#117 – More history …. and games with the dog!

Penycloddiau seen from the Vale of Clwyd

Penycloddiau seen from the Vale of Clwyd

Despite the last 12 months having had some of the wettest weather in the UK since records were kept, we seem to have managed quite a few dry days out, though the ground is frequently completely mired, being at saturation point.  That’s when the hills become even better for walking, with the water draining off down to the soggy valleys.

The Offa’s Dyke Path, heading north for Penycloddiau

The Offa’s Dyke Path, heading north for Penycloddiau

Looking back along the path to Moel Arthur ….

Looking back along the path to Moel Arthur ….

…. and looking down to the forest track that we followed later, on the way back

…. and looking down to the forest track that we followed later, on the way back

Living almost literally in the shadow of the northern end of the Clwydian Hills, we don’t have to look far for an interesting walk out.  I had combined a trip over Moel Arthur and Penycloddiau last October (see post #99) but Chris hadn’t been there, and I was ready for another visit, so Penycloddiau it was!

The snow-capped mountains of Snowdonia, with the town of Denbigh in the middle ground

The snow-capped mountains of Snowdonia, with the town of Denbigh in the middle ground

Looking south from Penycloddiau, with Moel Famau dead centre in the distance

Looking south from Penycloddiau, with Moel Famau dead centre in the distance

We followed the Offa’s Dyke path heading north to Penycloddiau – The name means ‘Head (or Hill) of the ditches’, a name that makes sense as height is gained – the hill is the site of an Iron Age fort, with the remains of the original ramparts and ditches being quite obvious.  The fort covers an area of 64 acres, making it the largest of a line of ancient hill-forts in the Clwydian Range.

Pond just below the summit of Penycloddiau

Pond just below the summit of Penycloddiau

The summit, at 440 metres

The summit, at 440 metres

The reconstructed Bronze Age cairn at the summit

The reconstructed Bronze Age cairn at the summit

The deepest of the line of ditches at the northern end of the fort

The deepest of the line of ditches at the northern end of the fort

The fort was built about 2500 years ago, on a site that was already important – the people of the Bronze Age constructed a burial mound on the summit about 2000 years before the Iron Age fort was built.  The fort must have been a major construction project, with high earth banks topped by a wooden fence, and deep ditches below.  The site was carefully chosen, and included a pond that would have supplied water to the occupants.

Heading north towards Moel y Parc

Heading north towards Moel y Parc

Just above the bwlch (pass) between Penycloddiau and Moel y Parc

Just above the bwlch (pass) between Penycloddiau and Moel y Parc

Despite a bright sun, the wind had a chill bite, and we didn’t linger at the summit.  We carried on north, heading towards Moel y Parc, easy to pick out from a distance with its distinctive 750 ft (230 metres) transmitter mast bringing television and digital radio to about 300,000 consumers in Flintshire and Denbighshire (and over the English border into Cheshire).  At the bwlch we turned back on ourselves, following the Clwydian Way back towards the start point.  Easy walking gave us a chance to include some more Search and Rescue training with our Border Collie, ‘Mist’.

On the Clwydian Way, with ‘Mist’ ready for a bit of fun

On the Clwydian Way, with ‘Mist’ ready for a bit of fun

Search training starts with ‘run-outs’ over very short distances.  The ‘body’ runs off with the dog’s favourite toy, trying to sound as excited as possible, whilst the handler also gets the dog excited.  As the dog is released, the handler gives the command “Away find!”, and the dog runs to play with the body.   The dog doesn’t get the toy until the handler arrives, and so it learns that the game only starts when the body, handler and dog are all together, and for the dog it becomes the best game in the world!

‘Mist’ in work mode, taking things in her stride

‘Mist’ in work mode, taking things in her stride

‘Mist’ is already a stage beyond that.  Before the run-out, I fit her with an orange jacket, which becomes a sign for the dog that there’s a game coming up (or later on, a job to do).  When she gets to the body she returns back to me and barks, then she leads me to the body.  The bark is known as an ‘indication’ and is part of the search sequence.  As before, when she takes me to the body, she is rewarded with a game.

The reward for finding the body – a game with the ball

The reward for finding the body – a game with the ball

At the moment we are working with short runs of about 30-50 metres.  These will get longer, and the dog will be encouraged to shuttle back and forth between body and handler until all are together.  When that is absolutely solid, with strong ‘indications’ guaranteed every time, it will be time to search for a body that hasn’t been in view to the dog.  At that stage ‘Mist’ will have to use her nose to hunt for the body.

Enjoying the game with the ball

Enjoying the game with the ball

By frequent repetition, the dog learns that a human, wind-borne scent will lead to a person, and that shuttling between the body and handler and indicating the find will always lead to the same conclusion – a massive reward in the form of a game with the handler and body.  When that can be guaranteed every time, you have a search dog.

On the forest track, heading back to the start point

On the forest track, heading back to the start point

On this training session we did half a dozen short runs before heading back to the car – it’s important that the dog doesn’t start to lose interest in the game.  We returned by the forest track that we had seen on the way out, ending up at the car park.  It had only been a short outing, leading to quite an early finish.  What to do with the extra time?  I had an idea – a ‘recce’ to check out the White Horse Inn at nearby Cilcain.  It turned out to be a good choice!

The end in sight, with the ridge we followed earlier on the skyline

The end in sight, with the ridge we followed earlier on the skyline

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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16 Responses to #117 – More history …. and games with the dog!

  1. Bet Mist is thoroughly enjoying all her ‘games’ too!

  2. lanceleuven says:

    An interesting insight into how the dogs are trained! Cheers for sharing.

  3. redjim99 says:

    I’m envious of the trip out, I’m still in a sling, still waiting to start physio proper and quietly going stir crazy. I had hoped to be ready by the end of April, but now that looks like going back as far as September, and only for lowland, easy walks then. 😦

    Jim

  4. There’s some snow plastered on those Carneddau!

  5. LensScaper says:

    What a beautiful day you had. Interesting insights into Mist’s training too.

  6. Sarah says:

    Loved the training information! And breathtaking photos, as always! 🙂

  7. That just looks Ideal Paul, and good weather too!

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