Archives for posts with tag: dogs

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 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!

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 ( 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…


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.

Going on holiday probably shouldn’t require the same sort of precise planning as a military invasion, but I’m pretty sure that George Bush and Tony Blair didn’t have to put as much thought into Iraq as we did into our holiday last week in mid-Wales.

Taking a diabetic dog on holiday requires thinking. Insulin needs to be kept refrigerated, and as our Lexie is Little Miss Fussy, some fresh food, which also requires refrigeration, was needed.

This is not to mention the various potions and lotions that her increasingly-aged mom and pop require of course! Then there are the tennis balls for Hamish, the bedcovers (just in case giant setter hoofs somehow land on pristine white bedcovers. We’ve been there, and it’s not pretty). 

Add to that various leads, poo bags, harnesses, dog dishes, knives (for cutting up said food), plus all the clothes of course, and you have yourself one serious logistical challenge. I was quite proud to find, when we got there, that the only thing I’d forgotten was a washing-up brush. I bet Tony Blair can’t say the same!

Goodness only knows what the hotel thought as the staff saw this trail of weird goods going upstairs. Refrigerators, bags of all shapes and sizes and two curious dogs. I don’t think there were any missiles, but I could have put one in by accident, of course. Various dictators have tried to explain this small oversight in court trials over the centuries (I particularly like Ghengis Khan’s immortal quote ‘doesn’t everybody take ten thousand horsemen armed to the teeth on a picnic?’). 

I have to add, at the end of a week full of sunshine and trips to the beach (and lakes and waterfalls), it’s not the easiest thing we’ve done. Lexie doesn’t eat well on holiday, and diabetic dogs, like diabetic people, have to eat when they have their injections. With people, you stand a chance of explaining this – with a grumpy hot dog who doesn’t want to eat away from home, you don’t. So I ended up pressing good cheese and fresh duck on her reluctant little self. I know there are various people out there who now want to be my pet, details are available on request (haha).

Put it this way, she survived – no dreaded hypo, which was a worry with all the extra activity and the heat. On the Sunday, when we returned, she got a bit wobbly after tearing round the garden to inspect it all in the searing heat, but some glucose and a couple of her favourite chew sticks seemed to do the trick, and today she is back to being Queen Lexie, she of the upside-down snoring regime.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has taken dogs with health problems on holiday, how does everyone manage?Image


Lexie - pickle dog is ill...

This is Lexie in typical hairy, skulky mode… She is a great little dog with bags full of character – I’ve described before my experiences training her, which have left me with a very deep love of this funny little girl.

Odd how life turns though – she’s been very quiet and down, and so we took her to see the vet, who has diagnosed that she has diabetes. Yes, dogs do get diabetes! And the procedure is much the same as for humans – she has to have daily injections of insulin and her meals have to be timed and monitored too, to make sure they match the peaks and lows of her blood sugar.

Naturally, I am finding the injection process terrifying. I didn’t sleep the night before the first one. The vet had shown my husband how to do the injection, and he had done his best to show me, but nevertheless, the idea of sticking a needle into my best buddy…

These things you can only do because you hope and pray it is for the best for her, so I did it, after a completely sleepless night, then burst into tears. Two days on, three injections under my belt, I am feeling a bit less worried but I still spend hours checking she is breathing.

She’s also got a snazzy pair of incontinence panties for the days when she drinks too much and leaks in her sleep. She is bearing it all very gracefully, even the needle, bless her. What a wonderful dog… Hamish and I are being as supportive as we can – Hamish is being very encouraging, bless him, offering tennis balls and indeed to help her eat her food. You can’t say better than that!

ImageThis is one of our dogs, Lexie, making herself comfortable on a luckless chair, fortunately already so battered I think it was beyond caring. No, I have no idea how she managed to get into that position, though there are ladies of the night that would pay a small fortune for her secrets, I’m sure. 

Perhaps I should have called her Miss Pretzel, but we settled for Lexie – she and her big pal Hamish are Gordon Setters, therefore from Scotland originally, so we were trying for a Scottish sort of feel. The naming was very quickly (and I feel unreasonably) followed by several major stars calling their offspring Lexie, which does I suppose make a change from Apple or Peaches Fifi Trixiebelle. While appreciating the compliment, our Lexie wishes to point out that she is the original. She also wishes to point out that while Fifi Trixiebelle is undoubtedly a good name for some dogs, if anyone ever tries to apply it to her she will sue.

Being an original, Lexie was determined from an early age (seven weeks) to be impossible to train. Hamish, a year older, was a darling boy who never did anything wrong. He even learned to pee on command, which he was particularly proud of. Lexie, on the other hand, felt that peeing anywhere she didn’t particularly want to was beneath her… along with any other sort of command I might be tempted to try to inflict on her Person. 

This may explain why I have a stack of dog training manuals a yard high, and have watched every single episode ever made of Dog Borstal and the Dog Whisperer. We also went to the local training class, where we caused much hilarity as we bounced and fought our way around while all the nice doggies paid attention to their masters and did as they were told. Paying attention, Lexie explained, was not what a Setter was supposed to do. And anyway, I was nowhere near as exciting as all the other stuff that was going on.

We persevered, and perspired, anyway  – all sorts of treats were tried, but Lexie is not much of a one for food treats. She is the sort of dog that lies on her back while you peel her a tiny morsel of fillet steak. She might eat it, if she’s in the mood. But she might not. However, grannies are not without their wiles and I discovered that tiny dog toys, stowed up my sleeve, were guaranteed to catch her eye… This improved things no end! 

However, there was one troubling issue that we struggled with – one that began when Lexie was six months old and we were out for a walk in our local fields. Both dogs were off the lead, happily sniffing around as we headed down towards the small river. 

I didn’t, unfortunately, spot the sick pigeon in the ditch but Lexie sure did. With cries of delight she pounced on it. I mentioned she loves dog toys – well, to a bird dog, a bird is the ultimate dog toy, unfortunately, and that was the day she found out. I dived into the ditch after her while Hamish fretted and fussed at the top and watched us wrestling for the pigeon – feathers everywhere… I won, to her disgust, and watched the pigeon wobbling away into the breeze with much relief.

I was, however, relieved too soon. The next day, on our walk, Lexie vanished. Just scampered away, and would not come back. A couple of minutes later I heard a ‘squawk!’ and to my dismay realised she’d chanced upon a pheasant that had decided to take a nap right in her path. She brought this one triumphantly back, waving it around by its neck as if to say ‘look what I’ve done! Aren’t I good?’… I could see the blessed thing was on its last legs, so I furtively stuffed it in a ditch and dived for the dog. No use – she skipped away happily, in search of more feathered fun, leaving me puffing in her wake. After ten minutes of trying in vain to entice her back I resorted to yelling ‘aaAAAAUUUrghhhhle!’ very loudly and keeling over in the stubble – it’s a good job it was a lonely field or I’d have been carted off by the men in white coats, I’m sure…

Lying prone and pretending to be dead, I squinted out of one eye to see Miss Dog standing peering down at me, obviously wondering what the heck mum was up to. I leaped up like an electrocuted salmon, rugby tackled her, and somehow got her back on the lead – but that was just the start…

After that, we very quickly discovered just how dog-proof our back garden fence wasn’t. No sooner did we mend one  hole, than she found another. And if we went to the playing field to throw balls, or toys, she would sooner or later run for the gap at the end and that was it.  Each time she would scamper happily away and we would see her in the distance, streaking over the fields, searching for another pheasant that might be kind enough to come out to play. 

The last straw was when our neighbour remarked in passing ‘I nearly ran over your dog yesterday… She just came out of the field onto the road…’ That same day, we bought a large roll of small-mesh chicken wire, 6ft high, and surrounded the back garden. We stood back proudly – Lexie snickered, and leaped over the five foot gate. My hubby and I just looked at each other askance… we hadn’t even realised she could jump that high. 

The following day, with a new, seven foot gate in place, training began. With advice from the experts, we started with a normal leash, practising recall over just four feet or so, moving to a longer and then an extendable lead as she got better at returning. Eventually we got to a long line – probably about ten metres or so. By this time she was nearly a year old – it wasn’t a fast process.

Finally, someone mentioned spray collars. These fit round the dog’s neck like an ordinary collar, but have a little box that is located just under their chins. You fill them with water, or lemon-scented stuff, and if you press a button then this is squirted in a fine spray into their noses. There were three settings – small, medium and large spray, which sounded just perfect to us as the final guarantee… We bought one, and took Lexie out to the playing field, where we at last took the lead off.

God knows, we tried to keep her busy and interested, and the training seemed to be paying off – but in the end the lure of the pheasant was just too strong and she made a break for the gap. Panicking, I hit all three buttons on the spray collar at once and an amount of water roughly equivalent to the Niagara waterfall squooshed up Lexie’s nose in an instant. 

Peering from a distance, all I could see was that the dog had disappeared into a fine mist… I held my breath. A heartbeat later, a soggy dog ran very fast back towards mum and dad, clearly not keen to go further in the direction of whatever the hell had just hit her. Feeling terribly guilty, we lavished praise on our prodigal pup.

Was she cured? Well, nearly. A few more, slightly less extreme squirts were needed, and even now I don’t walk her off lead anywhere that gives her too much scope to bolt. Nowadays, seven years on, she is much more inclined to want to be with her family – thank goodness, but I would never like to take the chance of some passing pigeon inviting her to play!