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The Fell Dog

Imagine an idyllic life. A life based around eating, sleeping and running on the fells. A perfect, simple and complete life. This is the life of the fell dog.

We got Ben as a rescue. A six-year-old, quite fat, Labrador Collie cross who had only one excursion into the fells. In the successive 10 years, he would go on to clock up an impressive CV of British mountain. Ticking off the highest points of Scotland and England (Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike respectively), 187 of the 214 Wainwright Fells, as well as a number of Scottish Munros and Corbetts. While we never recorded it, we estimated that Ben walked somewhere between 700-1000 mountains in those 10 years, more than many people would in their entire lives.

After a slow start, he became truly at home on the fells, with endless enthusiasm as he bounded relentlessly over hill after hill. Despite his surprisingly stubby legs, he was often seen dashing ahead before returning to round us up, wondering why on earth we could not run as fast as he could. An expert navigator, often finding the correct way to go before anyone else. Many times I relied on him to navigate, be it by sense of smell or some hidden affinity with the fells, when becoming disorientated. After returning from a long day on the fells he would stretch, eat then curl up next to the fire, not a care in the world. Come the next day, the energy had returned. We would find him eagerly standing by the cupboard that housed the rucksacks, as if reminding us where they were, and what they signified; freedom.

By the age of 15, Ben could no longer go up the fells. He had begun to slow down the previous year, his age and mobility restricting him to the lower fells, with his trademark, lolloping bound slowed to a more reserved trot, but, by 15, he could no longer stand this exertion. Some things would never change though, and he would eagerly bark and prance about, albeit not as extravagantly, when the cupboard with the rucksacks was opened, and we enjoyed many a trip to river and lake, valley and forest. As we walked, I often imagined him looking up at the high fells that surrounded us. I imagined him dreaming of when he was a young pup, bounding effortlessly amongst them. Of his ceaseless agility and energy. If only he could shrug off this shroud of age for one final, mad cap dash through his hills.

His ashes weighed heavily in my rucksack as I carried him onto his final hill. From the vantage point near the summit, where we lay him to rest, he can see both home and a network of his favourite fells. It was his most visited fell, ascended over 100 times from every which way. As I began to scatter his ashes, the wind changed direction, briefly blowing them onto me. Once laid to rest, I sat for a time, observing the view Ben now had. Of his fell, that he hadn’t been able to visit for the past year. He was free now, to roam far and wide. I stood, and turned to walk back to the car. As I walked, I looked down, I saw a light dusting of grey ashes on my fell running shoes from when the wind changed.

The fell dog would run again with me it seems.

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