HOW the baleful howl of the Baskerville hound from the Great Grimpen Mire chills us all to the bone. In print or on screen, of course. So picture the “turning down” staff at Linthwaite House turning back at our bedroom door because of the “ferocious growl” emanating.
There was fog about. Atmospheric. Autumn in the Lakes wouldn’t be the same without it. And a nip in the air as we crossed to dinner, our pet Captain Smidge left in the room. The now notorious Smidge. Hackles rising.
“What kind of dog is it?” we were asked in awe at table. “It’s a deer-nosed chihuahua, fighting weight 3 kilos, ready in an instant to flip on his back for a belly scratch. Oh and he likes venison, we may need a doggie bag.”
I’ve always been a fan of Mike Bevans’ cosy, luxurious hotel with its hilltop view of Windermere. I inspected its romantic Loft Suite for Planet a couple of years back and it was lovely (this link). Neighbour Gilpin rightly gets the national plaudits, especially with its stunning Lake House expansion, but there’s a case, on the evidence of our meal, for thinking the Linthwaite kitchen may be pipping Gilpin’s currently.
We were back because Linthwaite is dog-friendly with two rooms opening into the gardens, handy for a swift walkies around the hotel’s private tarn. Yes, there is a poop scoop bin en route. Smidge, despite the “big beast” tag, was a bit wary of the ducks.
He was happier taking to the open water, on a rainswept boat trip from Bowness to Ambleside on one of the Lake Windermere Cruises. Trying for a photo-opportunity on the poop deck (not literally) we were wary of him squirming overboard. Dog friendly, yes, but chihuahua-sized lifebelts? No!
We were heading for Britain’s canine epicentre – official. Keswick received the most nominations from the public in the Kennel Club’s Open for Dogs Awards and took first place in the Dog Friendly Town category for 2012.
At the time of the award one local B&B owner was quoted in the Westmorland Gazette: “You only need take a walk up the main street to know that Keswick is dog friendly, not only by the number of dogs you see but by the number of ‘dogs welcome’ signs you see in the shops, pubs and cafés.
“As a dog owner living in Keswick I appreciate the welcome my dogs receive. Where else in Britain could you walk your dog through the woods into town to run your errands at the post office and bank, then call at the pub for lunch before taking a taxi home?”
Exactly. We’d shared our walkies along Derwentwater to Friar’s Crag with every breed known to Crufts, it seemed. The town itself was teeming with the little (and not-so-little) darlings. Cafes, pubs and shops jostled to welcome them and their careful owners, but the obvious dog magnet is Podgy Paws in Tithebarn Street. Pet emporium doesn’t do it justice.
There’s an amazing selection of dog foods and equipment, from pig’s trotters to eco bowls, and some kitschy pooch paraphernalia, but also a message board offering every kind of dog care and training, even dog-friendly motor home hire.
But man’s best friend’s best bet here is undoubtedly The Dog and Gun, the Kennel Club’s Pub of the Year in 2009 and – just as important for this Smidge minder – Keswick’s only Good Beer Guide entry. It prides itself on its Hungarian Goulasch for humans, but also offers a dog’s menu, including a “clean doggy do bag filled with treats, chews etc for £1”. It’s a lovely, lively place.
As was our second billet in the Lakes. The Wordsworth Hotel and Spa in the centre of Grasmere offers dog-friendly rooms on the ground floor. Unlike Linthwaite, they couldn’t offer us a bowl for Smidge, so we had to buy a rather fetching spotted one, proclaiming “yum, yum yum”, at a nearby garden centre. But he was allowed in a couple of public rooms, including their adjacent Dove Bistro and romped around their ample grounds and Grasmere churchyard. We had to stop him relieving himself on William Wordsworth’s Grave.
It felt a mite disrespectful to Grasmere’s most famous inhabitant who, yes, didn’t neglect our canine pals in his verse:
“The Dog is not of mountain breed: Its motions, too, are wild and shy;
With something, as the Shepherd thinks, Unusual in its cry: Nor is there any one in sight All round, in hollow or on height; Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear; What is the creature doing here?”
Might have been written about Fells-smitten Smidge.
There’s a real buzz about the Wordsworth these days, revived under the stewardship of the Garside family, whose two decades as hoteliers in the Lakes previously involved Windermere’s famous Miller Howe. Their current, refurbished establishment is not aiming for such stellar status, but the restaurant is excellent and the spa facilities include a sizeable pool. The hotel had been booked out for a wedding the previous night.
Down the road the Wordsworth shrine, Dove Cottage is not suitable for dogs, but the Glen Rothay Hotel’s Badger Bar, near another Wordsworth home, Rydal Mount, does allow them in its atmospheric panelled front room. I enjoyed the draught stout, the chihuahua the log fire after a muddy walk.
There was a glorious blazing hearth, too, in the main bar of the Derby Arms, Witherslack. It’s a large 1821 building on the old turnpike road between Kendal and Ulverston. Today the busy A590 is just a minute away. It is run by Martin Ainscough’s group which also, coincidentally, now owns Miller Howe, but part of the pub is converted into the village shop, run by community shareholders. The handsomely renovated hostelry had been closed, apparently for good, leaving the sprawling hamlet without a heart.
It has one now, offering ample pub grub focusing on local game and an ever-changing array of local cask ales. Oh, and some neat bedrooms you can share with your house-trained hound.
Our own settled by candlelight next to the fire and feasted on game terrine, pigeon and venison shank from our plates. He turned up his cute chihuahua nose at my roast pheasant for some reason and curled up for a snooze. I think we are spoiling Smidge.
Read about Captain Smidge’s previous Confidential adventure at this link
Linthwaite House Hotel, Crook Road, Windermere LA23 3JA (015394 88600, www.linthwaite.com). Room rates from £171 to £554 (loft suite) with lots of enticing short stay deals, inc dinner. Price per night per dog: £9. Until December 20 2012 there's a special Retail Therapy offer at £105 per person, inc dinner, room and breakfast plus Lake District shopping vouchers. Special Christmas and New Year packages available.
Wordsworth Hotel and Spa, Stock Lane, Grasmere LA22 9SW (015394 35592, www.thewordsworthhotel.co.uk). Room rates from £65 to £169 with special offers on dinner, bed and breakfast.
Derby Arms, Witherslack nr Grange-over-Sands LA11 6RH (015395 52207, www.ainscoughs.co.uk/The-Derby-Arms/the-derby-arms-home.html). Expect to pay around £65 a night for a double.
Dog and Gun, 2 Lake Road, Kewsick CA12 5BT (017687 73463).
Podgy Paws Pet Shop, 4-6 Tithebarn Street, Keswick CA12 5ED (017687 73737, www.podgypaws.co.uk). They also host a dog-friendly guide to the Lakes: www.podgypaws.co.uk/dog-friendly-info/.
Another useful dog-friendly guide to the region is www.lakedistrictfordogs.co.uk/attractions.
For a list of pubs that welcome dogs in the Lakes visit this link www.coppermines.co.uk/Pub_List.htm provided by Coppermines Lakes Cottages, who welcome dogs to their self-catering properties.
Information on the Kennel Club’s Open for Dogs campaign – over 28,000 towns are listed – can be found at www.openfordogs.org.uk.
Windermere Lake Cruises: www.windermere-lakecruises.co.uk. A special walker’s ticket with shuttle boats and a suggested dog walk will be available again in spring 2013. Coniston launch and Ullswater Steamers also offer free passage for pooches.
Cumbria tourism guide: www.visitcumbria.com.
Good Guide to Dog Friendly Pubs, Hotels and B&Bs is published by Ebury Press at £9.99pb.
More dog-friendly haunts
Malmaison hotels welcome dogs. For an extra £10 your faithful sidekick gets his very own dinner bowl and basket to languish in. Smidge once went to a party in the Malmaison, Manchester in a bow-tie (we felt the Bitch Magnet tee-shirt sent out the wrong signals).
Chorlton Green’s enterprising Horse and Jockey has been named Britain’s most canine-friendly pub in a nationwide Kennel Club competition. The Beech Road boozer serves special beef-flavoured non-alcoholic beer and a selection of ‘bark’ snacks including doggy biscuits.
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