Nicola here, back home after a couple of weeks in Scotland and reflecting that it’s never too late to have new experiences. This was the first time that we had taken Guide Dog puppy Baden on a holiday with us, which meant that our itinerary needed to allow plenty of opportunities for him to do some training as well as for us all to have a good time. So this was a new experience for all of us.
The first thing that was new for Baden was long distance travel. Guide dogs need to be adaptable to new situations and be good at travelling on different modes of transport. Baden is used to the train and the bus but when he goes in the car, he normally travels in the special dog compartment in the back. Not this time! The dog compartment was full of two weeks’ luggage and Baden was on the back seat in his dog harness. He rather liked his “throne” and the view it gave him out of the windows, and he took the 9-hour journey to the east coast of Scotland in his stride.
On the way we stopped off at the Falkirk Wheel and to see the Kelpies. The Falkirk Wheel is an amazing piece of engineering. In the 1930s the Forth & Clyde and Union canals were linked by a flight of 11 locks that took almost an entire day to transit. The concept of a wheel as a boat lift was first considered in 1994 and work started a few years later. It is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift and was opened by the Queen in 2002. Baden hadn’t been on a boat of any sort before but he trotted on in company with another guide dog and a small terrier in a rucksack. The smell, the noise and the movement were all new but he coped with it all pretty well. And for us, the experience of going up in the air in a boat was amazing. The trip took us along the canal for a short way before turning around and coming back down again! Then it was off to view the Kelpies, the largest equine "structures" in the world (click on the link to see them!) The horses represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coal ships of the area. They also draw on Scots mythology – a kelpie was a water horse that was said to lure unsuspecting riders to a watery doom! They are massive and very impressive.
Baden’s next new experience was discovering the beach. As a guide dog trainee he isn’t encouraged to go in the water but he loved the wide-open spaces and the sand dunes. It was a great place to run off some energy after he had been working. He also adored scampering up a couple of mountains and was particularly pleased on one occasion to discover there was a group of hikers at the top who were having a picnic lunch! As he has four legs and is considerably younger than me he was much faster up the hillside but was very good at checking back to make sure he didn't let me out of sight, another guide dog requirement when you are free-running. Whilst walking at Balmoral we discovered the rather strange monument to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. A 41 foot high pyramid in the Scottish highlands was quite an odd thing to find – but as you can see in the photo, Baden was more interested in the apple I was eating!
On one of our trips out we went to Dundee and did two new and very different things; visited the historic ship HMS Unicorn and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Unicorn was launched in 1824 during the era of peace after the Napoleonic Wars so it was given a “roof” to protect the hull from rainwater. This gives the ship a unique appearance and it is incredibly well preserved, giving a fascinating insight into not only the construction of Navy frigates of the era but also an exhibition of life on board in the era.
Baden trotted up the gang plank and immediately met Diego, the ship’s cat. Diego didn’t seem particularly pleased to see him but we negotiated that hurdle well and went on to explore the ship. After posing for photos in the captain’s cabin, Baden felt he could well have been a ship’s dog had he been born in a different era. After that we felt like some lunch so we went to the café in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I had a delicious salad and Baden had a bowl of water. This was his first museum experience and the V&A has a brilliant exhibition of Scottish design down the centuries which I really enjoyed. I’m not sure about Baden, but he was very well behaved whilst I looked around.
Scotland is, of course, the perfect place to go if you’re a castle fan and we visited Redcastle ruins, Dunnottar, Crathes, the House of Dun and Balmoral. ( I might do a castle blog next!) There were grand staircases, spiral staircases, dungeons and battlements and Baden fearlessly tackled them all. I’m not sure how much of a history fan he is, though; he did tend to fall asleep during guided tours, preferably on opulent carpets in grand drawing-rooms!
Now we’re home again and settling back into our previous routines I’m not sure whether Baden misses all those new experiences, but there will be more to come as he gets older. We are planning a trip to London and there's the the chance to go to the theatre and to a concert or two – as long as he doesn't bark or sing!
He’s a calm, adaptable and curious little dog, the ideal trainee in fact! As for me, it was a pleasure to go away and do new things after the past few years and it made me realise that like Baden, I can do something new and different, and feed my curiosity. As a result, when I got home I made a list of things I’d like to try and do this year, including improving my French, learning to swim better and learning how to identify birdsong!
I hope you've enjoyed this tale of Baden's adventures! Are there ambitions you're keen to fulfil or any new experiences or activities you'd like to take up?