The Lake District is famous for its animals – I’ve heard bark of a duck called Jemima, a rabbit called Peter and a hedgehog called Mrs Tiggywinkle. It’s also famous for its SHEEP. But now the most celebrated animal of all is in its midst and that’s a dog. THE dog, in fact – me, Attlee Common aka Phileas Dogg. Prepare to be knocked off your perch, Puddleduck as I have taken up residence for the week in the town of Windermere and the red carpet is being rolled out for my proclaimed paws to pad along….
Myself and Jane, along with assorted other members of our pack, are staying at Spyri Cottage – one of Sykes Cottages’ portfolio. It’s bang in the town centre, a few minutes walk from Windermere train station, and is a traditional slate Lake District dwelling.
Inside it’s very des-res, with slate floors for muddy paws in communal areas, leather sofas and white-washed walls with exposed beams. A stag stares down at me from one of those white-washed walls – his eyes follow me everywhere I place myself in the room. But I am not abashed by his antlers – indeed, I give him a very hard stare of my own, informing him that, were we outdoors, I would nip at his heels in a most terrifying, terrier-fying fashion and he looks away, cowed.
There are two bedrooms upstairs and, in the basement, a third with an en suite. There’s also a front room with a wood burning stove, a dining room and a little enclosed garden with a pond, into which a hapless human accidentally plunges my ball during a game of catch. It is lost FUR-EVAH and woe is me but, thankfully, three doors up from Spyri, there’s a pet shop where we replenish our rolling stock. The pet shop is called, imaginatively, The Pet Shop but I won’t criticise as canine customers are presented with a treat every time they step inside. High Paw The Pet Shop!
Also within a shake of the tail of Spyri are two dog-friendly cafes – Brambles, right across the road, where we become regulars, and Sweet Stuff, two doors up. We really are in the heart of the town’s terrier triangle and I click my paws with joy.
Had Jane her way we would probably snuggle up inside Spyri for our week’s holiday, so comfortable does she find it, especially as our flat in London is being decorated and all is merry chaos. But we are in the Lake District and I know that there are SHEEPS to meet, fells to fly across and pubs for scrap-snaffling and I am not for settling in Spyri all week with the occasional walk round the terrier triangle and visit to Brambles. I want to EXPLORE and, as I am taking the lead in this operation, explore we will…..
The very pleasant lady in Brambles furnishes us all with all manner of local information – of keen interest to me is a walk she mentions just ten minutes from our door. The walk is called Orrest Head – it’s up a hill and, when we reach the top after about half an hour, all the Lake District is laid out before us and we can see as far as Kendal and Morecambe. (Or we would able to, were it not drizzling.)
There is a slate plaque at the summit as Orrest Head inspired a man called Alfred Wainwright’s passion for the Lake District – he wrote, apparently, seven volumes of guidebooks on the area. Seven volumes – I’ve only managed to write one so far (and, I must add, it makes a great Christmas present.)
A quotation from Wainwright is inscribed on the slate.
Very find words but I think he loses it a bit at the end – surely he means: ‘Dog was in Heaven that day.’
Ah but I’m following in the footsteps of the literary greats here in the Lake District – and none greater than William Wordsworth, whose cottage in Grasmere we sally forth to explore.
We catch the bus for this endeavour – there’s a regular service between all the main attractions in the Lakes, even in winter. But, alas, when we arrive at Dove Cottage and go into the shop, we are told dogs aren’t allowed inside Wordsworth’s abode. I’m not even supposed to be in the shop, although Jane argues my case.
‘Who’s this dog?’ she asks, picking up a fridge magnet bearing the image of a marmalade-coloured mutt.
‘That’s Wordsworth’s dog Pepper,’ the assistant says. ‘Wordsworth was given him by Sir Walter Scott.’
Sir Walter Scott, indeed – who’s he when he’s at home? I was given to Jane by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home – far better. And my name is that of a former Prime Minister – not a condiment. Yet this Pepper was allowed free run of Dove Cottage while I am forbidden. It’s a bit RUFF.
Seeing how affronted I am by being denied entry to the home of my fellow man of letters the shop assistant concedes I can have a snout around the gardens. So I lift my leg in the same spot Pepper would have lifted his* and, in this manner, mark the eternal greatness of canine-kind down the centuries.
(*I’m not sure whether Pepper was male or female – if any readers could advise, I’d be most grateful. I am sure I would be none too chuffed were, a couple of hundreds of years from now, someone to mistake my gender.)
Anyway, off we now jaunt to somewhere that definitely is dog-friendly – Heidi’s Tea Room in Grasmere. Heidi is actually the owner of Spyri Cottage so all guests in her gaff receive a 10% discount in her caff. I am very impressed by this and by the waitress’s attitude to canine customers – within 50 seconds of arriving, I am presented with not one biscuit but three. I am not so impressed with the cow’s head on the wall however. Being dog-friendly is one thing but giving room space to a cow – well I never. I’m sure she wouldn’t be welcome in Dove Cottage…..
On we saunter around Grasmere – it’s a very pretty little village but, my Dog, the SHEEP appear to have taken over every green space. Because of this I am lead-on all the way which is boring-bones but also, Jane says, sensible-bones. And I do sniff something interesting out, even if I am constrained – a bowl of biscuits outside the National Trust shop for DOGS! (Not SHEEP – DOGS, which just goes to prove that, even if the sheep to dog ratio in this town is one billion to five, we canines are still KING. I don’t see anywhere providing free food for the woolly white maggots as my friend Lady BeAnne Duvet in Shetland calls sheep.)
‘Hello doggie – tired after a long walk? Have a free biscuit.’
Thanks very much National Trust – I don’t mind if I do.
Just up the hill from Grasmere is another dog-friendly digs – a very grand digs, in fact. Rydal Hall, a 15th Century manor house, is owned by the Diocese of Carlisle and dogs are allowed in for a snout around the grounds – very Christian indeed. The garden is topiary-tastic – not every dogs’ bowl of water and, alas, squirrels don’t do topiary. But I am a master of lifting my leg against lines of Leylandii. It’s an art and one I enjoy practising on occasion.
Guests at Rydal are invited to indulge in meditation and contemplation. How boring-bones would that be? The only aspect of life I wish to contemplate is squirrels. Beyond being put on this earth for dogs to chase, what is the point of them?
Still, the following day, on a visit to Keswick – which has just been named Britain’s dog-friendliest town in the Kennel Club’s Be Dog-Friendly Awards for the 100th year running – I do find myself in contemplative mood. Jane and I stroll around the shore of Derwentwater and, on a little sheltered shingle beach, I bark – just for the pure houndish hell of it.
But then the strangest phenomenon occurs – a bark comes back at me. It’s a big bark and it bounces off the water and the mountains surrounding us. What manner of fearsome beast is belting out this note?
Only very slightly trepidated by the hound in the hills, I bark again – again the big bark bounces right back at me. Again and again – I bark and the big bark blasts back. I bark and the big bark blasts back….
‘It’s an echo Attlee,’ Jane says.
An echo – what kind of a dog is an echo? We don’t have any of them in South-East London.
Well, Jane explains (in truth, Jane’s Dad explains as Jane is always a bit lacking when it comes to relaying the science bit) an echo is a reflection of sound. So the sound of my bark is being reflected back at me by the still lake and the soaring mountains. I am mighty impressed by this audio-spectacular and I bark again and again, just for the sheer joy of it. And this does give me cause for contemplation at the wonder of the natural world. For a few minutes I am the Plato of pups, musing all manner of philosophical fancy – then Jane clips my lead on and the spell is broken as we head into Keswick for some Hungarian goulash at The Dog and Gun (which, I note, on a more prosaic line of thought, has been spruced up rather since we last visited two years ago). Rather a shame – there were some good smells in the old carpet…..
I like the Dog and Gun but, one evening, we step out to a pub that immediately becomes my favourite Lake District hostelry – The Watermill in Ings, just two miles across the fields from Windermere. (Actually we caught a cab but who’s counting?)
Now the Watermill – THIS is what I call a boozer. There are slate floors, dark wooden beams, horse brasses galore and a coal fire in its cavernous interior, ripe for the explore. It’s a traditional tavern, just as I’m a traditional terrier. And it’s so dog-friendly – when the menu is laid on our table, three bones are placed atop it so I am served before Jane’s even selected her starter. Even better, all the ales produced in its microbrewery are named in hounds’ honour. Some travel writers dream of the Pulitzer – I now dream of seeing my name upon a pump clip. Attlee’s Ale has rather a ring to it, I reckon.
It was quite the night in The Watermill and the next day I was suffering, rather – especially when I spotted this sign. In fact, I must’ve been hallucinating – which right minded Rover would slow down for red squirrels? If I spotted one of the blighters I’d speed up in its dastardly direction, I can assure you.
Oh well – time for one last amble alongside a lake before we must travail home. Using a rather good book that Jane had purchased – Dog-Friendly Pub Walks in the Lake District – we headed out to The Cuckoo Brow Inn. It was cuckoo all right and had me scratching my brow in confuse-bones – there were stables for horses to sleep in as part of the decor! But its attitude to dogs was more sensible – access all areas. Just a shame that when we returned from our two miles tramp around the hills another dog had bagged the best spot in front of the wood-burning stove. SPEED UP RED SQUIRRELS, I barked, and that did the trick. Top Spot was MINE!
Phileas Phacts: Windermere
- Spyri Cottage is one of Sykes Cottages’ holiday rental properties, lots of which are dog-friendly. High Paw Sykes!
- Prices for Spyri, which has three bedrooms (one en-suite), a front and dining room and an enclosed yard for dogs, start at £545 for a week. Tel: 01244 356666; www.sykescottages.co.uk
- Brambles, 15 Main Road, Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 1DX
- Heidi’s of Grasmere, Red Lion Square, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9SP
- National Trust information centre and shop, Church Stile, Grasmere, LA22 9SW
- The Dog and Gun, 2 Lake Road, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5BT Tel: 017687 73463
- The Cuckoo Brow Inn, Far Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0LQ Tel: 015394 43425; www.cuckoobrow.co.uk