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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘sea

Extreme Dog Walking

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This is the new, ultra hip, super cool sport for happenin’ dudes, dudesses and their doggies.

Started on the Dorset coast in the autumn of 2010, it has finally brought together the noble traditions of dog walking, singing in the rain and mad, British malarkey.   Contrasted with the idea that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, this is the sport where only bonkers Brits and adventurous dogs go out in a torrential storm.

You’ve never been really wet until you’ve been Extreme Dog Walking.  When the rain has been blown past horizontal, round to vertical but going upwards, then you begin to get a flavour of this exciting and challenging sport.  When you have to walk with your face turned away from the stinging shotgun pellets that are rain drops while the dogs whimper and scuttle about your feet, only then will you begin to understand the determination, courage and true grit necessary to survive and succeed in this competition to end all competitions.  Far below the sea can just be seen as a seething mass of whitewater.  As the squalls come in the whole environment darkens and the gale force winds thrash and tangle at hat and clothing.  Even with the air temperature at 17 C, the rain makes your hands freeze and your face smart.  All you can do is call the dogs on, put your head down, gird your loins, steel your determination and go forth into the turbulence.  There is no option to stop.  It is as far to go on as it is to retreat.  Forwards is the only option. Onwards to the end, to glory and glorious triumph!

As in all such endurance events the best bit is when it stops.  A first layer of saturated “waterproofs” is peeled off and then the dogs are towelled down.  Then off come the boots, often with gushes of water as each one is removed.  Finally, right down to the underwear, each soaking layer is removed and the steam begins to rise.  Then we begin to yarn, to talk of how every gust seemed bigger than the last. To boast of how we just made it through when all seemed lost, how we nearly got caught by that “gnarly” one, how we feel so “stoked” and “trashed” by our experience.  Then we sit around in our “baggies”, drinking beer and smokin’ weed, knowing that we know what others never can, knowing that up there in them thar hills is where we feel really alive, where our sport of Extreme Dog Walking makes life worthwhile!

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Paradise Valley

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I’ve lived in Sutton Poyntz for six months now. A mile to the south is the sea. A mile to the east is Osmington and half a mile to the north but up a very steep hill is the “top of my mountain”. Walking my dogs around this wonderful area has fulfilled every dream that I dared hope for when I first arrived.

The Mysteries Of the East

The Mysteries Of the East

We have perhaps half a dozen standard walks that we’ve learned, each one of which can be varied with diversions, extensions or shortcuts. Usually we walk for about and hour and a half. The one delight that is always there is a succession of dramatic and quite beautiful views. I never tire of these wonderful vistas across the valley, to the sea, the Isle of Portland and beyond.

I believe that being able to see some distance is fundamentally good for your psyche. Even in the midst of our ghastly capital city on the 12th floor of a vile 1970s tower block there was some consolation to be gained from

Go West Young Man

Go West Young Man

the view. In Paradise Valley the views move me every day as they change and develop with the seasons. Quite why just looking can make me well up and seems to touch my soul, I do not know but it fascinates me that the dogs will do the same thing. We reach the peak of a hill or come round a corner and they will stand on a wall or look over a hedge – and just look.

After one false start, spring is here. In the great national blizzard we got off lightly with merely an inch or so. A fortnight later though and we had our own intense Dorset storm and we woke up to four inches and twelve hours without power.

Taking In The View

Taking In The View

Another fortnight on and the daffodils and crocuses are out. There is already some intensity in the warmth of the sun and all around gardeners are beginning to dig and to sow, to dream of runner beans and strawberries. Up on the hill they were burning the gorse. Quite why I’m not sure. Then this week they brought in a formidable machine which seemed to crawl up and down the sides of the mountain completely demolishing the gorse bushes  and leaving an apparently smooth and fresh sward of pasture.

This required immediate investigation and so the dogs and I struck out for the top. Up closer we discovered a compact bulldozer on caterpillar tracks with a vicious flail mounted on front. The driver told me that it weighs bulldozer-workingsix tons and guiding it across the slope sometimes it would slip andbulldozer slide and nearly give him a heart attack. He explained that the gorse needs to be cut back simply to keep it under control. He’s a braver man than me. Perhaps he doesn’t know that others deliberately throw themselves off the mountain underneath paragliders.

So in a deepening wamth, for the first time since winter took hold, I find time to sit. With the absence of movement, without having to worry about negotiating the hills and the fields, with time just to sit and contemplate, the valley bursts into life. It’s like sitting in a huge and magnificent amphitheatre but there’s not just the single focus of a sport or contest. Every single part of the valley throbs with activity. A family of deer watch the dogs in trepidation.carla-watches-deer1 Countless beautiful, big, brown buzzards soar and swoop. A pair of kestrels hover over the gorse bushes. The biggest rabbit warren I have ever seen, a city full of bunnies, teems with bobbing white tails. The trees are developing that slightly misty look as millions of buds begin to swell and fill. The insect population is burgeoning and heading towards a total that must surely be in the billions, surely exceeding even the number of humans across the whole of our world.

Paradise Valley is blossoming and as it blooms with it will come ever more intense beauty and experience. This, surely, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I live right here. For me it truly is paradise.

kestrels1

Walking The Dog 5

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Our climate seems to be playing many tricks on us these days. Or at least, so the media frenzy about global warming would have us believe. With my personal experience and memory stretching back only about 40 years it’s difficult to know whether what seems unusual in that context is merely just the ebb and flow of nature. This spring and summer certainly seems to have been missing our normal south-westerly winds. Instead they’ve been coming from the east and closer to due south.

It was the return of a more familiar wind direction that gave rise to another rather embarrassing confrontation with the local wildlife and another failure to capture the event with my camera.

As Capone and I pass by Warblington Church, I suppose it’s my many repeated commands to walk to heel in case of any traffic which means that it has become a habit and, try as I might, I cannot encourage him to “get on” and quarter the ground in front as his half-pointer breeding should favour. He just prefers to walk by my side.

As we swing round past the old vicarage and turn south again down the Pook Lane path to the sea, he changes and forges ahead, often unseen, even on the brightest day, in the dark and dappled tunnel of hedgerow. To both sides there are ditches, thick with nettles and to my right, the west, a field of pasture, foot high with grasses. About a third of a way down we pass two great cedar trees. If you look seaward from the Havant junction on the A27 you can’t miss them. They appear to be three but, in fact, one splits right near the base of its trunk.

Right there, with wind in my face, a russet shape with a great bushy tail wanders along the edge of the field, casual, calm and blissfully unaware, my scent blown behind me before any chance of reaching him.

He is less than six feet from me. His feet at my eye level. Even fumbling for my camera does not alarm him. The wind is strong enough to blow away the noise too. My clumsy camera work continues and he walks right past paying me no notice.

Now I have to turn back slightly and towards the ditch. At last my viewfinder is on but I can’t see him anymore. So I part the nettles with my leg and edge gently into the ditch – until I begin to slide.

Arms and face tingling with nettle stings, I have discovered that the ditch is six feet deep and as I try to scramble back up, who should be there looking down at me with bemusement? Capone, of course, complete bafflement on his face as to what these human beings get up to and why!

The other “environmental” issue that has been concerning me are the vast carpets of glutinous seaweed that have been smothering the beaches. Sid, the Emsworth harbourmaster and fount of all knowledge on such matters, tells me that it is caused by nitrates washed down into the sea from the farmland.

It is revolting stuff, perhaps six inches deep, slippery and treacherous to walk over. In bright sunlight it bleaches quickly and dries to a crispy underlay over which the next tide deposits another layer. I was lucky enough to enjoy a day’s sailing in a 45 foot yacht out of Northney Marina and saw great swathes of the stuff as far out as the Isle of Wight. Then suddenly, with no mention of our local problem, “mutant seaweed” choking the Olympic Games sailing venue in Beijing has become a stick with which to beat the Chinese.

I hold no brief for the Far East at all but surely this is just more media befuddlement, cheap sensationalism (even in The Times!). We love to paint them as the great polluters, as incompetent to manage this great sporting occasion. Look closer to home first, skip the all expenses paid trip to China and please, can someone give us some honesty, some straightforwardness and some real information?

Capone agrees too. “Now get on and throw that stick!”

 

Mutant Seaweed

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An article in Friday’s Times tells of the difficulties facing sailors competing in the Beijing Olympics due to an invasion of mutant seaweed described as “thick as a carpet”.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article4221527.ece

We are suffering from the same problem in Chichester Harbour and I can personally testify to the deep pile quality of this very unpleasant weed.  I consulted the authority on such matters, Sid, the Emsworth harbourmaster.  He tells me it is caused by nitrates seeping down into the harbour from farmland.  I have seen great swathes of it as far as 10 miles out and around the Isle of Wight.  The tide brings it up to the beach and deposits it in layers four to six inches thick.  It is difficult and slippery to walk over and is bleached almost bright white and crispy by the sun in the space of a day.  Then the tide brings another layer up and massive areas of the foreshore become clogged with it.

Written by Peter Reynolds

June 28, 2008 at 11:32 am

Walking The Dog 4

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Walking The Dog 4

 

Oh joy! Some real weather returns to crown the long bank holiday weekend and end the tedious republic of sunshine.  Capone has to be dragged from the house because although he will plunge into an icy sea in the depths of winter, a little gentle drizzle is enough to deter him from leaving his lap of luxury inside.

 

So the riot act is read.  The beast is told that there is no room for runts in this regiment and with hanging head and screwed up eyes we venture into the rain.  Our normal cut through to the foreshore, where we usually hop over a gently dribbling stream, is transformed into a four foot deep raging torrent so we have to turn and take the long way round.  The lead has to be reapplied twice before he finally takes the hint and then the full glory of Chichester harbour opens up in front of us.

 

The rain doesn’t just come down in sheets. It is like unravelling great bales of sailmaker’s cloth.  The wind takes it and flaunts it and slaps you in the face. Already my trousers are soaking to the knees but now Capone’s tail is up.  There’s a job to be done.  The fat, snotty-nosed kids and their even fatter mothers have gone from the beach.  The inflatable kayaks are back in the garage and high water beckons for the boards with their storm sails and the bold knights of the sea who will skim the waves and charge the surf.  This is the glory of battle with the elements.  Courage and determination and persistence and rain and wind, even if, alas, no sleet and snow.

 

Summer has some advantages for only in full leaf can the trees deposit an extra six or seven gallons with each gust.  The gulls soar. The rooks rise and fall and the odd saturated pigeon flutters from the branches.

 

There is not another soul to be seen until out of the woods comes a solitary figure in wellies and a barbour but still in his summer shorts.  Behind him plods his aging, morose labrador not yet encouraged to arms, still believing in the misinformation that it is calm and sun and quiet that leads to happiness.

 

Across the fields the barley shoots that have been reaching for the sun droop and sag under the weight of water but you can almost hear their roots sucking the moisture, preparing themselves with the energy to burst upwards once again when the skies clear.  Nature has its own intelligence, far cleverer than the sophistication of man, far smarter than our short term, pleasure seeking easy lives.  The true hedonism is in contrast and struggle.  Only in the darkest hour is the brightest light.  The arid desert is drenched in life-giving rain and inspiration comes when the gloom closes in tightest and grips hardest.


 

The beast understands nothing of this but he knows it all.  At last, puddles are no longer avoided but splashed through.  The spring returns to his step and the tail is held high and proud and wags uncontrollably as the sticks are found and thrown and retrieved.

 

Our route is not cut short by the weather.  In fact, it is extended and though we meet one bedraggled runner and chance upon just one more of the regular dog walkers, this is the best walk in a month.  Returning home for a vigorous towelling and a couple of quadruple espressos puts the seal on the bank holiday.  This is how Mondays were meant to be.

 

Peter Reynolds 26-05-08

Walking The Dog 3

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Walking The Dog 3

 

The fields have been ploughed and scattered this week.   My memory tells me that the ploughing should take place in the depths of winter so that the frosts can break up the great clumps of soil but that’s not the way it’s done in Emsworth.

 

Instead the local farmer brings in contractors who arrive in huge leviathan beasts, each worth a brace of Aston Martins, that devour the stubble fields and transform them into finely graded seedbed.

 

Think of the effort of lifting one spade of compacted soil.  The plough carves down three spades deep and four spades wide with each of six blades.  The earth surrenders to its mighty force and is exposed rich red and raw.  Then a massive grader, its huge weight hauled at speed across the fields smashes the soil into powder.  Only then does the farmer drive out his John Deere, looking puny by comparison and sets it to seeding and raking.  In the space of three or four days the work is completed.

 

The new scenery brings out a burst of fresh exuberance from Capone.  He gallops across the fields, his energy enough to lift any mood.  His sheer joy at being perfectly expresses the purpose of a dog.  He and the intimate experience of a walk with my best friend is the most powerful of therapies requiring no theory or structure, just the doing of it.  Perhaps more like a meditation or prayer.

 

With age the individual senses diminish in power but I find that there is a greater discernment between them.  I hear birdsong now like I never used to.  The pleasure of the birds, the sea, the sky, the light and the breeze is all so much more intense and the unreserved, joyous companionship of my dog makes it all the more so.

 

The most extraordinary things happen every day to those of us that indulge in this most universal hobby of walking the dog.  Last week, and I kid you not, from behind an isolated cottage, flew a second world war US fighter plane at no more than 200 feet.   Breaking every civil aviation rule in the book, it sent Capone and me diving for the nearest slit trench convinced that we were its target.

 

Regularly the Chinooks fly over Chichester harbour, their massive thumping beat pulverising the air.  If you happen to be wading through a large area of eight foot tall bullrushes it is so easy to imagine the rattle of M16s and the threat of napalm descending from above.

 

 

 

 

But the real dangers that lurk here are of a more rural nature.  The most marmalade orange, malevolent cat saunters along the church wall, a half dead rat clamped in its teeth.  The nasty fat corgi, its belly dragging on the ground and while Capone ambles by it leaps up and bites him on the back of the neck!

 

Spring is accelerating towards summer now.  The grasses and nettles in the hedgerows are lush.  The trees are turning a deeper green and filling out their magnificent silhouettes but the earliest crop in Emsworth is the forest of masts that’s sprouting everywhere you look.

 

 

Peter Reynolds 14-05-08

Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08