We are doing our best to follow the guidelines for pet passporting and attempting to work out what needs to be done, and when, in order for Nell to travel to France with us. Suzie will not be coming. We expect that she will no longer be with us at this time next year and if by any chance she is, we will defer our trip until she is gone. It is both a matter of kindness to her in not taking an ancient dog, deaf, blind an lame into situations she is unfamiliar with but also one of space and comfort. A month in the van with two dirty smelly dogs is too awful to contemplate!
We are down to the one cat now and are left only with Teddy, our 15 year-old Bengal. We had reached the conclusion that boarding him out is never going to work and so we thought he could come travelling too. We even have a detailed plan for preparing and training him for the trip. Alas, we now find that the regulations were tightened up last year and a pet cat is now defined as Felis silvestris catus – domestic cat only. Bengals are a hybrid crossing from an original Asian Leopard Cat and must be certified as an F5 or beyond - written proof is required. Unlike most pet Bengals of early generations, Ted has no domestic cat parent. Teddy has two Foundation level parents, one F3 and one F4. Normally a cat might have an F4 parent crossed to a full Bengal, being an F5 crossing itself, thereby deemed to be a full Bengal and therefore a domestic pet. Teddy's F3/F4 makes him an F4 only, I think.
I have written to Defra for advice.
It would be good to think that logic will prevail. At 16 years old when we travel, and neutered, nobody could possibly think that we were moving a wild cat for breeding purpose and as this is the raison d'être for the regs, surely some leeway could prevail. A note from our vet, maybe?
It is hard enough, digesting what is needed for the dog, without having to deal with exotic cats.
Whatever happens, Ted is going to come out and about with us in the UK. Since Treacle died, it seems unfair to leave a sociable cat alone at home. The other option would be to add a cat to the household but we feel Ted to be too old and too truculent to adapt to a new friend. Much of the same reasoning lies behind our acknowledgement that a boarding cattery is not the solution. House sitters might work but they would need to be very cat-friendly and highly understanding and accommodating of Teddy's less pleasant habits. (No details required here and now.) Additionally, I should have to tackle the house cleaning etc. to make the place fit for a stranger to stay in.
It is not going to happen. Ted comes with.
So - we shall begin by reacquainting Ted with a harness and lead. We have one somewhere, which we bought when Ted first came to live with us but we may need to buy a new one if it cannot be found.
Step two will involve spending time with Ted inside Brunhilde at home.
Once we feel that he has fully settled to these new surroundings we will go mobile and move up the island by a few miles. This is a two-fold process of getting him used to driving about and also to going out on the lead in strange environments.
The final training steps will be to take him on short weekend trips.
A couple or three months of this should be sufficient to fathom whether or not he can go away for longer trips, DEFRA permitting.
Testing... testing. One, two three. Knock, knock, anybody out there?
Okay, I know that I have been neglectful. Last update in February? Well, would you believe me if I said that was actually Brunhilde's last outing? Not last as in "final" but that we have had no trips since then. It has been a busy year, with much poor weather. Summer has not really arrived this year but that is no bad thing as it would have been heartbreaking to spend so many weekends on DIY in the house if the sun had been shining.
Well, the DIY is completed for now and we are ready for an escape or two.
Brunhilde is in need of her annual MOT - can you believe that it is almost exactly a year since she came to live with us - and is in fact on her way to the ferry even now as I write this. Mr Snail will drop her off at the test centre and then come home as a foot passenger. I have spent this week in preparing Bruni for a trip and so she has gone off with the bed made up, her kitchen cupboards stocked with a few staples, and plenty of knitting projects in my overhead locker..
When the call comes to say that the van has passed the test, we will sally forth once more but in the car - leaving it for a test in Bruni's place - and we shall go off for a few days and then collect the car on our way home.
Our hope at the moment is to go to Hoy for a long weekend. This will be our first visit to another of the outer islands - so far we have been confined to Sanday and the big island, so this is very exciting for us, and all the more so as Hoy has hills to walk.
Our next trip will follow fairly quickly, we hope and if Mr Snail can be granted his leave request we want to spend a week at the Orkney Science Festival. We can leave Bruni on mainland Orkney and pop home as foot passengers on the ferry to stock up the cat and hen feeders and check that all is well, then return again at will.
At the end of August, Mr Snail goes on to three-day working, with four-day weekends. That's more weekend than work! We should be able to wander far and wide but with a consequently reduced income and the price of ferry tickets, who knows how often we will be able to get away in actual fact. Time will tell.
After a year of these three-day weeks, Mr Snail will be fully retired. Then the world is our oyster and Brunhilde may takes us anywhere that we want to go and for as long as we wish. It is an exciting prospect. Our ideas have been generated just this week and already seem coalesced into a fairly firm plan. We are going to France, to explore Brittany and Normandy first. A leisurely journey to Folkstone will be a significant part of the holiday itself and not a simple slog to the tunnel; we have ideas about how to break up the journey and where to stop en route to the Channel. These are largely spots that we know of already. On the way home again we will explore and look at places we have not been in the past.
Things will firm up but for now we anticipate a month in France with a week's journey in either direction making it a 6 week break. We could wander further afield, perhaps into Belgium and may well yet do that but our current idea is to spend time in the places that we stop, and to become familiar with them - not just hitting the tourist hotspots and moving on to the next. We are already looking at some likely Aires, using Streetview and have found some beautiful places in picturesque villages and market towns and I am finding the whole idea really exciting.
It's a year off yet but we are motivated and there is so very much to do - from sorting out passports for ourselves and pet passports for the dog and perhaps the cat, to brushing up our linguistic skills, learning the driving regulations, and investigating the mysteries of mobile broadband. I need to figure out how to handle the thousands of images I shall be capturing and then how to get them out into the world without a desktop PC. We shall need to buy suitable clothes that will take plenty of hard wear but can be washed in very little water and the drip-dried quickly. So many things to think about and to prepare for! Mr Snail has already ordered the appropriate maps and Rough Guide - we have yet to select a language course.
Is the vision showing through? Mr & Mrs Snail at large in rural France in Autumn, shopping and eating like locals, avoiding the Highways and exploring the by-ways. I see lots of cheese in this vision, and a deal of Normandy Cider threatening those early morning trips to buy freshly-baked bread. That is one thing that I shall miss, being able to bake my own but alas, Bruni has no oven.
Having no oven could turn out to be a positive. I imagine that with the wealth of good breads, cheeses and charcuterie, we will be eating simple cold meals for much of the time. Eating out as often as funds allow will enable us to try regional dishes and to expand our gastronomic horizons and relieve the boredom of three-ring cooking (endless meals of spag bol? I trust not!) Well, I say three rings but in practice I can never fit more than two pans onto Bruni's three burners.
Should we add a small BBQ to our travelling paraphenalia?
There's another thing - what can we take with us and what will have to stay at home. There is some space, not a lot, but a key factor is weight. Bruni is not rated for a great deal of weight.
So. Great excitement. Watch this space, as they say.
There is another outline plan, but this one is only pencilled in in very faint lines and depends entirely on what happens with the possible new North Sea ferry crossing to Norway. If it happens, we will be off. Just as soon as we can and most likely in the late Spring/early Summer of 2017, we will go and see the frilly bits, the mountains, the lakes, the midges. I have been looking at the map and fancy driving all the way up the E6 and around the top of Norway as far as the Russian border.
Wouldn't that be a trip.
PS. Yes. I know that last Autumn's trip to Scotland is still in need of a full write-up. I will get to it. I will. No, really, I will.
There may have been a degree of madness in our impromptu trip to mainland Orkney. Little did I realise just what a degree...
The weather was pretty poor from the outset and we perhaps did not get as much out of our weekend as we may have hoped for. For instance, the good camera never came out of its bag. I did take a few photographs but much of the time it was so wet and grey and dismal and so dreadfully windy, that photography was not much of an option.
We arrived at Kirkwall on Thursday evening, going straight to Tesco for provisions where our highlight purchase was a cut price bottle of Talisker Storm (that may come in handy). From there we headed to East Mainland and to Mull Head Nature Reserve. The plan was to sleep there in the car park, make a packed lunch after having breakfast on Friday and then do the long circular walk on the cliff top to the Covenanter's Memorial.
It was much less busy than the last time that we visited. We had the place to ourselves, of course. Luckily the toilets at the Visitor Centre were open all night - a great relief once we had discovered that Brunhilde's toilet flush was not working!
Also seemingly not working was the gas heater system. Mr L could not make it go at all and when he dismantled it, it appeared not to have been used for a very long time indeed. It was too dark to see much so we donned thermal undies and poured a whisky, admiring our forethought and skill at shopping as we did so.
We were realising that setting off mid-winter on an impromptu trip with no forward planning or vehicle checking was folly indeed.
It was much windier than the weather forecast had suggested. We realised eventually that at cliff height this was always going to be so. Brunhilde was shaken and rocked about all night long and we had little sleep. It was cold too, cold enough to keep us waking from only a light sleep.
Friday dawned with little improvement. It was a flat grey day with a bitterly cold and quite strong wind. We quickly realised that a long picnic walk was out of the question. Would we take a short brisk route instead? We thought perhaps it was just not good enough weather to subject Suzie's old bones to the task.
After breakfast we moved off to Hoxa and the relatively sheltered car park at Sands o' Wright.
By the time that we had arrived at our destination the weather had picked up. There was little wind and some sun, though still a lot of damp greyness about.
We had a posh dinner planned for the evening and decided to dispense with lunch in favour of the 3.5 mile circular walk around the ayre at Hoxa Dam. Last year we attempted the walk but became baffled when the track took us to a private dwelling. Research had shown since then that it is acceptable to trek through the garden, though dropping down on to the beach is suggested if the tide is low. Part of the problem last Autumn was that there was a haar and it was not possible to see beyond and determine where the path might go.
This time we checked the route on the information board and were better armed with knowledge once we were under way.
Seemingly insufficient information - for there were no waymarkers and when we arrived unintended at St Margaret's Hope we knew that we had gone astray and that our 3.5 mile walk had been a little extended! Poor Suzie struggled on the way home and our progress was slow.
Highlights of the walk were the nosy seal that made its way alongside as we crossed the ayre at Hoxa Dam; first signs of spring in iris and daffodil shoots and blooming snowdrops; the comical sight of Nell wanting to play with the stone ball atop a gatepost at Roeberry; and the invitingly neat little cottage with red-painted doors.
I was in need of a hot soak when we got back but Bruni does not offer that facility and mugs of hot chocolate and shortbread fingers had to suffice. After some recovery time I cooked us a steak dinner and we became a little merry. All the merrier once Mr L found out how to operate the gas heating. Hurrah!
Saturday saw us on our way to Kirkwall to do some tedious tasks and once they were out of the way we went off to Skaill Bay. The wind was due to pick up again and we hoped that location would be relatively sheltered. It would have been nice to return to South Ronaldsay but with the forecast weather we wanted to be on the right side of the Churchill Barriers some ferry time - this despite knowing in our hearts that there would be no ferry on Sunday, not with winds gusting to 60 mph and from the SE.
Skaill Bay had been glorious when we visited last year. Not so this time...
A neap tide covered the sand and the only dry land was covered in boulders that Suzie struggled to walk upon. It was very grey with little visibility and a bitterly cold wind. We contented ourselves with walking the links area.
The plan had been to stay Saturday night, play with the dogs on the beach on Sunday morning and then perhaps take a stroll up to the Skara Brae visitor centre for a coffee and one of their amazing scones with unrestrained butter and jam supply.
After a noisy night being shaken by the wind, we woke to a bright and attractive-looking day, but the wind was stronger than ever and the low tide little further out than last night's high tide had been. Still no beach to play on and oh, it was coooooold!
There was no mobile signal at Skaill and we needed to check the ferry home. Plans were quickly rearranged to return slowly in the direction of Kirkwall. We decided to look for the lochside viewpoint that we had tried to visit last year at Harray. It might be a good place for lunch and we could check it out for future overnight use. Most of all, it might have a mobile signal.
It was a lovely location but very exposed. It might be suitable for an overnight in summer if the one level-ish spot were free. There are picnic tables, an information board and several paths to walk by the lochside. It is very photogenic and does indeed have a Vodaphone signal - we rang a friend and found that yes, the afternoon ferry was indeed cancelled. A quick confab determined Finstown to be our next destination. Being in the shadow of Keelylang there was a chance that wind speeds would be moderated and there would be just a ten minute drive to the ferry office at 7am to see if we could get on the morning boat.
We would park up there for lunch and see if it would serve overnight.
The toilets were acceptable, the view was fine and the pitch was level. The road far enough away for safety and the grass sufficiently wide to play on. Nell found a ball. We were all happy but the day was yet young.
What to do/where to go? Tesco obviously! We did what shopping we could that would not spoil for want of refrigeration as there was no knowing when we would be able to travel home. Thence back to Finstown, with our drive time estimate empirically confirmed.
The car park is large and was all but deserted so we committed an offence and turned Bruni sideways on so that her head was into the wind. The steadies went down to help to minimise the rocking and we settled in for an early night, we would have to rise early the morn.
What the heck was that? Well, it was Bruni being lifted off her steadies by the wind and being slammed back down again. I found a need to call upon a deity that I do not believe in readily.
Then the rain began.
It was a wild and noisy night in which we failed to notice any traffic noise and found the street lights unproblematic - no, all of our attention was focused on the wind noise and the motion of the van. We were both awake before the 6:30 am alarm and dragged on our clothes, closed everything down, paid a final visit to the nearby toilet block, took the dogs to empty their bladders, wiped down the windows, drove to Kirkwall and got to the ferry office for opening time at 7 am. Very efficient!
Mr L went to see if we might be able to get on the morning boat and found that we had been booked on it automatically. That was good news. Less good news was that we would be going home via Stronsay.
I forgot to take a camera with me on the ferry and had only my phone, which did not perform well but I did get some kind of an image of Whitehall as we berthed at Stronsay
The boat was running late and we did not arrive home until 10:30, whereupon Mr L had to go to his desk and start work and I had to begin unpacking the van. At the time of writing, I am still not finished unpacking or doing the laundry. I am quite glad that our talk on Monday night of venturing forth again this coming weekend was acknowledged as nothing short of lunacy.