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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘wind

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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Walking The Dog 11

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The lights on Portland are warming up orange in the distance. Everywhere there’s a gunmetal grey murk with a few billowing black threats. It is cold, chilling cold and the wind is biting and penetrating.  This is the very nub of dusk and here we are back on the beach after a break of over a week.

It’s been a tough week, travelling everywhere, bad news about my Dad, a disastrous episode with my car.  Saturday morning in the valley was a welcome relief.  The ground was very very wet but the sun shone strong and as we hit the toughest part of the trek up the mountain a ginger blur up the near-vertical slope, the dogs in pursuit, the healthiest, most muscly fox I’ve ever seen.  And on top, two bobbing, weaving white backsides of deer escaping towards Dorchester.

I’m in the little red Citroen loan car from The Cartshed, generously offered as “you’re welcome to put your dogs in there” and I knew I had an appropriate stick stored in the garden.  Now I’m slipping and sliding down the grass bank to the beach while Capone and Carla tumble, fight and slither through the shingle to the water.

At high tide a three foot windblown chop is breaking 20 yards out but the undertow is ready to pull Capone capwav2right back under the next one.  Once, twice, three times he is wiped out, thumped in the face and chest with icy white water.  He ploughs on like a Chieftan tank, shaken but not stirred and reaches the stick at the very crest.

Around he comes, half drowned, half propelled by another wave, he disappears underneath a crashing cauldron of surf and then he’s back, Carla already grabbing the stick from him.  His fierce but playful growl penetrates all of nature’s noise.  They scamper away up the beach carrying the stick together and turn to the most satisfying tussle and chew while I give them a few moments to rest.

Carla is no fool and although I throw her a little twig while Capone is busy she frolicks into the shallowest surf but thinks better of it and turns back.  It’s much more fun to wait for Capone to go in, do the work and intercept him on the way back.

Man Of The Match - Andy Powell

Man Of The Match - Andy Powell

What more perfect end to a day when Wales have almost beaten the South Africans in Cardiff and shown enormous promise, invention and the usual courage.

In these conditions I have to be careful how much I push him because he would try and try, keep going back, ignoring the cold and the shortness of breath and the sucking, churning, remorseless waves.  He tackles the surf like a second row forward and nothing stands in his way.capwav11

He wants nothing more than another chance.  He would die for me in that seething, heaving water.

This connection with my animals, my countryside, my sea, my sky, my wind is my salvation.  When we understand what matters, who matters, whatever happens, then contentment comes a little easier.

Life makes a little more sense.

capwav32

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 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

Walking The Dog 1

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When I first saw it, my heart went into my mouth and then dropped in to my stomach as I realised I was looking at a pterodactyl. Loping away from a low branch, it’s massive wings somehow rolling up and then unrolling in an unbelievably slow movement, it rose gracefully, magnificently away from me.

Regaining my composure, with my trusty Kodak Digital at my side, I still managed to miss the chance of a great picture and Capone, my faithful, four-legged companion, just looked at me in disgust before doing his own loping away towards the sea.

Ever since then I’ve been hunting the heron and its mate, for there are two of them cruising the farmland, woods and foreshore between Emsworth, Warblington and Langstone. I’ve seen it perhaps half a dozen times in as many months, once just three feet above my head as I walked down one of Havant’s more exclusive residential avenues. Every time I fumble for my camera, it uncurls those great wings, folds its neck up in dinosaur style and leaves me in disarray.

Every day produces something remarkable in this little haven on the south coast. Across Chichester and Langstone harbours the Portsmouth Spinnaker tower glints bright white in the sun. Crowds of brent geese grow bigger and individually fatter by the day and the oyster catchers screech low along the water’s edge, swinging in formation to display the dazzling zigzags along their backs.

When the brent geese first came in from their summer home in the arctic, they would gather in one huge flock of perhaps five hundred in a field just above the sea. Capone would put them up in a force five south-westerly and they would head seaward in a cacophony of honking, flapping wings getting them nowhere, directly into the gale. I would walk on with them above and all around me, hanging motionless, creating a world of noise and feathers and wind and dog and insignificant me.

Warblington cemetery contains a piteous children’s section where the gravestones are decorated with teddies, windmills, rubber ducks, Rupert and Peter Rabbit. Every day that two minute walk touches me but never more so than on Christmas morning. Then, the really remarkable thing was the intense, beaming smiles that both the bereaved mothers gave me as they tended their child’s grave. Walking into the south-westerly that morning made my eyes water as never before.

The March storms brought both drama and damage, the fields along the coast displaying lines of seaweed 40 yards further back than usual. Other dog walkers who live right on the foreshore told me their roof tiles were tinkling like a xylophone. Parts of Emsworth were flooded. The sea overflowing the mill pond wall filled the empty eight and a half acre pond in half an hour and brought down great lengths of the inner retaining wall. I found myself up to my knees in overflowing sea as it swept in round the sailing clubhouse and caused chaos in the dinghy park.

This morning I left the warmth of Nore Barn Wood and struck out across the most heavily pigeoned stubble field I know. Then to my right a white object caught my eye in the middle of the boggy area that runs down to the stream where the pterodactyl had first frightened me. Capone and I diverted and plugged our way towards it but it was still, inert, probably one of those plastic bags that Emsworth has virtually done away with. We trudged on, me avoiding the cow pats, Capone stepping in every one and relaxed into the warm morning sunshine, another storm promised for the weekend.

It rose again, elegant and yet ponderous at the same time, lofted up and away and gone.

Peter Reynolds 20-03-08