Holidaying with our dogs was something we wanted to do right back from when we first had Saffy and Tilly, our first two cocker spaniels (a long time ago – we’re talking 1997 onwards). I remember so clearly the first few times we went to ‘dog friendly’ holiday lets. One in particular, in Devon – within ten minutes of arriving, Saffy escaped the dog proof garden and was standing on the top of the stable block! the owners hadn’t grasped that some dogs would get through a five bar gate! A few years further on, and we had Lola English setter and Tilly – and we went to a tranquil place in the New Forest (looking back really it was a glorified shed in someone’s back garden). Again a disaster within the first few minutes – they had both stumbled across a swimming pool, with the bubble wrap type cover on it – and I remember vividly Lola running straight across it. That could have gone so wrong couldn’t it! so that was a bit of a nightmare holiday, I think we came home early from that one! who wants to get up first thing and put their dog on the lead and go out with them while they have a wee? not me that’s for sure!
Another place in Cornwall (by this time we also had Barley our lovely lurcher, who could jump 8ft) and we stayed somewhere that thought that 3ft floppy green plastic netting would stop dogs from escaping – hahaha! I think that was the place where the shower was the merest dribble and I couldn’t wash my hair.
After a while, all these places that say they are dog friendly start to merge into one big mess of not properly fenced, and not really dog friendly!
One place we stayed in Wales had great fencing, but oh the most awful beds in the world. I could barely move every morning when I woke up. Not what you want on holiday really is it. Plus what’s the deal with putting Great Aunt Maud’s old ornaments on the window sill?
When I go on holiday with my dogs, I want to stay in a place that is nicer than where I live at home! I want character, safety, comfort and a bit of luxury – is that too much to ask? I want matching crockery that isn’t chipped, and I want a choice of glasses to drink from, I want knives and forks that match, and I don’t want to sit on someone’s Granny’s old sofa just because it’s leather and dog hair won’t stick to it.
Also – plastic flowers. Just don’t!
Fast forward again, to 2008 – and someone called Sue Allen popped up on a lurcher forum I was also on, and her and her other half had been doing up their property called The Old Piggery – and – it sounded and looked pretty good! it was properly dog friendly, it had a wall and fences and a nice big yard, and nice sofas, and beds that looked comfy, and we’d never been to Norfolk before! by this time I think we had 5 dogs and there was no worries about bringing them all with us. So July 2008 we went to Norfolk for our first of many visits!
What a revelation – a truly beautiful property, which really was (and still is) properly dog friendly! thank goodness for that. Comfy sofas, a good telly that worked, and a DVD player with a huge selection of DVDs too (because sometimes we just like to slob around and watch movies when we’re on holiday!). Matching glasses, crockery and cutlery – phew! Beds that didn’t give me backache, and the dogs were allowed in the bedroom too. Proper dog friendly. Sue went on to expand her empire and now East Ruston Cottages has 20+ properties, all within the same area of Norfolk and ALL of them are properly dog friendly – and they are all beautiful. We went on to stay at The Old Piggery I think 14 or 15 times over the next 6 years and became great friends with Sue and Dermot.
Norfolk really is so dog friendly, the beaches are brilliant and most of them are open all year round for dogs. Pubs are all dog friendly, lots of cafes are dog friendly. Plus, there aren’t that many people there in general, so it’s really quiet. Compared to Cornwall which is heaving in peak times, Norfolk is deserted! bliss!
In 2014 we inherited some money, and decided to invest it in a property in Norfolk – and we asked Sue Allen if she would manage it for us and together we could make it the dog friendliest place ever! starting from scratch is so amazing because you can make the property exactly the way it needs to be! and as you’ve probably gathered from the above, I am rather fussy! (in a good way obvs). There was a property on the market called White Cottage, it seemed to tick all the boxes so we went to view it and totally fell in love! The big tick boxes were – full of character – tick, no close neighbours – tick, huge back garden – tick, hard flooring – tick, walk to the beach – tick. We had our offer accepted, exchanged in the October, fenced in the parking area, and had our first guests in December! since then it’s been fully booked!
Big important points for me – safe garden, safe parking – being able to drive up to the house, shut the gates and let multiple dogs out – I can’t be doing with putting the dogs on leads after they’ve been in the car for ages. Then there’s another gate into the garden and this has a bolt on it too. It’s windy in Norfolk – gates do blow open – plus, we have a lot of reactive dogs who stay and we want you to feel safe knowing that no one is going to waltz into the garden! Big grass garden – nothing for sighthounds to run into! There’s no front door onto the road, so entry to the house is round the back. Which incidentally is where the warm water hose is so you can wash off sandy paws (or dog forbid if a dog rolls in a dead seal!). Into the big conservatory to dry off – tiled floors everywhere.
The kitchen is fully equipped – and of course matching crockery (cafe style chunky white plates) and glasses (again cafe style) – if anything is chipped, it’s binned! there’s a dishwasher, a washing machine, two fridges and a freezer (we raw feed our dogs). A utility room – handy if like us, you need to feed one dog (spaniel !) separately from the others!
The living room has wooden floorboards, leather furniture, a brilliant TV with sound bar and a huge collection of DVDs.
All of our art has been carefully selected by yours truly and nearly all of it features dogs (or hares)!
(Art by Anna Wilson-Patterson)
Upstairs, the beds are actually comfortable, really really comfortable. I never want to get up! Last year we put in one of those big walk in showers, it’s awesome and I can wash my hair properly! Everything in the house, has been carefully thought out, for maximum comfort and aesthetic pleasure. It’s basically my dream house, that we let out to lovely people with their dogs. We have an amazing team of cleaners, gardeners, handymen etc, who keep the cottage in awesome shape. Sue of course, keeps getting in all the bookings – we have a very high percentage of repeat bookings, it’s very usual for guests to email while they are staying and re-book for the following year, or the year after.
(view of White Cottage from the cliffs)
Since our initial holidays with our dogs, things have improved massively in the dog friendly holiday market, there are lots more properly dog friendly places but I think you still have to search for them. There’s still a lot of the ‘only two small dogs allowed’ and ‘dogs not allowed upstairs’ stuff going on. Note to property owners – that ^ – is not dog friendly! it’s barely dog tolerant! Also for those property owners who worry people with dogs won’t take care of their properties – in our experience that simply isn’t true. Dog people are so happy to stay somewhere lovely they take great care of it.
If you’ve stayed somewhere amazing with your dogs we would love to hear about it, we’d also love to hear from you if you’ve been to White Cottage!
PS I’ll be doing some doggy photoshoots while I’m at White Cottage in June, blog to follow!