I’m in Cranborne for the weekend, visiting Sara’s old schoolfriend, Kate (I mean the friendship is old, not Kate). It’s a very doggy household – I’ll be sharing floorspace with Midge the Patterdale Terrier and Minnie the Jack Russell. Minnie, Monty and Midge – I’m sure there’s a band name in there somewhere.
Cranborne is a very pretty village in the middle of Thomas Hardy country – in fact, it’s the village called Chaseborough in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Kate’s husband Tim is the farm manager on the Cranborne estate, which covers a sizable chunk of the area. Their house is right on the Thomas Hardy way, a walking path stretching for 212 miles and covering many Hardy-related locations, such as his birthplace. I assume it will be pretty crowded with, er, local squires and milkmaids eating strawberries – I’m a little hazy on this point – but I’m sure there’ll be room for me.
In the afternoon, we set off on a walk over the ridge behind the village. The harvest is in full swing, but there are a few wheat fields still uncut, edged with late scarlet poppies. Minnie and Midge both have to stay on the lead, ‘cos they’re terriers and can’t be trusted not to run off to chase hares. I try not to look too smug as I trot past them. The scenery is stunning, as we’re up on top of a ridge, and golden fields fall off to each side, bordered with darker bands of trees in the distance. Kate points out the uncut strips in the middle of the fields, left to encourage grey partridge. The track is wide and clearly defined, making it easy to follow, and although it’s a popular walk we meet no-one on the way.
We pass the site of the huge bonfire lit for a beacon at the Queen’s Jubilee, and stop to admire an aerial view of the village before walking down into the Close. This is the local name for the fields at the back of Cranborne Manor. The fields are grazed by White Park cattle, which are a rare breed raised by the estate. They’re almost pure white, with black markings around the eyes, nose and mouth, and HUGE horns. I give them a wide berth, and keep all four paws firmly planted on the permissive path. The Close is like a canine social club – in just a few minutes I meet several other dogs, including a collie, a couple of labradors and lots of spaniels, including another TRI-COLOURED spaniel – we’re jolly rare, you know.
There’s a good view of the Manor from the Close. Dating back to the 12th century, when it was one of King John’s hunting lodges, the manor is still privately owned, and is currently the home of Viscount Cranborne. The gardens are open to the public once a week in the spring and summer, and the adjoining Cranborne Garden Centre is well worth a visit. I pose outside the Manor, in case Viscount Cranborne is at home and fancies inviting me in for a cuppa, but he’s obviously popped out for a bit.
In the afternoon, we take a stroll into the village to visit the Inn at Cranbourne, a 17th century building which has been recently and beautifully refurbished, and offers food and lodgings. I can report that this is a fully dog-friendly venue – there’s even a jar of biscuits on the bar for visiting dogs, as well as a water bowl outside. Kate orders some drinks and we sit down outside, waiting to meet Mikey, the resident pub dog. Hmm…..a dog with his own pub – there’s an idea I could get behind. Maybe we’ll have special areas where humans aren’t allowed.
Pub owner Jane Gould soon arrives and introduces us to Mikey – another Jack Russell. Hmmm – Minnie, Monty, Midge and Mikey – I feel a recording contract coming on! Jane has been very involved in the refurbishment of the pub, and is justly proud of the results.
The following morning, we’re off to a nearby village called Ibsley, to visit the Days Gone By air and steam show at the former RAF Ibsley site.
We drive along the edge of the New Forest, slightly hampered by the herds of New Forest ponies who are holding some sort of meeting in the middle of the road – outrageous! We have a wander round the show, which features lots of steam engines and flypasts by vintage planes. I’m more interested in the events going on at ground level, and can report that the area around the tea tent is of special interest.
Now for some very exciting news. As we’re walking round, a man rushes up to me and asks if he could use my head for the model of a walking stick he wants to make, as I’m the PERFECT SPANIEL! Brian Waters of Waters Country Sticks hand carves traditional walking sticks, and is clearly a person of taste and refinement. My business card now reads, “Monty Spaniel: Actor, Model, Travel Writer, Stick”.
Phileas Phact Box: Cranborne
- For more information about Cranborne Manor, the gardens and garden centre, visit www.cranborne.co.uk or Tel: 01725 517289
- The Inn at Cranborne, Cranborne, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 5PP Tel: 01725 551 249 email firstname.lastname@example.org. Room rates start from £75 B&B. Check out their dog policy at www.theinnatcranborne.co.uk/room-rates/dog-policy
- For more information about walking in the area, visit http://www.ccwwdaonb.org.uk/discover/walks.htm.
- You can follow the progress of ‘Monty – the stick’ at Brian’s website http://www.waterscountrysticks.co.uk/8.html
- And you can read more about Monty’s travels, through Sara’s eyes, at http://travelswithmyspaniel.wordpress.com