The walking cure

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The walking cure

Cumbria

Charlie enjoys a stroll at Port Eliot

It looked as if Charlie the dog needed a break. So, naturally, Eve Kerswill and her husband took him on a cottage holiday

One of the great things about a cottage holiday is that you can often take your dog along, too. It’s true, some holiday cottage owners don’t accept pets, but there are many who do. So when we decided it was time to give our dog, Charlie, some quality time in a cottage near the sea, it wasn’t difficult to find a place where we’d all be happy.

Charlie had come to us as a young rescue dog three years before – a cheerful, bouncy mix of spaniel, collie and, possibly, boxer. With two walks a day, an interesting garden, and little time left alone, he was in dog heaven. Or so we thought.

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But he’d started to behave strangely. He’d developed a fixation with table legs, lying on the floor and licking at them lovingly for hours on end, whimpering, barking and slobbering in the process.

What’s more, he’d taken to largely ignoring people and other dogs. Instead of being the friendly dog he’d been, he would just frantically dig holes wherever he could – particularly embarrassing when in friends’ flower borders. Something had to be done.

We were sure one of those TV canine experts would tell us he was bored and needed more stimulation, mixed with, perhaps, an extra large dose of TLC. So the holiday would involve long walks to tire him out, and plenty of cuddles and attention to prevent him from feeling bored.

Wringworthy Cottages, a self catering complex on a farm at Morval, in south east Cornwall, sounded ideal, and it was. Owners Kim and Michael Spencer welcome dogs – and, importantly, the cottages are only a few miles from the South West Coast Path, where you can stride for mile after bracing mile along rugged clifftops or beside peaceful coves.

Our holiday home – Apple Cottage – was a spacious converted barn with a private garden adjoining the duck enclosure. As soon as we’d unpacked and settled in, Charlie relaxed.

Our first stop was the coast path. We’d been sent a set of laminated walk sheets and chose one labelled ‘strenuous in places’: perfect for tiring Charlie without killing us in the process. It started near Polhawn Fort, a few miles from Morval, and led east towards Rame Head, a dramatic headland which has historically guarded Plymouth Sound from invasion from the west.

Teetering on top of the headland are the ruins of a 600-year-old chapel. Beacons were lit here to warn Sir Francis Drake that the Spanish Armada was on the way.

Rame Head from the west on the SW coast path

The trail up to the chapel is not on the coast path and not for the energetically challenged, but the walk sheet said, ‘It is worth the detour.’ And it was – even though a small gale was blowing up there. The view west was of wild seas pummelling rocky headlands. And to the east were the calmer waters of Plymouth Sound, busy with all kinds of craft, from naval ships to sailing yachts.

Back on the path, but this time to the east of the headland, we were instantly in a warmer, more sheltered world. Protected from the prevailing winds, flowers were more advanced and the sea below was so blue and calm I had an urge to dive in and swim. Across the Sound were fields, cliffs, and sandy coves, while Plymouth itself was nowhere to be seen. It was hidden from view by the headland of the wooded Mount Edgcumbe Estate.

Once, on a ferry sailing into Plymouth, we’d noticed two pretty villages to our left, each with its own sandy cove and cushioned by woodland. We never got round to finding out their names, but today we realised we’d be visiting them on the walk. Cawsand and Kingsand were a delight – friendly people, pleasant houses, pubs, shops – and no traffic in the lanes down by the beaches. In Cawsand, we ate local pasties and drank Cornish cider, pleased that we only had a one and a half mile walk back to the car, across the top of the headland.

Back at Apple Cottage, Charlie was tired – and showed no interest in the table legs. All went well, too, when we visited the Eden Project, which thoughtfully provides separate, shaded parking for cars with pets inside. We’d stopped off for a walk at Fowey on the way, so Charlie was tired and slept while we wandered.

The Eden Project is where tropical rainforest meets the Mediterranean, the Californian desert, Dutch bulb fields, English vegetable plots and more, all arranged in a vast space that was once a china clay pit. As you approach, the outdoor zone stretches out towards the project’s unique biomes, giant golf ball-like cloches housing collections of plants not usually seen in the UK, from banana trees to baobabs, to coffee and tea plants.

The Eden Project

You could spend a day here but we left after a couple of hours because Charlie was in the car and it was, after all, his holiday as well as ours.

The next day, he came with us to Port Eliot, a country estate with a difference, at St Germans, near Saltash. My husband, John, was happy to take him on a long walk in the grounds while I investigated the mansion.

Like my home and possibly yours, the house is not over-tidy and there are signs of family life everywhere: photographs, scruffy corners, wellies in a row. But that’s where the comparison ends. For a start, there are 11 staircases and 82 chimneys. And right alongside all the homely stuff, you’ll see, say, a priceless inlaid chest, or a Louis XIV clock, and on the walls, rare pictures – a series of portraits by Van Dyck or a masterpiece by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Oh, and there’s a choice of 15 back doors besides which to put the wellies. And the Round Room is like no other. On its circular wall is a bright mural painted by the artist Robert Lenkiewicz (sometimes described as eccentric) of the Eliot family and friends in various guises and activities.

As Lord Eliot, Earl of St Germans, says in his introduction to the guide book, Port Eliot has the ‘rare distinction’ of being a Grade 1 listed house with a Grade 1 listed park and garden. The Sir John Sloane and Humphry Repton-landscaped grounds are wonderfully informal with magnificent trees and wild flowers. There is a maze, an orangery and waterside walk with terrific views to an old stone viaduct crossing the River Tiddy.

By the river was where I found my husband, lying on the grass, asleep. And Charlie? He was busy excavating Lord Eliot’s newly-mown sward. Oh dear. But apart, obviously, from the wrecked landscape, we weren’t too concerned. Hole-digging was the least worrying part of the weird behaviour that we’d been hoping to cure. We covered up the holes with turf and made our exit.

Our final day fell, appropriately, on the International Day of the Dog, its theme: rescue dogs. To celebrate it, we took Charlie on an IDOD communal walk at Kit Hill, the highly visible landmark that the Duchy of Cornwall gave to the public in 1985. Lying between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, it’s a great place to walk and admire fantastic views – on a good day you can see both the north and south Cornish coastlines. At the car park, an assortment of dogs and owners had assembled. While not quite as sociable as he’d once been, Charlie ran along with the other canines and we all had a lot of fun.

Since we’ve been back home, Charlie has shown no interest whatsoever in table legs. Indeed, apart from when the occasional urge to dig a hole gets the better of him and we are not around to distract him, he is almost completely back to his old self. Our cottage break did the trick.

Meet the owners…

Kim and Michael Spencer (pictured with their children, Katie, 10, Josie, 7, and Simon, 5, and Charlie the dog) moved from St Albans in Hertfordshire to Wringworthy Cottages, during August bank holiday, 2003. Both Kim and Michael gave up high powered jobs – Kim was an environmental health officer, Michael a telecom engineer – so they could have more time for family life. They instantly fell in love with Wringworthy: a spacious house with eight self-catering cottages, land, outbuildings and good views.

Why move in high summer? “To fit in with school term times,” says Kim. “It was very much a question of going in at the deep end. The cottages were all full.”

What’s more, they woke up on their first full day to find one of the hens had had chicks and that a donkey was lame. But it all worked out. Other owners helped them and now Kim spends time advising new owners herself, as well as supervising a variety of initiatives in her role as chair of South East Cornwall Tourism Association (SECTA).

Wringworthy holds the association’s green acorn award for sustainable tourism. The scheme started seven years ago and now other associations in the south west have adopted it, too.

Since their move, the Spencers have upgraded the cottages, built a games barn and installed solar panels for the swimming pool, as well as introducing recycling collections. Visitors can buy eggs next door and there is a farm shop nearby. They have also arranged a Tesco Direct home delivery service. Forty per cent of bookings are repeats and they have a number of reunion party bookings.

“We had the members of a brass band here one Christmas – everyone had a lovely time singing carols and drinking mulled wine.”

Where can I take my dog?

  • Cottage owners can help and so can tourist information centres.
  • Cornwall Beach Guide for dog owners.
  • Trails from the track. Take a scenic train ride, go for a walk and then get the train back.
  • SECTA’s Coast Path Walks by Mark Camp.
  • Kit Hill – formerly owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, this 400-acre country park climbs to almost 1,000 feet in the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ideal for bird watching, kite flying, admiring the views and letting dogs run free.