IT’S a rule at Natural Retreats that you must keep your dog on the lead at all times. Which suited us just fine. Captain Smidge the chihuahua was so enthused by the abundance of rabbits around the site we feared that, unleashed, he’d give chase. Result: he might vanish in pursuit down a rabbit hole, get stuck and never return. When you’re smaller than your prey that’s always a possibility.
'From our leafy height, through our floor to ceiling expanse of glass we looked out on natural wetlands, abundant birdife and, naturally, scampering bunnies (cue much barking)'
It led to a lot of racing through wet undergrowth and clay, hanging on to the impulsive hound. Hey, but after all this was one dog-friendly holiday that didn’t sacrifice comfort for canine companionship.
The sink in the designer kitchen of our eco lodge was the perfect fit for a compact doggie bath. We’d thankfully brought our own Smidge towels and mopped up assiduously. It was the first of a series of expeditions we dubbed “walk, wuff and wash”.
We were staying, as a family plus family pet, on the original Natural Retreats, near Richmond in North Yorkshire. It was a wet weekend but we battened down the hatches and savoured the sheer peace of the wooded glen dotted with luxurious yet ecologically sound dwellings. Smidge particularly warmed to our log fire.
Nine years ago this was still a struggling sheep farm belonging to the family of NR creator Matthew Spence. They thought his plan to create holiday accommodation was a bit barmy, but he quit his marketing job with Coca Cola in London and spent two years chasing planning permission. In 2006 he opened 16 high end chalets and today runs 14 acclaimed sites across the UK, the States and Lanzarote, including his recently opened Inn at John O’Groats.
That looks amazing. I did contemplate making the epic journey to the northernmost tip of Scotland (I couldn’t imagine Smidge would chase whales), but the prospect of a flight to Inverness and long hire car ride with toddler and dog deterred me. If it’s anything like as welcoming as the Yorkshire Dales ales operation it’s going to be a hit, despite its isolation.
Our Natural Retreats felt surprisingly remote, too, despite its nearness to the glorious market town of Richmond with its Castle, Georgian Theatre and splendid independent shops. From our leafy height, through our floor to ceiling expanse of glass we looked out on natural wetlands, abundant birdife and, naturally, scampering bunnies (cue much barking). The other lodges were scattered across the natural amphitheatre and you scarcely were aware they were there.
As dusk gathered on our first night we took full advantage of the welcome hamper (you can book a luxury one for your pooch, too for £40), supplemented by a complimentary bottle of red and our own supplies, bought en route
After all this calm Richmond next day felt quite bustling. Lots for Smidge to sniff at on the huge, sloping, cobbled Market Square, though he was wary of the piles of seasonal pumpkins. The River Swale was in full spate beneath the terrace girdling the hulking medieval Castle, in such contrast to the harmonious ranks of Georgian houses surrounding it. What a townscape this is.
Rain drove us to seek refuge in Richmond Station on the edge of town. Gasp, “No dogs allowed”. Ours was left in the car, to outbark the husky parked in the adjacent Range Rover. No train has run here since 1969, but the restored Victorian building has recently enjoyed a new lease of life as a food and cultural complex, attracting 350,000 visitors a year.
Beneath the high vaulted ceiling there’s a contemporary café bar and restaurant; a modern, two-screen cinema; an art gallery over two floors; a heritage centre and six artisan food producers, open to the public and selling their produce – a cheese-maker, micro brewery, ice-cream parlour, fudge house, honey-maker and the enticingAngel’s Share Bakery and Pasta Shop.
The £2.7million not-for-profit community enterprise also offers workshops in a variety of subjects ranging from jewellery-making, to painting, photography and creative writing, plus regular music and literary festivals.
Our furthest trip out was into Swaledale. It’s my favourite Dale, even in a persistent drizzle, mist swathing the tops and an eight-mile circular walk from Reeth was just the thing for an over-indulged chihuahua, after overcoming his initial dig-the-heels-in reluctance.
We lunched first to avoid the perennial mud-caked, damp dog on the lap problem. Not that damp dogs are a problem in the walker and dog-friendly environs of The Bridge at Grinton, a mile downstream from Reeth and also home to the gorgeous12th century Church of St Andrew, also known as the 'Cathedral of the Dale'.
Canines WelcomeIt was the Sunday lunch of Swaledale lamb we set about worshipping, with a little help from our ravenous small dog. Jennings Ales were a fine accompaniment in this coaching inn dating back to the 15th century – perennial entry in both Good Pub and Good Beer guides.
Smidge made many a new canine acquaintance with much-tangling of leads, which I prayed wouldn’t trip up the busy serving staff. And after all this, the deluge!
Natural Retreats Yorkshire Dales is just that – a fine base for going south – I particularly recommend Malham, Fountains and Jervaulx Abbeys – or north to Teesdale, Barnard Castle, the Bowes Museum and Raby Castle. The on-site NR concierge team can advise on destinations. They’ll even arrange outdoor activities or make restaurant reservations.
If it is just a straight retreat you want, you couldn’t do better. The lodges are equipped with a small rather upmarket library and games, while DVDs can be lent (not sure if Watership Down is available!). Behind the huge expanse of open plan living room/kitchen each lodge at Richmond has three double bedrooms, making it veery affordable for three couples, while the eco-friendly amenities are of a high specification.
All to the liking of a very picky, small chihuahua, too. If only those rabbits weren’t so damned quick.
Natural Retreats (www.naturalretreats.co.uk; 44 (0)844 3843166) offer 3 nights at a 3 bed lodge in the Yorkshire Dales from £410*.
*Price includes accommodation, fresh linen, towels, toiletries and a welcome hamper.
It is 100 miles from Manchester by car (M62, A1, Scotch Corner exit). Follow the A1608 to Richmond. The site is a couple of miles uphill outside the town, so own transport is advisable.
The Bridge Inn, Grinton, Richmond North York DL116HH.
01748 884224, www.bridgeinn-grinton.co.uk
Richmond Station, Station Yard, DL10 4LD Tel: 01748 850123 www.richmondstation.com
Richmond online: www.richmond.org and Visit Yorkshire www.yorkshire.com
Good Guide to Dog Friendly Pubs, Hotels and B&Bs (Ebury Press, £9.99pb).
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