It looks likely that Nana, my near fifteen year old Beagle may not be able to make many more visits to the reserve. Despite still looking quite lean and fit for her age, she like me, is being plagued by arthritis which makes walking any distance painfully difficult. She has spent her whole life enjoying the freedom of the reserve and knows every inch of it and has been fortunate to enjoy a lifestyle that many dogs can only dream of. I remember well her first introduction to the reserve.
I have had a continuous line of Jack Russells for the last thirty years, continuing at the moment with Midge, but back in late 1995 my wife wanted a second dog and as I'd always harboured a longing for a Beagle, that was the breed decided on. We hunted around and eventually bought Nana from a breeder in Devon in early 1996.
That early Spring we were eager to introduce Nana, by now a few months old ball of canine youth and energy, to the great outside world of the nature reserve. Her first reaction at being lifted down out of the car was one of shock and horror, this was a lot scarier than the garden that she'd got used too and full of strange smells and sights and due to get even scarier.
In those pre-Foot and Mouth days the normal grazing animals on the reserve were sheep with just a handful of cattle and we needed to walk through the sheep and their lambs to get across to the seawall. At first the prospect looked good to Nana, more new friends to chase after, until that is she was amongst the livestock and then things went downhill fast. The lambs tended to be bigger than a few months old Beagle puppy and what's more were far too inquisitive and boisterous. They chased her and butted her and thought her good fun and we eventually had to rescue her and pick her up.
Having negotiated that scary world of giant woolly creatures we arrived at the seawall and she was able again to be put down to investigate her new surroundings. Here on the seawall her bravado quickly returned and she set off after her more experienced Jacko companion who had gone off to explore the saltings alongside. Now for anyone who hasn't actually walked on the saltings, they are not simply the flat, vegetation covered surface that they appear to be, they can be quite hazardous to walk across. Beneath the vegetation can be hidden numerous gulleys of various depths and widths that are regularly filled by the daily tides and which at low tide return to a state of gloopy mud and scampering crabs. The vegetation grows over these gulleys, or reel-ways as we know them, and quite often you can find yourself standing on vegetation that immediately gives way, depositing you painfully into the mud below.
Anyway, Nana, now confident that she was back in the world of big girls and that she knew what she was doing, set off at speed to mimic the Jacko's every twist and turn across the saltings. That lasted about two minutes before she missed completely the Jacko's first nonchalant hop across a hidden gulley, and promptly disappeared. Rushing to the spot we found a once pristine black and tan puppy now reduced to a smelly and mud-splattered mess, not enjoying at all that strange, dark place and the sight of many scampering things with claws. She had to be washed off in a nearby ditch and was much subdued for the return journey home.
Before she properly reached adulthood and went on to enjoy her long and continuing life out there, there was just one last dent to her confidence as a puppy. In those days the reserve still had good numbers of a wide range of mammals and in particular a huge population of rabbits. A few months after her saltings incident, Nana scampered into many dozens of rabbits on one of the salt workings mounds, eager to catch one. Unfortunately some of these rabbits must of been reading rabbit self-defence books because as she went to grab one and to her great surprise, it turned round and bit her face. She rushed back to us, tail between her legs, with yet another dream of doggy glory much diminished, although over fifteen years she has redeemed herself on that score many hundreds of times.
Life would be unimaginable without the companionship of a dog.