Walking with Herbie
To say that we take Herbie on our walks wouldn’t give the full picture. Herbie is the reason we started walking in the first place, so if anything, it’s he who takes us.
We never had any intention of getting a dog. Our landlady of the time didn’t allow pets in the house, we had busy lives, and our hobbies tended to be based indoors rather than out. Then along he came, just for a two night stay, as there was nobody else our friend at the rescue centre could find to have him for the weekend, but giving him back on the Monday was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. We were in love with him immediately, and even though he’s currently trying to lick the cursor on my laptop screen as I type this, we couldn’t be without him.
Dogs love walks. I know that’s not a hot take. I doubt there’s anyone out there who is unaware of this information, but what we soon found is that his love of walks was contagious. It all started quite small; the local woodland, then woodland further afield, then recommended walks in the local area, then completing sections of a long distance trail, then ‘let’s not go abroad this year, let’s plan a walking holiday in Dorset and stay in a dog-friendly cottage’, then next thing I know I’m writing blogs for The Outdoor Guide about hikes through the National Parks. It all started with a tiny little rescue dog, who we were supposed to foster for a few days.
People are often surprised with Herbie’s stamina when walking some of the tougher routes, and to begin with, so was I. Weighing just over 6kg and with legs just a little longer than a chihuahua’s, when we first climbed Kinder Scout and unsuspectingly took the hard way (you know, up Grindsbrook Clough rather than the gentler climb of the Pennine Way), out of the three of us, he was the one who scrambled to the top without a second thought. He leads the way up hills, directs us towards the styles in fields, and can find a track on moorland when the two legged amongst us see none. He doesn’t seem to have an off button, and given the chance, he would probably keep on walking forever. It’s for this reason that as his humans, we have to take responsibility for his wellbeing. We know his limits. 16 miles on relatively flat terrain, or 12 with peaks, and he’ll sleep like baby in the car on the way home, then be itching to go out walking again the next day. We recently completed a 26 mile challenge walk on the Northumberland coast, on which dogs were welcome to be brought along, but we knew that this kind of distance would be too much for our little pooch, so Herbie had to sit it out. There were many dogs taking part, which was great to see, and as responsible owners one would like to assume that they were not being pushed above anything they’re comfortable with. If you’re not sure how far your dog is capable of walking, then try building up from something small. And if you’re not an experienced walker yourself, it wouldn’t do you any harm either.
We also ensure that he’s well fed before, and during the walk. Herbie eats a complete dry food, and even though it’s not his favourite delicacy, he will go to his bowl whenever he feels the need. On the morning before a walk however, if he’s not feeling the dry food, there’s nothing we can do to encourage him to eat it. You can take a dog to a bowl, but you can’t make him eat. So to be certain that he isn’t going to embark on a hike with an empty stomach, on walking days he gets a special treat of a wet, meaty food, which he has no hesitation in devouring. He also gets a packed lunch of the same, so when we all find somewhere suitably restful to stop along the way and have a bite to eat, Herbie gets his packed lunch while we scoff our sandwiches.
Needless to say, water is as vital for Herbie as it is for ourselves, so we always make sure he is given the opportunity to drink. We have a collapsable rubber bowl that neatly clips onto my rucksack, which we fill from our own water bottle. When we stop and take out the bottle, I’ll first offer it to Herbie, and he knows that if he wants to take a drink all he needs to do is approach me, and I’ll fill up his bowl. If he’s not bothered, he’ll turn away and look at the path ahead as if to tell me to hurry up and stop holding him up. Sometimes in the summer months, if it’s an especially hot day, we just have to think if it’s really suitable to take him so far in the first place. We’ll be sweating in our t-shirts and shorts, so how’s the little furry fella going to be getting on when it’s in the mid 20s? Perhaps a stroll along a dog friendly beach with a cool sea breeze, or through woodland with enough tree cover to provide shade would be better for all of us.
As our walks have become more adventurous, so has Herbie. He’s always had a fondness for squirrels, but with walks across moorland and fields he has also developed a fancy for ground nesting birds like grouse, as well as animals that could probably squash him with one hoof, like sheep. Usually any farmland or moorland with such vulnerable animals has clear signage to warn dog owners of the need for leads, as our more powerful canine companions can sometimes do serious harm. Even though Herbie is on the petite side, he is always on his lead and under control. It does still bewilder me how many dog walkers out there ignore the importance of these notices. In 2016 alone it’s estimated that 15,000 sheep were killed by loose dogs in the UK, the vast majority of which could have been avoided had the owners acted responsibly by maintaining control of their dogs, but whenever we’re out walking it’s almost a given that Herbie will be greeted by a dog running freely around somewhere they shouldn’t.
I was recently asked where to recommend to take dogs on a walking holiday, but in fact the answers are almost endless. I will always endorse the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, or the North York Moors, as these are the areas close to my heart, and Herbie never complains. We had an amazing time in Dorset. This year we’re heading to Scotland. Just pick a place you’ve always wanted to go, look up dog friendly cottages or campsites, and you’ll find a vast selection of places to stay where those with four legs are as welcome as those with two. We’ve never struggled to find a comfortable place to come back to after a day’s trek, and if you choose somewhere on the popular walking map, you’ll often also find an inviting ‘muddy boots and paws welcome’ sign outside a nearby pub. If you’re lucky, on a brisk day they may even have a roaring log fire, which no doubt will be as appealing to your best friend as it is to you.