My Constant Companion(s)

March 6, 2024

I have always preferred walking with a dog, rather than without. I grew up with dogs and for the last 25 years I have owned a Border Collie. Bracken, Mist and now Holly have been my constant companions on the mountains and countryside of Britain.

Whilst some people simply do not like dogs (and have therefore probably stopped reading by now) the majority of people do, particularly outdoorsy types. Not all people who like or tolerate dogs have one but even then it is calculated that a third of those visiting the Yorkshire Dales bring a dog (walk the streets of Keswick and the figures feels higher for the Lake District). The numbers have certainly risen since lockdown. It is also why most businesses in the tourist sector accept dogs whether accommodation, eateries, pubs and cafes.

Mist on her regular walk in Long Preston
Mist on her regular walk in Long Preston

Further down the blog I will discuss the politics and behaviour of dogs in the outdoors and my own views. However I want to start by talking about my three Border Collies, my constant companions in the outdoors for nearly 30 years.

Bracken, Mist and Holly

I have always been a Border Collie fan but it was never practical to own one until I moved north and away from the big cities. In many ways my job choices have reflected not just my desire to be in the countryside but also my desire to have an active dog. We started our rural crusade on the Saddleworth Moors with Bracken often quoted as ‘our first child’.

1. Bracken

Bracken in the Cairngorms
Bracken in the Cairngorms

I have always thought of Bracken as my Munro dog. She arrived as a puppy as I was attempting to complete the 284 Munros (and Tops). Many of these I climbed on my own so having a dog helped enormously, companionship, enthusiasm and agreeing to my routes a prerequisite. In particular, I clearly remember her being superb on an epic 2 day journey across the Cairngorms. This trip included the overnight ‘stay’ high on the slopes of Cairn Toul, tentless and with Bracken tied loosely to my pack as the deer roamed nearby. It was just one of many memorable Munro experiences. Bracken ended up with 110 Munros added to her many Munro Tops and Wainwright Fells.

She was a delight and if you ever want a tear jerker here is the obituary my daughter, Charlotte, put together 15 years ago.

2. Mist

Mist at High Cup Nick
Mist at High Cup Nick

Whereas Bracken was the Munro dog, Mist was the Where2walk hound. We bought Mist at roughly the same time as I set up Where2walk. For 10 years she roamed the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and the rest of North Yorkshire with me. Of the 700 walks presently on the Where2walk website she must have walked over 500. Walks, pubs, tents, scrambles she happily undertook them all. Oddly enough, despite spending her life in the countryside, she was obsessed with cars…watching them. Any resident of Long Preston would be familiar with her crouched alongside the A65 watching the traffic intensely, she would have been there for hours if she could.

Unfortunately she died a few years too early but what a life she had, a lucky dog indeed and a great companion.

3. Holly

Holly at Bowscale Tarn
Holly at Bowscale Tarn

And now we have Holly. She has taken over the tag of the Where2walk patron and is busy accompanying me on my walks. All Border Collies are obsessed with something, that is why they make such excellent sheepdogs. The focus is extraordinary. Her ‘collie’ obsession is with sticks and the need to carry one wherever she is. Last summer she took a stick all the way to the summit of Cader Idris from the tarn, nearly 2,000 feet of climbing. Even as I am sat here I can see her lying in her bed but totally alert to any movement in case I may be about to head out. They are all the same!

Walking with a Dog – the Benefits

I have listed my favourite 5 benefits why I have a dog and others (who have not already) should consider it.

Holly on Blencathra
Holly on Blencathra

1. Exercise

A dog is good for you. Guilt will mean you go out whatever the weather. Exercise is good for you, fresh air is good for you and we all know it. The physical benefits are obvious {but do walk at a brisk pace, 3mph is average) but the mental health benefits are increasingly well publicised. I certainly feel better on returning from a walk, particularly after being stuck at home on a laptop for the day. It is the greatest single bit of advice from doctors for those with mental health problems.

A couple of cracking facts on walking: it takes 200 muscles to make one step and the average adult walks 3 times round the world in their lifetime. Lets make that figure 4.

2. Enthusiasm

Having a dog (not just on a walk) is so beneficial because of their zest for life. They are so positive about the smallest of things. Little things bring great joy to them and their joy is reflected in us. A dog makes you smile, as mine all have, even if it is only by enthusiastically chasing after a ball (something all three have had in common).

Mist at Hasty Bank
Mist at Hasty Bank

3. Creating Amusement

My dogs have rarely plodded along beside me, they are constantly darting around, sniffing, watching, listening and waiting for something to happen. On a long walk watching them wiles away the hours. I’ve seen them bunny hop when spotting a frog or mouse, scared out of their wits when a deer flew past unexpectedly, fall in to a stream without looking and produce sticks that simply are far too long to go through a stile. Most times they do not do anything so daft but just watching their joie de vivre makes me smile.

4. Making Friends

On meeting fellow walkers (or in the pub) your dog often provides a source of conversation. As a single walker that is great. I remember being approached by a shepherd who had seen Mist and had come across for a chat and presumably to see she was well behaved. He went on to tell me how Border Collies bred in the UK were increasing useless to him as sheepdogs as they are deemed too soft. He proceeded to show me his own fierce looking animal which he announced was from New Zealand! Its amazing what you learn.

Bracken in the dreich

5. Bad Weather Walking (or the Dark)

Every dog walker has at some stage looked outside and thought NO! The weather may be foul, there is something good on TV or simply you just do not fancy the idea of going for a walk. However one look at your dog’s eager face and pert sit and you know you have no choice, the coat goes on and out you go. My three have never suffered the catastrophe of missing out on their second walk. Bad weather walks are character building my dad used to say (and I do now).

In winter I may have to walk in the dark, personally I enjoy it. Your senses are amplified. You can hear your dog rustling in the undergrowth nearby, the owl fluttering by or you can turn your own eyes upwards to the wonderful night sky and stars. Try it with a head torch initially but then turn it off.

Walking with a Dog – the Politics

It would be remiss of me not to discuss the issue of dogs in the countryside and what we should do as responsible dog walkers.

Holly on Cader Idris
Holly on Cader Idris

I will start by saying that the Countryside Code is important reading, common sense in the main but it should be followed. I will also add that the vast majority of dog owners are good owners who follow the code but I accept a small minority are not. Like all elements of the population the few cause trouble for the majority.

The most important thing is to have your dog under control and within your sight. Many interpret this as being on a lead, I don’t. The Countryside Code talks about close control. I have always had my dogs on a lead whilst walking through livestock, particularly in lower areas. It is not that I believe my dogs would chase them but it is a bad look and common decency. The landowner does not know my dog and probably believes the worst.

Away from livestock I will have my dog off the lead. I actually believe it is not fair on the dog to be walking on the lead for hours on end. However there may be specific reasons for it. For example my brother and brother in law both had dogs that bolt ie: hunter dogs and they could end up miles away. The most important thing is that your dog is under control.

Bracken in her older years
Bracken in her older years

The area on the Countryside Code I have a problem with is access land and the rules governing dogs being on a lead for great chunks of the year. Access land covers our higher lands, the mountains and hills of England and Wales. We should have more of it but landowners’ interests are strong (less so in Scotland). It is crazy to try and insist all dogs should be on leads as one approaches the top of Helvellyn but that is the present rule.

It is even worse on the grouse moors which are 95% access land. Here certain landowners actually ban dogs altogether on their land on a permanent basis, in essence banning dog owners. As I mentioned earlier a third of visitors who come to the Yorkshire Dales bring dogs. ‘Access for All’ is often spoken about…except if you own a dog! The irony is that dog owners are probably the best behaved visitors to the countryside being so conscious of not ‘doing wrong’. Ask accommodation owners who accept dogs, they usually say their property is left best by those with a pet. When we had a holiday cottage it was certainly true.


Mist amongst the heather
Mist amongst the heather

Get a dog (unless you do not like them or it’s not practical at the present time), put the effort in to training them and the benefits will be enormous for both your physical and mental health. Put them on a lead near livestock, have them under control elsewhere.

I really enjoy it when I come across fellow walkers who talk to Holly and are happy to meet her. Very few are not. I was walking on the Glyders recently when a group of walkers approached from the other direction. One of the girls enthusiastically approached her and gave her an almighty fuss. She turned to her fellow walkers and announced to them ‘that this had made her day’. Her exasperated friend said ‘You have just climbed Tryfan, one of the greatest mountains in Britain’, she replied ‘Yes but this is better’!

Enjoy your Walking


  • Edwina says:

    WELL SAID…I CANNOT IMAGINE NOT HAVING TAKSI WITH ME ON ALL MY WALKS…..HE as you will remember is not on lead as is under control and I have every faith in him as he has in me…you did not mention that they are also good navigators…which is essential for me!!! I often say to Taksi…Bloody hell where is the truck when well and truly lost and he usually guides me back!!! I think Karen may have told you about when we did a new walk up above Shap and got well and truly lost on the boggy terrain with no land marks of any sort and as you know our compass skills are not great and in the end I said lets just follow Taksi and he did take us back to where we started!! Keep writing and keep walking…x

  • Mark says:

    Fantastic post. I never wanted a dog. I knew who would be doing the walking when the bad weather rolled in. However its been the best thing I’ve ever done.
    Myself and my Old English Sheepdog ‘Ian’ have walked hundreds of miles, mostly in the Yorkshire Dales. He’s the reason I spend all my spare time outdoors.
    He can sniff a style out at 200 yards and often finds the path back when we are a bit lost.
    A lover of sheep too – or rather they love him!

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