Firstly: The Northern Lights photos. We met a lovely couple from Singapore who were much better prepared with DSLR cameras and tripods to take delay shutter images than us. Here are some of Yuru's photos. They're pretty amazing aren't they?
|It was very cold and driving conditions were hazardous! (photos by Yuru Boon)|
Secondly: We ended up at Chulilla after a misty humid day at Llaberia. Weather was mostly great, the climbing was as usual very fingery but fantastic and we met up with lots of friends. Vicki Hau and Eddy Young (from Dorset) shared their superb doss spot with us, thanks guys! Once again, local experts Dave and Rhian Cross gave us useful route info and provided quality humour too. Jean Claude and Michele were an amazing retired couple from Grenoble who stopped a couple of nights with us before heading off to Calpe. Finally we hooked up with Ben Farley and Caryl (not forgetting Marvin the monkey and Paul van diesel) from Liverpool, who are also on a year off travelling and gave us plenty to laugh about during the last few days. It was fantastic to see you all and share great times together. Hopefully we'll see you all again some time soon.
|Local experts Dave and Rhian Cross|
|Jean Claude and Michele from Grenoble|
|Scousers Caryl and Ben Farley|
|Ben on-sighting Las Franceses, 7b+|
|Caryl cooling down at the end of the day on a 6b|
|TC meets Marvin (Marvin is a "she" by the way) (photo by Elaine)|
Thirdly: The nitty gritty. Here goes.
I remember my grandparents having a friendly enough bull terrier called Bundle when I was very young. We even had a dog too, a mongrel called Kim who used to go everywhere with me before she unexpectedly disappeared when I was about 12 (I later found out that she had been put down for biting somebody). After that I definitely didn't like dogs at all. It was simple really. My parents became obsessed with breeding and showing wire haired dachshunds. They had loads, none of which were house trained so the smell was disgusting. I couldn't wait to leave home and get away, which I did when I was 16.
Many care free years passed by and my life with Elaine was blissfully free of dogs (though we often came across farmers working with their amazing sheep dogs when we were climbing here, there and everywhere). However things changed in early 1989. Tony and Jill Flanagan had a lovely border collie called Nell. She was caught short by the local black labrador and soon Tony and Jill were looking for caring people to take Nell's lovely collie cross puppies. We didn't really hesitate and we took a female who we called Del. Del very quickly was seen at all the crags we were going to, mostly Gogarth at the time. We still have a laugh when we recall Darren Hawkins crying out to his then girl friend Del Goodey at Parisella's Cave, "Del, there's a dog named after you!". Unfortunately, our little world collapsed (for the first time) at Tremadoc in early June. Elaine had just led a climb called Merlin Direct. Afterwards I had to go back to the car park and (despite Elaine trying to stop her) Del followed and was struck by a car as she ran across the road. She died in our arms a few minutes later. Obviously we were completely gutted and returned home feeling very sad.
|Hey Del, there's a dog named after you!|
A couple of days later, Rosie Harris was on the phone telling us about an advert in a newspaper for border collie pups in Timperly. We chose Veronica, as she was then called, a beautiful black and white merle female with one blue eye and one brown eye. Not surprisingly we called her Merlin.
That summer was amazing. We spent many weeks down in the south west and Merlin went everywhere (apart from Lundy when she stayed with a very caring woman who ran a kennel in Ilfracombe). I remember Elaine insisting on attaching Merlin to a rucksack at the bottom of Sacre Couer before she set off on the sharp end of the rope. We just got back to her in time as the tide was coming in very quickly! It rained on the way back to our Ford Escort van and we all got soaked. Back at the tent we stripped off our wet clothes. As I lent forward to pick up some dry ones a warm wet tongue quickly licked my arse. When I turned round alarmed, Merlin was licking her lips!
We had a particularly great time with Chris Craggs, Sherri Davy and Colin Binks at the Count House in Bosigran. Colin and Merlin used to run around the whole place for hours, tiring each other out and having great fun whilst we dozed after climbing.
Merlin became an almost permanent fixture at the "in vogue" Malham Cove and provided much light hearted relief from the stresses of red pointing projects. She'd run at full pelt along the catwalk through TPM's legs, in order to hassle the tourists into throwing her a stick or she'd spend ages just standing in the beck, barking and wagging her tail whilst people threw stones into the water! I remember Tom Herbert telling us that his friend who took him to the Cove on his first visit said, "That dog is always here, it must live here".
On another occasion Steve Petro and Lisa Gnade were over from the US. They took Merlin to Kilnsey whilst we spent the day at work. At the crag Chris Gore promptly said to them, "You must be staying at Mike and Elaine's because that's Merlin".
When we moved over to France Merlin was already ten years old but the warmer and drier climate gave her renewed vitality. She was very soon a favourite with lots of the local climbers and on non-climbing days we'd go out "scamping" and discovering the local area for hours.
However in the summer of 2002, Merlin really started to slow down and we'd sadly have to leave her at home more often than not. By Christmas she had developed cancer in her spleen, which ruptured causing the cancer to spread into her lymphatic system and intestines. In the end she could hardly walk and I'd have to pick her up to take her out to go to the toilet. We had to make the awful decision to have her put to sleep. That night, whilst we were putting up the tree and decorations, she had a burst of energy and kept bringing us a tennis ball. We were in tears because we knew what was going to happen the next morning. But by the morning it was obviously the humane thing to do. We arrived at the vets and we lay her on the table. As the vet connected her to the drip we stroked and caressed her and soothed her with loving words as we watched her pupils dilate and her body become limp. Afterwards all three of us were hugging each other and the tears were in full flow. We returned home and spent a very sad Christmas on our own in a very quiet house. Our little world had collapsed for the second time after almost 14 fun filled glorious years with Merlin.
|Merlin at the Count House waiting to play with Binksy (photo by Chris Craggs)|
|Merlin in her element, running free in Watlose dry valley above Malham|
|Merlin smiling as usual|
At some point during the Christmas holiday I was out trying to climb at Castillon with Marie-Jo (Elaine was stuck at home because she'd damaged a knee very seriously and was on crutches). Marie-Jo's cat had recently passed away and we were both feeling very sad and we were trying to cheer each other up as best as we could. She suggested we get another dog. Later Marie-Jo found a website and Elaine got working on the case. She found a farmer near Ceuse who had 2 female pups. We went up to see them and (to cut a very long story short) we started the next chapter of our lives with Scamp (named because we used to take Merlin out "scamping").
I've written lots about our time with Scamp in my recent blogs and about our little world collapsing for a third time in September, after less than 12 years together. We are still very much missing Scamp but we keep finding her hairs everywhere, which makes us chuckle and remember all the good times with her.
|Baby Scamp sleeping after a hard day|
|How cute can I make myself look?|
When the time is right we'll get another border collie for sure. In the meantime TC (our Ultimate Travel Dog) goes everywhere with us!