Canal walking with a bouncy guy….
I went for an evening stroll along the tow-path of the Rufford branch of the Leeds-Liverpool canal yesterday with my Son Luke and his dog Domino, the bounciest dog in the whole wide world. Dusk was gently closing in and the mist rolling up from the Ribble estuary as we parked the car and set off along the tow path. It was very atmospheric – like a Turner painting without the dynamic of a dose of laudanum. The flat landscape of the Lancashire plain rolled away into the distance, stratified in consecutively lightening shades of grey. It reminded me of a time before colour televisions – wall to wall grey scale.
I love these winter days. Still, quiet and cold - waiting for something to happen. It’s like the whole world is holding its breath. Nothing is moving – apart from the bouncy guy busily shoving his bouncy nose into the ferns.
Overhead, five Bewick’s Swans, winter visitors from the Russian Tundra, white kites against the slab grey sky, flopped and flapped over us, barely 50 yards above our heads. The dog tried to do some seriously extreme bouncing – he obviously fancied Swanski for tea.
The very low level of the canal has exposed the fantastic stone setts of the lock gates, You just cannot help but marvel at the manic Victorian precision of massive subterranean stonework never normally seen. We peered into the frozen shallow watered gloom of the canal, vainly hoping to see the odd fish or two. All of a sudden, we noticed that the bouncy guy wasn’t bouncing any more. He had now adopted the persona of a rigid guy – frozen in an attitude of a doggy Robert De Niro. "Are you looking at me?" He was in a staring contest with a rather hard looking sheep in the adjoining field.
A bit of tension here. Who’s the scariest? Well the sheep’s not given an inch – and she’s got some mates behind her to boot.
We walked away, but still the sheep and dog were locked in eyeball to eyeball starey mortal combat. Who would blink first? We broke the spell by shouting at the dog to "Come on"…… He trotted towards us, stopped and looked back to his chunky wooly protagonist. Was he saying "I salute you as a worthy opponent"…. Probably not – more likely he was saying that the next time they meet, the sheep will be stuffed into the bottom of a tin of ‘Kennomeat’
A group of partridge exploded out from a nearby grassy knoll. The dog bounced in frustration. In the distance, a barn owl quartered a field looking for a rodent supper. Our walking target was a little stone bridge, built to carry nothing more than a muddy farm track over the waterway, but as beautiful a bridge as you could ever imagine. Built at the same time as the canal, the cut stones were still as good as new. The proportions of this little bridge are as perfect as anything built in Venice. Constructed by master craftsmen in a time when men still had pride in what they did – and the consummate skill to go with it.
As we turned to head back, the gloom had virtually enveloped us. Above, the final skein of Pinkfooted Geese, over wintering from Greenland honked their noisy way to their evening roost on the sand-banks of the River Ribble.
The dog didn’t bother bouncing any more – he was completely bounced out…..