Sometimes a picture paints a thousand words – and that’s definitely the case with this hilarious explanation of heart rhythm disorders. Never have heart complaints seemed like this much fun. If you have one of these (I have AF) you’ll know that sometimes a good laugh is exactly what you need…

 

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blog-brigand's inn

This is a real pleasurable trip down memory lane for me, to a place where we stayed several times when we were investigating mid-Wales.

First things first, the good stuff: the Brigand’s is a 15th century coaching inn, and absolutely beautiful both inside and out. Genuinely ancient exposed beams, a lovely cool slate floor for dogs to chill out on and yes, there are areas where your dogs can relax while you eat.

The furniture is a quirky mix – there’s a dining room proper where the dogs don’t go, plus pews, sofas and more standard tables elsewhere in this maze of a building where they’re welcome.

The rooms were always comfortable – we used to stay in Room 1, which had a rather wonderful four-poster bed (I see from the website at http://www.brigandsinn.com/ that that is still there). This room has an ensuite, which was tastefully finished with decent toiletries.

The hotel’s on a roundabout off the A470, so you’d expect some traffic noise but in fact I didn’t find it intrusive. The hotel being so old is a bit creaky, you do hear people moving about occasionally but I never found it overly noisy.

We also liked the fact the hotel was in easy striking distance of Machynlleth and Aberdyfi, the Talyllyn railway and other great holiday spots. There’s plenty of walking both in the immediate area and of course at the fantastic mid-Wales beaches.

My word of caution here is that the hotel has changed hands since we stayed – it’s had an extensive renovation and from the website the rooms are looking very nice. I had a peek at TripAdvisor though and I can see one or two grumbles there about booking mistakes (though the manager replied to one claiming no booking had been made).

I’ve mentioned booking as an issue before (in my blog on the Cricketers Arms). It can be a major irritation, particularly if you’ve set your heart on going somewhere for a special event like a birthday. What I’d advise is to keep paperwork, and take it with you when you go – and phone the hotel to confirm the details a week before your actual trip is due. There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere and finding no trace of your booking!

I have to add that there are also some glowing reviews of the hotel and food – we’ve been back to eat since the change of ownership and found the menu less extensive (it had been mind-bogglingly huge). The food was fine, nevertheless, and the choice was more than sufficient – the chefs are obviously still doing a good job. You can expect local, seasonal produce (decent chips) and a hearty, pretty standard full breakfast.

Dogs are still welcome – so with the above caveats in mind I’d say it’s one to give a try. I’d love feedback on this one. Certainly the rooms are priced reasonably. Book well in advance, do some checking, and you should have a good stay. Room 1 is certainly big enough for two people and two large setters!

The Grumpygreengranny blog is now dedicated to reviews of dog-friendly hotels, so we welcome any reviews that readers might have that we can add. We’re based in the UK but if others have reviews of hotels from different countries that would be great.

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It’s not easy to find good, dog-friendly hotels. Various books have sprung up that list hotels which take dogs, but the descriptions are usually short and probably taken from the hotel’s own website. What we’re trying to do here is establish solid reviews from people that have actually taken their dogs to hotels (or B&Bs) and are able to provide a genuine review for others.

Some guidelines: Please keep it honest, and provide the sort of details that other dog lovers might find helpful in deciding where to holiday – for example, if the hotel has problems with access or there’s a busy road nearby, whether dogs can stay in the rooms unattended – and also about your stay, for instance what the rooms and the food is like. Photos are also very welcome.

We hope in future to be able to pay people for their words but for now, fame will have to be enough! Full credit promised.

Port Light hotel, Bolberry Down

Port Light hotel, Bolberry Down

Sitting high on Bolberry Down outside Salcombe in Devon, the Port Light hotel calls itself ‘the most pet friendly hotel in the UK’ and it’s certainly got a good claim to the title.

For example, the hotel has a pet food fridge, dog wash (really) and large trays in all rooms for placing dog bowls in. As far as we could see there were no limits on the number of dogs you could bring – we met someone with four Viszlas.

We went a few years ago but the hotel’s still under the same management, so can reasonably be expected to offer the same sort of service. The hotel itself was at one point a golf club and has a feel of that still in the way it looks – square and white – but it makes up for any plainness in its stunning views.

To get to the hotel you drive down some of Devon’s classic narrow lanes (beware, those green sides are full of stones). A moderately steep and narrow lane leads to the hotel itself and a breathtaking view over the south coast with the sea glittering in the sunlight.

Because the hotel’s so dog-friendly you’ll find plenty of pooches around – it is very popular. You can bring your pets into the bar area, which is where everyone eats (there’s a separate dining room for anyone who doesn’t fancy eating with dogs in attendance, though we never saw it used during our stay).

This relaxed attitude to dogs at the table is also handy because you can’t leave them unattended in rooms, which means your other alternative is the car. For a hot summer’s day there are also some outside benches.

The hotel grounds lead onto some lovely moorland – wonderful walking territory, though we kept our dogs on their leads because at the edge of the moorland are the cliffs. During our stay we joked that the hotel was really close to the beach, the trouble being that it was 200ft straight down.

You can however walk along the cliffs in either direction and gain access to beaches – it’s about three or four miles to Hope Cove in a walk that has some bad moments if you suffer from vertigo, and less in the other direction to a lovely little cove. I would add that these aren’t walks for anyone who doesn’t like the odd scramble. The dogs managed easily though, despite Lexie trying hard to eyeball the sheep (giving me nightmares about being run over the cliff by a posse of panicking ewes).

The hotel has two outside bedrooms with their own patio areas – we had one of these and found it very handy and self contained. The room was comfortable and modern, a decent size with a tiled area where you could towel down a damp setter.

The food isn’t bad, and well priced, home cooked and locally sourced. You’ll find things like curries and lamb shanks, lasagne and seafood pie on the menu, a sample of which can be found on the hotel website here.

So, there are plenty of pros. Cons? Well, if you have large dogs you’re going to have to try to get yourself on one of the large tables in the dining area, as the smaller tables at the far end aren’t really suitable as we discovered. A very large and sleepy setter doesn’t fit easily under those small tables, and staff were having to step over bits of him to deliver food – the owner did ask us nicely if we could move him, but there was nowhere to move him to… It’s a conundrum I hope they have solved in the intervening years.

It’s a middling-priced hotel, as of now around £100 per room per night B&B depending on the season and the room, add around an extra £40 for dinner bed and breakfast. Pets stay free.

The area’s gorgeous – the views from the hotel are extraordinary and you’re not far from the yachting heaven that is Salcombe. Totnes and Dartmouth aren’t far, and there are plenty of beaches – the hotel has a list of those that have dog restrictions and those where dogs are welcome. It’s a lovely area to explore, it helps if you’re fit to get the most out of it and if you have a head for heights you have it made.

Blog-ty mawrIn our quest to find great, dog-friendly hotels this is one we return to again and again, because it is great in so many ways.

Nestled comfortably in the tiny village of Brechfa, in the secluded Cothi valley, Ty Mawr dates to the 15th century and still has many original features – stone walls, open fires, ancient wooden beams and tiled floors. It’s been very comfortably and carefully restored and has all mod cons.

The river Marlais runs past the side of the large and well-kept acre of garden, which is mostly laid to lawn – there are also outside tables for those odd Welsh days when the rain lets up.

The hotel is very unusual in that it is dog-friendly but doesn’t take young children, so it’s a very peaceful spot to stay. Annabel and Steve are great hosts, and Annabel makes you welcome with a pot of tea or coffee and a slice of cake on arrival in the cosy sitting room. Service is great, and unobtrusive.

Blog-ty mawr 2

We tend to ask for room six, because that has its own front door onto the car park (great for those late night and early morning trips out with the dog). Room five is tucked just inside the hotel entrance and the other rooms are upstairs.

It’s not a huge hotel – just those six rooms – so the service feels, and is, very individual. Dogs aren’t allowed into the dining room but Welsh weather being what it is we have never had a problem yet, the weather’s been cool enough that we’ve left ours (and now just Lexie of course) to doze in the car at the end of a happy day out and about.

Many people of course will be okay with leaving their dog in their room – we always plan that should the day be so hot that even at 7pm we don’t feel good leaving Lexie in the car we’ll sit outside on the patio. Annabel’s accommodating enough that I can’t imagine it will be a problem.

The room we use is very comfortably furnished, with a soft, king-size bed and a corner seating unit, tv and ensuite – a very nice range of toiletries and locally-made soap in various wonderful scents are provided.

The food is also absolutely excellent – there’s a varied menu heavily featuring local and organic produce, accompanied by a really good wine list with something for most pockets. You can find a sample menu on the Ty Mawr website, which features typical choices such as organic Fferm Tyllwyd Welsh Black fillet of beef and grilled, line-caught Cardigan Bay sea bass. There’s always a vegetarian option.

The breakfasts are also great – there’s a hearty “full Welsh” option, plus others including scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.

The Ty Mawr is really handy for the local forest and other attractions– there are plenty of walks, and we often take Lexie on a really great trek through Dinefwr park on the edge of Llandeilo, which is about 20 minutes by car and features both an old castle and an 18th century great house, Newton Hall. The area is handy for both the south coast and Cardigan Bay, and for attractions such as Dylan Thomas’s boathouse at Laugharne, the picturesque towns of New Quay and Tenby, Cardigan itself and (in the other direction) the Brecon Beacons.

Downsides? Brechfa can be challenging to find, our sat-nav insists on trying to take us in a dead straight line over a tiny moorland road, which is quite an experience. A good tip if you’re coming from the north is to head for Lampeter before letting the sat-nav take over, from where it tends to take you through Llansawel along a small but reasonable rural road.

Coming from the south the easy way in is via the A40; the turn for Brechfa is in Nantgaredig. A car is really a must, though there are some spectacular walks once you’re in the area. It’s a great area for dog walking, and New Quay has an excellent dog-friendly beach (I believe Tenby does too, though they’ve hidden it quite well).

This isn’t the cheapest of hotels, so we tend to go for long weekends when we feel we deserve a bit of a break, rather than extended stays. It’s a tribute to how great it is that it’s the one we keep coming back to.

Finding somewhere to stay with dogs – particularly if they’re big, you have more than one, or other important requirements, isn’t easy. Finding somewhere truly great is even harder.

We have spent ten years holidaying in the UK with two Gordon Setters – now, we’re travelling with one elderly, slightly arthritic, blind and diabetic Gordon, so we can report back on how hotels deal with virtually every requirement a dog owner might have.

So what better to do than start a series of reviews of dog-friendly hotels? Here you will get the low-down on the best places, the best rooms, and tips to make your stay great.

And if you have a review you’d like to add, just contact me. Together we can make the country a better place for dog lovers to holiday in.

To start the ball rolling, here is a review of the Cricketer’s Arms, Rickling Green, Essex, where we stayed recently.

This describes itself on its website (www.thecricketersarmsricklinggreen.co.uk) as a ‘country pub with rooms’ and the website rightly describes the village as tranquil. The pub itself is a handsome red and white brick building of some considerable age (looks like a mix of Victorian and Georgian to me) that faces onto a truly beautiful village green where cricket is still played. It’s a great place for that early morning trip out with the dog(s) while you’re still half asleep, as the pub car park is directly next to the grass, so there’s no busy traffic to dodge.

The website also describes the menus as ‘thoughtfully created and changed often’. The food is very good although in terms of ‘changed often’, we were there just as their ‘spring menu’ was about to change to the ‘summer menu’ and I’d argue that if that means there’s a menu change for every season, that’s not exactly ‘often’.

Certainly in the three nights we stayed, the menu remained the same. The specials board was the same for two nights though Wednesday was ‘steak night’ – the steaks looked good, but were very expensive. Having said that, the chef is clearly very good – a ploughman’s platter turned up a home-made Scotch egg which was truly wonderful, and the fish platter was mouthwatering. They also do a mean burger, and I enjoyed the mushroom risotto very much. Portions are generous and you’re able to keep your dogs by your side if you dine in the tiled areas, which is unusual and much appreciated.

Having said all this, I have to deal with the accommodation, which we booked via their own website. The pub’s prices start from £69 for single occupancy, from £79 for a standard double (all prices per night), the junior suite is from £95 and the ‘Lord’s Suite’ from £125. There’s a levy that starts at £10 extra for Friday and Saturday nights.

The pub’s part of the ‘Cozy Pubs’ group which includes two other hotels, the Eight Bells in Saffron Walden and the Saracen’s Head in Great Dunmow. If you look at the Cricketer’s Arms website the rooms look fabulous. Certainly the junior suite looked fabulous and as we got a good deal, we were looking forward to our stay. With a large, partially-disabled dog the extra room would be needed and very welcome.

When we arrived, I was shown to a very small room by a smiling chap and left to my own devices – to wonder, basically, if the bed had eaten the suite. No explanation was given, so I went to break the news to my other half, who was looking after Lexie while I did the forward scouting.

He came to view the room and we both agreed it couldn’t possibly be the suite we’d booked, so he was duly sent to tell the smiling chap there had been a mistake.

The conversation, as reported to me, went something like this.

‘Excuse me, but I think there’s been some mistake. We booked the junior suite and we’re in a very small room.’

‘It’s what you booked’… Hubby at this point showed him the booking form which (fortunately) he had printed out and which confirmed we’d booked the suite.

‘Oh, the suite’s upstairs and we don’t allow dogs upstairs so we downgraded you. And we’ve re-booked the suite so you couldn’t have it anyway.’

‘We did mention we were bringing a Gordon Setter – there’s no way she’ll fit in that room. You didn’t mention that dogs aren’t allowed upstairs on your website! And I think, by the way, you would owe us a refund, wouldn’t you?’

‘You’ll have to take that up with your agent. We don’t deal with that. So are you happy to take the room then?’

‘Well no, not really. I’ll just go and tell my wife, the travel journalist…’

At which point he came back to report to me, and the chap came running out after him to say we could have the suite. A miracle, you may say.

We scraped up our bags and moved to the new room, which was a lot bigger. I have a shrewd suspicion it wasn’t the suite, partly because it looks nothing like the photo of the suite on their website (it didn’t have a separate sitting room, which is sort of how I’d define a suite).

Anyhow, the room was fine, it had a settee and very nice furnishings, and it suited us much better. At least the poor dog could lie out fully. Being upstairs was unfortunately a bit of a problem as the stairs are hard-edged and have narrow treads – for a blind dog, they weren’t good. Fortunately Lexie’s an enterprising girl and neat on her feet, so one trip up and down and she had it figured out, but it wasn’t ideal. The best I can suggest for other dog owners is to actually ring up and fully discuss your needs with this hotel beforehand, to avoid problems.

I have to add that the bathroom shown on the website also didn’t represent what I saw in either of the two rooms we were in. I have no idea about the other eight rooms, but both of those had very basic white tiled facilities, plain and municipal in feel. The bigger room had a very cramped toilet cubicle – I suspect some room has been carved off it to create a niche in the next bedroom, but it means you’re constantly fighting the toilet roll holder to sit down.

The shower itself was a nice modern one and easy to use with a welcome ‘boost’ function, but the effect was slightly spoiled by the fact that the small shower tray was badly chipped and the shower curtain far too long for the cubicle, so it wound round your feet while showering – and was also discoloured and slightly mouldy, which I wouldn’t call ideal.

The cleaning also left something to be desired – I think one day we were given a new towel, but as far as I could see the room wasn’t cleaned while we were there (having a black dog, hairballs on a pale carpet are a dead giveaway). I made the bed roughly, and it was not, to my eye, re-made. I don’t know what would have happened had I left it more untidy – one hopes someone might have helped out!

That is more or less it, for this report. The staff are friendly but they don’t seem to be able to deal with any problems relating to the room bill – we overheard them distancing themselves from this process again with another customer. If you have a query about the room charges, they clearly expect you to take it up with your ‘agent’ – though who this might be if you book through their own website I cannot imagine.

In conclusion, I’d say that there are some very good points to the Cricketer’s Arms (the food, the main pub decor, the dog-friendly eating) and some that really aren’t that good at all. My advice would be to make sure you sort out any requirements by phone or email very clearly beforehand. Be prepared for the bathrooms, and bring someone with bed making skills…

***Rickling_Green,_near_Newport,_Essex_-_geograph.org.uk_-_141768

This image was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph’s page on the Geograph website for the photographer’s contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Robert Edwards and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

There truly is nothing like a good mystery… I myself love those strange, secret underground places that occasionally you glimpse – for instance, on the London Underground between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, passengers can glimpse an old, disused platform on the left hand side.

There’s another, secret station somewhere in the vicinity of Westminster that used to serve Sir Winston Churchill and his staff during the Second World War – above ground visitors will see the strange ivy-covered building to the left of Horseguard’s Parade, which is also part of that complex.

A few years ago, travellers on the A414 between Chelmsford in Essex and the M11 were amused when brown signs appeared at the Ongar Road roundabout giving directions to the ‘Secret Nuclear Bunker’ – the locals added one or two exclamation marks at that point… It was indeed one of the locations, out in a rural field beyond Kelvedon Hatch, that the Cabinet was supposed to race to in the event that someone pressed the nuclear button – it’s now open to the public, hence the sign.

I’d love to hear of more oddities and mysteries hidden away under the countryside – please send me details of any that you know of! And here, courtesy of a company called Kaizen, is an interesting little infographic (hopefully, my website skills are limited) that gives details of some of the more significant weird mystery corners of the earth…


View Interactive Version (via Able Skills).