Dog Walks

#1 Magna Park: Where Countryside Meets Commercial

We came across this walk purely by accident. It was a rather wet day in January and we were taking the dogs on a popular circular walk across the fields around Bitteswell.  One section of the walk takes us partially down a concreted farm drive before crossing back over the fields. The drive runs parallel to a large hedge that gives way to a well maintained fence beyond which there is a large lake. For some time, we had assumed the lake belonged to the farm, but always said what a nice walk it would make.

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On this particular day as we walked down the lane, we spotted two people with their dogs on the opposite side of the fence. Of course our two did their usual barking routine, but over the din we managed to speak to the couple who told us that “no the land didn’t belong to the farm, it was in fact part of Magna Park”.

Now for those of you who live outside the East Midlands, Magna Park was the biggest logistics hub in Europe, indeed it is still considered to be one of the largest and is set to expand in the next few years (if the planners and council get their way).  The site is over 500 acres of warehousing, commercial logistics units and road networks and is already as big as Lutterworth, the nearby town. Whilst its siting has been controversial and like marmite, you either love it or hate it, the planners have done their best to landscape the site and, as it turns out, create the lake and surrounding woodland we had admired at a distance.  It became clear from our talk with the couple that access to the site was open to the public and it was a popular place with local dog walkers.

So when we arrived home I scouted the place out on Google Maps and sure enough found that there were extensive paths and large rides criss-crossing almost a quarter of the site.  Since that day we have been periodically exploring the site; finding peaceful glades and long tree lined routes.

 

Our walk always begins along a dead-end lane which is just off the site (at the top of the Farm drive I mentioned earlier). From there we cut through the hedge and turn immediately left into the well maintained grass way that runs parallel to one of the main roads through the site. As it is usually Saturday or Sunday when we go, the site is eerily silent, with only the odd truck coming onto the park. To me it often feels like it’s one of those post-apocalyptic movies where everyone has left and the landscape is reclaiming it for itself.

Now, depending on the dog’s keenness and mine and Nick’s energy levels we follow one of the many rides up and over the very steeply banked earth that must have been moved there when the site was first cleared. These rides are now well established and densely packed with trees and shrubs. From there we just meander the many paths, generally trailing after the hounds who are as high on wild scents as two moggies on catnip.  Sometimes we stay close to the road, following the path through overarching hawthorn, rhododendrons, birch, and bay.  Despite the site only being 28 years old, the woodland has been planted and maintained to give the appearance that it is significantly much older. There are often little gems which pop out, like irises and phormiums, which add a splash of colour to the green.

All paths it would seem lead to the lake, which sits in a dip between the two hilly sides of the site, and is fed by a small stream that takes most of the runoff from the heavily concreted site. Never-the-less it is a pretty place, surrounded by rushes and water irises and all manner of plants I have yet to identify.  The wildlife is also in abundance, of course rabbits in their hundreds but we have seen dragonflies, ducks and water fowl and even water voles; one of which I nearly stood on by accident as it shot through the grass in front of me one day, scurrying towards the water. It stopped mid-run and I was able to carefully pull back the grass to see it.  We’ve even been privileged to see a barn owl, and a number of different types of hawkes. This site always surprises us and as the seasons have changed we have seen just how beautiful the site is.  I am looking forward to seeing it in the Autumn and Winter months.

Love it or hate it, large commercial sites such as Magna Park will continue to encroach on our landscape, eating up great swathes of countryside. But it would seem that it is possible to marry the urban with the hedgerow and we must encourage planners to create large outdoor spaces around these kind of industrial sites. We will continue to walk these woodlands as long as we are here in Leicestershire and we encourage you to go out and find wild places in your towns and cities.

Why not do it this weekend and message us with pictures of your walk.

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Ruffwear Front Range Harness

Following on from our review of the Ruffwear Webmaster harness we thought we would give you a review of the other one we use – the Ruffwear Front Range.

Overview

Ruffwear is an American dog product company with offices in the UK and Europe, selling in most large pet shops.  We picked this harness up as an alternative to the Webmaster for our other Beagle, Bob.

The harness is a typical webbing-based design with a padded fabric covering which comes in four colours; Twilight Grey, Orange, Alpenglow Pink & Pacific Blue.  The harness is made to a pretty high-spec and is fully adjustable.  It’s priced in the mid-upper end of the market, but it’s fairly obvious as soon as you open it up that there has been considerable attention to detail in the design of this harness.

RRP : £39.95

It’s main features include:

  • Comfortable, easy to fit and put on
  • Four points of adjustment
  • Padded chest and belly panel
  • Two lead attachment points
  • ID pocket stores dog tags
  • Reflective trim

Details

The Front Range is a 2-point harness that incorporates adjustable chest & rib straps.  The harness is fitted over the head and has two sturdy clips on either side of the rib straps.  The main adjustments are either side of the shoulders and on the rib straps.

The harness is lightly padded and the chest piece is wide enough to provide good support for the front of the dog – this extends all the way under the ribs and up the sides where it meets the rear straps; extremely good for Bob who is very broad chested.  It features the same aluminium ‘D’ ring as used on the Webmaster and whilst it doesn’t have the very handy upper grab handle of that model, there is a second attachment point on the chest piece for a double-ended lead.  There is also an ID tag pocket on the top of the harness that is a great idea as it stops the tag from getting caught – the pocket closes with Velcro and has a loop to attach the tag.

 

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Bob in the Front Range and Daisy in the Webmaster

 

In daily use, the Front Range is easy to adjust and put on the dog.  Bob is not a fan of harnesses in general but tolerates this one better than others we have tried.  He’s not as much of an ‘escape artist’ as Daisy so this more conventional harness is perfectly OK for him.  That’s not to say it would be easy to back out of – the adjustability and general good fit means he’s not only comfortable but secure.

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Bob having a rather good time at Bradgate Park

 

As with the Webmaster, we have had issues with the fabric loop that retains the aluminium ‘D’ ring fraying.  Although this one has lasted around 10 months so far, it is showing serious signs of wear in this area.  To reiterate the comment from the previous review – what we’d really like to see is a more conventional stainless steel wire ‘D’ ring instead of the sharp-edged aluminium version to eliminate the problem.  Please, Ruffwear – if you could sort out this issue, it would make a good product, great.

In conclusion

Notwithstanding the D-ring quality/manufacturing issues, the Ruffwear Front Range is certainly one of the best standard-type harnesses we’ve used. It’s made from high quality fabrics and is easily adjustable.  Ruffwear’s customer service was very good and quick to respond to any questions we had.

You can find the Ruffwear Front Range on their website: http://www.ruffwear.co.uk/dog-gear/harnesses/front-range

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruffwear Webmaster Harness

Today we thought we would give you a review of the Ruffwear Webmaster harness.

Overview

Ruffwear is an American dog product company with offices in the UK and Europe, selling in most large pet shops.  We picked this harness up from a local shop after hearing about it from other dog owners.

The harness is a typical webbing-based design with a fabric covering which comes in two colours; red currant and twilight grey.  The harness is made to a pretty high-spec and is fully adjustable.  It’s priced at the upper end of the market, but it’s fairly obvious as soon as you open it up that there has been considerable attention to detail in the design of this harness.

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Webmaster harness (with invisible dog)

 

It’s main features include:

  • Efficient, easy to clip sheltered strap buckles
  • Anatomical design
  • Customisable fit with five points of adjustment
  • Secure design
  • Foam padded chest and rib/belly straps
  • Two lead attachment points
  • Reflective trim

Details

The Webmaster is a 3-point harness that incorporates fully adjustable chest, rib and belly straps (the rear two having quick-release clips on the side and an elasticated section for extra comfort).  The harness is fixed at the chest piece and side so that the front right leg has to be lifted through when it’s put over the dog’s head.  Not as complicated as it sounds and actually our dog got the hang of it very quickly.

The front chest piece is padded and the rib / belly straps have non-padded covers to stop any rubbing occurring – a feature that we really liked as this can often irritate the dog.  There is a (very useful) grab handle on the top of the main body and two lead attachment points – the main one is an aluminium ‘D’ ring in the middle of the harness and a strong fabric loop at the back.  The materials all have a quality feel to them and the double stitching also gives you the added confidence that it’s a hardwearing product.

This all sounds great, but how does it perform in real life?

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Daisy modelling the Webmaster harness whilst destroying the biggest stick in the park. Plenty of room around the neck and sits well across the body

One of our beagles, Daisy, is what you might politely call an ‘escape artist’.  She’s an average weight beagle but when she’s in full sniffing mode it’s like adding another 10Kg, so any leads and harnesses we use have to be really up to the job.

She has also wriggled out of a couple of (correctly fitted) harnesses that we’d tried before so this Ruffwear really had something to live up to.  With the extra strap under her belly and across her chest there is very little if any, chance of her backing out of it, yet the elasticated adjustable straps allow for a good level of flexibility and comfort when she’s sitting or laying down.

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Daisy on a cold Pendine beach in Wales with Bob (and Helen !)  The harness coped very well with wet sand and surf

Although we liked the Webmaster harness for Daisy, it didn’t fit our other beagle, Bob. He’s a much bigger Beag’ and the problem was (being a little delicate here) the rear belly strap was rather too close to his ‘undercarriage’ to be comfortable, and no dog (or man for that matter) wants that!  In the end we went for a different Ruffwear harness for him – the Front Range – it is more conventional in its fitment but retains a lot of the features of the Webmaster albeit minus the belly strap.  We’ll review that harness in another blog.

Despite us really liking this this harness, we did find one rather annoying issue, which has resulted in us going through several of these harnesses very quickly, so it needs mentioning.  Over time, the aluminium ‘D’ ring started to wear the fabric loop that attaches it to the harness.  On one occasion, the ring wore though the fabric loop in less than 10 days, the other started to fray and split after 3 months.  Now, Daisy likes a good sniff and run out like any dog, but even we were surprised at the speed at which this feature failed.

We contacted Ruffwear UK about this and they sent us two replacement harnesses immediately (Ruffwear’s customer service is excellent by the way and very helpful).  It turns out that the failure was being caused by rough edges on the inside of the aluminium ‘D’ ring rubbing against the fabric loop and essentially grinding it away.  We’re happy to say that the replacements have faired much better and are only beginning to show signs of wear after 8 months of abuse from Daisy.  That said – it’s worth keeping an eye on the fabric loop for signs of wear if you buy one.  What we’d really like to see is a more conventional stainless steel wire ‘D’ ring instead of the aluminium version to eliminate the problem completely.

Cost-wise the harness retails at £64.95.  It may seem like a lot of money to spend on a dog harness but we reckon the investment is well worth it.  Of course hindsight is a wonderful (and sometimes slightly annoying) thing and with the amount of money spent on trying other manufacturers products (only to find they either didn’t fit properly, weren’t escape proof or were just too flimsy for an active dog), we could have easily bough two Webmaster harnesses for the money.  The street price is however normally between £40-£50, so we recommend you shop around.

In conclusion

Notwithstanding the D-ring quality issues, the Ruffwear Webmaster certainly is one of the best harnesses we’ve used and very suitable for an active, houdini-esque hound like ours. Its made from high quality fabrics and is easily adjustable.  Ruffwear’s customer service was very good and quick to respond.  All-in-all a great product.

You can find all the Ruffwear products on their website: http://www.ruffwear.co.uk/dog-gear/harnesses/webmaster-harness