Monday 17 March 2008

The dogging capital of Northumberland

14st 3lb; zero alcohol; 1,418; Common.

This has long been a very important day in my life, for reasons that have nothing to do with Ireland or the Irish. It is my first Border terrier’s birthday, his 17th to be precise. I gave his box from the crematorium a once-over with a duster when I got up this morning, and asked whether there was anything in particular he would like to do by way of celebration. He did not reply, but then I did not get much more of a response in 2007, when he was still nominally alive.

I spent the morning writing a column for the paper, hoping against hope that someone would e-mail me a bad taste joke about Bear Stearns that I could plagiarize before my deadline, but I was sorely disappointed. After a quick sandwich lunch I drove out for a long walk in the hills as part of my weight loss campaign. My rival e-mailed yesterday to admit that he was still 14st 10lb, so he doesn’t have a hope in hell unless he has a leg off, and I’m pretty sure that I had the presence of mind to specify that amputations would not count when I was drawing up the rules at the start of the competition.

I haven’t done today’s planned walk since 1997 and was surprised, on arriving at Wooler Common, to find that the former parking space on the grass verge had become a large tarmac car park, with an information board and adjoining picnic site. I pulled up next to another parked car and was further surprised to find four eyes examining me closely: two belonging to the blonde woman in the driver’s seat, and the other two to her dog in the back. I got out to change into my walking boots and became keenly aware that she had the diesel engine of her Freelander running. She continued to observe me with close interest, even though I was behaving surprisingly normally for a man in a car park in walking country. As I tied up my boots, I became aware of another diesel car a little way off, also with its engine running. Odd, I thought.

It was only when I was some way into my walk that I suddenly twigged that I must have blundered into the Dogging Capital of North Northumberland during the lunchtime peak. That would explain why the middle-aged lady who walked across the car park as I was going to inspect the aforementioned notice board looked so thoroughly alarmed when I gave her a friendly greeting and remarked that her Border terrier looked much smarter than mine. It was probably Dogger’s code for something frightfully rude like “I want to come all over your tits.” It would also explain the strange notice on the board getting quite hysterical about a practice it described as “disgusting, anti-social and illegal”. It purported to be about dog fouling, but this is the countryside, for God’s sake. Animals shit in it. That’s what it’s for.

No, it has to a coded warning to the Dogging community.

Fortunately or otherwise, all action had to be put on hold as a crocodile of ancient ramblers made their way across the car park. They were all equipped with those twin carbon fibre poles which geriatrics like to use in the hills. I thought they were to stop them falling over, but apparently it’s so that they get to exercise their upper bodies, too. Whatever, as they say, they made them look like large insects or smaller versions of the Martians out of The War of the Worlds. I fled to ensure that I didn’t have to listen to them mithering on throughout my walk, but they kept up remarkably well for some time. Various words kept reaching me on the breeze, including pension, hip, warden, nice cup of tea, biscuits and rimming, though I think I might have misheard that last one.

I was so keen to get away from them that I did not consult my map until I had lost voice contact. Amazingly I was not on the wrong route, but I was shortly afterwards when I wilfully ignored the bridleway arrow pointing across a rough section of felled woodland, and decided to stick with the nice clear track instead. The ultimate result of that was that I missed the opportunity to walk down Hellpath, a wonderfully named section of the route which becomes a lot less enticing when you realize that it is just a corruption of “hill path”. In consequence, I did not make it to Commonburn House and only walked for two hours and five miles, rather than the seven and a half miles intended.

Still, to look on the bright side, I’ll now have to come back to do it properly. And next time I’ll be mentally and physically equipped to take full advantage of the Dogging opportunities while I’m about it.


Oofy said...

Good luck with reaching the weight target. Hope you have a blowout to celebrate.

Old Liverspots said...

Dam-it Craster I shall have to try out that car park. Sounds like a Wooler occupation too many sheep lambing at the moment. Did I tell you about the lady (!) who joined me for a chat in the Guggenheim in NY, sounds like you could do with a trip to Amsterdam for a rapturous weekend?
Well done with the weight loss.

Old Liverspots