The dog component of Brunhilde's merry band of travellers consists of Suzie and Nell. Suzie is a collie-based mixed breed, going on 15 years old. Nell is a pure bred Border Collie and is 7 years old or thereabouts. They are well used to travelling in the back of our LWB Land Rover, where they are unrestrained.
Brunhilde offers the dogs a very comfortable travelling space but not a very safe one. Nell enjoys travelling at one of the double table seats. She sits up at the table and looks out of the window. Suzie has settled into a routine of settling on a doggie duvet by the door, behind my front passenger seat. They are calm and travel well and are now trained not to leap off the bus the moment that the door is opened - though the potential for that to happen remains and, as Bruni is left-handed, they may leap straight into traffic.
In addition to control and training issues there is the prospect of the damage that a propelled through the air on impact in a collision can do to itself or any local Human. Also, in a collision, the door might burst open and a pair of frightened dogs embark on a hairy motorway adventure. It does not bear thinking about.
Brunhilde is fitted with seat belts on the double forward-facing table seat. The table itself can be dropped, to form a double bed. It is at an ideal doggie height, actually.
We bought a pair of dog travel harnesses and they arrived this morning. Both dogs have been fitted with them and one has been a model on the trial bed arrangement. It's not ideal, as the seat belts are the lap strap kind - clearly the harnesses would be more comfortable for the dogs if the seatbelts were the full and retractable kind. The job will be done however. That's the main thing.
The harnesses can be used for walking too, and are usefully reflective. We took Suzie and Nell for a brisk stroll down the road this morning to see if they would walk with them on. Both seem reasonably happy in their new restraints. We are leaving them on all day, so that the dogs become accustomed to wearing them.
With the arrival of Brunhilde onto the Windswept Acre, we looked forward to having many adventures. Misadventures were not anticipated. Let me introduce a new member of the Two Snails cast: Treacle.
Treacle is one of our two Bengal cats and he has the melanistic gene - this make him black, very black indeed... coal-black, sloe-black... black as molasses. He is wicked too - the very spawn of the Devil, I swear that his soul is as dark as his fur - and if he can play us up, then he will. His favourite game is to show himself for a while - just amble around, being obvious. This normally happens about half an hour before we go to bed. Come bedtime, Treacle is nowhere to be seen - just like Macavity, he is simply not there!
"You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!"
We can go through the house two or three times, calling enticingly: "Treeecle, Treeeeeeee-cle" and checking all of Treacle's known hiding places, and simply not finding him. He has the ability to lurk unseen in any shadow, whilst we say things like "I saw him a few minutes ago!" "He can't be far away." and "Bloody Treacle!"
Should I have been surprised then, when yesterday afternoon as we were ready (in ample time, I should like to point out) to leave for the ferry on a jaunt to Sutherland and Caithness, Mr Snail came out to the van and said "I can't find Treacle!" Horrified at the notion of leaving the cat shut out, or shut inside somewhere he could not reach the auto feeder or a water bowl or, heaven forfend, a litter tray - he would not listen to reason and Treacle had to be found.
Treacle did his usual thing and simply appeared from nowhere, looking very calm and relaxed and with a questioning air: "Did you want me?" - just at the point where Timeliness had turned into Tardiness. Ours, I mean, for the ferry.
Mr Snail was very much ruffled and it rather affected his backwards navigation. He repeatedly steered Brunhilde almost off the track, shifting gear and moving forward to reposition again, and repeating the process until we were bogged in the mud.
Vehicles are supposed to be queued at the ferry 20 minutes previous to boarding time. However, nobody is going to turn you away just because you arrive only in the nick of sailing time, all tyres smoking - so long as the boat has not already been filled by promptly-arriving stand-by vehicles, that is. It was worth doing our very best then to try and rescue the situation.
It was a situation not helped by the fact that the battery from the Land Rover had been cobbled into Brunhilde's power array.
We tried carpets, cat litter, planks of wood and all manner of ideas but could not drive her out. We tried towing with the Picasso, it had insufficient power. Mr Snail removed the Land Rover battery from the van and refitted it to the LR... which then had an immediate sulk via a seized clutch. She does not like being ignored for long periods.
Of course mere Tardiness had by now turned into Seriously Lateness, Impossible Lateness, and we were not going to reach the ferry terminal without the help of some Tardis-ness. Unsurprisingly, none could be found.
Treacle, our horseshoe-nail. Bless him. Life would not be the same without our impossible cat.
Is that his point, I wonder. Treacle is 10 now and his buddy Ted is 14. They are getting on a bit and we feel that if we are away for only a couple of nights then it is better not to disrupt their routine. They have each other for company and we have a 90 meal auto-feeder that speaks to them in our voices. We leave three fresh litter trays when we go and a ridiculous amount of fresh water, in case of need. They get to sleep on our bed and generally live like Kings for a while.
Naturally if we took a long break, the cats would come too. They don't care for it much and Ted in particular will bust a gut rather than use a cat tray in a campervan - this we discovered on the trip up to move to our house here in Orkney. Picture it: two humans, two collies and three cats (we had another back then) in a converted Sherpa. What fun!
Anyway, that's our experience and that informs our reluctance to disrupt the cats for our convenience and pleasure. I wonder if maybe Treacle has other ideas and just wants to be included. Perhaps he was being awkward for a reason. I would not be disinclined to the notion that he made the bogging-down thing happen with his demonic influence either. I mean... just look at him! Would you not believe it too?
A quick scan of my Scattered Thoughts shows that simply copying the early Brunhilde posts to here is not viable. I am opting for a quick summary post, with suitable excerpts.
August 17th, 2014
We have just bought a campervan! We didn’t expect to. You know how it is, you see these things on eBay and bid, never expecting to actually win – especially when the bid is well under value. This time we got lucky.
On Wednesday morning, the car is booked on the ferry for Mr L to take it in to the garage. He was planning on coming home on the midday boat but will now continue, by bus, to the Pentland Ferry and go to collect the van from its present owner, who is bringing it to Gill’s Bay for us. Mr L and van will return to Orkney via Scrabster and the Northlink ferry, staying overnight on the big island and returning to Sanday on Thursday morning.
I shall spend my free time putting together the basics of a camping kit and must confess to the fact that I am really looking forward to that.
We shall peruse the weather predictions and take off with the dogs for a night or two during the vacation break. I
cannot begin to tell how excited I am to be going somewhere new with my camera! My spinning wheel will be coming along too. My knitting won’t be left behind either.
Mr L’s Cumulus users are going to have to get used to a new regime and learn to do without intensive user support until such time as we can fund some mobile data access. Me, I think a period of peace and quiet will be just the thing. We’ll take the Cribbage board with us, I reckon.
August 18th, 2014
First day of the holiday and I woke reasonably early but Mr L was already up and at ‘em. He informed me that the payment for the van had cleared, the insurance had been sourced and paid for and ferry tickets booked for bringing the van home. All this and he had already put the rubbish out!
So far so good. I set about sorting out some things for the overnight trip. I attempted to remove one half of our double sleeping bag so that it could be aired out – it has not been used since the week that we moved in here, almost exactly eight years ago. I struggled. Mr L struggled too. Then we googled. Eventually light dawned. It’s a double sleeping bag and not two singles zipped together to make a double. It’s permanently a double.
August 19th, 2014
I have had words with the old man again to see if he might like to get behind a camera lens a little more. Now that we have a camper van and will be seeing new pastures, I shall want to hang around a lot with my camera. This could be boring for him – all those churches and graveyards and gardens – unless he develops his enthusiasm for the lens too. He’s up for it!
I don’t think it’s just words because he has already suggested joining the NTS to save money on entry fees to interesting places. It’s fortunate that Mr L is already a garden enthusiast. He’s never been one for actual gardening but he does enjoy a wander around somebody else’s hard work and will actually stop to smell the roses.
August 20th/21st, 2014
Mr Snail set off bright and early, in good time for the morning boat to Kirkwall. As the car is running one one spring, he thought it best to drive slowly and carefully, so allowed extra time to get to Loth.
The car went in to the garage and we have yet to hear how it has fared.
Mr Snail caught his bus to St Margaret’s Hope and the ferry to Gill’s Bay, where he collected the camper van and went on a tour of Caithness…
This morning I was up in good time to make an attempt at having things straight before Mr Snail was due back at about 09:30. He arrived on time and insisted that I immediately have a tour of the van.
It’s not at all bad and probably represents very good value for what we paid. It’s showing it’s age, being over 20 years old but it’s good enough for us to try out on short trips for a year or two before we decide if we want an upgrade for the retirement years and more ambitious trips. We could easily stay away for a week or more as it stands.
The best news is that there are no funny odours! Nor any suspicious stains. A win.
I don’t care much for the front passenger seat.
The seats in the living space are fitted with seat belts so I imagine I’ll wish to travel in the back with my knitting.
Overall there are some differences to the expected model – it’s only four berths, not six, with the cab section being fitted with overhead lockers instead of a bed. This is probably a plus point for us. Also, it’s not as high-end as Mr Snail had suggested and the real wood veneers that he promised are in fact Formica. Given my congenital lack of housekeeping genes, it’s probably also a plus point.
August 22nd, 2014
A write up of my first outing in Brunhilde, up the island as far as Lopness, the previous afternoon.
I am busying myself with stocking the van and making lists of things we may wish to buy.
One of the first things that we need is a sparker for lighting the stove. When we finished our walk yesterday and went back to the van for a brew we found that the stove does not have an auto ignition. We had our picnic at home.
We did at least have a good walk in the sunshine and the dogs had a great time. Nell travelled on the fixed bed, staying put for the whole journey in both directions. I think she liked both the comfort and the fact that she could see so much through the windows. I had Suzie at my feet, keeping her on a leash to ensure she didn’t get mixed up with the driver’s feet.
Mr Snail is clearly still a little nervous with the handling and the size on our narrow roads, but a couple more outings should soon sort that out.
The van needs some attention to its electrics and we need to brush up our German reading skills in order to absorb details from the manual but overall I think we got good value. It’s dry and cosy and does not smell, which is probably more than we might have expected at the price. I am far happier with my co-pilot seat than I was at first, though I doubt I’ll enjoy the position on a long flight.
August 23rd/24th, 2014
The plan today was to fit the window in our bedroom but the weather forecast was a little off-putting, being for showers and wind from the NW. We opted instead to “potter” around the camper van, checking things and putting it into order.
As with most little projects, this one grew and became ever more problematical. It has taken all day and we are still not ready to roll.
We do now finally have the water and waste systems functioning. We have hot and cold running, a working shower, a flushing toilet and a (leaking) waste system. The gas cylinders have been weighed and the contents estimated. English translations of German instructions of most of the systems have been obtained one way or another.
Overall, our understanding is growing. We do know that we need a new leisure battery – this will set us back by a three-figure sum. What we do not know is whether the leisure battery is charging or not and if the electrical system needs attention. Diagnosis will wait until we fit a new battery on Monday.
I’ve stocked up the van with reading material, games and cleaning stuff. The sleeping bag is in, and so is my walking gear. Our picnic set will serve as crockery and cutlery for the time being. I still need to arrange some cooking pans but I have washed and dried a doggie duvet. Priorities must be observed.
Double glazing DIY is on hold until more tools arrive, so we hope to shoot off on the early ferry on Monday and go try the van out on mainland Orkney whilst less frivolous matters are stymied. First stop: Orkney Factors, for the battery. Thence to Wisebuys for kitchen paraphernalia and onward to Tesco or Lidl for food. The van should be well stocked by the end of the day.
One thing that I really have to sort out before long is my knitting. I cannot possibly go without my knitting! I need to wind a couple of skeins into balls before we go. I’m not sure that I shall take any spinning on this trip. I also need to choose my camera kit and make sure my battery is charged.
More of the same today, still chasing bugs and understanding systems. We found that the water pump is leaking quite badly and confirmed that the leisure battery is not charging nor will the inverter work with it.
More stuff has been packed in and we are more or less ready to set off.
Unfortunately we are both very tired. We have come up with a plan that involves little actual planning nor much need to be organised.
We will get up quite late, ignoring breakfast and other niceties in favour of half an hour longer in bed. Bacon butties on the boat. Take dogs for a run as soon as we get off the boat. Shopping in town, followed by Fish and Chip lunch and shopping in Hatston before we set off for Skaill Bay.
At Skaill we shall do nothing. Absolutely nothing but put our feet up, admire the view and learn to cohabit in a small space. The tide will be out about tea-time so we can have a late afternoon walk with the dogs on the beach. Tea will be bread and cheese and wine, so no need even to cook. Early night to conserve what little battery power we have.
Tuesday – visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House, plus the little restored church of St Peter. Further playing on the beach. We will either move on or stay put for a second night, according to whim and/or the way that the van is behaving.
Wednesday, potentially Brough of Birsay if we haven’t already been on Tuesday afternoon. Overall we plan to keep our activities to the West Mainland, more or less. We’ll do the south islands next time.