AFTER months confined to their local parks, lockdown pups are dreaming of striking out on England’s National Trails and enjoying the sights and smells of the countryside.
Together, my Battersea pooch Attlee and I have walked trails including the Pennine Way across atmospheric moors and the North Downs Way to the white cliffs of Dover. So Attlee is straining at the leash.
Travel may be off limits, but you can start planning now. First off, buy a pair of decent walking boots – I once attempted the Pennine Way in wellies which, I discovered after wading through mud, had a hole in them. I spent the next three days wearing a dog poo bag under my sock to prevent trench foot.
A fold-up water bowl for your dog is a must as are treats – human and canine – to raise flagging spirits if it starts to rain.
And check out the Countryside Code before you go – remember, #respect #protect #enjoy. Then you’re all set to put your best foot and paw forward and head off to follow the acorn trail markers, which denote all of England’s 16 National Trails to be found at nationaltrail.co.uk. They wind through some of the very best landscapes England has to offer, and will connect you to nature via a wide range of experiences and activities.
Tastebuds tingling, noses twitching
Start your walk along the Cleveland Way with coffee and cake at Helmsley Walled Garden – then indulge your dog with a sensory experience in the five acres of blooms. Lavender relaxes dogs while the assorted aromas of the wildflower meadow will make their noses twitch with joy. Then, suitably invigorated, follow the acorn markers out of Helmsley – ten miles along woodland trails you’ll pass the elegant ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. Journey’s end is Sutton Bank, the high point of the Hambleton Hills, where you can enjoy views that James Herriot described as “England’s finest”. This is All Creatures Great and Small country – just don’t let your dog hear the word “vet”.
Scenery to swoon over
North Cornwall is synonymous with Poldark, and navigating the clifftop paths while hearing the sea crash below will get pulses racing as fast as if you were standing with the man himself. The South West Coast Path is part of the myriad beautiful trails you can discover along England’s Coast, You can discover the dramatic coastline on foot, bike or in the car, stopping off at fascinating heritage sites and museums along the way. But in the South West, the beaches are the stars. Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes is sheltered by cliffs dotted with caves and a favourite with families, while Chapel Porth beach is known for its café’s Hedgehog ice creams – Cornish ice cream covered in clotted cream and crushed hazelnuts. (Trevaunance Cove is dog-friendly all year round; Chapel Porth doesn’t allow dogs in July and August.) High on the cliffs stands what looks like a ruined castle, but its tall chimney reveals an industrial past – this is Wheal Coates tin mine. Two centuries ago over 100 miners toiled here – now it’s in the care of the National Trust and the chimney provides a handy spot for the local jackdaws to gather for a gossip.
Heathcliff, it’s me – Woofy!
The Pennine Way was Britain’s first National Trail, opened in 1965, and much of its most dramatic 268 miles is wild moorland. Strike out three miles from Emily Brontë’s hometown of Haworth, and alone on the moors is the shell of Top Withens farmhouse, believed to be the inspiration for the Earnshaw’s home in Wuthering Heights. You can unleash your inner Kate Bush here – there’s no one around to hear – with your dog howling along in accompaniment.
For sure-footed and pawed walkers, it’s then a nine-mile trek across the moors to lively Hebden Bridge, which became England’s first Walkers are Welcome town in 2007. Take the weight off those feet and paws with a craft beer at the community-owned Fox and Goose Inn. Top tip – there are dog treats behind the bar.
Oasts and ghosts
In medieval times, pilgrims beat a path to Canterbury – now you can make your own pilgrimage along the North Downs Way. Start in the village of Chilham with its timber-framed Tudor houses and stroll nine miles through orchards and past oast houses, right into the heart of Canterbury.
Raise a glass to journey’s end at The Thomas Tallis Alehouse – opened recently but inhabiting a 15th-century half-timbered building with, some say, a resident ghost. The pub prides itself on being a music, television and fruit machine-free zone.
Next day take a stroll around the city’s historic cobbled streets with Canterbury Guided Tours – dogs are allowed on the 90-minute walks at the guide’s discretion, but no barking!
Roaming with the Romans
Border Terriers will be eager to visit Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall Path, 84 miles long, following the ancient border between England and Scotland. Eight hundred soldiers lived at Housesteads in Roman times and today it’s the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain. Wander among the ruins of the barracks, Commander’s House and the communal loos and marvel at the panoramic views across Cumbria and Northumberland.
From Housesteads, it’s a two and a half mile walk along Hadrian’s Wall Path to Sycamore Gap where a lone tree stands sentinel in a dramatic dip in the wall. The sycamore won England’s Tree of the Year contest in 2016 – so don’t let doggo lift his leg against it.
Wells, I never!
If your dog loves a selfie, the colourful beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea provide Insta-attraction while the town’s Beach Café has won awards for its dog-friendliness. It has a special outdoor shower to wash the sand from Fido’s fur, and inside are comfy beds for tired pups.
Then it’s time to explore… the Norfolk Coast Path – an 84-mile route that hugs the shore through seaside towns, tidal marshes and pine woodlands – runs through Wells, where you can enjoy a traditional Norfolk cider or perry in Whin Hill Norfolk Cider’s pretty courtyard with the aptly named resident dogs Pip and Rosie. Burnham Overy Staithe, where Lord Nelson learnt to sail as a boy, is a seven-mile jaunt along the coast and the village pub is named The Hero in the admiral’s honour.
Find out more about the sights and activities on this fascinating part of England's Coast here. Head for the Norfolk Broads and hire a boat for a day or two, or take town dogs for tea and cakes in pretty Norwich.
Is your dog a rock star? Find out by taking them on a Hidden Horizons fossil hunt, sniffing out 190million-year-old stones from the Jurassic era, at Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire – the beach topped a list of Britain’s best in The Sunday Times last year. Runswick Bay is a seven-mile stroll along a clifftop section of the Cleveland Way from Whitby, where you can climb the 199 steps to the Abbey. Or visit Scarborough with its sandy beaches and glorious Castle standing guard over the North Sea. (Dogs are allowed to stroll the grounds on leads.) Then relax with a refreshing drink and chocolate brownie from the castle’s wooden Coffee Shed.
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