Every dog has its day, they say, but “Every dog has its holiday”? When the pooch-friendly Millgate House was named Britain’s best B&B Neil Sowerby decided it was time to treat the family chihuahua, Captain Smidge, to a spot of laid-back luxury. It was a howling success.
I HAD the daft idea of letting our pocket-sized pet recount our short break in his own words, but that would have been so Hollywood voiceover, so Beverley Hills Chihuahua 2, darling.
A case of the tale wagging the dog – it’s a barking idea. So it’s me interpreting every sniff and tail wag along the way
Suffice to say, Smidge had a great time and so did we. Against the odds. In a country where kids are persona non grata in some posh lodgings, hoteliers get even sniffier about the prospect of a few dog hairs on the designer duvet
That was never going to be the case at Millgate House, newly named B&B of the Year by the Good Hotel Guide.
This Georgian edifice just off the main square in Richmond, North Yorkshire, has been in the Guide for years after its co-owners Austin Lynch and Tim Culkin quit the teaching profession to take in guests full-time – in two bedrooms and a basement garden apartment.
The presence of strangers in their home hasn’t deter them from filling it with antiques, lavishly but tastefully, mirrored by an award-winning stately home style garden in miniature.
Three whippets make up the package. It was the difficulties of taking their own dogs on holiday that made them determined to allow canine guests with careful owners. “The odd stain we can handle,” Tim told me.
It has also earned them a place in the very useful Good Pub Guide spin-off, The Good Guide To Dog Friendly Pubs, Hotels and B&Bs.
Another entry hosted us for lunch en route after a squally journey up through some of England’s loveliest terrain, via Wharfedale, Bolton Abbey, Kettlewell and Wensleydale.
The Blue Lion in East Witton, some 10 miles south of Richmond, is a gastropub in the best sense. Exquisite food in artfully unspoilt surroundings, by a village green. Its rating in the Good Food Guide justifies it steep prices, but there can be very GFG places that will fuss over a thirsty chihuahua or let him share his owner’s chicken with tarragon and broad bean veloute (he would have enjoyed the grouse but at £24 a pop, no way).
A cheaper option nearby, also in the Dog-Friendly Guide, would have been the Bridge at Grinton, with pubbier food and a range of cask ales that have earned it a place in the current Good Beer Guide.
Enough guides, though. All you need to enjoy this part of North Yorkshire is a pair of eyes and a love of England at its most bonny. Swaledale beyond Reeth is always enticing, while I never tire of Fountains Abbey in its incomparable setting, but we chose less spectacular Jervaulx Abbey for our post-prandial.
This entailed chucking crab apples for Captain Smidge to chase among the ruins and lots of bonding with a couple of terriers also off the leash. This Cistercian foundation is today privately-owned. You pay by honesty box. It is quite lovely in any season but particularly poignant amid autumn browns and russets.
Richmond up the road is dominated by its own medieval relic, the hulking castle above the River Swale, in full spate when we were there. Its huge, sloping cobbled Market Square isn’t done justice by the quality of shops and pubs lining it. And the revels of squaddies from nearby Catterick Garrison seem incongruous alongside the fabulous Georgian architecture you find everywhere.
Millgate House is a particularly lovely example, all down to the caring restoration carried out by Austin and Tim. From the street it looks a modest townhouse, no more. Step inside and its quite magnificent. Parts date back to the 1720s and period detail is immaculate. Paintings, antiques, books abound plus a sense of life lived to the full and shared.
It was easy to understand at a glance why it had won its award – even before we descended to the self-contained garden apartment. This has an alternative door out on on to the densely-packed garden, from where you can admire the vast Georgian facade.
Great sniffing territory for a chihuahua. He had made friends with the whippets – Mr Pip, Bosie and Misty, but we wary of leaving him out to play with the lean and loping trio. Much to his chagrin.
After a brisk walk around the Castle promenade, he settled in front of the log fire we had lit for a cosy night in with wine and a picnic.
Little gestures give Millgate the edge over less generous lodgings. A small decanter of Jura whisky is complimentary in each room. We sipped a dram to the sound of John Dowland from our CD collection. Breakfast next morning offered powerful coffee, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and berries and undyed kippers from Craster.
It was hard to tear ourselves away from Millgate and Richmond, but a crisp, azure day made us yearn for Whitby as it built up for Halloween, so we motored across the North Yorks Moors to go Goth-spotting.
First Captain Cook, now a worthy successor in Captain Smidge as he posed for his photoshoot above the harbour with the Abbey silhouetted on the hill beyond. In truth, he wasn’t keen on the Dracula Experience exhibition on the quayside nor on the odorous insides of Fortune’s kipper smokery, but he reveled in burrowing on the beach.
Our salty sea dog was given a hearty welcome at the cosy Black Horse with its “Yorkshire tapas” and well-kept cask ales. Not in the Dog-Friendly Guide but it ought to be. In fact, more places ought to be. Well, that’s what Smidge told me.
April 2-May 2, 2011 is National Pet Month
Millgate House, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL10 4JN (01748 823571, www.millgatehouse.com). B&B £55-£72.50 per person.
Blue Lion, East Witton, North Yorkshire DL8 4SN (01969 624273, www.thebluelion.co.uk).
Black Horse, 91 Church Street, Whitby YO22 4BH (01947 602906, www.the-black-horse.com).
Good Guide to Dog Friendly Pubs, Hotels and B&Bs (Ebury Press, £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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