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I know, I know – many of you are asking yourselves why, when August isn’t even over yet, I feel compelled to write about Christmas. Maybe I’m crazy, I really don’t know. All I do know is that Christmas is firmly on my mind and I can’t help it. So just hear me out.
I don’t want to be one of those individuals who habitually moan about the weather. But, I’ll be honest, for the past few months, I have definitely been one of those individuals. I’m tired now, though, tired of complaining and tired of feeling let down. I don’t want to complain any more. I want to move past complaining. I want to feel normal for building a fire right now or imbibing a glass of meaty red wine. Yet I can’t , for these are things I am supposed to do in November, not August. In August, the only fire I should be craving is that as part of an outdoor barbeque whilst my wine of choice should be a crisp white perfect for a warm summer’s eve. So, I am moving on, setting my sights forward, looking to the future, a future where fires can be rightly craved and big reds drunk without having a meat course in front on me.
Yes, yes, I hear you saying, that’s all well and good, but that’s all acceptable in autumn, which officially begins in September, which itself is just a day away. So, I hear you saying, let’s not go rushing ahead ourselves and start talking about Christmas. I concur. There’s just one problem, one little detail. If you recall, just this past Monday, we celebrated our last bank holiday for a couple of months. And what, precisely, is the next bank holiday? Exactly – Christmas. Christmas, the ultimate “weather neutral” bank holiday. If it rains on Christmas, we just think, well, it’s December, it’s supposed to rain. And besides, it’s Christmas, there’s plenty of hoopla to keep us distracted. If sunny, well, we consider ourselves lucky, but we don’t depend on it. If snowing, well, what could be better?
So yes, Christmas. I am looking forward to my next bank holiday where rain is inconsequential and anything else a bonus.
Of course, there’s also a second reason Christmas is on the mind. This year, we will be guests of the brilliant coastal boutique bolthole Cary Arms. I am simply beside myself. Having booked it last Christmas, I feel as though the date is now finally somewhat in reach. There is something quite daunting in booking a year in advance – it feels as though it is ages away. Now, though, it is the next holiday.
This is the first time we will not be with family and friends, and there is a part of me that is quite sad about this. Yet, the Cary Arms Christmas festivities promise to be house party “for an intimate few in a magical coastal hideaway”. Looking at the plans, which include lots of Bucks Fizz breakfasts, indulgent meals, music, and lots of time with the dogs at this utterly dog-friendly Devon hotel, I have no doubt the magic of the Cary Arms will do its best to wipe away any residual sadness. Knowing well the type of guest that books at the Cary Arms, I’m sure that, by Christmas Day, many will have become our friends. If not, well, I’ll have the luxurious Cary Arms, the gorgeous sea on my doorstep, and my three boys by my side.
Whilst the Cary Arms is now fully booked, it is still not too late to book in to a remarkable property truly welcoming to both dogs and their owners. For example, Stapleford Park, a to-die-for sporting estate in Leicestershire, is celebrating Christmas in true Stapleford style. . .mulled wine and mince pies on arrival; full afternoon tea and carols around the tree, a Christmas Eve drinks reception and canapés, a Christmas Eve gourmet buffet, Sloe Gin and mince pies on Christmas morning, a Champagne reception prior to a traditional Christmas lunch, tea and Christmas cake on Christmas Day, and, on Boxing Day, brunch and, later, a dinner dance.
Alternatively, for a more casual, yet still exquisite, Christmas celebration, the Old Swan and Minster Mill in the Cotswolds is the perfect option. Think traditional afternoon tea following a leisurely arrival, evening drinks and canapés followed by a delicious, seasonal dinner in the Dining Room, pre-bedtime hot chocolate and mince pies by roaring fires or, for those attending Midnight Mass, on their return, Bucks Fizz breakfasts, a visit by Father Christmas himself, a midday Champagne reception followed by a traditional festive five course Christmas lunch, a medieval buffet featuring the best local produce, a Boxing Day Treasure Hunt, and, as one last hurrah, a farewell dinner and dance.
Spots are going fast at both properties, so don’t delay should you be keen to book. Of course, all of the Chien Bleu perks, including waiving of the dog fee at both Stapleford Park and the Old Swan and Minster Mill, are showered on those booking their holiday through us – plus, we have a few Christmas gifts of our own. E-mail or ring (0800 033 7385) me to book or discuss other options.
In the meantime, here’s to autumn! Let the countdown to Christmas begin.
– Erin, xx
There are various benefits that come along the way, once you transform your hotel into a pet-friendly one. Apart from customer satisfaction, you will also be delighted to look at pets that come from different parts of the world. But making your hotel into a pet-friendly one is not an easy task. Numerous points arise in this regard, and you need to make a note of them. Towards the end, your customers need to be glad about the same and their opinions are the only ones that matter. Hence, to make specific issues, here’s a guide to make your hotel a pet-friendly one.
Pet Owner Rules
Setting and developing pet owner rules is the first step of the process that you need to consider. Most of these rules need to be aligned in a manner so that it matches both your level and your customers level of convenience. But you also need to ensure that these rules are specific and stand for something real. Making unrealistic proclamations is not the right way to move forward, and you need to understand that. Hence, develop sensible rules and ones that will keep the animals safe and sound.
The Aspect of Responsibility
Pets are owned by individuals, and it is up to them to take good care of the same. With the space that you provided, their pets need to be comfortable, and the rest depends upon the owner’s responsibility. This is an important matter that needs to be stated and made clear right from the very beginning. Failing to do the same, will land you in a lot of trouble. So, make sure that the aspect of responsibility is loud and clear.
Choosing Your Pet
Being realistic is the right way to move forward in this venture. Your hotel might not have the capability of taking care of all kinds of pets, and you need to understand the same. This is why you need to make a list of the pets that you can accommodate. This method tends to be useful, as it gives a heads up to all the relevant people. Moving further, you also need to print this rule on all rule books and brochures. Just like the aspect of responsibility, you need to make this matter quite clear and precise.
The matter of making your place pet-friendly does not end there. Training your employees is another step since individuals are also scared of certain pets. Hence, preparation is critical, and your customers should not get a point to complain. Apart from that, it would help if you also made the space comfortable and clean. Only an open mindset can understand that the earth is for all species.
So, I realize it’s been much too long since my last journal entry. . .no excuses, though, with things changing from here on out.
That said, in reading through the last entry about my much anticipated Christmas at the wonderfully dog-friendly Cary Arms (which was amazing), it got me to reminiscing about my days of taking the train with Blue – my very first train journey with Blue was to the Cary Arms. Portland, having just arrived, was much too young for travelling to hotels. Blue, on the other hand, was very jealous and in need of some dedicated attention. Until Portland, he was the only pup in our lives.So, kissing two of my three boys goodbye, Blue and I set out from London Paddington on a three hour train journey to Newton Abbot (Blue’s hometown), where we would then disembark for a weekend devoted to spoiling Blue at the fabulous boutique bolthole on the South Devon coast.A bit apprehensive about how Blue would react to the train (he isn’t the keenest car traveler), he took to it as a fish takes to water. As we pulled out of London Paddington, he stretched out underneath the table for a good snooze, only stirring when the vibrations from the engine would shake a crumb close enough for him to catch a whiff of or other travelers would stop to pay him some attention – Blue is always willing to put on a smile for some ogling. People would walk by and be amazed – with just the tip of his tail peeking out into the aisle, there would be smiling and pointing, the quick stop followed by a back-track to look underneath and then an enthusiastic petting. Kids started seeking us out whilst the couple across the aisle were delighted to feed Blue pocket crumbs left over from past dog treats for their own pooches. Passersby would relate stories of their own dogs, tales of train travel or just the general loving details. Blue was a showman for the attention, and content to sleep otherwise, giving me a gentle gaze every now and again just to confirm all was right in the world.It’s amazing how many people don’t know you can travel on the train with your dog. Indeed, I didn’t know for years until I finally spotted someone just like others the others now spotting me and realizing the possibilities. This is always part of the interaction when with Blue – people would say they didn’t know, ask how much it cost, asked whether it was difficult to arrange.
Unbelievably, bringing a dog on a train is as simple as can be. You don’t need to book anything, pay anything (usually, two dogs are allowed for free), sit in a special spot. You just book your ticket as if you were travelling solo and then hop on just as normal (although don’t expect anything normal as you’ll probably be the center of attention).A great love was born that day – the love of travelling the train with Blue. We did a lot of train travelling when Portland was just a wee pup and Blue in need of alone time. We eventually became old hands – short trips, long trips, waiting on platforms, how to discreetly step out for a “break”. No matter where we happened to be, people were always keen to interact and often tell us about their own dogs. This, in part, is what I love most about having Blue with me on the train (other than having him by my side) – the sharing of the love of a dog with complete strangers.I’d love to hear your stories and, of course, any tips. . .if you have a moment, drop me a message at email@example.com. I will then share them in a few weeks’ time.
– Erin, xx
Looking at the big Chien Bleu map of properties a few weeks back, we realized we had an absence of hotels truly welcoming to dogs in the Cornwall area, a shame given the unbelievable coast surrounding this majestic county, not to mention the number of beaches that allow dogs year-round. As it seemed the rain would never end, we figured wet walks at the beach couldn’t be any worse than wet walks at home. Plus, sand is much easier than mud to clean off a wet dog. Reservations to road-test hotels were thus made for the week of July 23rd. How lucky we were, both with the hotels we stayed in and the weather that emerged.
Our first stop was the Gurnard’s Head, an unbelievably friendly pub inn set on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Coast. Arriving just after six in the evening, we hightailed it to the garden, whose views, like most of the rooms, look out to the sea. Blue and Portland delighted in the other dogs whilst Ray and I imbibed in some lovely drinks, myself a gorgeous Italian white wine I can’t for the life of me remember the name of and Ray a Harbour Brewing IPA, one of the great local beers on draught. (Tipples on offer are taken quite seriously here, with the Gurnard’s Head keen to serve that which you wouldn’t normally see in the shops but that which won’t cost you a fortune either.) With proper Cornish folk singers taking their place indoors, we headed in for a gorgeous and relaxed dinner of fresh seafood and some more cracking wines and ales. As Sally Shalam of the Guardian said “It’s so chilled I probably wouldn’t care if I only had a hammock upstairs.” Don’t worry, though, because no expense has been spared on the beds, a pleasure we did not have the fortune of enjoying as long as we would have liked thanks to the dogs, who woke us bright and early in anticipation of a walk along the South Coast path, which is just a stone’s throw from the Gurnard’s Head. As we were only there for one night, and thus one delightful breakfast, I overindulged in the freshly baked soda bread slathered in a fresh and homemade strawberry sauce (I don’t recommend stuffing one’s self with soda bread – thank goodness for the walk awaiting me) whilst Ray tucked into a lovely full English. Fully fed and caffeinated, we said our good-byes, sad to go but safe in the knowledge that we would be slumbering at another Eat Drink Sleep establishment, and set off to make the most of the area, although success was not to be entirely ours in this department today.
First things first, starting with the positives, the walks in the area are amazing and there is no shortage of dog-friendly beaches, with over 80 beaches allowing dogs year round. The South Coast path is unbelievable, with its jaw-dropping views atop cliffs, and there is plenty of walking inland should you be a bit water or height-phobic. Unfortunately, despite an amazing walk, the weather brought people out in droves, and all of the dog-friendly pubs encountered were packed to the brim. So, we settled for simple snacks picked up on the drive down at the M5’s Exeter Moto Services (a great stop for two legs and four before the final haul) and decided to see Land’s End. Apparently, so had the rest of Cornwall and some of the world. Warned that driving in was not recommended, we sought out a nearby beach from which we could walk in. With not a parking spot for miles, we decided the sea-facing garden of the Old Coastguard Inn was a trade-off well worth making given Land’s End wasn’t going anywhere.
So on to the Old Coastguard, a boutique bistro with fifteen sea-view rooms (although a small handful of these are glimpses rather than full-on views like most of the rooms). Perched on the water, this time on the western edge of the Land’s End Peninsula, the sea wall bounds the tropical garden, which is spread over a number of terraces. The weather was now in its prime, and people were fully enjoying it to the max. Armed with drinks, we took a seat at the end of the garden on one of the many benches. Not long thereafter, two lovely youngsters who also happened to be sisters glided down to our seat, gently asking if they could pet Portland and Blue. Within minutes, they had taken over the leads and were guiding them around the garden like show ponies, but it did give the boys an opportunity to graze on the lush grass without us trying to stop them. Summoned to dinner, the girls reluctantly handed them back and, drinks finished, we headed down to the beach for a pre-dinner walk followed by another fresh, local meal in the dining room whose views were out over the garden and sea beyond. Rising in the morning following a peaceful slumber on proper v-spring beds, we spent the time before check-out lingering in the room as much as possible. Endowed with a big deck overlooking the sea plus two cosy armchairs perched at the edge, we threw the doors wide open and lazed reading the paper, drinking coffee and just gazing at the views in the lovely warmth of the daylight. Blue and Portland, not accustomed to the heat, shifted between the sun-soaked terrace – where sounds could be appropriately explored and attended to – and the shade of the room.
Northward did we then head – these two Eat Drink Sleep properties being about as far south as you can get on the Cornish coast – with the gorgeous Headland Hotel in Newquay being our destination. On the way, we stopped at the beautiful Trebah Garden, an immensely dog-friendly “sub-tropical paradise with a stunning coastal back-drop”, not to mention a private, year-round dog-friendly private beach. It seemed as though half of the visitors had dogs, and I can’t tell you how nice it is to find a tourist attraction that promotes itself as being dog-friendly. Rated among the 80 finest gardens in the world, Trebah is also one of the Great Gardens of Cornwall, many of which are dog-friendly. Following a picturesque walk with the boys through giant gunneras and magnificent valleys of magnolias, along with a stop at the beach to cool off, we made our way to the four star Headland Hotel. Having absolutely anything and everything you could ever wish for in a luxury hotel on the beach, we opted for one of their even more decadent five star cottages. Whilst cottage guests are welcome to enjoy all of the amenities of the hotel – from an indoor and outdoor pool to tennis to surfing – the pull of the sunny warmth of our private garden overlooking the sea and the general comfort of our cottage made it hard for us to venture the one minute walk to partake in all that is on offer (although the same can definitely not be said when it comes to eating). Our favourite part of the day was the late afternoon. With the beach being open to dogs year round, there was nothing greater or more relaxing than the three minute walk to the vast sandy expanses, where every night we enjoyed a good swim in the ocean with the boys. On the second night, we wised up to the option of bringing a bottle of wine and some snacks from the local Sainsbury down with us. The hours between five and eight flew by as we enjoyed splashing, swimming and games of fetch in between sojourns on the rocks supping lovely wine and enjoying popcorn and wasabi rice crackers from a bag. Eventually, our rumbly tummies, particularly the dogs’, would beckon us back. For us, we had the pleasure of the two minute stroll over to the hotel for dinner, where both the fine dining option and the more informal bistro encourage casualness. Following such pleasures of the beach, who can be fussed to dress up for dinner – the Headland Hotel understands this, but ensures no compromise on the food.
After three glorious, blissful days of this, we had to say good-bye. Heading back up the A30 followed by the M5 on a sunny Saturday during school break was not something I ever cared to do again when in the moment. Yet, despite the frustration at sitting motionless on the motorway for no good reason countless times, we made it back home and decided we would do it all again if it meant re-living such a phenomenal trip. Dog-friendly Cornwall is alive and well, from year-round dog-friendly beaches to unbelievably brilliant properties for both two- and four-legged guests to wonderfully dog-friendly attractions, walks and pubs. How soon can we be back in the car?
– Erin, xx
Blue and I fell in love with the Cary Arms – a luxury seaside inn and standard-bearer for dog-friendly – the moment we arrived. Indeed, so fabulous is it, we’ve decided to forego our annual Christmas dinner party, which we’ve held for years, for the house party at the Cary Arms this year.
Love it as we do, we’re always keen to recommend it. However, when we learn of special offers, we feel it would be a crime to not share them and, for those foodies out there, this is one for you – a comforting foodie break involving a complimentary three-course supper of award winning Gastro pub food cooked simply on the south Devon coast. All you need to do is stay the night in a luxury seaview room Sunday through Friday for £270.00 per night and enjoy a complimentary three course supper on the Cary Arms! Remember, doggie guests of Chien Bleu stay for free, a savings of £15/night.
Contact me today to book your stay!
– Erin, xx
Why do we love the Cary Arms?
A SMALL SAMPLING OF THE TREATS ON OFFER FOR FOUR-LEGGED GUESTS:
- Dogs welcome everywhere but the conservatory of the dining room (ie, indulging in a post-walk drink or some of the amazing food can all be achieved in the company of your pup).
- Doggie beds, bowls and treats awaiting you in your room.
- Hotel staff and other guests making a fuss over your dog, making you feel utterly comfortable having a dog.
- Brilliant walking straight from the door, including the South Coast path and a specially commissioned Cary Arms Walking Guide featuring 8 walks.
- Rooms with immediate access to the outdoors.
- And on and on…
OF COURSE, THE TREATS FOR TWO-LEGGED GUESTS ARE EQUALLY INDULGENT:
- Unbelievable food cooked according to what’s fresh and in-season.
- Stunning views of Babbacombe Bay from nearly every window.
- Loads of fireplaces, including in the luxury dog-friendly cottages.
- Gorgeous rooms.
- An Elemis spa.
- Terraces spilling down the cliffs.
- The glass pod, an intimate glass sphere acting as a shelter from wind, rain and even snow, with 360 degree views.
- Unbelievably friendly staff (and guests).
- And on and on…
Why does she keep referring to this place called Portland?
I admit it. I have been too blasé in “officially” introducing our new puppy, Portland. What’s even more shameful is that it took a proper scolding from my mom to realise it. Following me on twitter and reading my blogs (thanks mom!), she wrote me an e-mail chastising me for not making a bigger deal out of him when talking about my actual travels. As she wrote, “I would be thinking, do you love Portland less? It’s always Blue and I this and Blue and I that.” Ouch!
Of course, she had a point and it’s definitely not because I love the little guy any less. . .it’s just a bit like a puzzle.
‘How could introducing your new puppy possibly be like a puzzle?’, I hear you asking.
Portland, as an eight week old black lab and half-brother to Blue (they have the same father), joined our family the week before the launch of Chien Bleu in August of 2011. This was somewhat awkward in that I had spent the past year officially building the business around Blue, who was the inspiration. Up until that point, all of our travels had been Blue, me and my hubby Ray. After Portland arrived, hotels still needed to be road-tested. Portland, however, a feisty little pup, was not yet ready to join us. So, Blue and I carried on ourselves whilst Portland stayed behind with Ray. So, now I had a puppy that was not yet old enough to travel, but I still needed to travel. Fortunately, for Blue, it was a good thing.
It is not an understatement to say that Blue despised Portland when he first arrived. (My mom told me not to use this word, but it honestly was utter disdain. Sorry, mom!) Blue constantly had this look about him that clearly read ‘When is this thing leaving’? Portland dared to play with toys Blue hadn’t touched in years, received attention that could have been spent on Blue, and even had the bravado to get an extra meal during the day. Blue was not happy, so the trips with just him were important in reminding Blue that he was still just as important.
For a few months, the trips carried on with Blue, but, over this period, Blue grew more and more excited to get home. Sure, there were still moments where Portland annoyed Blue, but this little thing was actually turning out to be quite fun. Blue could tussle with him, play tug of war and even be chased (his favourite game of all time) – I was no competition in this arena. Blue and Portland were becoming best of friends despite Blue’s best efforts and Blue was now starting to miss Portland when apart.
With Blue and Portland now best of friends and Portland finally “of age”, we set off on our first trip as a complete family – me, Ray, Blue and Portland – just before the holidays. You could see Blue and Portland plotting about everything they were going to get up to and Blue getting Portland quite excited about the idea of travelling. What a trip it was!
Importantly, this is how it will be from here on out. . .the four us travelling together. The name, Chien Bleu, will remain in homage to Blue. He was, after all, the inspiration and trying to change the name now just wouldn’t seem right.
So, no, I don’t love Portland any less nor do I ditch him to take Blue with me. Stay tuned for our adventures.
– Erin, xx