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Paul and Midge

Friday, 10 July 2015

A Pennine Journey

Please note: This blog provider is not working properly so I am unable to add photographs at the moment. I will try and do this as soon as the provider gets its act together. In the meantime here is the story.

Time passes and we all have to take advantage of every moment we have together, especially when your best friend is blind and at 11 probably has most of his best days behind him. Every year since Midge was just over 2 I have taken him backpacking along the wonderful Long Distance Paths (LDPs) of the UK. I cannot really guess how many miles we have walked together in our lives but it must be the equivalent to more than once around the globe. Because he is getting older and because he has had a couple of injuries as a result of his collie enthusiasm for life, unstoppable playing  coming into conflict with the limits and risks occasioned by his blindness I had to think of something a little more modest this year.

Last year on our 400 miles trip around the mountains of Wales he suffered a badly sprained palmar ligament in his right from wrist/paw from jumping over stiles so I figured I would chose a route that would avoid as many stiles as possible. We had done the Pennine Way as part of our 1200 miles John O’Groats to Lands’ End trip and enjoyed it so I though the Pennine Bridleway (PBW) would be a good choice. As this is mainly aimed at horse riders there are no stiles so I thought this would be a good alternative.  Where the route looked a bit boring ro where I thought there would be an interesting diversion we would take that. We would take it steady, no longer the 30 mile days of the past just around half that.

As usual I posted Midges food ahead but still had to carry 4 days food for him. We caught the train from Melton Mowbray changing trains in Derby where Midge was coo-ed over by a family on the platform, they too had a collie but, they had to admit not one who was so perfectly behaved. They were astonished, as people usually are, to learn that Midge is blind. He looks directly at people, following their voice, so it appears as if he is looking at you straight in the face. They were equally astonished  to hear of our planned trip 150 miles to Kirkby Stephen.

We got off at Cromford station and we were soon on the trail. The Pennine Bridleway follows ancient mediaeval Packhorse routes, 18 century cart routes and disused 19th century railways mainly on the west side of the Pennines of England. The start is up an early 19 century inclined tramway, if you are interested in industrial archaeology this is the place to start. The day was already hot at midday and we were promised the hottest days of the summer for the start with the prospect of some serious thunderstorms. That counts for a summer in England; three hot days and a thunderstorm then it is on to autumn.

Midge was off ahead as soon as he was free and I had to be watchful of him, each time we approached a gate or stile I had to call “careful!”. This way he know that there is an obstacle ahead. He is usually pretty good at avoiding bumping in to things but when enthusiastic to get on he has a tendency to trot head first into closed gates. The ground underfoot was gravelly crushed granite and  limestone so  I was worried for Midge, although he is used to long distance this is quite an irritant to a dog’s paws. We travelled through beautiful limestone scenery of green fields surrounding green pastures and some sensational fields of wild flowers and orchids.

Midge was looking tired and thirsty but there was little respite for him. The silly boy will not drink from his bowl when he is really hot and will only drink when he is lying full length in water and there was precious little of that. The route  initially take the High Peak trail popular with mountain bikers and there was a few out today. Cyclists are sensibly wary of a collie because of their inbuilt desire to keep order and tidy up moving objects including cyclists, they are just fast moving sheep. Midge is a little different, as soon as he hears a cyclist approach he gets to the side into the grass and lies still until they pass. This can be disconcerting for the cyclist who expects a sudden ambush – it never comes. It does slow us down as Midge does not come out until they are past and the more there are the more it slows us down. Midge does this because he used to chase cyclists but I taught him to lie down until they had passed and now I must pay the price of having a very obedient dog. He does this if a farm vehicle unexpectedly come up on bridleways. Often the first intimation I have of an arrival is Midge disappearing into the grass. Now he is blind he occasionally does this at the sound of the wind in the trees or an aircraft passing overhead.

After 5 hot hours and about 18 miles we arrived at the tea shop on the trail at Parsley Hay and I treated myself to tea and managed to persuade Midge to drink from a bowl, he had drunk nothing since we left home. A short trip of a couple of miles across some fields of hay brought us to Monyash an old limestone village in the Derbyshire dales. We found the campsite, checked in, pitched the tent and then I did what those of you who have read my blogs before will know is my obsession. I had a shower and washed clothes, only socks and undies this time but on long trips I take only one change of clothes and am obsessed with washing them.

The campsite was also the place where teenagers on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme (DoE-ers) were meeting up after their walk. This always takes place at the end of the school year to get kids out of the school so the teachers have free time to visit their psychologists. You can see sullen teens all over the UK not enjoying themselves shadowed by adults to make sure they come to no grief. In the old days the walking and overnight camp usually meant being dumped somewhere in the countryside with one or two others and from there expected to survive the night or two and arrive at a point many miles away where you would be picked up or the mountain rescue called. In the current litigious climate it is done by too many, too organised and it no fun.

I left for the pub where I duty called for me to boost the local economy be sampling the locally brewed beers.

The Doe-Ers were noisy that night and were up early the next morning – obviously the poor things had not slept well. Fortunately they were away very quickly. We were away from the main part of the campsite and Midge was desperate to see all the people he could hear. He sat there staring blindly into space wagging his tail and putting on his best smile in case anyone should happen by; they would be unlikely to resist such a friendly looking dog – he hoped.

The day promised to be even warmer today, it was already hot by 8.30 when we set off in the direction of Chapel-en-le-Frith. We had come off the PBW a the previous afternoon and would return to it after a couple of miles over tracks and fields. This section of the PBW follows some minor roads to in order to avoid these we would use footpaths up dry limestone valleys. In addition to this there were no campsites en route so we would have to deviate to Chapel. All went well, we saw no one at all as we headed towards Miller’s Dale. From here we would walk up Monks’ Dale, Peter Dale and Hay Dale to re-join the PBW. We were only a short distance into Monks' Dale when we hit problems. The floor of the Dale is thick with trees and the ground is strewn with greasy rocks making the going for Midge very difficult and slow. He had to pick his way carefully over the boulders directed to the best route by my. Fortunately being a sheepdog he knows his left, right, in, away and a host of other directions so I can talk him through the best route. Sometimes there was not a best route and he had to scramble over and under unseen obstacles. I was relieved when, after a long time, we arrived in Peter Dale. Midge immediately ran on ahead finally able to walk by himself. We met a couple of blokes having a break from walking who congratulate us in negotiating the rough terrain. I mentioned Midge’s blindness and they could scarcely believe it until they saw his eyes “That is one exceptional dog!” said one. I said I knew that, it is something I am told regularly.

Hay Dale was simple a grassy delight in hot sun but no water for Midge. We met a couple out with a boisterous Labrador, I was directing Midge over a stile and they commented that he took instruction really well. I explained about Midge and the man turned to his dog and said “see that dog, he can get over the stile on his own and he is blind” – apparently the lab had to be lifted having not developed the skills of climbing.

We had a long rest in the sun near a shallow stream so Midge could cool down. The way to Chapel from here did not look picturesque as we had to cross an active limestone quarry. I always think the faster the better I these situations so we gritted our teeth and set off. In fact it was not so bad and not as dusty as expected. We were about half way across when I heard an alarm sound followed shortly by another single one. I knew what this meant and turned to watch thousands of tons of rock blasted from the quarry face. This huge noise and movement of the air and ground startled Midge so he ran off towards it barking wildly, keen to tackle the unseen foe.

On arrival in Chapel I asked directions to the campsite, I had read there was one in the town. Not according to the people in the shop where I stopped, so the owner of the shop called out his Dad who concurred. The nearest was some miles away in Comb. We had already had a very hot and tiring walk and I did not really relish longer one. I asked again on the street – once again local people knew nothing of any campsite. It really amazes me how little people know about their local area even if they have lived there all their lives. I had to talk the information I had and walked out to Comb to camp. On arrival I phone the camp owner and he told me where to camp and that he would be over soon to collect the money – he never came so I had a free night. (On arrival home after the trip I found there was indeed a campsite in the town about 600 yard from where I had asked about it.)

The nearby village of Comb I knew from passing through here on JOGLE and remembered there was a very nice pub so this provided me with an excellent meal and some decent beer. The pub garden was full of people having a drink after walking their dogs, all were well behaved until a West Highland terrier arrived determined to take on every dog in the place – as long as they stayed on their leads and well away from him.

Midge got plenty of fuss from strangers who all fussed him even more when they knew he was blind. Midge of course plays on this to get even more attention. He will “stare” at people’s backs until they perceive something is watching them, turn around and see Midge wiggling his ears, putting on his best smile and wagging his tail trying to attract their attention. In a crowd, if any one says “Hello, how are you?” Midge is on his paws in an instant to acknowledge their greeting even though it is not aimed at him.

The night was insufferably hot and we slept poorly. I was unable to leave all the tent flaps open because of the biting insects. I had camped in the middle of the field where I would get a good breeze to keep them away but the night was still, hot and humid.

I spent most of the night getting the Midge special massage. Midge is a great dreamer and runs, drinks, barks and snarls in his sleep. I was repeatedly woken by being pummelled by paws in the back, heavy breathing in my ear and gentle and not so gentle woofing noises.

Today was forecast to be the hottest day in the year and for once they got it right. This combined with the humidity meant I was wet through all day praying for some kind of breeze to cool us down. We went skirted around Chinley and up onto the moors where there was a slight breeze and I hoped at this time in the morning it would keep Midge cool. He really suffers with his thick dark coat on sunny days.

I was walking along and realised Midge was not with me, I looked back and there he was walking very slowly, I called him, he stopped and looked up, I called him again, he did not move. I started to wonder if he was very tired or that he had hurt himself. I called him to come and he came slowly. I knew what was wrong. We were not playing enough! Midge will do this to me on walks, he will stand still until, I either get his ball out or play some other game. One of his favourites is the Animal Farm game, nothing to do with Orwell’s book, I have to make an animal noise (sheep, cow and chicken are his favourites) and he will come racing up barking. He then stops and I walk on and do the same again. This can go on for miles, so if you see an old guy wandering along making random farm animal noises and being chased by a collie you know who it is. So we played animal farm as long as the track was smooth all the way into Birch Vale.

We were now moving into the area where the urban conurbation of Manchester seeps up into the moors and hills. This area was an important woollen cloth producing area in the 16th Century and even into the 19th century. The legacy of this is the packhorse trails, the horse drawn tramways, long since out of use except for walking and cycling and numerous small reservoirs and water courses which provided the power to the mills. Eventually most of the industry moved into Manchester, Bolton and Rochdale to the “dark satanic mills” of William Blake’s “Jerusalem”. The reservoirs made a useful stopping off point to cool Midge and one in he was reluctant to get back out again. He loves swimming. Now he is blind he will not enter fast flowing water but loves ponds and streams. I was glad to be able to get some clean water for him as he will often lie in the filthiest mud hole available and he did just this a little while later. I could hear running water and Midge took off into some reeds. On his return he was black from the chest down and stank of stagnant water.

We were soon on the marvellous Cown Edge with expensive views all around. Being near to houses there were a few people hiking up the hill and Midge greeted them all, welcoming them to his hill.

Back down in the village of Charlesworth the heat was almost unbearable, there being no breeze. I restocked on food and liquids and headed for tonight’s stopping point at the wonderfully named Broadbottom. We camped and it threatened rain. This only increased the humidity and made the heat even less bearable. The campsite was in a country park which was formed after the demolition of a huge textile mill. The mill had been built in the early 19th century but had lain unused until demolished in the 1980s and the land allowed to return to nature. Among the trees and grassland were the outlines of the walls, conduits, mill leats and ponds – excellent to clean a filthy dog before he gets into the tent and also to cool him off in.

In the evening we were saved by the Harewood Arms, a local Victorian pub with a cool tiled floor which Midge thoroughly enjoyed almost as much as the attention he got from the locals. I thoroughly enjoyed the superb beer from the Brewery which they had there, probably the best beer on the whole trip.

As we walked back to the tent we saw and heard a severe thunderstorm and I expected and hoped we would get it soon, anything to cool this temperature. In the pub one of the customers had said the thermometer in his car as he drove home from work at 6pm was showing 37⁰ C. I fully believed him.

It did not rain and the day started much as it had left off – very hot and oppressively humid. Today would be a continuation through the old mill villages to the east of Manchester, mostly tranquil and rural but occasionally rather urban as we used an old tramway through Uppermill. Despite the heat Midge insisted in playing Animal Farm and when not engaged in that, finding sticks to carry. Because of the heat I made sure we had a couple of rest stops, normally we just keep on walking but I had planned short days for Midge so there was no need to hurry.

We chatted to an old lady who told me she had two great loves in life, hiking and border collies. Time had deprived her of both. She now walked unsteadily with a stick and her old collie had died last year and she saw no point in getting another at her age. I heard barking coming from her cottage, “I am just looking after that dog for a friend.” She said adding disparagingly,” it isn’t a collie.” I told her of the collie rescues who often wanted homes for old abandoned collies who just wanted a quiet home, she perked up and asked me more and seemed determined to get her son to look things up on the internet. She gave Midge one last cuddle and we went on to Diggle armed with the information that there was a particularly good tea shop by the canal which she strongly recommended.

The tea shop proved to be excellent and Midge and I sat out on the deck watching the sky darken again – would we get to our destination before it rained? Midge was the subject of fascination of three little girls, he loves children and he was soon enjoying their attention – his idea of bliss.

We followed the canal to where it disappears into the Standedge tunnel, the longest and narrowest narrow boat tunnel in the UK. Built in the 18th Century it is barely large enough to fit a 7 feet wide boat and you are unable to stand upright on the deck. A claustrophobic three hours trip now but at one time the boat had to be pushed through by leg power and took considerably longer. From this point we headed up into the hills once again and the rain threatened with a waterproof on/off/on/ off situation until I decided I would get wetter in a waterproof from sweat than I would from the light rain.

More reservoirs led us to a very beautiful spot where I could see our campsite for the night perched high up on the edge of a valley. We were soon there and I pitched in the most scenic place overlooking the valley surrounded by wildflowers.

I indulged in my obsession again – they had a laundry!!! So I washed everything I had worn so far and got it all dry. My idea of bliss! No sooner had I dried my stuff than the heavens opened and we were treated to an hour of torrential rain and a wind which threatened to lift me and my tent off our lofty perch. At least this might cool the temperature.

Midge fed I needed to feed myself so we headed to the nearest pub the Ram’s Head. As I approached I noticed the gloomy words “Traditional Country Inn” on the sign. This usually means the opposite, a place of affectation where a farmer in his muddy boots would most certainly not be welcome neither would anyone fresh off the moor and certainly not if accompanied by their dog. This proved to be the case as notices said no dogs, no muddy boots, etc etc. In other words a city restaurant on the moors where is does not belong, masquerading as a pub.

We headed down the hill into the village of Denshaw to the Junction Inn where the welcome could not have been more different, friendly people, good food and half decent beer. I am not a great fan of JW Lees beers of Manchester but it is local and acceptable.

Midge was the centre of attention as usual which he appreciated. He was fed gratis from the kitchen even though he had already had his dinner. He often gets a free feed from people, I never do. The people were very entertaining (sometimes unwittingly) and, with the accents, it was rather like being in a Peter Kay sketch.

We hurried up the hill back to the tent between showers to find out tent besieged by Midge’s name sakes. The English midge is the same species as the Scottish midge and with a similar appetite for human blood. I find the bite of the English variety less irritating than the Scots version. They were here in numbers like I have never seen in England before and only once before in Scotland. We hurriedly got into the tent but not without letting at least a hundred in with us. I spent the next half an hour killing them. I thought I had got them all but during the night feel their bite and in the morning squished half a dozen which exuded my own blood onto the fabric of my tent.

The night had been wet and condensation ran down the inside of the outer tent. I smothered myself in midge repellent before opening the tent to let Midge out. They were still there but in lower numbers. The night before I had wedged Midge bowl under the outer tent to stop it blowing away. The bowl is rectangular and I had wedged it across the narrow, this being 6inches wide. The rain running down the outside and condensation on the inside had collected in the bowl and with it at least a thousand midges. I estimate that you could fit well over 200 bowls under the perimeter of the tent or 200,000 midges drowned in a single night. There was still plenty left!

The day was thankfully much cooler and we set off under high cloud. I had decided to deviate again from the PBW which takes a route in the valleys and kept on the high moors following the Pennine Way. Midge and I had done this as part of JOGLE and I wanted to do it again as it made a better route to our destination. We followed the PBW until the M62 which we crossed and I felt that great sense of freedom you get when you observe people in cars and lorries speeding towards their work and you have the whole day to yourself free in the countryside, it is a great feeling. From here we moved towards the Pennine way reaching it just before the White Horse pub at this point we met a guy doing the Pennine way but we were rather fast and soon outpaced him. The day was breezy and sunny and as my tent was wet I stopped to spread it out and dry it. The guy doing the Pennine way soon caught up with us and we chatted about the hiking and the routes we were doing. Midge demanded attention of course.

I had forgotten that the section leading towards Stoodley Pike had caused Midge problems two years ago. I had misremembered this as being nearer to Blackshaw edge which I had avoided. Although the path is not steep or rough it has many boulders sticking out at nose height for Midge. A sighted dog would easily step over or weave through these but Midge could not. I told him to follow me and directed him right and left but often I walked too fast for him and he lagged behind so we had to go more slowly. This kind of terrain really tires him out and he was very glad to reach the soft grass nearer to the monument on the Pike itself, so much so that he stopped for a roll in the turf in celebration followed by running ahead to show me that he was not really tired and was it not time for another game?

The way to our campsite for tonight was easily remembered from 2 years ago and we got there at Jack Bridge around 2pm; plenty of time to have a shower and wash all I had been wearing. The day was now hot and breezy so I could get everything dry. It was a Friday night and the site, only a very small sloping field, would be full. Midge made friends with everyone on the site who were very pleased to meet this exceptional dog. As is usual as I was putting up the tent Midge was hassling me for his ball. I always carry a toy for him and he has a ball with a bell in it which we usually have on trips. If I fail to get his ball out quickly when we make camp he will get into my rucksack and pull it out.  I can leave food lying around in the tent or in my rucksack and he will never touch it, but he will steal his ball if I do not give it to him promptly.

Midge gave a display of his fantastic other senses as I threw his ball for him and he chased and retrieved it often catching it in mid-air. People who saw him doing this found it quite incredible that he was blind and I was obliged to demonstrate that unless the ball makes a noise he cannot follow its movement, staring as he does blindly ahead.

The wonderfully name and old New Delight Inn which adjoins the site is a great place. It is the Brewery tap for the Bridestones brewery which produces excellent beers, which rivalled the Greenmill brewery for their quality. As the word of Midge spread people came to see this celebrity, the dog who hikes blind, the dog who has done John O’ Groats to Lands’ End blind and all the mountains in Wales while blind. “You mean he can’t see anything?” “Surely he must be able to see something!” People doubt his blindness and therefore his talents but I don’t mind there are not many dogs who hike the distances he does – even if they are sighted and I have never met, or even heard of a dog who does what Midge does; although I am sure they exist.

The site was noisy and a young couple nearby chose 1.30 to start and argument which woke everyone up. This was superseded by a spectacular thunderstorm with torrential rain which lasted some hours.

The morning was misty and cool. I had eaten so much the night before I did not bother with breakfast but packed up my wet tent after feeding Midge and we set off into intermittent drizzle. The midges were out in force and even with liberally applied repellent they continued to crawl over my skin until they found a spot I had missed and started their meal there. They crept onto my eyelids and into the corners of my eyes obviously aware that I could not apply repellent there. The only thing for it was to out run them and fortunately they cannot fly at more than a walking speed so once we were under way they eventually gave up. However, if we stopped to take a drink, open a gate or read the map they were back in force.

We were back on the PBW again over the moors keeping up a pace ahead of the midges. We had little time to play – that would give the midges time to get us. Eventually we descended into the village of Wycoller in the Forest of Trawden. Forest in the UK does not  always refer to a forest or even a place which was heavily forested. Forest in this sense refers to an area which was under Forest Law. In the 13th century up to the end of the 16th this meant an area which was subject to Forest Law a law separate from the law enshrined in Magna Carta, indeed it replaced it within the area designated forest. It was a particularly oppressive and often brutal law especially for the poor folks subject to it.

Wycoller is a place I had never heard of but it is an absolute gem of an ancient village with a ruined hall and a fantastic 16th century aisled barn which we visited. It also had an impressive clapper bridge over 1000 years old. It also had a very fine tea shop and as I had not breakfasted or eaten or drunk anything that day I went there for a cream tea which really hit the spot. Midge had to make do with some biscuits, this was my treat not his.

The end of our day was in sight and the temperature had increased as the day had cleared but fortunately there was a breeze. We headed for the small town of Earby and we were to camp above the village in Thornton in Craven. We did a quick reccy of the village for places to eat that evening and I bought some extra food for Midge. He had looked as though he was getting tired on the last couple of miles so I thought some rice in his diet might help.

Midge seemed to be limping as we left the village but was soon running ahead once off the lead and on pasture land which led us to the site. As we entered the site across a gravel track he once again seemed to limp but I put this does to the large pieces of gravel getting between his pads. As soon as I started pitching the tent he demanded his ball and we had a good session playing and no sign of that limp.

I washed and did some laundry and dried it off in the breeze – as usual- and Midge had a good long sleep – unusual for him. He soon perked up as three children aged around 3 and 4 came to visit him and he demonstrated his sheep dog skills, running around to commands.

I was very hungry so we headed off into Earby and once again Midge limped across the gravel and raced ahead on the grass. Knowing the way to Earby, having been there once, he led the way across the fields unerringly to the stiles and gates. I had been told a pub called the Red lion did food and allowed dogs in so we headed there. Midge seemed uncomfortable walking through the town, I put it down to the heat and the traffic. On arrival at the Red lion I was told they were not doing food but the White Lion down the road was and Midge would be welcome. As we made our way there is was obvious something was wrong with Midge he had developed a limp.

Once into the White lion I ordered a beer (very good) and inspected Midge’s paws. There was a deep hole in the centre of one of his pads. This explained the limp and it also meant we had to stop. Midge heals very quickly but I knew this would take at least a week. I was very sad, we had been going so well, nothing like our trips of the past where we would travel 20 or 30 miles in a day, Midge was too old for that now. I just wanted a few more days with him to complete the journey but knew that could not be. After I had eaten we set off back to our camp. Midge was really struggling with the hard surface of the streets but as soon as we were back on grass he ran on, rolling in the grass, asking me to play. For a moment I thought we might be alright but I knew it was over for the time being and I also knew that in the future our trips would have to be even more modest. I would just have to look fondly on the amazing trips of the past and accept my hiking buddy was now getting to be an old man.

Back at the site Midge limped painfully across the gravel, ran to the tent and grabbed his ball “Come on Dad let’s play”. Yes, I thought, for the time we have left, let’s play.


  1. I have loved reading about Midge and your journeys together. He is an exceptional dog and your tales have inspired me to start my own blog about my walks with my collie, Storm. She is 2 and we have not yet done any long distance walks, but I write about the day walks we take.
    It makes me sad to think there may not be many more 'travels with Midge'. I feel like I know him, even though we have never met.
    Give him a hug from me :)


  2. Hi, Thanks for your comment. Midge is such an exceptional dog and everyone who meets him thinks he is a bit special. We are still walking and we are off for a few days in North Yorkshire in a couple of days. I am planning another long distance walk next year but a very modest one so there will be at least one more "travels with Midge".
    Paul and Midge.

  3. North Yorkshire is the best place ever to walk! Looking forward to the next post later this year