The wild life with Monty Halls (and Reubs!): The daring duo go gazing at grey seals
21:30 GMT, 26 October 2012
There are certain things in life that are non-negotiable, and one of these happens to be Reuben's walk. What with babies, businesses and general boat-orientated bedlam, there seems to be very little time to give him the miles he requires.
Happily though there is Lesley, the lovely local lady who provides a dog-walking service for us Dartmouth folk, so she has taken on the mantle of the morning walk.
Monty Halls at home in Dartmouth
Lesley's business strategy would drive Sir Alan Sugar to an early grave. She's only supposed to walk Reubs for an hour (and only charges as such), but as they head off dutifully at 10am her business plan begins to crumble.
They'll re-appear around lunchtime covered in sand and/or twigs and/or seaweed, both of them looking completely bushed. ‘Sorry,' Lesley will mutter, slightly sheepishly, ‘we were, erm, having such a good time I forgot.' This makes her easily the best dog walker in Britain, if not the most financially astute.
I do walk him in the afternoon though, and as we were both feeling intrepid yesterday we sought out a new route. Dartmouth, much the same as any other ancient harbour, has all sorts of wonderful hidden alleyways and quiet hollows.
I drove to a point on the hill that overlooks the town, and just let gravity guide my feet. The fact that I was heading downhill meant my stick-throwing reached freakish proportions, and I witnessed some fairly basic battles between inertia and motion each time Reubs, bouncing down after them, tried to stop, including one memorable long skid into a pond which still makes me smile when I think about it.
Monty and Reubs go gazing at grey seals
As we walked through country lanes, ancient valleys carved by the passage of foot, herd, cart and tyre, there rose the unmistakable smell of wood smoke from the town below.
For the first time there was a genuine hint of autumn in the air, with ochre leaves scattering underfoot and crisp cold air that seemed to amplify the sounds of daily life drifting up from town.
There can be no quibbling about it now, the season has changed and we're preparing for winter.
One of the advantages of having such a lofty perch was that I had a very good view of the Mew Stone half a mile or so offshore, that craggy, rugged little outcrop that really does have it all.
'What with babies, businesses and general boat-orientated bedlam, there seems to be very little time to giv
It's a microcosm of the 2,300 miles of our coastline, an entire ecosystem in an easily digestible package. As summer drifts away and winter musters its forces, the next act in the drama of the rock is about to begin.
All year I've been watching the grey seals there. There are about 15 of them living on the rock permanently, and quite frankly I imagine they're pretty sick of the sight of me now.
They're not the most expressive of creatures, but I'm sure one of them raised its eyebrows, snorted extravagantly, then turned its back on me in disgust as I took yet another photo a few days ago.
Mind you they're perfectly entitled to be distracted at this time of year, as – unlike pretty much everything else that lives along our coast – the onset of winter is when they give birth.
This is slightly odd if you think about it. The critical first few months of a grey seal pup's life are spent braving Atlantic gales and sub-zero temperatures. The birthing strategy seems to be a throwback to another age, when ice coated a great deal of our planet and temperatures were uniformly unpleasant.
The pups are also born white, again perhaps a strategy to hide them from predators as they nestle against the snow. Nowadays they look slightly self-conscious as they stand out against dark rocks, looking for all the world like a discarded child's toy.
Soon both Reubs and I were feeling the pace, and found a piece of flat ground to sit and pass a moment to reflect. As I peered at the Mew Stone in the distance, looking rather peaceful against a tranquil sea, I knew I was looking at the setting for a great drama over the next few months.
With the boat and binoculars, I'll be lucky enough to have a front row seat.