Dog Holidays are on the rise. Read about Lake District, one of the worlds most dog friendly beauty spots. The Mail, Weekend Travel feature
A Dog-Friendly Road Trip, The Lake District, Cumbria
“Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colours but new rituals, new rules, and a new way of experiencing attachment.” Caroline Knapp
Approximately a quarter of Irish households own a dog, but ask your parents or grandparents if they ever brought the dog on holidays in their day, and they might look at you like you had a screw loose! I’m happy to say times are changing, and with more than half of British homes owning a pet, the UK is one of the most dog-friendly places in the world to live or visit. As a result, more Irish people than ever are visiting the UK and bringing their dogs along. It looks like leaving our dogs with the neighbour or stuck in kennels while we go off and enjoy a holiday will soon be a distant memory. Dog owners are taking the time to source dog-friendly accommodation and accessible tourist sights, so our dogs can come and experience them too. Dog-friendly travel is a fast growing business, with the global pet travel services market estimated at Euro1.60 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach Euro 1.8 billion by the end of 2023.
Of course, there are things to consider before travelling with your dog, like their age and health, and if they are friendly enough to get along with other dogs they will meet on their adventures, but bringing our dogs on holidays is a fast-changing mindset, and it's much more acceptable and commonplace to include a spot for your dog.
If you are travelling to the UK with your dog, make sure your pet has up-to-date shots and paperwork. Then consider taking a ferry to one of the UK’s many dog-friendly areas. I chose the Lake District in Cumbria, travelling with my two senior rescue dogs, Gizmo and Babe, sleeping in a stylish shepherd hut, a 14th-century stately home, and ending the trip meditating with horses on an Air BnB experience.
I chose to travel with my two senior rescue dogs. Babe is a Merle Staffie-Frenchie cross and about eleven years old. I was volunteering at a dog shelter when she came in from the pound and managed to wangle her way into my car before I realised I was getting a dog. I had no idea her Merle camouflage-print coat would attract so much attention. Merle wasn’t popular when I got her nearly seven years ago, but now people run after us to take photos because it’s so rare to see a Merle staffie. Gizmo is not blessed in the looks department, with a wonky eye and his little tongue permanently poking out. He’s about eight and joined us last year. Both dogs had a tough start in life, so it’s a privilege to make their later years a joy. After reading recently that one day in your life is the equivalent of a week in your dog's, it made me acutely aware of how precious the time is with our pets.
“Dogs lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” Agnes Slight Turnbull
As a travel writer, I often have to leave my dogs behind, but this time it would be built around them. I choose the Lake District as it comes up as one of the most dog-friendly places you can visit.
From Ireland Stena Line offers three pet friendly options on its Dublin to Holyhead, Rosslare to Fishguard and Belfast to Liverpool routes. On all routes you can leave your pet in the car for free, while kennels are also free on the Holyhead and Fishguard routes (€17 on the Liverpool route). You also have the option to pre-book a pet cabin from an additional €58 single per sailing. The cabins include en suite facilities, vinyl floors, and come with water bottles and pee pads for pets.
If you are travelling from Belfast to Cairnryan, Stena Line has just introduced a new pet lounge from €17 per pet. Pets must remain in a carrier while in the lounge but you can also exercise or sit with them on the adjacent outside deck. Pre-book all options online at www.stenaline.ie
P&O Ferries doesn’t allow pets on its routes. Pets are allowed on Irish Ferries, which operate two routes from Ireland: Dublin to Holyhead, taking around 3 hours,15 minutes; and Rosslare to Pembroke, taking about 4 hours. On these routes, pets travel for free, but they need to be pre-booked. They can stay in your car or in an onboard kennel on the car decks. The Lakes is another three hour drive what ever route you take, so try to enjoy the drive, especially if your dogs like car rides. My two nod off easily and can snore for hours, occasionally glancing out the window to see if they recognise any sights or smells, then settling back down, trusting that I know where I’m going and that there will be treats when we arrive.
I used www.doggiepubs.org.uk to find dog-friendly pubs in Wigan or Preston so we could break the journey and picked The Hand and Dagger in Preston to let them have a sniff around. Babe loves to wander around a good pub and would be happy to spend the whole holiday getting pets from random strangers! Gizmo tries to be social like Babe, but he hasn’t quite mastered her ability to work a room, so he usually retreats and lets Babe charm the masses. Visiting a pub as a solo traveller with dogs has its challenges, like visiting the rest rooms without having to bring the dogs in with you! I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers more than once for this endeavour, and luckily, people were more than happy to hold the hounds while I used the facilities! This is where having a trustworthy, friendly dog is hugely important.
Cumbria is a stunning part of the world, with lush rolling hills and incredible views. If you are driving solo like me, it's hard to really take in the glory of the countryside, and on secondary roads, I’m reduced to snatching a few glances past some jaw-dropping natural landscape. Our first couple of nights were at Another Place, The Lakes, on the shores of Ullswater Lake, the quieter part of the district. Calling it a hotel doesn’t quite do it justice because it consists of several concepts in one. There’s the main Georgian period house, with accommodation and two restaurants; an additional 1930s cottage next door, which is available to rent; a large glasshouse converted into a bistro; and several deluxe shepherd's huts and a larger Treehouse set on the grounds. The hut accommodation consists of two shepherd huts merged into one, with a lounge, shower room, and bedroom. They all have some kind of show-stopping free-standing bath as a feature, and the style and finish are five-star luxe. I booked Another Place after seeing drone footage on their Instagram feed. At first I thought it might be AI generated because it was so idyllic, but in reality it was just as picture-perfect. One side of the main house hosts the indoor pool and ‘Swim Club’ area, and there’s also a large dog-friendly patio area with views of the lake. The hut and cabin area is magical. Secure and gated, with space to let dogs run wild, it has different marked walking trails beyond the gates. The huts all have their own mini gardens with fire pits and fairy lights, which make you forget you are in a hotel and not some remote, deluxe camp site in the wilds. My dogs felt at ease straight away, basking in the sun by day, and when it came to the most important time of the day: dinner time, we had a dog-friendly restaurant, The Living Space, to go to, just five minutes from the main building. Eating with two dogs also presents its challenges, but the staff were in tune, letting us sit in a quiet area so I could manage them both. With a commute of approximately five minutes home, I added a couple of well made cocktails to my bill, and chatted to a few fellow guests, most of whom had been before. I tried two of the three restaurants and found the food to be excellent, which was a relief because once there, driving anywhere for dinner is an effort. The next day, I left the dogs while I had a swim and a facial at the Swim Club. There were activities like group hikes and night swims all available on their app but I couldn’t join and leave the dogs. Instead, after dinner on the second night, I made drinking chocolate with marshmallows from my stocked kitchen cupboard, lit the log fire and sat with my dogs and it felt like doggie and human heaven.
Instagram sensation @greatbritishdogwalks recommended our next hotel, just a 30-minute drive from Another Place. Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa is set on 400 acres of deer park and woodland, by Bassenthwaite Lake. Parts of this privately owned stately home date back to the eleventh century, with some recently added modern suites. I booked a dog-friendly contemporary suite with a private, secure patio. Having outdoor space with two dogs is so important; as any dog owner knows, one pee pee on the carpet could ruin a whole trip. I was happy no one had an issue with two scruffy rescue dogs strolling through the grand reception area to our suite, where there was a welcome pack of dog treats, spare leads, bowls, and poop bags. I’d classify that as beyond dog-friendly!
There is plenty to explore beyond Armathwaite Hall, but the grounds were so lush and picturesque that we stayed mostly in the immediate area. Babe’s stiff little arthritic legs kicked into action, trying to chase the many colonies of rabbits in the gardens. The hotel spa is the main attraction, with indoor and outdoor thermal pools, tropical rain showers and more. The next morning I had a relaxing swim and a strong massage, all before breakfast, with locally made yoghurt and homemade preserved figs. The made-to-order scrambled eggs were a real treat, but the grandeur of dining hall felt a bit formal for us in the evenings, and understandably, it was not dog-friendly, so I found a more relaxed spot to have dinner with the dogs.
The Sun Inn, in Keswick is just a ten minute drive and has excellent food and a very relaxed dog policy. The road there is winding, but it's lovely countryside, and you can have excellent fish and chips and the local delicacy, a glorious sticky toffee pudding. There’s a large outdoor area with seating and parking across the road.
“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” Rodger A. Caras
My final stop was a 30 minute drive to a dog-friendly Air B&B. Rydal is set in the heart of the Lake District, and is a lot busier than the Ullswater area in high season. It was home to the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth, who was an avid dog lover, writing several of his best known poems about dog’s love and loyalty.
If you fancy a hike, follow in Wordsworth’s footsteps up Fairfield and Rydal Mount, or make your way around Rydal Water and visit the Rydal Caves. My two are certainly not suited to cross-country rambling, so check a site like www.pawsandstay.co.uk for the routes that will suit your dog’s ability.
I chose this Air BnB because it offered Meditation with Horses. My host Katherine suffered a terrible riding accident that crushed her pelvis and as she recovered, she visiting her horses and mediated. When she brought her heart rate down the horses would come to lie down with her. “Horses are herd animals, and they stay together like shoals of fish to be safe. They do this by detecting each other’s heart rates and mirroring them. They pick up on subtle things like hormonal changes and can detect our heart rate from four metres away. So if we bring our heart rate down, the horses come into a state of embodied stillness” she tells me. I left the dogs snoozing and set off on the ten-minute drive to meet her three horses, Yogi, Amber, and Ellie. Despite growing up around horses, kneeling down and letting them paw me for belly rubs didn’t feel at all natural at first. I couldn’t relax completely because Yogi the 13-hand horse took a shine to me and was hovering, gently resting his warm muzzle on my head as I scratched his belly. If I stopped for a second, his front hoof would come up like a dog’s paw, nudging for more. It was a beautiful, unique experience and yet slightly daunting. Katherine’s place is a vibrant, rustic experience, with dogs and chickens running freely and plenty of other guests arriving for experiences like foraging and wild swimming.
(Air BnB experience: Meditation with Horses E50 pp.)
Our ferry home was an evening crossing so I just stayed in the car for the trip. It’s not ideal because there can be harsh fumes in the cargo area, but the dogs didn’t want to move, so we all had a snooze, dreaming of Wordsworth’s “loveliest spot that man hath found.”