Bark in the park – what in Dog’s name is this? I bark in the park at least one hundred times a day and a fine old racket I make too, waking the squirrels from their slumber and a good few of the local human residents too I’ll be bound.
But the park I’m being given leave to bark in today, Jane informs me, isn’t like our scruffy South London park, strewn with empty beer cans and chicken bones – it’s the park belonging to a stately home that’s now a hotel and it runs Bark in the Park weekends. Ston Easton Park in Somerset you say Jane? I’ve lost interest already I’m afraid – what use is a park without chicken bones?
Then Tim, my official photographer and chauffeur, drives me and Jane up the sweeping path to the hotel’s grand frontage – it’s Palladian, you know – and I leap out the car, stick my snout in the air and am assailed by Eau d’Rabbit, Eau d’Badger and, most tantalising of all, Eau d’Deer. Okay, I take it back. This is a park and a half – let me at it!
But hang on – who’s this rather cocky Cocker Spaniel who is moseying up to inspect me? I’ll sniff your bottom before you sniff mine mate, I bark, affronted, but he’s not having it. This chap seems to think he owns the place!
‘He does own the place,’ Jane whispers to me. ‘He’s Oscar and he’s maitre dog here – he has the best scraps from the kitchen, a comfortable bed at the reception desk and the run of the grounds – morning, noon and night.’
So this Oscar is Lord of the Manor? I’m rather jealous but he does offer to show us around so I suppose he’s a decent enough sort of cove really.
And what grounds Oscar has to lollop in. He brags and wags his way across grand expanses of manicured lawn (a bit boring for my tastes) and then we arrive at the good stuff – woodland to snuffle around, a ruined folly and the river. I’m not aquatically inclined but I do like to bark at ducks and snout in the reeds.
There’s a croquet lawn and a tennis court, so lots of balls for us dogs to pinch. As for the Victorian Kitchen garden, which, Oscar barks proudly, provides 60% of the hotel’s fresh produce, there are lots of interesting things to sniff. But I’m denied any good leg lifting opportunities – the little tractor is enticing – as house rules state that dogs must be on leads here. Boring-bones – I’m sure my pee would make the peas come up lovely!
Then it’s time to have a look at our quarters and proper grand they are too – I’m particularly impressed that, as an obviously highly-esteemed guest, room service has been provided for me. I imagine that’s Oscar’s doing – as maitre d’og he is obviously in charge of the pecking order here and that’s dogs first and humans second.
Oh I’d like Oscar’s job, though. I imagine it, as Jane and Tim sip Gin and tonics in the library and I gaze out the window at the grounds. (Dogs are allowed everywhere at Ston, apart from the main restaurant.) All this wonderful parkland and forest to myself – apart from the canine customers of course, but I’d quickly show them who’s boss – and the finest scraparama from the table and the adoration of the staff, who obviously dote on him. The antique paintings scrabble for space with photographs of Oscar – his image, in gold frames, adorns every mantelpiece. Jane doesn’t have any pictures of me in gold frames up in our ex-council flat in South East London. Why was Oscar born with a silver Bonio in his mouth – and not me? It’s a bit ruff!
But my ears prick up when I hear Jane ask Oscar’s co-concierge – the human one – whether he’s ever naughty. Maybe is there a vacancy. Perhaps Oscar isn’t up to the job and a new bark is required in this park.
‘During a wedding Oscar leapt into the brand new Range Rover belonging to the father of the bride and chewed through the leather seats,’ the concierge says.
Amaze-bones – Oscar, you’re fired! And I’m hired.
But, apparently, that was during his misspent puppyhood and now, at the grand old age of seven, he’s a reformed character. Drat.
Phileas Phacts: Ston Easton Park
- Ston Easton Park, Nr. Bath, Somerset, BA3 4DF Tel: 01761 241631; www.stoneaston.co.uk
- Prices start from £149 per night for the classic bedrooms; dogs cost £15 per night.
- Bark in the Park packages (in association with James Wellbeloved) cost £295 per night, and include a three-course dinner for humans and, of course, the red carpet rolled out for Rover too. For more details log on to: www.stoneaston.co.uk/breaks-and-special-offers/bark-in-the-park-pet-package