It was very pleasant, and consisted of the standard things that hill walks should ideally be made up of. A (not too steep) hill, some scenery, some unseasonably mild weather and a hip flask.
Also, a healthy variety of domesticated and wild fauna. Sheep, with the occasional lamb, frolicked and gambolled in the fields. Ponies trotted hither and thither, birds flew with varying degrees of elegance and there were even some saddleback cows. And before any of you so called qualified farmers mention there's no such thing as saddleback cows, look:
|"This grounds soft Gertie. I've sunk right up to me udders."|
And some dogs.
I quite like dogs. This is a pity because for some reason, I make them nervous. I must exude some aura or scent which suggests I'm something either to be feared or instantly attacked. I've seen large rottweilers guarding farmyards slink behind barns rather than threaten me, and tiny wiener dogs renowned for friendly inquisitiveness go for my knees like some sort of guided hot dog. It's very odd.
An acquaintance, who practices the occult art of amateur dogology suggested I change my behaviour to extract the optimum response from hounds, instructing me to establish some ground rules straight away. This would be useful in my line of work, I thought, as I often have to get past unrestrained mutts to get to patients. I was given instructions, which included using a confident voice, sticking a hand right in their faces, giving 'em a damn good no-nonsense fuss and then ignoring them.This lets them know exactly where we both stand apparently, and I'm pleased to say it works more often than not. Alternatively, when faced with an aggressive canine that presses an attack, consider staying very still and avoiding eye contact is the recommended advice.
The dogs of today, howsomever, were of a different ilk. Really, quite stupendously irritating.
As we plodded up the mountainette to get some good views of Wales and Gloucestershire, we walked past a smallholding, populated by abandoned tractors, quad bikes, rubble and a pack of half a dozen hounds. And no gate. We were on a public highway at this point, but the pack had obviously claimed it as their own, and now a couple of bipeds were having the audacity to encroach on their tarmac.
They. Went. Mental.
The cacophony of barks and howls was deafening, and got even louder as they streamed through the gateway into the road. There was a spectrum of sizes from a knee high terrier cross that ran at the head of the pack like it had had it's knees surgically removed, through medium mongrels to wiry waist-high varmints that looked a bit embarrassed to be there frankly, and would obviously prefer to be finding a sheep to chew on.
The leader, who obviously suffered from small dog syndrome, was the loudest and most unpleasant, determined to show he wasn't all bark and no bite. The other five mongrels stopped about ten feet away and simply practised growling, but he pressed his attack. His size and demeanour put me in mind of certain historical war-leaders, feisty generals and territory mad Emperors of diminutive stature and so, in deference to this, I duly named him Twatty.
Too small to be more than an irritant, or so I thought, I laughed it off and turned away to continue my journey uphill. I was subsequently a little surprised to find my progress impeded by the attachment of an angry half Jack Russel to the leg of my Berghauses.
I shook him off hard and he backed away. The other dogs joined him, growling and advancing towards us in a surprisingly menacing fashion. They stopped, stared at me, and then then moved forward as one. I remembered the instructions about standing stock still and hoping they lost interest.
Screw that, I thought, opening my arms and doing a passable impression of a constipated grizzly, confident that this display should scare off most feral mammals.
It did, for about five seconds, and I had to repeat the exercise three of four times with each re-enactment losing some of it's terrifying efficacy. Twatty was obviously smarter than your average hound and, I expect, he had a history of delighting in calling bluffs. I had a horrible feeling this was going to end up with me kicking the little bastard into a ditch, and you can absolutely guarantee there'd be someone with a GoPro filming me do it from a bush.
The pack advanced again, and I readied myself for some canine punting.
Mrs The Jules, who is known for ice cold pragmatism and a clinical detachment towards necessary suffering (she's a nurse) promptly stepped forth. She raised her hand which had a large, very visible stone in it. Her expression had a touch of the "make my day" about it, an attitude favoured by those with preventative justice on their minds and the means to carry it out.
Twatty stopped dead. The rest of his gang, displaying admirable levels of self-preservation, suddenly lost interest and began examining some fox poo on a grassy knoll, looking as innocent as one of the many lambs they had almost certainly dismembered over the years. Definitely quite bright, I surmised, as Twatty's near future scrolled out in his minds eye, consisting quite prominently of a rock shaped bruise somewhere on his anatomy. Mrs The Jules looked like she was quite happy to make up for a lack in anatomical accuracy with sheer enthusiasm, and she cocked her arm back. There was a distinct lack of bluff in her demeanour, as both I and the dogs could tell.
Twatty came to a decision. If a canine movement could be described as a handbrake turn he achieved one with remarkable efficiency. Mrs The Jules, her vim levels high, actually looked mildly disappointed at the peaceful resolution she had managed to create and, after reversing away in a tactical retreat that would have made any Italian proud, we carried on our journey.
"Nice." I told her, as I checked my troos for damage.
"We have to go back this way though." she said, and spent the next two hours of the walk choosing a more aerodynamic set of rocks to take back down the hill.
Sadly for her throwing arm though, the return journey was free of violence. Twatty and the pack saw Mrs The Jules, missile ready for launch, and decided they weren't that interested in the road anyway. I swear if dogs had the lips for it, they would've whistled nonchalantly.
So, a few lessons learned here, I reckon. Even though dogs are highly intelligent, social hunters, they are no match for constructed weapons, and even the most non-violent of humans has an intrinsic aptitude for that.The biggest stick usually wins.
Also, Twatty and The Pack would be a great band name.