A Non-Summer Summer Dog Walk

Summers in England cannot be guaranteed. Ask anyone who lives here.

But this summer has been the worst for a long time, especially in the East of England where I live, which has languished under gloomy cloud cover for what seems like months. Yesterday, It was dark while I was making breakfast, and the sun hadn’t appeared by the time I took Ollie out for his walk, at 1:40pm.

The temperature was only 16C (60F) and it was unusually windy for August too.

Since he had his Vet treatments on Wednesday, Ollie has improved immensely. He was pleased to get out over to Beetley Meadows, and it wasn’t too long before he was running into the river for a refreshing drink. As we walked around the riverside path after, the shoulder high nettles were on the move. Stirred by the wind, they seemed to be reaching out to others across the path, in the hope of stinging me as I passed by.

Like some kind of anchored monster, their tendrils waved in the breeze, almost as if they sensed my arrival. I had to weave in and out of the extended nettle heads, stopping occasionally to bash down some of the most impassable ones with my trusty dog-walking stick.

Oblivious as ever, Ollie trotted on, sniffing and marking. But he had no canine companions yesterday. Local dog-walkers were either away on holiday, or not willing to chance the possibility of rain.

When that rain arrived, it was nothing to speak of. Little more than tangible moisture in the air, followed by a few very determined individual drops that had escaped the heavy clouds overhead. Not even enough to wet my uncovered head.

After less than ninety minutes, Ollie’s enthusiasm waned, and I sensed he was preferring the idea of his dinner, to more walking. So we headed out of the alley at the far end of Beetley Meadows, with Ollie sniffing and marking the spots he had missed earlier.

I was left reflecting that it hadn’t felt much like a late-August dog walk. More like late March.

“Old Man! Old Man!”

As I was finishing the walk with Ollie yesterday, I was heading past the small playground on Beetley Meadows in the direction of one of the exits.

Two young mums were sitting on a bench inside, watching their children playing on the swings, roundabout, and climbing frame. The children were aged around four and five, and very noisy. Ollie was trailing behind me, sniffing and marking the rows of shrubs along the wooden fences of the houses that back onto the playing field.

Just as I got past the playground’s wire fence, a little boy shouted out to me at the top of his lungs.

“Old man! Old man!”

I turned to see him up at the fence, obviously wanting to say something to me. So I smiled at him, and walked back.

“What is it?”, I asked him. He pointed at Ollie. “I like your dog”. I grinned, and asked him a question.

“How did you know my name?”

He didn’t get it, but his mum smiled.

Ollie And The Heatwave

Since Ollie turned nine in February, he has slowed down considerably. But he still likes nothing better than to accompany us anywhere in my car, and is able to jump up onto his bed in the back as if he is still only two years old. So he was delighted when after watching us pack up the car last Thursday, he was called outside to leap into his spot.

The first day in Essex was actually overcast, and not very warm. He was pleased to see my cousin’s two small dogs again, even though having so many people in the house made him rather agitated, perhaps because he worried that he might be left behind.

By the time we arrived in Kent late on Friday afternoon, the weather had started to warm up considerably. We were grateful to be able to eat outside at my friend’s house, but Ollie stayed inside, finding some cool carpet in the shade to lie on.

On Saturday, it was almost 30 degrees (C) and we drove the short distance to a local Country park to give him a good walk. In the absence of a river, I took along his water bowl and a large bottle of water. Ollie was soon slowing down in the heat, so after an hour, we sat under a tree near the cafe there, and Ollie was lying down on the long grass in the shade. Despite drinking lots of water, he couldn’t seem to cool down, and was panting constantly.

The next day, I walked him to the local park near my friend’s house, somwehere he has been many times before. But there was a lot of traffic in that large town, and Ollie kept stopping on the pavement, flinching at the noise as cars and buses drove past close to us. By the time I got to the park, I had to sit in some shade and give him a big drink from his bowl. As he showed no sign of wanting to continue the walk after that, I decided to head back, by which time it was close to 31C there.

He spent the rest of the time lying on the kitchen floor, and when the sun moved around and we sat outside to eat, he ventured out to find any small breeze and the cool decking of her patio. For all three days in Kent, he had seemed grumpy and listless, though I was pleased that he ate all of his food, and had a good appetite.

The drive home on Monday wasn’t too bad, and I decided to stop off at Thetford Forest so that Ollie could get out for a walk, and have a drink. For some reason, he wouldn’t follow me after I parked the car, and kept looking back at it. I had to settle for him having a short drink before getting him back in the car for the one hour drive to Beetley. The next morning, he seemed happier, as the temperature in Norfolk, though still hot, was a full 5C lower than it had been further south. Even so, after fifteen minutes in his preferred area of Beetley Meadows, he ran into the river and stood there for over twenty minutes.

Today was still warm and sunny, but a lot fresher than it has been. Ollie has decided that he must now sniff and mark a lot more places than ever, presumably making up for that ‘lost time’ away. It took me almost thirty minutes to walk less than 400 yards, and I found myself standing waiting for ages until he was ready to catch up.

So at least during this short heatwave, dog-walking now has a new name.

‘Dog-Waiting’.

Finding Bailey

It was a wet dog walk today. I wathed the lunchtime weather report, and they said it would be ‘cloudy but dry in the East’. So I knew to take my umbrella. Ten minutes in, and it was raining lightly. By the time I got over to Hoe Rough, the umbrella was failing to cope with torrential rain.

That meant wet shoes, (Skechers for comfort, not waterproof) wet shorts, and wet sleeves on my cotton top. Then there was walking through the tall grass and shrubs, still wet from yesterday, now soaking my legs on top of the rain. To remind me it was summer, the temperature was a humid 21 C (69 F), and Ollie was hot enough that despite being wet from the rain, he still jumped into the river to cool down.

After a couple of miserable rounds of the nature reserve, I headed back to Beetley Meadows, skidding around on the fresh mud. Over there, I saw a lady I know in passing. She usually has two small dogs with her. Today there was only one. She walked up and asked me, “Have you seen a small dog? It’s a little Spaniel called Bailey”. I told her I knew the dog, but hadn’t seen him. She told me her son was out in his car, driving around Beetley hoping to see him on the street.

I asked her where she had last seen Bailey, and she said he had gone into the long grass opposite the gate to the woodland area. That grass is never cut, and is currently very high. It also contains nesting adders, (poisonous snakes) who would likely be hunkered down in the cooler, wet weather. I said I was heading that way, and would look for her dog. By that time, she had been trying to find her dog for almost thirty minutes, and was getting worried.

Standing next to the long grass opposite the gate, I called out “Bailey” and whistled too. Ollie seemed confused, thinking I was whistling him. Seeing the grass moving about twenty-five feet away, I called again and again, until there was definitely more movement. So I told Ollie to stay, ditched the umbrella, and ventured in, finally catching a glimpse of the tiny Spaniel ahead. I patted my legs and called his name again, and he made his way nervously in my direction.

When he was close enough, I stepped forward and slipped Ollie’s lead over the small head. Then I walked him back to where the lady was standing with her other dog.

Little Bailey was soaked through, and looked exhausted. It must have seemed like being trapped in a grass maze, towering well over two feet above him. Perhaps he became disorientated, and headed deeper into the grassed area, rather than back to the path? We will never know for sure why he got lost there.

But at least he was found, safe and sound.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Littering.

The warm weather is back, and the crowds are starting to arrive at the river bend over on Beetley Meadows. Promoted by people on Facebook, family groups arrive from all over central Norfolk. Their children play safely in the shallow water, then enjoy picnic lunches on the tables and benches provided. Free of charge, and free parking on nearby streets and roads, it offers the benefits of a day at the seaside without the crowds, cost, or having to sit in traffic. Very few live locally, but that’s fine. It’s a public area for all to enjoy, after all.

Some arrive unaware that there are no toilet facilities, or shops nearby. I am often asked where they can buy drinks or ice creams, or if there any any public toilets to use. They seem shocked to discover that the nearest shop is in a different village over two miles away, and that toilets are not provided by the tiny Beetley Parish Council.

For those of us that use the area every day, in all weathers, the annual influx of people from outside Beetley on sunny days and during school holidays is something we havve become used to. Very often, the people at the river bend will eventually make their way to the small playground and football/basketball pitch, when their kids have tired of geting wet. So we are used to seeing them using those facilities too.

But the downside is the littering. Numerous bins are provided for litter, and emptied weekly by contractors. They are not that big though, so the bins soon become overwhelmed with the debris of ten or twelve families and their all-day picnics. Then the even smaller bins in the playground and ball-court areas are filled within an hour or two, as they have more drinks and snacks.

So what should these people do? Well, take it home with them of course. Use the bags they brought the food and drink in to take home their rubbish so it is not left littering our local Meadows. What they actually do is stack it next to the already overflowing bins, as if expecting someone to arrive immediately to clear up after them. The more inventive among them actually place their garbage carefully on top of the bins, knowing full well it will soon slip down, or be blown off by the slightest breeze.

Moving here from a litter-strewn city like London, I was very impressed by how neat and tidy Beetley is.

Until the weather gets warm, and the outsiders arrive. Then it is just like London in miniature.

Hunting ‘Bambi’

On Sunday’s dog-walk, it was one of those perfect days. A temperature of 21C (70F) made even more pleasant by a gentle easterly breeze, just enough to move the long grass.

With 90% of the area now dry ground, and no need for boots, Ollie and I made a few tours of Beetley Meadows, then twice around Hoe Rough. He only went into the river once to drink, and didn’t seem to be feeling the heat at all.

The whole area was unusually quiet, leading me to suspect that most people had headed to the nearby coastal resorts, or decided to have family time and barbecues in their gardens.

When we got back and started to head for the woodland area, I saw some other dog walkers. A family with a small poodle cross, and a man with a terrier. Then in the middle of the widest path, bold as brass, we all saw a young deer, nibbling happily at something by the edge. It had long, spindly legs and big eyes that made me think of Disney’s Bambi. It surely had no idea about where it was, and showed no fear of me as I approached.

But then all three dogs spotted it, and the hunt was on!

Although the dogs didn’t know each other, pack mentality took over, and they rushed off together barking, yapping, and yelping.

Fortunately for the juvenile deer, instinct kicked in, and it took off bounding gracefully, easily outstripping the three dogs as it jumped the three-bar fence back into the woodland.

We were left with three frustrated and panting dogs, who had participated in a very short and fruitless hunt.

Ollie And The Okapi

Today has been a dismal day indeed. Rain had started during the night, and by morning was being driven by strong, gusty winds.

As it got close to the time to take Ollie for his walk, I really wasn’t in the mood for dressing up in a long parka and rubber boots. But Ollie has to go out, so I just had to do it. I took my umbrella too, as the rain was coming down at an angle, straight into my face.

Ten minutes on Beetley Meadows saw me struggling to hold on to my umbrella, having to use both hands to stop it being blown from my grasp. So I folded it, and carried it instead.

Twelve hours of rain had refreshed the mud, which was slick and greasy underfoot. For a large part of the regular walk, it was all I could do to keep upright. There was nobody else around. No solo walkers, and no dog-walkers either. Those fair-weather locals had sensibly decided to stay inside, warm and dry.

After three difficult circuits, Ollie was looking decidedly fed up. I knew it was up to me to think of something to make his lonely walk more enjoyable, as he had no other dogs to greet and sniff. So I headed into the woodland area, deciding to invent a ‘hunt’ for him.

I attracted his attention with my usual whispered cry of “What’s that? What’s in there?” Indicating a thick area of almost impenetrable undergrowth. He looked round at me, excited, waiting for the word to go.

Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom that I could have suggested he go and hunt, the memory banks in my brain came up with “Find the Okapi”, and off he went.

That left me standing there wondering why I had thought of a strange animal related to the Giraffe, that lives in The Congo, and I had only ever seen in a zoo.

Luckily, Ollie doesn’t know what an Okapi is, or where it is usually found in the wild. So for a few minutes, it gave him the necessary distraction.

On the way back later, he spotted a saturated squirrel rummaging in some leaves, and chased it up a nearby tree.

In the absence of an Okapi, that was good enough.

Video Clips: A Very Snowy Dog Walk

When I took Ollie out today, I also took my phone, attached to the grip/holder I bought to try to keep it steady.

Ollie in the snow, avoiding the camera. And the deserted playground on Beetley Meadows.

Boots in the snow, and more views of the Meadows.

Riverside area, and boots in slush.

The River Whitewater, back to normal levels.

No picnics on these benches today, and Ollie refusing to move in shot.

My next door neighbour, and her lively dog, Henry.
Ollie was refusing to play, as usual.
(You can hear me asking him to)

In the woodland area, Ollie liked the smells.
It did look quite pretty in there, with no wind to disturb the snow.
Just after putting my phone away, I had a heavy fall, tripping on a tree root covered by the snow. I managed to bend back two fingers on my right hand, and they still hurt!

If I get the chance tomorrow, and the snow is still around, I will show you what it looks like over on Hoe Rough.

Ollie’s New Friends

Over the years, Ollie has sadly lost many of the original canine companions on our dog-walks.

More recently, both Oban the Labrador and Rocky the Newfoundland have died, and then we heard that Bruno the Pug has gone too. He was sixteen though, a good age.

Slowly but surely, new friends are appearing on Beetley Meadows. There is Zen, the tiny Chihuahua who thinks he’s a Lion. Freddy, the pure white Labradoodle who always gets upset when Ollie won’t play with him. Another potential playmate ignored by Ollie is Teddy, a young Alsatian who barks noisily when his attempts to play are treated with disdain.

The couple who lost Rocky have now just acquired a puppy. He is a rust-coloured Retriever/Poodle cross called (appropriately) Rusty. His fur is beautifully soft, and at thirteen weeks old, all he wants to do is play. Naturally Ollie ignores that, and just sniffs him instead, letting him know who’s the boss.

Little Hattie the curly black Shih Tzu has finally decided she likes Ollie, and is now happy to walk around with us for a while.

Then today, the lady who lost Bruno the Pug appeared. She has decided not to get another dog, but misses the walk and the company. So she has started to walk around with us again, just like old times.

Ollie might have to get used to a new gang, but at least he still has one.