I had no idea we were travelling up to North Norfolk on the morning of May 22, 2013 – if Jane had condescended to inform me, I might have thought twice before taking on one of the rabble of foxes who sneak about my garden at night and, on this particular day, were still rummaging around at 8am. But Jane hadn’t informed me and when the fox didn’t flee the garden at the first of my blast of barks, I saw red in tooth and claw. Furious, I barged towards the wily scavenger and lashed out. Floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, I scored a couple of direct hits. The fox turned bushy tail but the vile vulpine had a trick up his scavenging sleeve and, as he fled, lashed out at my nose, causing a deep gash, a lot of pain and a constant stream of blood to pump out.
I required veterinary attention and pronto, so Jane dragged me down to that place I don’t like – the V.E.T.S, where, because of the scarlet hue of my war wound, I was seen first. As the vet cleaned my gash and prescribed me antibiotics the prospect of North Norfolk first came to my attention.
‘Will Attlee be all right to run on the beaches?’ Jane asked. ‘We’re going to North Norfolk this morning.’
What? Beaches? Miles and miles of shore to run on, as far as the horizon and beyond, with sea weed to snaffle and shells to crunch. And me – stuck on the end of a lead?
Of course I’d be all right to run on those beaches. A little scratch like this wasn’t going to deter me.
But: ‘Keep him on his lead until the wound is healing,’ the V.E.T advised. ‘It could flare up if it gets a bit of silicon from the sand in it.’
I was so depressed I thought my little stump of a tail was never going to wag again. I’d kept our garden clear of the orange menace and this was my repayment – not to be allowed to run free, as DOG intended, on the beach.
So our journey to Titchwell Manor, near Brancaster, in North Norfolk was not a happy one, especially as, running late, we’d gone through the ticket barriers at Liverpool Street with our Oyster card. Jane thought this was perfectly admissible and we could buy our ticket on board the train. WRONG. Well, right – we could buy our ticket on board. But we were fined £20 for not having a ticket before we travelled. Even the sight of my battle scar did not soften the ticket inspector’s hard heart.
Still, I brightened after Tim, our official photographer for the trip, picked us up in his car and we travelled through North Norfolk. I’d imagined it might be like Suffolk, pretty and pastoral with pastel-coloured houses, but the buildings were different – all traditional stone and flint – and the countryside a little more undulating. (That’s a big word for a little dog!)
As we drove further away from the main towns, like King’s Lynn, it all felt very remote and away from it all – away from the scrap of the morning and the flippin’ foxes anyway. And I relaxed.
I brightened even more when we arrived at Titchwell Manor, on the coast road with views of the marshes leading to the sea, because we were given a map of local walks – WALKS – at reception. By now the country air had made me buoyant and determined – my scar would heal and I would be LEAD OFF for every one of those walks.
The front of Titchwell Manor – the main bit – is a manor house and then, round the back, are the dog-friendly rooms, set out around a garden a bit like an American motel and painted the colours of the sand and the sea.
Inside our room, there was a big metal dog bowl, a bag of dog biscuits and a dog bed. The bed was a bit flowery for my taste but I’m not going to split hairs. It was comfortable.
What I liked best about Titchwell Manor, though, was the big wooden kennel filled with comfy sofas in the walled garden. How thoughtful – the proprietors had organised a private space, just for me.
But, Jane said, it wasn’t a kennel at all – it was something called a summer house, for people to relax in of a sunny evening after dinner. Dogs could come too but having to share with PEOPLE isn’t quite the same as having it all to canine-kind.
Titchwell Manor is in a titchy hamlet – that’s why it’s called Titchwell – with a post box. But Brancaster, a metropolis with a couple of pubs and a shop, is 20 minute’s walk away and we went there for a drink at The Ship, which has dog-friendly rooms, and is quite trendy, like you might find in London. The lights are made from driftwood, from the beach. The BEACH – I want to go to the BEACH!
I can smell the sea and the salt everywhere and I want to be on the sand, chasing.
But that was for the next day, when my wound would have miraculously disappeared overnight, thanks to my cunning plan of getting my paws on Jane’s mascara and painting the redness of my snout black.
Back at Titchwell for dinner, Jane could have eaten in the bar area, with me, her faithful friend, by her side but instead she opted to leave me in the room so she could sit in the conservatory and look out at the big kennel – sorry, summer house.
I wasn’t complaining because I’d glanced at the menu – there was some fancy stuff but PIE too and I knew good old Jane would go for that, so I could have a slice, given everything I’d been through.
(Jane wants me to mention here that the locally caught crab starter she scoffed before the PIE was delicious – so scrummy, she said, as if she’d pulled it out of that big sea herself just five minutes before and cooked it. But since Jane doesn’t know how to cook, beyond pressing a button on a box called a microwave, I find this rather a confusing comparison.)
Jane did condescend to take me to breakfast the next morning, where we met a Cockapoo called Tess. Poor Tess though – she might have been a designer dog, unlike me, who wasn’t designed at all but rather thrown together from all sorts of bits and bobs – but she had lots of allergies and had to eat special food meaning she couldn’t have any SAUSAGES.
Anyway, now it’s time for the main event – Brancaster beach. It was amaze-BONES-ing times a thousand – miles and miles of sand and a shipwreck out to sea and proper dunes for snuffling in and a golf course behind it, which the reception lady at Titchwell had said, dogs were allowed on, but I didn’t really fancy that – being caught in the RUFF and having golf balls blasting into me.
Parking at the beach is £4 a day, which Jane says is London prices, whatever that means, but we were lucky, because we could walk from our hotel.
When we arrived at the start of the sand, I tried to hide my wound from Jane by turning my snout this way and that. But – THANK DOG – she couldn’t bear to see me, on the lead, with all those acres of sand in front of me, so she took my lead off and set me free. (Please keep this under your hats, hounds. She did clean my wound straight after my beach romp, to make sure it hadn’t got any sand in it. And I’m writing this a week later and am happy to report I’m still very much ALIVE.)
I sprinted and circled and jumped up at Jane, to show her how I excited I was, and then I sprinted and circled some more, loving the feel of the sand beneath my paws which is so much better than the grubby old pavements of south-east London, and the clean, fresh air and I was even exhilarated to see the birds wheeling overhead, happy to let them live and me live rather than chasing them, like I do the scrubby old pigeons at Peckham Park.
Jane was excited too and she ran along beside me and we had such fun that there was no one else in the world but us and nowhere else in the world but that beach and that moment.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-ROVER,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
*I didn’t actually write this – a poet called John Masefield did. But it SUMS it up for me.
But, after our walk, trouble – Jane had lost my lead. It had fallen out of her coat pocket when we were running along, she reckoned, and so we had to scour the beach for it, because it was made by someone called Cath Kidston and had been a present and this made it very special. I was pleased, because we retraced our steps and did the beach all over again, but Jane wasn’t pleased, because we didn’t have a spare lead and she didn’t have any rope and thus would have to carry me or bend double holding my collar until we found a pet shop, which could be ages and ages and she wasn’t even sure we would find one, in such a rural part of the world.*
And that’s what she was doing, bending double holding my collar as we departed Brancaster beach, when a couple with two dogs asked if she was all right, and she explained our troubles and the couple were so kind: the man of the couple went to their car and collected their spare lead to give gave Jane. A blue, Flexi extender one too – not any cheap rubbish. This couple and their organisational skills in packing a spare lead for their holiday had saved the day and I think there’s a lesson there that Jane would do well to learn. But I’ll say no more about it.
Hurrah for that couple, though, because there was still so much more exploring to do in North Norfolk. There was Holkham beach, about a 20-minute drive from Brancaster, and, at the end of it, if you time it right at low tide, Wells-by-The-Sea, with its kennels on stilts on the sand.
And just behind the beach hut, there’s a cafe – the Beach Cafe – which has a special gathering place for dogs called the K9 club where there is lots to drink and lots of other surf dogs to compare notes with. We’re allowed inside too but this is the only place I’ve ever visited in my travels which has put the canines first, with our own VIP area, and for that – PAWS UP BEACH CAFE, WELLS-NEXT-THE-SEA!
Afterwards, we walked back to Holkham through the woods, which are part of a nature reserve and a very important site for twitchers – twitchers as in humans who like bird watching, not twitchers as in dogs with twitchy noses like me who can smell 1000 plus scents at any one time. And there’s the grounds of Holkham Hall, which is owned by a VISCOUNT, to explore but we saved being gentry for the next day as we were exhausted – even me, intrepid Attlee.
Phileas Phacts, North Norfolk
- Titchwell Manor, Titchwell, near Brancaster, Norfolk, PE31 8BB Tel: 01485 210221; www.titchwellmanor.com
- Prices start at £95 per room per night: £8 a night for dogs
- The Ship, Main Road, Brancaster, Norfolk, PE31 8AP Tel: 01485 210333; www.shiphotelnorfolk.co.uk
- Beach Cafe, Beach Road, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1DR Tel: 01328 713055; www.holkham.co.uk
- Brancaster and Holkham beaches are dog-friendly all year round
- Holkham Hall and Estate is at www.holkham.co.uk