products for others'

Scooting along nozzle first
As we arrived at the farm that had all the sheep, there were only a few behind the gate, they must have returned and not be about to go out. We decided to return home along the country lanes and roads, a detour from our outward journey. Along part of the way once again the rains come, which helped to clean Blues under carriage before we were to arrive home.
Once more the days walk had been a great excursion for all of us, I did say today would be different, but in this respect it is like so many before, wonderful.
Back at the cottage we all settled to reflect on the days events, our walk had been 3 hours and fifteen minutes over a journey of nearly five miles, an adventure every step of the way.
One vital job remained for Blue, bring his herd together and rest a bit, once dinner was eaten, Blue would be settled for the evening.

Recharging the batteries for tomorrow.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Lake District 2012 (Day 4 of 14)

Keeping one eye open on the weather
Day four arrived, Blue was now well settled in his new home and enjoying our company 24hrs a day.
We have our own reasons for doing things the way we do, including our selection of holidays. We both work 5 days a week, Sue part time with me doing a full time job.For this reason our holidays are as much if not more about Blue than ourselves. While we are working Blue spends his days working from home, guarding and protecting the family home. He is yet to master the household chores, but does a mean impression of a Dyson hoover, if treats or food should fall to the floor, still yet to master the operation of white goods, but Rome wasn't built in a day.
The near dawn walk was now getting later, it is now nearer to 7.00am instead of the usual 5.30am this is a good sign that Blue is getting sufficient exercise and mental stimulation. This first walk could of been a problem. We were walking along the street content with the world and enjoying the peaceful morning when as we walked past a high hedge by an alley, we were greeted by lots of snarling teeth and barking from two chocolate Labrador's. Morning greetings were exchanged from Blue, but it quietened down as quick as it started, the lady owner told me they were heading for the woods, I explained our walk was nearing its end and we were going home. So we parted, with one of her dogs spending the parting with constantly looking back at Blue as they headed for the woods, where we had walked the other day.
When we got home we explained our side of events to Sue, with Blue wagging his tail constantly as we recalled the greeting as animated as we could. Breakfast was done eaten and digested over the thoughts of where to go today. The weather was showery on the forecast but outside it did look brighter than the weatherman was saying. Our minds were made up and we got ourselves ready to tackle England's third highest mountain, Helvellyn.
Following a fifteen minute car journey we arrived at Swirrels car park. Pay and display fee paid.
Blue was equipped with his halti lead, eager to assault the mountain they lay before him, not really knowing the challenge that lay ahead.
With one foot in front of the other we all set off with Blue's nose leading the way
It is hard to explain, but Blue does seem to know the direction we want to head off to. It may be that at times it is the only path forward, but today in the car park how did he know to head to a wooden footbridge in the corner which would be our route today. It may be his sense of smell following where others have recently trod. We are grateful because it means we move forward in the right direction together.
We had successfully navigated two wooden bridges across streams and were to begin the zigzag path that laid ahead, and as yesterday, who was there to watch our progress, Herdy, the Herdwick sheep that could only afford a cursory glance, grass was higher on his agenda, Blue gave the Herdy a glance, but had mountains to climb, woollies were for another day..
As has been said before, we do like to challenge Blue, but are keen to watch his body language, just in case it starts to take its toll on him. Today there was no stopping him, he was determined to get there, where ever there was.
Progress was good, until you looked ahead at this monster looming ahead of you, that is Helvellyn not Blue.
Few dogs of Blue's size are seen on our trips up and down the fells, collies, spaniels and terriers are by far the most popular canines we encounter. The views were good, it was a clear day but not sunny. Once again the reason we choose this time of the year, Blue like many dogs dos not enjoy walking in hot summer weather, so even a nice day in September is rarely a scorcher.
There is energy that can be channelled, Blues size determination and strength mean he is greater assist than any walking poles or sticks, there are times when all you need to do is relax hold on and enjoy the ride as he literally will drag you along. On more than one occasion he has took Sue off her feet and left her laying prone on the ground. That is the strength that Blue can muster.
With the occasional stop at a strategic boulder, hand picked, sorry paw picked by Blue, progress was taken us to greater heights. We had been recently used to metalled roads made of gravel and rock but this climb was different, it resembled a staircase with the boulders set in place as stepping stones.
As we reached an altitude of around 700m the climb took a bit of a twist, rather than stepping stones we had reached a craggy section, unlike the last 500m the climb was now a bit more technical than just a walk up or down. We needed to pick a route with a small amount of scrambling along a barely discernible route. Voice control was essential if Blue was to work with us and avoid any costly slips or falls. At all times Blue remains on a lead in the mountains and fells, to make sure he does not worry any sheep, humans or fellow canines.
"Wait" was the only word apart from "Good Boy" that Blue was to hear for the next twenty minutes. After which we had successfully navigated the challenge, time for a big treat and big cuddle for our big bundle of happiness called Blue.
Looking ahead the trig point of the summit was still a tidy walk away, but the route was now a nice clear path on a reasonably shallow ascent. We now had a different dilemma, we had put four hours on the pay and display meter, we had now been walking one hour and fifty minutes, we chose to walk on.
Surprisingly the weather changes at these altitudes, two of Blues dislikes paid a visit, wind and rain, but Blue tries to nestle between us or our legs for shelter, at times nearly knocking us off our feet in his attempt to secure shelter. But as quick as the rain comes it moves away, often leaving breathtaking views even more stunning.
Finally after a small detour not to disturb a pack of grazing sheep, we reached the summit of Helvellyn. Standing at an impressive 950m above sea level.
Blue the German Shepherd, who had his spinal operation at six months hold was proudly standing with his Mum on top of Helvellyn, today was special and meant so much to all of us. Finally time to take the camera from the rucksack and record this monumental achievement of Blue.
Blue and family on top of Helvellyn

Though the rain had stopped enough to take these pictures, the wind was relentless, and gusting too much for a prolonged stay, time to admire the views 360 degrees around us, and a unanimous vote to descend was taken.

While walking back we encountered a not very friendly brown and white collie, that chose to buzz and bait Blue, eventually his owners took control and off they went towards the summit that we had left five minutes previous.

Now we previously mentioned what Blue is like when climbing, descending is a challenge that pales that into insignificance. Footing is the biggest challenge when descending with Blue, he pulls equally hard descending as he does ascending, this added to the earths gravity means you have to plant your feet firmly down on terra-firma.

Due to the close control required, this means when Blue is wearing his halti there is only a short distance between his back legs and your feet. Not only do you have to concentrate on placing your feet on secure footholds but maintain balance, anchorage and momentum. Our greatest challenge arrived where we needed to do the short scramble on the ascent. Blue was a model dog, very restrained, in total control and focused on leading us gently down. Times further down the ascent I tried going at Blues pace, but the increase of speed started to get a bit hairy, so Blue obliged and returned to our controlled pace.

Amazingly with all this energy exerted he still finds the will to stare and intimidate passing walkers, but no one comes to any harm and it is normally explained and received in a humorous manner.

Our return to the car park was forty minutes over the four we had paid for, so what did that mean.

It meant that Blue had enjoyed a walk/scramble to England's third highest mountain at an impressive 950m above sea level. A walk of 290 minutes over mountainous landscape enjoying the open air of the Lake District. We were done.

All that remained was to head off back to our bungalow, enjoy the rest and reflect of this monumental achievement that Blue had done today. One look back from the car park with knowing satisfaction.

Now back at the bungalow
Normal service resumed

I wonder what Blue is dreaming of!


Saturday, 13 October 2012

2012 Lake District Holiday (Day 3 of 14)

If your on holiday, it is a good time to relax and lay in, so this morning we were up and out just before 7.00am In the world of Blue this is plenty of resting time. So I got myself ready so that Blue and I could have our first walk of the day.

We were in the holiday mood for walking so rather than just out for business, we extended our walk to go further afield. We went into Springs Farm road, to cut across to the wooded copse at the end of a public footpath. We had been here a few years ago, so no problem with navigation.

Due to the rainfall overnight, parts were a bit soggy and muddy underfoot, Blue is not one for wanting to roll around in the mud, but it does get the juices going, so I was no longer the navigator, smells only known to Blue had kicked in the tracking mode. We seemed to be heading in the right direction, so holding on and trying to keep up and not loose my footing we were tracking for England, or in Blues case Germany.

As we slowed it become apparent that the scent was tasking us who knows where in this now unfamiliar copse, not exactly lost, but not on the right route either. Time for me to guide my faithful companion back to civilisation. We retraced our steps, over fallen branches, around trees and bushes soggy muddy puddles, all  of which were merely a blur and of no significance on our route a moment previous. Once the footpath was rediscovered we were a team pulling in the same direction again. Blue does know how to behave on a lead and there are many times he will accept the constraints imposed on him, but to be honest, it is holiday to enjoy as well, so I am trying to be less restrictive on his movements.

We had returned to civilisation, going through a gap in the wall, we entered onto the Borrowdale Road which runs South out of Keswick.

All things considered looking at my boots and Blue's paws, we were relatively mud free considering what we had just explored. Our feet had been christened, we had begun our holiday proper now.

Our return took us road walking skirting the surrounding streets of Keswick back in time for breakfast, which was all ready and waiting for us.

A couple of hours later after some deliberation we had agreed today's walk, within 15 minutes after a short drive we were parked near the Blencathera Centre.

This was an intentional choice, nice and open wide paths which are relatively flat which would take us through the valley to Skiddaw House, a remote hostel, located behind Skiddaw.

Sue, put Blue's halti lead on and off we went, we had only travelled for less than five minutes and there was a familiar friend from the past, Herdy. A Herdwick sheep famous for roaming the Lakeland mountains and valley's. With no more than a general interested glance, Blue acknowledged an old familiar friend with no more than a look of familiarity and we moved on.

That was impressive, it is a sign of Blue being not only mature but in control, if he were off a lead I could not hand on heart say that a closer encounter or chase might ensue. We have worked on this with Blue, not spooking sheep is one of the reasons Blue can enjoy the opportunity to explore the countryside.
The walk was going well and it was time to pose for a few pictures over a bridge, Blue also likes to take the opportunity to give his paws a rinse and have a drink.
This was turning out to be an ideal walk, Blue was enjoying himself, relaxed tolerant and most of all being a model dog. As the walk went further it was time for a refreshment break and a rest. So finding a nice sized boulder we perched ourselves on and had a break. Moving on it was surprising how few people we saw at the start, and even now no more than a dozen had passed us by, in fact we had seen more sheep.
Complacency can be an enemy so we remained vigilant to the way Blue was when passing sheep or humans. Other dogs are a different matter, Blue has never really mastered the greeting side, and the greetings by other dogs is not always friendly. More often than not this is more of a problem for other dog owners. As you see them appearing in the distance once they spot Blue their actions are evident.
Some put their dogs on a lead, where previously roaming free, even change direction and head off in a different path, others brave it and walk pass with their dog straining at the lead, normally exchanging apologies when the normally much smaller dog is giving it plenty to Blue, and Blue does give it back normally like a prancing horse or "tigger", bouncing all over the place. In fairness to Blue this has calmed down over the years and demonstrates his control around sheep. There is one other type of dog walker, who have total control over their dogs by voice control alone, they are impressive, but I can honestly say that level of control between us and Blue can only be admired and aspired to.
As our walk continued Blue began to pull off the footpath, thinking he needed to have a wee or other business, was an incorrect assumption. He had found other boulders for us to sit on, which we found quite amusing.
Once we had walked a little way past Skiddaw House, with a few minor showers, we decided to return to the car, retracing our steps. This had been a very successful first walk covering 11km over a walk that was 3hours and fifty minutes. Now it may seem sad we know the afore mentioned details but this is with good reason. Always we are aware of Blue's operation on his spine, we like to ensure that the time and distance helps us monitor his activity.
Blue being Blue, he will let us know when he has had enough, in his own way, the signs are easily recognisable, the look and body language can not be mistaken. Therefore if on a walk he chooses to lay down a moment, that is OK, normally after a brief rest is up at ready for the next stage. When he has had enough we all know what is to follow if it is not heeded.
Just two weeks ago while in the back garden Blue gave a bit of a whimper and was holding up his rear right leg. With sorrow on his face he hopped across to me and promptly laid down. Fearing the worst I merely comforted him and called Sue to say we may have to take him to the vets. But a few moments later he was up and fine, probably a twinge or spasm or something, We decided Blue was to have light duties only and we would monitor him very closely over the next 24 hours. No further recurrence occurred so we did not take him to the vets. But consulting the diary of Blue which Sue keeps religiously indicated no significant increase in walking activities, though he has this habit of holding a football in his mouth and swinging it from side to side he beats it against both his sides in turn, strange behaviour, but Blue enjoys it.

Today's walk was can excellent choice, for all of us. Thoroughly enjoyable and every challenge met with a positive outcome. This holiday which we had looked forward to for so long, was here and we were all enjoying it.

We returned back to the car where an even closer encounter with a sheep grazing near the car as no more than a peasant sight and not a murmur from Blue.

The return to the cottage only took less than 15 minutes, this is the beauty of staying at Keswick, so many nice walks in a relatively short distance. Some might feel that it is within walking distance, but we like to enjoy the walk not spending all our time getting there. Blue also gets the best of all worlds doing it this way as well.
Returning to the cottage for a bit to eat, we were to settle for the evening after a very rewarding day out walking. We know our joy was shared by Blue, by not only the contented body language but the position in which he chose to rest and relax.
Relaxing against a comfy chair
We are all looking forward to tomorrow after such a wonderful day.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

2012 Lake District holiday (Day 2 of 14)

Well after a good nights sleep, feeling a little fuzzy after our unintended extended journey we were awake and ready to start the holiday proper.

Blue had a lie in, and by 7 o'clock felt time was awasting, so with some gentle nusling and whimpering, there was my cue to rise from this warm comfy bed, and take Blue out to explore our new surroundings.

The bungalow holiday let is in a location we know well from previous holidays, daylight was already with us, time to venture out. Despite being in new surroundings from normal, Blue was keen to get out and do his business and check out the local area to see what it had to offer.

Our 30 minute walk was without incident and very enjoyable. Two weeks of 24 hour companionship, Blue would enjoy the company of his nearest and dearest, my wife Sue and me.

Since my wife had her foot operation in May this year, I have been taking Blue out for his early morning walks. At home of late these have been getting a little more difficult, due to the darker mornings. (Compounded by the council policy to have energy saving street lights that do not light up in the mornings,especially the early hours) Now I would not say that Blue is frightened of the dark, but he does change, not quite like a werewolf, but he does change. His senses really kick in when out in the dark, he displays high levels of perception of danger, whatever it may be, even a gnat farting. 

Walking Blue in the dark is like walking out with a firearm that has a hair trigger. The slightest noise or silent movement, or waft of a smell of danger, he is ready for action. We have never totally discouraged this because Blue is a German Shepherd, and it is in his genes and his make up to guard and protect. It just needs to be managed, this is why when we go out in the dark mornings or night, Blue needs to be seen. We fit him out with a high-viz jacket and a light so others can see him. Sometimes I wonder if a Blue flashing light on his head might be more appropriate.

Traditionally on these holidays especially to the lake district, we tend to have a lazy day, mainly because of the previous days travelling, but also weekends are going to be much busier with locals and visitors.

Blue was fitting in nicely, he had great pleasure exploring every room in the house, numerous times, done some more exploring out the back garden, which was quite small, but then who needs a big garden in the lake district. Breakfast was only a memory and Blue had already done some test drives in finding the most comfortable spot for resting, I am not sure if he found all very comfortable or just really not that bothered, but enjoyed trying out all areas, lounge,kitchen, decking, hallway. Eventually he seemed to be more drawn to his duvet by the back doors.

After a bit of lunch, we decided to take Blue out for a stroll, to the local Fitz park. This park was just at the bottom of the road over a small footbridge crossing the river Greta. We enjoyed a nice walk around the park, other K-9s were greeted from a distance. The other side of the park had been taken over by a cycle event, with large marquees and a throng of people, so a little busier than we had anticipated. We decided to just skirt the edges of Keswick town centre and return to base for dinner.

Blue has had issues with food like many of his breed, so his special diet of dry food (from Arden Grange) and (Sensitivity control, from Royal Canin), meant that dinner was familiar and tucked away without any hesitation.

Before we settled for the evening, we had a little visit to Ashness Bridge, this would give Blue a chance to stretch his legs and ensure he would be settled for the night. By the time we reached Ashness Bridge, daylight was fading fast, where had the day gone?

So we were settled for the evening, day two of our holiday was drawing to a close, Blue snuggled down on his duvet, and like switching a switch he was off like a light, Bless.

Done roaming!

Who knows what Blue was dreaming of, probably too tired to dream, doing very little can be very tiring.

A look out from the decking as the last embers of the sun were dying down, red sky at night shepherds delight brought to mind a new meaning, sleep well Blue for tomorrow our exploration of the Lake district will take us up fells into valleys and whatever else awaits.

Dramatic scenes like this are one of the great attractions for visiting the lakes, more for us than Blue though.

You could mistake the image for a forest fire, but it is only the sun setting behind rain clouds.

We are all so looking forward to tomorrow, as Blue sleeps the night away.