My local hills, the Clwydian Range, are not the highest hills in Wales by a long way, though it’s the first high ground you drive through as you enter North Wales from England. The highest summit is Moel Famau (see post #79) at 554 metres, and most of the other summits of the ridge line are only between 400 – 500 metres in altitude (see post #99). They are exposed little hills though, and can prove ‘interesting’ in bad weather.
I had a great afternoon out here a couple of weeks back – I’m still serving my apprenticeship with SARDA Wales (Search And Rescue Dog Association) as an aspirant trainee, and this mainly involves being a ‘body’ for other dogs to search for. My job this afternoon was to go and ‘get lost’ so that trailing dog ‘Bonny’ could come and find me. (Read more about SARDA trailing dogs in post #92) My dog ‘Mist’ also had a training task – to sit quietly and patiently in the car while I went for a walk without her!
The trailing dogs work close to their handler on a long trailing lead and harness, with the handler using the feedback on the lead to ‘read’ the dog. I set off from the car park and took a winding route up the lower slope of Foel Fenlli, and after allowing time for the scent to develop Geoff and Bonny set off to follow my trail.
Geoff had briefed me to zigzag up the hillside, and from my vantage point it was fascinating to watch the dog follow my exact path, made all the more impressive by Bonny ignoring the scent of a group of walkers who crossed my trail – impressive perhaps to me, but it’s what Bonny has been trained to do. It wasn’t long before my hiding place in the heather had two new visitors, a boisterous Spaniel/Labrador cross and her handler.
The crossing of a Spaniel and Labrador might seem an unusual combination, but for a trailing search dog it’s an inspired match, combining the strength and ‘nose’ of the Labrador with the bounce, drive and energy of a Spaniel. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the cross was the idea of Tom Middlemas, one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and respected members of the Search and Rescue Dog community in the UK and beyond.
We repeated the routine, with me crossing over to the other side of the road on the approach to Moel Famau – once again an enthusiastic Bonny came straight in to my hiding place. With two good searches completed, Geoff was well pleased and set off for home. Less pleased was Border Collie ‘Mist’ who was ready for a run out on the hills. I had a plan ready though – I hadn’t been up Foel Fenlli before, so here was an ideal opportunity.
Foel Fenlli is the second highest summit in the Clwydian Hills, with an altitude of 511 metres (1,677 ft). Like several other Clwydian peaks, Foel Fenlli was a hillfort in the Iron Age period, making it more than 2000 years old. It’s likely that there was an earlier Bronze Age burial mound built here, and coins from the Roman occupation were discovered here 200 years ago – let’s just say that the site has been occupied for a long time!
‘Mist’ seemed especially pleased to be out of the car and on the hill, but if we are accepted as trainees by SARDA the car will become a mobile kennel, a home from home, something that she will have to get used to spending time in. The weather turned squally and cold as we set off for the summit, but by the time we reached the top the sun was breaking through on the east towards the English border. It was still cool though, with no incentive to linger, and we were soon heading back to the car park.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. The local mountain rescue team covering the Clwydian Hills (and much more!) is North East Wales Search And Rescue (NEWSAR). You can find out more about the team and how to support them by clicking here. You can support the search dogs (SARDA Wales) by clicking here.
p.p.s. I only realised last week that I had missed the ‘birthday’ of this blog – 104 posts over two years. I post every Monday morning (UK time) on a hill or mountain topic, and haven’t missed a post yet! Thanks to all of you for reading, especially my regulars. You can get an email notification of each new post by clicking the ‘Sign me up’ button.