Combe House, Devon

Attlee: Lord of the Manor

As we approach Combe House Hotel, up a long drive through woodland opening out to fields and the glorious Elizabethan residence itself, I forget, for a few seconds, that I am Attlee Common, city dog of South-East London and imagine I am Attlee Double-Barrelled, hound of a country squire, canine king of all he surveys.

I live in this beautiful mansion house with walls the colour of toffee and my days are spent at my master’s side, my meals the finest scraps from the kitchen fed to me by cook. In the evenings I curl up by the fireside as the men of the house discuss the burning issues of the day.

‘Damn – have I forgotten Attlee’s poo bags?’ Jane asks as the photographer pulls up beside this grand abode. And I remember, I am not a posh dog – I am Attlee Common. The clue is in the name.

Still, Common I might be but I am spending the night in a very posh hotel…..

Oh it is lovely, coos Jane as we step inside. It is proper old-fashioned with big comfy sofas in the communal areas (Jane gives me a look that tells me they are not to be leapt on by dogs); and mooses’ heads (I have to woof them, just to make sure they’re not real mooses) and dark panelled walls and open fires. It is, Jane says, a Cluedo sort of house and she makes a joke that only she finds amusing about an iron bar and the library.

Our room is not a room at all but something called a suite, The Marker Suite, where Alfred Hitchcock, a famous film director Jane informs me, once stayed for several months to write a script. The ‘suite’ has a front room and then a door that leads into the bedroom and then another door into a huge bathroom with a proper white old-fashioned tub.

The view out of the window is of forests and green paddocks, countryside as far as the canine eye can see and I want to be out, in that, rather than walking around the ‘suite’ marvelling at how amazing it is that Alfred Hitchcock stayed here, like the humans are doing, and pretending to stab at each other standing in the bath, which I don’t understand at all. Grrrrrrr-hilaire – not!

There are all sorts of strange things in the woods when I do get out for my walk but strangest of all are the hoove-pawed horses, a whole lot of them too, that have appeared in the paddock in front of the house. They are hot-hooving it around as if they own the place and, it turns out, they sort of do. They live here – all the time, lucky hoof-paws. I want to bark at them but Jane stops me and says they are a very exclusive sort of horse from Arabia. I think she is implying that I am not a very exclusive sort of dog, and not of the right class to bark at these prince and princesses of Persia. So I bloody well do bark at them, once, to prove I will not be cowed. And I will definitely not be cowed by a horse!

Anyway, it is not all about the horses because before dinner Jane and the photographer take me for a drink in the bar and there it is a lot about the dog. Jane chats to a couple with a springer spaniel and they tell her they come to Combe House on holiday every year because the springer likes it as she is made so welcome there. So the dog is choosing the holiday for the humans and that is quite correct and as it should be.

Ruth, who is the owner of the hotel, with her husband Ken, agrees with this when we meet her the next day. She gives us a tour of the Combe House grounds and as well as pointing things out to the humans she points things out to ME.

‘There are pheasants in the fields,’ she informs me and I imagine what a pheasant might be. A great winged bird with a beak the size of one of those stick things that people use to throw balls to their dogs in parks…

Combe House has its very own vegetable garden, where the vegetables that Jane and the photographer ate at dinner the previous night were grown.

(There were no scraps left over for me from dinner so I can’t comment on the quality of these vegetables.) I was saved a sausage from breakfast though and it was jolly good.

Combe House is so dog-friendly, in fact, that it even has a special book for dogs, written by Toby the Dalmatian, about local walks. I have heard of Toby before, because he has written a book about walks in the Dartmoor area. So he is a Snoopy scribe, like me, and I hope one day to meet him as there are very few dogs that can put paw to paper and we are very special and should stick together.

Here is Toby at Combe House!

 

 

 

Phileas Fact Box: Combe House Hotel and Restaurant

Combe House, Gittisham, Honiton, Devon, EX14 3AD. Tel: 01404 540400

Website: www.combehousedevon.com

Prices start at £215 per night for two sharing a classic double room, including breakfast. Dogs cost an extra £10 per dog per night.

  • Attlee’s Scores on the Paws: Five and a half out of five. Heaven for hounds!

South Devon

Coco de Mer – life’s a beach with the Duchess of Devonshire

I’m Coco. Some might say that I’m Attlee’s Mrs Robinson. I’m slim (I don’t like the word skinny), attractive, flirty and well, rather older than him. I’m nearing double figures now.

I’m known as the 80mph couch potato. Personally, I think it’s good to have balance in one’s life, so yes, whilst I love to run as fast as I possibly can (I might even indulge occasionally in a bit of showing off), my all time favourite activity is having a snooze in the sunshine. There really is nothing better than that sunny spot on the floor (or preferably on the sofa).

So Attlee got on the dog and bone, and asked me to share with you some of the fabulous places that I’ve sniffed out over the years from my home in South Devon. There are so many good places for dogs round here that I’ll start my career as rover reporter with my local beach walks…

Me on the beach!

 



Beesands

I do love a good trip to the seaside, and occasionally I might like to dip my paws in, but to be honest, I’d rather swim in fresh water – I don’t really do waves. But plenty of other canines and their owners seem to love splashing around in the sea.

My humans like it at Beesands because it’s easy to park, and never crowded. You can take a stroll along the pebbly (despite its name) beach, or trot past the houses and head up onto the South West coast path to nearby Hallsands. People seem fascinated by Hallsands because most of the village was washed away in a big storm many years ago. I’m more interested in what’s being washed up onto the beach – like bits of tasty old crab! There’s a nice little cafe in a hut called Britannia@The Beach at Beesands. Britannia is a local shellfish company but the cafe does great cakes and ice cream too! I like the fact they have a bowl of water out the front for us dogs, as the beach can be thirsty work.

 

Relaxing on the Pebbles – all right, it’s actually not that comfy!

If you walk right to the other end of Beesands beach and take the coastal path, you will be heading for Torcross and Slapton Sands. Or if you’re not feeling quite so active, you can drive straight there and park in one of the car parks. I particularly like hanging round outside the Torcross Boat House as there are usually some yummy bits of fish and chips on the floor. Beware of the pebbles here though – they’re even bigger than at Beesands!

 

A game old bird?

Another good walk is at Slapton Ley, which is a big lake close to the beach. It can be a bit annoying because dogs are supposed to be kept on leads to stop us from chasing birds. But surely ducks are fair game? (Only kidding! I just couldn’t resist a little game-bird joke). It’s not so bad if you’re on an extendi-lead.

Slapton Ley is really tranquil, and I like to have a paddle in the water (no big waves here). The walk up to the village of Slapton village and back takes about an hour, and goes up a huge hill. It only bothers me if it’s a really hot day, but usually I skip straight up it.

Phileas Fact Box: South Devon

  • Britannia@the Beach, TQ7 2EH
    Tel: 0845 0550 711 Website: www.britanniashellfish.co.uk
  • Torcross Boat House, The Old Watch House, Torcross, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 2TQ
    Tel: 01548 580747

Isle of Bute

Wild in the Isles: Attlee visits the Scottish island of Bute

You don’t need a sign post: just follow Attlee’s nose!

In some ways, Bute is my second home. That’s because Jane’s parents Mick and Branwen live there. If I was Jane’s child, instead of Jane’s dog, Mick and Branwen would be my grandparents but I’m a dog, not a child, so they’re just Mick and Branwen.

Bute is an island in the Firth of Clyde and it is a long way from Camberwell. It is a bus and then a train and then a pee at Glasgow Central and then another train from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay and then a half-hour ferry ride away.

I am always pretty exhausted by the time the ferry from Wemyss Bay arrives at Rothesay, which is Bute’s main town. Prince Charles, who may or may not have driven in the vintage green Range Rover that I, Attlee Common have driven in, is the Duke of Rothesay.

That doesn’t mean that Prince Charles lives on Bute; just that he and Camilla, who, like Jane, adopted a Battersea dog – I’m not a royalist, by the way, I just get all this information from Jane via The Daily Mail – visit about every five years.

I think Bute is a pretty little island and I always do my ‘Bisto-kid nose in the air’ act when we climb off the ferry because I can smell the mussels and the sea instead of the fried chicken of Camberwell. I wouldn’t say the sea air smells better – just different. And, when on Bute, I sometimes eat the mussels that are swept up on to land. They don’t taste anywhere near as good as the chicken bones in Camberwell though.

Port Bannatyne and Ettrick Bay

Port Bannatyne, taken by Zak

Mick and Branwen live in a house in a village called Port Bannatyne, which is about two miles from Rothesay, and the main street looks out over the sea. Whenever Jane and her sister Steph are staying with their parents in Port Bannatyne they sit around and moan about how bored they are. There is nothing to do here, they say.

I don’t see that what Jane does – or doesn’t do – on the Isle of Bute is so different from what she does – or doesn’t do – in London. She eats and sleeps and reads and watches television. In fact, what she does on Bute is better, because she takes me on more walks, and proper long ones too, through the woods at the back of Port Bannatyne or to Ettrick Bay, which is a mile-long strip of sandy beach about three miles away.

All right there are no literary salons or night clubs or art galleries on Bute but, whatever Jane might write on Twitter, she never goes to those in London. Never once has she said to me: Attlee, I’m just popping out for dinner at the Ivy with some friends of mine.

I don’t know exactly what the Ivy is but, I think, in dog terms, it would be like me having roast chicken and sausages and then a Jumbone for pudding with lots of famous dogs, such as Harvey, from the advert, and the Golden Labrador from Downtown Abbey (his bottom is in the opening titles) and Churchill, the insurance dog, although I’m not stupid and I know he’s a cartoon, however smart he might think he is with all his nodding.

Anyway, Jane and Steph are daft, because Bute is not boring. Ettrick Bay is wonderful – it’s my favourite beach on the whole of the British Isles – because, when we go there, we usually have the whole beach pretty much to ourselves and I can scoop up bits of seaweed in my mouth and throw them around and look at the view, right across to another island called Arran. Occasionally I bump into some other dogs and I play with them, until they jump into the sea and then I just watch. Because, even though I’m brave, I am a little unsure of the sea.

This is Branwen and me on Ettrick Bay, in May 2011.

This doesn’t make me stupid – this makes me clever. Because when the water comes towards me, in a wave, I bark at it, to make it go away. It does go away but then, seconds later, it comes back.

I have never before met anything that keeps coming at me when I bark at it. Because I’m so fierce, most things, when I bark at them, get as far away from me as possible. But not the sea. The sea thinks it’s more intelligent than me. I’m pretty sure it’s not. I just have to work out why it’s not.

At the end of Ettrick Bay there’s a cafe but nobody calls it a cafe – everybody calls it the tea rooms, and it’s been there since the 1950s or something, and not really changed. After we’ve been for a walk Branwen, Jane and Steph go in for a cup of tea and a big slice of coffee and walnut cake or a meringue, which, apparently, the Ettrick Bay Tea Room is famous for. I wait, patiently, outside. Sometimes Mick waits with me because he doesn’t really like cafes – sorry, tea rooms – he prefers pubs, like me.

Recently, though, at Ettrick Bay, I decided I should have a treat as well.

I’m quite good at foraging for treats. And this day, on the beach, I found a reddish wobbly thing that looked like jelly and I’ve eaten a scoop of jelly before, at a party, so I thought: woof, a treat, discovered me by me, the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the dog world.

So I ate it – and then I was sick. And then I was sick again. I had to stagger over to the path beside the beach, where there’s lots of grass, and keep chewing big clumps of it, to make myself even more sick.

Whatever I’d eaten was not good. When Branwen saw me being sick and saw the half eaten bit of jelly she was concerned because, she said, it was a jelly fish – and jelly fish are poisonous. Branwen was worried but then, after five minutes or so, I stopped being sick and I knew I’d got rid of all the bad stuff in my tummy.

But that is a top tip for my fellow dogs on beaches: do not eat jelly fish. They are evil.

Afterwards Mick took me to the Anchor, which is his favourite pub, on Marine Road, the main street in Port Bannatyne, to cheer me up. The Anchor is not like those fancy London pubs where there’s lots of gastro-this and gastro-that (the only gastro I’ve ever had is enteritis). The Anchor is a pub where the person goes in and orders a pint of beer and then the person sits down and drinks their pint of beer. Simple.

There are some other interesting things in Port Bannatyne for dogs. For example, there is a Petanque Club – it is the only Petanque Club on any of the islands in Scotland. Petanque is like the French game boules and it is interesting for dogs because it involves lots of balls – yes, balls!

When I first saw the Petanque piste, I was so excited by all the balls that I ran on to the piste and grabbed a little red one and ran away. Nobody was very happy with me – apparently the ball I ran away with was called Jack. But Branwen laughed, which was good of her, considering she was the Petanque champion of the whole island in 2008, so must take the game pretty seriously.

At the hitching post, Port Bannatyne Post Office

Another feature of Port Bannatyne that I like is the dog hitching post, which is outside the Post Office on Marine Road. I am often hitched here while Jane goes into the Post Office and I love it. Everybody who passes fusses me and sometimes another dog is hitched to the post at the same time as me. This is like that speed dating that people looking for love take part in – it is speed bottom sniffing for dogs, while their owners spend three minutes chatting to Janet and Patrick inside the shop. There is also a cafe inside the Post Office, with cups of coffee and paninis, but I would rather stay outside, bottom sniffing with other dogs and looking out across the bay.

 

Rothesay

The main thing about Rothesay is that it has a pet shop that sells pigs’ ears. Last time I visited Bute, Branwen took me there and bought me a blue tartan lead and collar, to prove my Scottish credentials. When I wear them at home, in Camberwell, they show all the other dogs how well travelled I am! Rothesay also has a castle and a museum and Jane’s Great Aunt Ruby, who always makes a great fuss of me when I visit her and says I’m a little dog who is going places. She’s right. Woof!

Rothesay – Bute’s main town. Photo by Zak.

Last time I was in Bute though, which was May 2012, Jane decided it was not enough for me to sit around being praised by Ruby and eating pigs’ ears: I had to do some work. We started at the Esplanade Hotel, which has lovely views over Rothesay Harbour. Do you take dogs, Jane asked. Am I welcome, I barked. No. So we went to the visitor centre, which is in a fine building on the front – it is a museum and a cinema as well. The man at the visitor centre said that The Black Bull pub takes dogs. Hurrah for the black bull – not that I’d want to meet him on a dark night. Branwen said the food at The Black Bull is lovely but we didn’t want pub food – we wanted a cup of tea and a sandwich. (Actually I wanted a SAUSAGE but on this particular ocassion the humans were in charge.) We trailed around Rothesay for a while, having the door shut in our face, figuratively rather than literally, and then we found it: Mecca for Mutts. The Coffee Stop! When Jane’s Grandma was alive this was her favourite cafe in Rothesay by a million miles and now it is mine. The cakes are all homemade and the people are friendly and there are views over Rothesay Castle and dogs are allowed. The Coffee Stop is the place to stop. For a coffee.

Mountstuart

This is me and Malcolm, the bus driver at Mount Stuart

Mount Stuart is a grand Gothic mansion near Rothesay that everyone on Bute is very proud of because it has lots of crazy architecture and was the first house in Scotland to have an electric lift. (Actually Jane isn’t sure this last bit, about the lift is true, but she thinks it might be.) Stella McCartney had her wedding at Mount Stuart and Madonna was a guest – this definitely is true. Last year when I visited Bute dogs were not allowed in Mount Stuart – and, fanfare, now they are. Mount Stuart has 300 acres of garden leading right down to the sea and all of this is open to us, fellow hounds of Britain. Amaze-bones! Some of the walks are through landscaped gardens and some are through conifer trees and there is even a place on the walks called the Wee Garden – for dogs that need to wee, I suppose. Ask at the Mount Stuart shop for a map showing where all the walks are or just follow your nose.

Attlee Common aka Phileas Dogg’s Best of Bute:

Cafes:

  • The Ettrick Bay Tea Room is at Ettrick Bay, Isle of Bute. Tel: 01700 500123
  • Port Bannatyne Post Office (with dog hitching post – on sunny days there are tables outside so your owners can sit with you and have a cup of tea and a scone), 46 Marine Road, PA20 OLW. Tel: 01700 503914
  • The Coffee Stop, 29 High St, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, PA20 9AS. Tel: 01700 505545
  • The Craigmore Tea Room is run by a lady called Muriel, who is the aunt of Jane’s friend Lindsay. On sunny days, it’s a good place for dogs to visit, as it has a little jetty, stretching out into the sea, with tables on it. Jane likes the tea room as it serves her second favourite meal, scampi and chips. The Tea Room is on Mountstuart Road – you can see it because of its little pier – and if you tell Muriel I sent you, she might even give you a dog treat!

Pubs:

  • The Anchor, 32 Marine Road, Port Bannatyne, PA20 OLL. Tel: 01700 502096
  • The Black Bull, 3 West Princes St, Rothesay, PA20 9AF. Tel: 01700 502366

To do:

  • Rothesay Vistor Centre is at The Winter Garden, Victoria St, Rothesay, PA20 OAH. Tel: 01700 502151; www.visitscotland.com
  • Mount Stuart Tel: 01700 503877; www.mountstuart.com
  • For information about the Port Bannatyne Petanque Club, log on to www.portbannatynepetanque.org.uk
  • Many of the photographs on this page are taken by Zak. Log on to www.pbase.com/zak355

Walks:

Along Ettrick Bay, obviously. And to Scalpsie Bay, which isn’t accessible by road and, where, if you’re lucky, you can see seals. I have never seen a seal so I wouldn’t know what one looks like – I am sure if I did see one, I’d bark, a lot. But people seem to grow very excited if they’ve seen a seal at Scalpsie Bay and spend the next week telling each other about it.

(I should flag up here, so that my fellow dogs aren’t disappointed when they arrive, that there may be seals on Bute, but there don’t seem to be any squirrels. Not one. I have peered up every tree and sniffed out every nook and cranny but, no, there are no squirrels to chase. Sorry to have to report this.)

Where to Stay:

Now, I have never stayed anywhere on the Isle of Bute other than Mick and Branwen’s house. And I don’t think their cat Chloe would like it if lots of other dogs went to stay – Chloe doesn’t even like me, and I’m family!

But there a couple of places that I can recommend for dogs to stay on Bute.

  • First off, because the owners have three very friendly black Labradors and understand us hounds and our holiday requirements, Munro’s Bed and Breakfast, in Ardbeg. It is right at the top of a hill and has lovely views over the bay. Jane says it is beautifully designed and all the rooms are lovely. Blah blah blah – all I care about is a bowl of water after a long walk and a sausage at breakfast. So ask your owner to log on to www.visitmunros.co.uk or call Joan on 01700 502346 and tell her that a VIP would like to book a room: that’s a very important pooch. (I hate the word pooch but Jane made me write that bit because she used to work for a tabloid newspaper and thinks play on words are funny.)
  • Another place to stay, in a self-catering apartment, is Ardencraig House Apartments, which are run by Elaine, (who plays bridge with Jane’s dad Mick), her husband David and their two dogs Milly and Meg. The apartments are on a hill looking out over the sea and are a minute from Ardencraig Gardens. Ardencraig House Apartments, High Craig, Bute, PA20 9EP. Tel: 01700 505077; www.ardencraig.org.uk

 

Before you leave Bute, lift your leg….

  • And finally, tell your owner not to catch the ferry home from Bute without visiting the island’s famous Victorian toilets on Rothesay Pier. Only the gents are Victorian, so Steph’s boyfriend Jerome had to report back on them to Jane and me. He said they were “very impressive”. (To be honest, I’m not sure Jerome would make it as a travel writer, like me, on the strength of that description.) I lifted my leg against a lamp post on Rothesay Pier and can report that it, too, was very impressive.
  • For more information on Bute, log on to www.isle-of-bute.com and www.bestofbute.co.uk

 

Sheep – being herded by a car? Doing dogs out of jobs – Grrrrrrrr!