21 April 2008
It's Boris, everybody. Seen here in the boot of the Natural Blonde's car, perched over the back seat like a chad on the wall, closely observing us eating sandwiches in the front.
We'd just completed one of the long beauty spot walks organised by Basset Hound Welfare and its friends. These walks take place all over the country through the year, but we obviously are restricted to the northerly ones, and so we met up at Grosmont in the North York Moors - a tiny railway village close to Goathland, where Heartbeat is filmed - for the annual St George's Day stroll with about 20 long-eared, manipulative pals and their patient, tired owners.
The Basset walks are always fantastic. We also attend the New Year walk at Bolton Abbey, near Harrogate, and there are walks at Ilkley Moor and parts of Lancashire and Cheshire which are also within reach.
Our four enjoy the walks, but while Penny, Bentley and Ruby also enjoy meeting their fellow pooches, Boris is rather more abrupt. He was the only one who stayed on his lead for the whole three miles.
From the car park, we all make our way to Grosmont centre, where the railway station has a few local services per day but mainly exists for tourist reasons as the old steam trains come choo-chooing through, puffing nostalgic clouds of smoke in the air. I keep expecting some bloke in black and white, sporting a trilby, to wave through the window to a tearful twinset-wearing lady clutching a handkerchief as she waves back.
Adjacent to the working line is a disused one, presumably dating back to Dr Beeching's hatchet job. This line is now a public footpath which goes for miles and miles through the moors. There's a clean, gently-flowing river beside it, the odd isolated cottage, and our halfway point is a hamlet called Beck Hole, where a minuscule public house provides replenishment before we turn on our paws and walk back again.
So, people arrived in the car park and an array of Bassets - tri-colour, black and white, red and white, all tan - leapt out of boots and back seats. Boris was slightly overawed at first and behaved himself, while the others all wagged and said hi. Bassets recognise their own kind straightaway.
We set off towards the village and the railway line and, once past the first gate where the old terraced railway cottages (still inhabited, and each painted a different colour to the next) stand, the path was safe and straight and the dogs came off their leads.
He's okay off his lead at home, providing we're on the fields around our village and the naked eye can see no other dog. But he's untrustworthy in strange company and strange surroundings, even though he ambled along happily with the others around him and seemed content and calm at first.
Then the first scrap began. It was with a springer spaniel, one of two owned as well as numerous Bassets by a retired couple from Huddersfield. Springers are quick and inquisitive but very sensible mutts, and this one was sprinting ahead, sprinting back, diving into bushes, running with sticks and generally doing everything a short-legged Basset couldn't.
And Boris was annoyed by this, so when the springer came a bit too close to the ambling, smouldering Basset, he snapped at him. And got him.
Clouts on the nose, apologies, awkward laughter. Boris, meanwhile, strutted along oblivious to the embarrassment he'd caused and smirking at his actions.
Another 200 yards on - BAM! Boris had this time gone for another Basset, a long and excitable (and un-castrated) pooch called Ziggy. Dogs with the horn are not fussy - they will try to mount most mutts of roughly the same size, irrespective of their gender. Boris had a pop. He still got an admonishment, but he was less to blame.
Halfway between Grosmont and the pub, there is a dip which allows you to walk (or chase, or fall) down to the river bank. This is the traditional dogs' point to get a cooling drink. One year Boris, off his lead, went flying down there at speed because he'd spotted - before anyone else - a man about to bite into a butty as he fished. Like something out of a cartoon, Boris leapt towards him - the man's view was blocked by his shade umbrella - and snatched the sandwich from his hand as he raised it to his mouth. We were mortified and most repentant in public - then laughed for the rest of the walk.
Anyway, a major difference between Bassets and other dogs is always showcased by the river. Although the 20 or so Bassets were thirsty, they do prefer to get their tongues to the water's edge without getting their feet wet. Meanwhile, the springers (plus the two mongrels and one Belgian shepherd also taking part) were diving in, chasing the sticks and pebbles which the kids on the walk were chucking in, dog paddling around and generally guaranteeing that their owners' cars would need at least a mini-valet the next day.
Boris, with the NB holding him on his lead, took a drink. As we walked away from the river, Ziggy decided to try his luck again. Boris turned and had his pop back at him - and a small girl of about six or seven got in the way. As the NB swung her arm round to pull Boris away, she knocked this young lass clean off her feet. She started crying, we were even more mortified and Boris marched off, his work done.
Her family were okay about it (they have a Basset, after all), and the girl merely timed her own walk back to the path badly, and just got caught in the crossfire. She was soon leaning down to get him to lick her nose again, just like the others.
Two hours after setting off, we got to the halfway point, and ordered soft drinks at the pub before sitting on the roadside which, when people are walking around with sandwiches and locally-produced turkey and ham pie, is easier said than done while clinging to four gluttonous Basset hounds on leads.
Now, this is where manipulative Boris comes in. Despite being the bad dog of our four, he is also the one who can do the "I never get fed at home, I'm mistreated, I'm a prisoner - so please give me a sandwich, and that pie looks lovely..." look better than anyone. He got half a sandwich from one blissfully unaware Basset owner, plus even the NB tried to placate him by giving him a scampi fry.
Then, in an effort to keep him away from dogs walking towards us with their owners on the way back, each time his hackles rose at the sight of a labrador or West Highland terrier or, far more absurdly, a Great Dane (sorry Boris, but in a scrap between a mid-sized Basset and a great Dane, the Great Dane wins) coming the other way, we distracted him with a biscuit. He would look at the biscuit rather than the enemy approaching, then he'd get the biscuit once the other dog had gone past.
Very good, Boris. Until we realised that he was getting biscuits for not being bad, whereas the other three were getting no biscuits for never being bad. They began to look a bit peeved at us.
It's a political minefield, owning Bassets.
So the other three all got biscuits as soon as Boris had earned his. Quite a few dog owners were coming towards us as we headed back to the river and then the village, so a lot of biscuits were required.
We got back to the car, two hours after leaving the pub. There were 20 exhausted legs and two hungry human bellies. The dogs got a drink then we bundled them back into the boot to rest while we had something to eat in the front seats.
The occasional nose (look carefully...), as well as the head and front paws of Boris, felt the need to investigate, but ultimately they were too tired to beg or protest.
They slept all the way home without a peep.
Grosmont is a fantastic place. The scenery surrounding it is divine and the village itself is picturesque and laid back. It seems unspoiled and yet it has been carefully improved to make it more appealing for tourists to visit, and easier for them to enjoy it once they do.
I thoroughly recommend the place. Dogs are optional...