Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sort it out, Scotland!


I make no secret of the fact that Scotland, in particular the Outer Hebrides, is my favourite place in the world. It’s one heck of a trek when you are based in Kent, but gradually my time North of the Border increases every year. 

There is only one thing that riles me about Scotland. OK, to be more accurate, about Scottish proprietors of food and drink establishments. That one major bugbear is ignorance, or hiding behind fake ignorance, of the correct law regarding dogs in a place where food and drink is served.

Where food and drink are SERVED, dogs ARE permitted by law.  Dogs are only NOT permitted by law in a place where food is being PREPARED, and quite right too. If you want to check that out, it is Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 Annex II Chapter IX Section 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a staunch believer in choice. I firmly believe that no proprietor should be forced into adopting any policy when it comes to dogs. In fact, when I used to rent out my house as a holiday let, I myself had a ‘no dogs’ policy. Enough of my neighbours allowed dogs into their holiday homes, and I wanted to give the allergy-sufferers an alternative, as well as not trusting the minority of irresponsible dog owners.

Responsible dog owners are as numerous as responsible parents. One or two let the side down by letting their dogs run riot, just as the one or two ‘pathetic’ parents have no control over their screaming kids. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour, and a proprietor has the right to ask people to leave.

Not one single café proprietor in Scotland outside of the Central Belt has welcomed Dougal into their premises. Every single one makes the same excuse: ‘It is against Health and Safety Regulations’.

As you can see if you do a search on the above regulation, it is not. I have argued this with many a proprietor until I am weary, but to no avail.

There is only one exception to this, and that is the proprietor of my favourite café in the world ever, in the Outer Hebrides. Here there is a lot of very gorgeous, very expensive art hanging on the walls. Dogs are barred here because if a wet and dirty dog comes in and shakes, that’s thousands of pounds worth of art written off. Who can blame a dog ban here?

I get so mad at ignorance of the law, or the spineless act of hiding behind fake ignorance to try and hide the fact that they would simply rather their café or pub be dog-free. I would have NO problem being told: ‘It’s simply our policy’. It’s then my choice to stay, or to eat elsewhere.

I guess this is where the problem lies. More often that not, there is no ‘elsewhere’ in rural Scotland. Take it or leave it. In the Central Belt, encompassing Glasgow and Edinburgh, the situation is very different and you can quite easily find a dog-friendly pub or bar serving food.

The ‘take it or leave it’ attitude was made so obviously apparent one Sunday on the Isle of Harris, when Dougal and I were out on a motorcycle ride. For those who don’t know, Harris staunchly observes the Sabbath and very, very few places are open. 

As we cruised into Tarbert, the heavens opened. With Dougal still in his rucksack in his biker gear we parked up and dashed into the only place open, the Hebrides Hotel. Naturally, we aimed for the public bar, not the posh restaurant.

I asked the barman if we’d be OK to sit and have lunch, and he looked at Dougal in the rucksack and said we would have to sit in the garden outside.

Remember, folks, it was teeming with rain.

Even the ferry waiting room was locked up. We ended up sheltering from the rain in a doorway.

I took up the issue with Visit Scotland. Their response? ‘There is a feature on our website that allows you to search for dog-friendly accommodation.’ My rant had nothing to do with finding somewhere to stay; we were in the Airstream after all. It would appear that the organisation is only interested in increasing the number of bums in beds, not educating its members that are providing tourist services by means of its newsletter.

Go somewhere far, far more populous and tourist-frequented like the Lake District in England, and you are tripping over signs everywhere that say ‘Dogs Welcome!’ In the Lakes, you’d be hard pushed to find a pub or café that did NOT welcome pooches.

And this is where Scotland needs to watch its back. In the short-term, there may be no alternative for the dog owner other than to leave the dog in the car if it’s not too sunny, or grab a takeaway and eat it outside. Or, in our case, sit on the ground in a doorway in the pouring rain hugging each other as we miserably sat cold, wet, and hungry. But longer term? It makes dog-friendly places like the Lake District, the Cotswolds, and Cornwall look far, far more attractive.

Scotland, I love you. But for goodness sake sort yourself out, get educated or at least be up front about your policies if you want to remain in the game longer term. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

...and Dougal came, too!

Carrying a dog on a motorbike

In the previous entry you saw how I finally managed to have my motorbike come with me when touring with the Airstream during the summer months.

‘Riding your motorbike is all very well,’ I hear you cry, ‘but what about Dougal the Dog? That’s who we tune in to the blog to read about and see pictures of, anyway!’

Yes, I know where I come in the popularity stakes, and I know my place in Dougal’s shadow.

Dougal is very much part of my motorcycling. Indeed, even when deciding which kind of a dog to get, I settled on Jack Russell (or something thereabouts) as being ideal for me; easy to carry on the motorbike, doesn’t take up too much space in the Airstream, yet still a ‘proper’ dog and not an inbred fashion accessory that spends its life in discomfort.

The only slight fly in the ointment is that Dougal didn’t read the instruction manual properly and forgot to stop growing. And growing. And growing. While he isn’t quite the size of a Parson Russell Terrier, he now stands head-and-shoulders over most Jack Russells.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem, but it now means that he is a little big for the dog-carrier that I use when we go biking together.

I’ve seen a few ways that dogs can ride with their owners, including in the sidecar a la Wallace and Grommet. However, the three main options appear to be:

Dog-carrying Rucksack

Tank Bag

Tail (saddle) Bag

Whichever your dog chooses (you didn’t think that this would be YOUR choice, did you?) it is vital that there is a way to secure the animal to the bike or rider to ensure its safety.

We went for the dog-carrying rucksack by Outward Hound which I bought from

It’s similar to an ordinary rucksack, except that it has mesh sides, a roll-back top that can be clipped neatly out of the way, and a clip attachment to attach to the dog’s harness.

The rucksack training regime took over six months to prevent Dougal going through any unnecessary stress.

From the day after he arrived home as a puppy, he was put into the rucksack for short periods and would enjoy a short walk on foot, starting off at about a minute in duration and culminating in 15 minute stretches.

Similarly, he has a pair of ‘Doggles’ that he wears on the bike to prevent damage to his eyes, and the training regime for these followed a similar pattern. These came in useful for windy walks on sandy beaches to protect his eyes from the sand. 

Eventually, after about three months of rucksack training, we took off on the pushbike, which Dougal loved and you can see a snapshot of him enjoying a sunny ride on the Hebridean island of Benbecula in this video, click here. The bits of Dougal on the bike are at 4:03 and 4:10.

Three months on, we introduced the motorbike for a short trip at a maximum of 30mph. Here’s a pic from that first trip:

You can see here that I put the rucksack on my front, thinking that Dougal would prefer to sit on the tank and see where we were going. Very quickly Dougal let me know he was not happy with this arrangement, and for the next trip I put the rucksack on my back. This was far better, and it was no doubt down to the fact that this is where Dougal is used to riding.

Slowly I increased the speed to a maximum of 50mph, and to prevent any damage to Dougal’s ears I strap them down with a doggy bandana. As our trips now cover greater mileage (although never more than 30 minutes without a break) he wears a dog coat inside the rucksack to keep the wind out, which looks quite like a biking cape.

It was a long process to get there, and it seems strange on a sports bike to bimble along at 50mph and sometimes have to pull over and let traffic pass, but it’s been well worth it. Needless to say, the reaction of other people when they see a biker dog in goggles and a bandana with his paw on my shoulder, looking at the road ahead, is an utter joy. We’ve made a lot of people smile. And, funnily enough, have posed for more than a few photos!


Friday, 15 March 2013

And the motorbike came too... my life is complete!

Carrying a motorbike in the load bed of a Nissan Navara

Some of you may remember that I used to tow with a blue Renault Trafic van, which I used to transport my motorbike. 

Vanity got the better of me (I’m sure people used to think I was either delivering my Airstream or had just nicked it) and I acquired my gorgeous Nissan Navara four years ago. Of course, that meant leaving the motorbike behind.

At first, it wasn’t a problem, especially as I would nip home every six weeks or so and get my motorbiking fix. However, this is no longer an option as the Airstream is now home. Getting rid of my beloved Triumph after 21 years (I bought it new in 1992) wasn’t an option.

It just so happened that I noticed that some of my Airstream buddies were carrying their motorbikes in the back of their pick-up trucks. So I looked a little harder at using my Navara to carry the Triumph.

After some trial and error, we eventually got there:

As I load and unload the bike on my own, stepping up onto the high tailgate isn’t an option.  I purchased two folding ramps in order to get the bike up and down: One ramp for the bike, one ramp for me to walk up and down. These were purchased from The Ramp People, and I was delighted by their old-fashioned good friendly customer service.

With the bike safely strapped in, there is no room to shut the tailgate. There is enough clearance to be able to tow the Airstream, but as the number plate is obliterated I choose to only carry the bike when towing rather than making other arrangements.

The only alteration needed to the trailer was that the Winterhoff hitch had to go… there simply wasn’t the room to operate the handle with the Navara tailgate down. Maybe I could have tried to hitch the trailer before lowering the tailgate and loading the bike, but then I would not be able to unhitch quickly in an emergency, so this was a non-starter. To get over this problem I fitted a regular Albe hitch with a teeny handle meaning that the trailer can be detached even with the tailgate down. The intention was to a blade-style stabiliser at a later date, but having now done 2000 miles in all weathers without one (including crossing the Skye Bridge in gale force winds), I’ve decided that the Airstream is so awesomely stable that I really need not worry. During the winter when the bike is in hibernation the Winterhoff goes back on.

It’s all good, except for one thing….

Nowhere could I get an ‘official’ figure for how much weight the lowered tailgate of the Navara would take. Figures banded about were 100lbs (which sounded way too low) and 100kg, which sounded about right.

The problem is, my Triumph is 240kg. I weigh 75kg. Therefore while I’m loading and unloading, there is about 200kg on the tailgate, albeit briefly (assuming the bike loads 120kg onto each wheel). In transit, a piece of wood slid under the rear wheel spreads the load between the tailgate and the load bed meaning that very little weight indeed is on the tailgate. I remove the cover to my Armadillo roll top to gain those essential extra couple of inches, but I don't need to go to the bother of removing the entire assembly. 

I’m pretty sure, however, that I’ve damaged the hinges to the Navara’s tailgate. After 2000 miles it still closes and locks, but it doesn’t close as smoothly as it used to. I can live with this as long as it doesn’t get any worse. If it does… I may end up having to have the tailgate hinges replaced. Not ideal, but I have to say that having the bike with me once again has really enhanced my summer touring. It was a bit of a struggle to get there, but very well worth it.

 My life is now complete.

Wrapping up 2012

OK, I’ll admit that this is one of those quick ‘catching up’ entries to try and get this blog back into the current day.

Two sites sit in my mind as ‘THE’ sites of the summer – Sheepcote Valley Caravan Club Site in Brighton, and my new favourite CL in Kent. Which, in the best CL tradition, will remain my little secret.

I ended up going to Brighton twice, and both times the weather was stunning:

As for the CL in Kent, I thank Zoe of Hazy Days Caravan Hire for introducing me to such a wonderful place. We did a feature there for a forthcoming magazine article, and what a wonderful place. Nothing overly special – just a water tap and a place to empty the loo. However, the field is totally secluded, screened by trees, and what I like is that the middle of the field is left to grow long to give a relaxed feel despite the pitching areas being on short grass. Best of all, I’m usually the only one there. And it’s only £4.50 per night. Access is a bit of a pain, but I’m happy to put up with that.

At the end of August, Dougal and I toured the Cotswolds and found our new favourite site. Cirencester Park Caravan Club Site is perfection on a stick as far as I’m concerned. Up to the CC’s usual high standards, and on top of a decent doggy field for Dougal, there’s a park right next door open from 8am till 5pm. Best of all, a 20 minute walk through this park leads to Cirencester town, a pretty yet not-too-touristy place boasting many dog-friendly pubs and cafes. It really made an ideal place to chill, walk, drink, and eat. Perfect!

Before heading to the Cotswolds, we headed up to the Lake District to meet up with a group of Airstreaming friends, including a couple of families who had made the trip over from the Netherlands. A chilled-out, aluminiumy week was enjoyed by all, culminating as usual with many evenings sitting out way too late around the camp fire. Even my friend Gary made it for a few days in his vintage CI Sprite ‘Musky’. 

Summer was rounded off in traditional style with Rockhill Rendezvous, ‘the’ annual UKAirstreamers bash in Shropshire. As ever, a brilliant weekend, and the weather was particularly kind.

After that… time to head North. But my rig has a new addition, adding to our touring pleasure. The ramp to the back of my Navara in the pic above gives you a clue. More about that next time.