Daphne Ledward, Garden Planner, Gardener, Author and Broadcaster

Muffin's Blog

Muffin has an Adventure    by Mr Muffin

December 2010


I promised last time to tell you about my big adventure. Well, it all happened when John and Daff decided to have a late break in the caravan (or, as that child, Discit, calls it, the Likkle Kennel on Weels).

Daff was, as usual, feeling homesick for her roots, which, she thinks, lie somewhere west of the A1. I tell her she should be happy with what she’s got, but she still hankers for Stamford and beyond, so she and John booked a few days over there in early November – Daff said it was for the Twins’ birthday, which is on the First, but I think it was really for her.  Luckily, it was still warm and more like late summer, otherwise I think we’d all be dead with hypothermia now.

We went to a site called Top Lodge, which is between Stamford and Corby.  It belongs to the Forestry Commission – we like the Forestry Commission a lot because it gives Daff a bit of money to grow trees on the Patch.  The site’s in a clearing in Rockingham Forest, and I must admit it was a good place for a holiday as there were loads of grey squirrels and rabbits, but not as nice as the Patch as we weren’t allowed off the lead so we couldn’t chase them.  Daff said she chose Top Lodge because the girls who used to live in the big house there were friends of hers at school, and also because she wanted to see how a real wood was managed.  In that respect, the trip was a success, because Daff now knows she’s being much too tidy at the Patch and that to run a wood properly she should be leaving piles of branches and leaves and logs about, which suits me as it will help the hedgehogs.  I like turning hedgehogs over to see what’s underneath them, and I’ve got so good at it I hardly ever get prickled. d fleas last summer and I think they might have come from the hedgehogs, but what the heck!  I passed them onto Sally, and she was furious.

We had lots of lovely, long walks every day in the big wood, all in different directions, and slept so well at night that none of us hounds wanted to get up for a wee, so that pleased the grown-ups, as when we do while we’re away, they have to get dressed to take us out and that doesn’t please them at all, though I don’t understand why.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, on the day I’m talking about, which started off really warm and sunny, John and Daff decided to explore an area of the wood we’d never been to.  Now, if we’d been left to our own devices, we’d have had no trouble in finding our way home, but grown-ups insist on relying on things like signposts, and every self-respecting dog knows you can’t rely on them (except the area round the bottom of them, that is).

The first part of the walk was really good for a poor crippled chap like me, because the Forestry Commission had provided lots of seats.  Coincidentally, most of these were at the top of hills, and I think Daff was making me an excuse when we stopped at nearly all of them.  Daff’s lived for so long below sea level she’s forgotten what it’s like to walk up gentle slopes.  Mind you, she’d got the Twins on leads, and Bluebell was being the oik she usually is, forgetting she wasn’t loose and hurling herself after everything that moved, which I suppose could have been quite tiring for the person at the other end.  John was the lucky one, because he’d got us boys, and our behaviour is always exemplary; and Sally, who usually pulls like a fiend but had just got a new, fleece-lined harness (naff, or what?) so, for once, wasn’t pulling at all.

By mid-morning, the sun had disappeared and a few spots of rain started to fall.  We were quite pleased when John and Daff decided to return to the caravan, cos we’re not fond of getting wet.   I really enjoy a hot shower, and Sally swims in the sea when she gets the chance, but getting wet is different. Then it began to rain harder, so Daff said we ought to take a short cut home.

The grown-ups said that if the sun hadn’t gone in, there’d have been no problem, as they’d have known which way we were walking, but – can you imagine it – they’d come out without maps or anything else they could have found the way back with, because they said the routes were well signed.

Well, they were, but all the routes were signed in both directions, so we couldn’t tell whether we were coming or going!   Daff kept saying she recognised this tree stump or that log pile, but they all looked the same.   I could have told her she was wrong as they all smelled different.

By this time it was raining really hard and we were all soaked.   It was well past midday and the grown-ups hadn’t a clue by this time where we were.  Daff said as long as she could hear the A43 she knew which way we were walking, and Bluebell said, never mind that, let’s chase squirrels, so between them we were in a right pickle.  John suggested we made for lighter sky, which took us to the edge of the wood, and we plodded along the edge of a muddy field for miles, which got us nowhere, so the grown-ups took us back into the wood to walk along the edge of a derelict railway line which Daff said went along the back of the caravan site – but in which direction?

Then real disaster struck.  Bluebell took off after a squirrel; Daff, trying to hang onto her lead (Bluebell’s really strong, in spite of her affliction) sprained her knee and was, she said, in agony.  My foot was hurting, too, by this time, and I was walking on three legs, so I reckon I was much worse than her.  There was no chance of stopping, so we all struggled along, and eventually found a public footpath that led somewhere at least.  I wasn’t too keen on going down it because there was a lot of banging and shouting in the distance and I thought it might be people out to shoot dogs, like Daff’s friend threatened to do to us in Lincoln, but Daff said it was only a Shoot, and unless we were pheasants we’d be OK.

It was turned three o’clock now and getting gloomy.  Daff thought we’d be spending the night in the wood, but at last we came to a farmyard by a proper road.  John insisted it was the road back up to Top Lodge, Daff said it was nothing like it, but, as you know, male grown-ups are never wrong, so we set off in the direction John said would take us back.

We walked for ages.  Daff said it couldn’t be the right road, because we’d be back by now, and there was too much traffic – our road was a dead end for motor cars.  The tarmac hurt my poorly foot, and Daff said the pain in her knee was so bad she didn’t know how much further she could go, then they spotted a board at the side of the road which showed we were walking towards Kings Cliffe, which was nowhere where we wanted to be.

 John suggested we went back to the farm where we’d come off the footpath to ask for the quickest way back.  In the farmyard was a grumpy old man cleaning mud off the concrete who said the only way without getting lost again was to go back to Kings Cliffe and pick up the forest road which led straight to Top lodge.

So off we trudged again, back the way we’d just come.  It was now nearly dark and Daff’s knee looked like a football; my bad foot was bright red and the rain was coming down in stair rods (whatever they might be).  Daff said she didn’t think she could do another two miles to the village, so John suggested he left us behind and walked into Kings Cliffe and back through the wood to Top Lodge to get the car.  Daff didn’t think much of this idea as John didn’t know the area at all and she thought he was unlikely to find the road through the wood as some days he can hardly find his way across the garden (she said that, not me), but we must have walked miles that day already; Sally kept sitting down drinking muddy puddles, and my foot was killing me, so there was nothing else for it.   John left us under an oak tree with big blobs of rain falling on us and set off with the Twins, who were still full of energy, but then, they’ve got ADHD, so that’s only to be expected.

It was then that I knew for certain that Mr Paddidog is definitely the numbskull I’ve always thought him to be, as, neck well lubricated with rain, he managed to slip his collar and went belting off up the lane.   It was nearly dark by this time, and there was a lot of traffic – Mr P has no road sense (well, no sense at all, really) and he was wandering amongst all the cars and school buses, despite the fact that you could hardly see him – even I couldn’t, and I have brilliant eyesight.

Daff went limping off after him, dragging us with her, and she’d just caught up with him when he shot across the verge, through the hedge, and into the field where we’d heard all the bangs earlier.   I thought, if he doesn’t get run over, he’ll surely get shot.    Daff was in tears of pain by this time, and I knew just what she felt, cos if I weren’t a big brave boy, I’d have howled, too.  

We’d just all decided that if he got lost or shot, that was his own business, when he reappeared some way up the road, and stood in front of a Mini.   Luckily the driver had chance to stop, Daff struggled up to meet him, grabbed hold of Mr P’s neck (how he swore!) and reapplied his collar, so tightly his eyes popped out on stalks.   He was limping, and his back feet were all bloody, but nobody had any sympathy for him because we knew that in a time of crisis like this, running off is no help to anyone.

It was really dark now, although I don’t think it was much more than four-thirty.  We all decided after this latest incident we weren’t going any further.  Daff leaned on a metal gate to take the weight off her knee and tied us to the bars so there were no more chances of escaping (not that we’d have been able to by now).

We could still have been there now when a dirty truck pulled up and the driver asked if we were all right (did we look all right, I muttered under my breath).  Daff explained what had happened, and she and the driver, who turned out to be a local gamekeeper just returning from the shoot we heard earlier, decided that in the interests of all concerned, the best thing was to take us back to the caravan and sort things out from there.

Wow, that was so exciting, cos I’ve never ridden in the back of an open truck before – you can see so much and the wind whistles round your ears ever so loudly.   Sally and Mr P sat down all the way back but I wanted to enjoy the experience as much as possible, although I think Daff thought I’d fall out as she kept looking round at me.  The truck floor was covered with feathers which smelled promising, but they weren’t attached to any birds and we were all glad to see the caravan again.

But the ordeal wasn’t over even then.  Earlier in the day, Daff, who had had the door key in her coat pocket, got warm when she was tackling those little inclines she thinks of as hills, took her coat off and gave John the key to put in his pocket for safe keeping.   Of course, he still had it.

So we were all locked out.  The gamekeeper spoke to the site warden and told her that John was somewhere in the wood between there and Kings Cliffe, so it was decided to give him another half hour, then send out a search party.  A neighbour in the caravan opposite gave Daff a cup of tea and took her into the warm, but there was nowhere for us to go, so she tied us to the draw bar of our caravan and abandoned us.  We were too stressed to feel cold, but we looked, and felt, miserable.

Then a miracle happened.  Just on the half-hour, as Daff was summoning the search party, John arrived back.  So we were inside at last, immediately warm and cosy because the heating was on.  And even then, the Twins were full of the joys of spring – where do they get all their energy from, I ask myself?  As for Sally, Mr P and me – we certainly weren’t; we went to sleep immediately and didn’t wake up till nine o’ clock the following morning.  We didn’t even want anything to eat – the priority was a good long rest.   Next day we opted for a car ride; any walks were short and to the point.

Now, I’m going to tell you a very funny thing.   Daff was convinced John would never find his way.  He told us he had no problem at all, because when he got to the village, he recognised where he was and after asking someone where the entrance to the forest road was, he found it immediately.  Nothing odd in that, you may think, except John had never been there before…………………..

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