Sitting in the car in Derbyshire with Lettice last month
This is a Sponsored Post in association with James Wellbeloved
I think it’s fair to say that we are a dog family: our lives revolve around the Wilkins Dog Squad – Billy the Whippet, Mouse the Jack Russell puppy, Lettice the red Miniature Smooth Dachshund, and Maisie the Miniature Wire Haired Dachshund, and there is truly no greater pleasure than being outdoors with them. I’m lucky enough to live just by Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill in London, and a short drive from Hampstead Heath, and we try to get a long walk in every day.
Lettice and Maisie climbing Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath.
Lettice was 17 months when she came to live with me, and she had never been taken for a walk before that, never left the bungalow and garden where she was kept. I didn’t know this at the time and happily took her up to Primrose Hill the day after she arrived.
The poor little sausage was terrified. She had no idea what this great open space could possibly be, and didn’t know what a walk was. “What IS this horror, lady?” she seemed to be saying, as she cowered behind my ankles. After the joyous walks with Posetta Baddog (RIP) who loved her tennis balls, it was a big adjustment. For the next year Lettice stayed next to my legs, never daring to move more than a metre from me anywhere in the open air, trembling when any strangers drew near.
Then one day in Regent’s Park a naughty squirrel ran across our path and it was as though a lightbulb went off in Lettice’s teeny brain. She was off and after that squirrel like a rabbit out of a trap. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen: this tiny dog racing flat out like a greyhound, emitting meeping sounds of sheer joy chasing a squirrel almost the same size as her across the wide open expanse of the Park.
And from that day on she has been like a different dog. Once she realised that the sky wasn’t going to fall in if she left my side, she started to explore further and further away from me. Now she proudly struts out in front on our walks, straining at the leash, and chases squirrels with gay abandon at every opportunity, sometimes running 100 metres or so away to check out a particularly glorious scent, and takes the most enormous pleasure in being outside.
We particularly love exploring Hampstead Heath with our friend Zelda the Black lab (above), and when Billy and Mouse come to stay with me I take the entire Dog Squad for long weekend walks.
Feeding time at the Wilkins Zoo after a long Heath walk. My mother has always given Billy James Wellbeloved Duck and Rice Senior Dry Complete Dog Food,, and Mouse James Wellbeloved Lamb & Rice Puppy Complete Dog Food. The puppy food has smaller kibble for little jaws, and higher amounts of fat and protein to support a growing dog.
Letty and Maisie have a mixture of James Wellbeloved Lamb & Rice Adult with Rice & Vegetables in Gravy, and Small Dog Lamb & Rice Dry Complete Dog Food, an energy dense kibble to support the needs of small dogs who eat less, and which contains omega oils to keep their coats shiny, and prebiotics and inulin to help avoid upset tums. None of the food has any added artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
But we’ve never really been out in the great outdoors together outside London, bar the odd trip to Cornwall and Kent, and I had yet to introduce Lettice to the great open spaces and National Parks of England. So when our friends at James Wellbeloved suggested that I take the dogs out to properly reconnect with nature, I thought it a wonderful idea and I suspected that Lettice’s tiny mind would be blown by all the fun. They gave me a family membership to the National Trust, and a very large supply of James Wellbeloved dog bic and wet food to keep us going, and it was up to me where I went.
As anyone who has followed my Californian adventures knows, I love to hike, and hiking is so much better with a dog. So I decided to rent a large, dog-friendly car and drive my sister, Maisie, Lettice and myself to the Peak District National Park. It’s about three and a half hours north from London, so not too taxing for the dogs in terms of leg stretching, and there are wonderful open stretches of moorland and hills to hike and climb.
The dogs so love an expedition – not posed, I promise you!
We set off a little later than expected, (I don’t know why I am ever surprised by this), but we still had a couple of hours before dark when we arrived at the edges of the National Park, so we detoured via ravishingly lovely Dovedale at the very south of the Park on the recommendation of my friend, the author Maggie Alderson, to give the dogs their first taste of Derbyshire’s clean air.
Maisie and Lettice on the flooded path in Dovedale
Although it was very beautiful, we hadn’t legislated for the torrent of water that was flooding down the dale, and which had caused the river to burst its banks over the footpath and bridges. The sausages made it very clear that this was NOT what they called a walk, by digging in their tiny paws and refusing to walk an inch further. Admitting defeat, we returned to the car and headed north to our hotel, The Peacock at Rowsley for the night.
The next morning all Lettice’s outdoor dreams came true. One of my oldest friends, Nick, is a keen climber and walker, and he sent us in the direction of Stanage Edge when I requested a walk that my sister wouldn’t find too taxing, was dog suitable and had nearby car parking.
It was perfect. Lettice turned into a tiny mountain goat, flinging herself at boulders and rocks many times her height, and even Maisie made it to the top. Just look at her ears flowing in the wind as she scampers across the moor.
Above: Can you spot Lettice in this pic?
We had just climbed up these boulders from the footpath – the car park is at the back of the pic in the middle.
I was so proud of both Holly and Maisie for getting up to the top of the Edge. If you want to reconnect with nature then I can think of no better way than to stand on a giant piece of rock 450mtrs above sea level and let the wind blow through your hair (or fur) as you look for miles around you.
Oh Maisie! Holly’s expression says it all
Back in the car after our very sunny, but very blustery tramp, the exhausted dogs soon passed out.
Our next walk was south of the National Park itself, but still in Derbyshire, at Kedleston Hall, a justly famous National Trust property, set in grounds that are specifically marketed to dog owners. We were staying nearly by at Kedleston House Hotel, so we managed to fit in two walks – one in the late afternoon, and one the next morning.
Kedleston Hall is a classical Palladian mansion built by Robert Adam, approximately four miles north-west of Derby, and is the seat of the Curzon family. Kedleston’s acres of glorious pleasure grounds are one of the best surviving examples of an 18th-century informal landscape. Although it looks natural, the landscape is actually designed to show the Hall and its environment in the best possible light. The various well-marked trails and footpaths are perfect for on-lead dogwalking, and we were blessed again with extraordinary sunshine.
I don’t think Lettice knew what to make of the haha. But nothing stops her for long…
Tired and muddy we hopped back in the car and returned to London. But our exploring in the outdoors wasn’t over. Last weekend I drove up to Northamptonshire, about an hour and a half up the M1 motorway, to spend the weekend with my mother. On the Saturday afternoon we bundled Billy, Mouse and Lettice into my mother’s SUV and headed to the most beautiful National Trust property, Canons Ashby, an Elizabethan manor house and 18th century gardens just a few miles down the road from her home. It has wonderful dog walks but even though I grew up two miles away, I’m afraid I haven’t been for years.
The dogs were THRILLED. They are definitely engaging with this whole reconnecting with nature thing. (Thanks James Wellbeloved!)
After a brisk walk we headed to the tea rooms for cake. Lettice is pretty convinced that she would like cake. I’ve told her to stick to James Wellbeloved – it’s a lot more gentle on the tum than all that sugar and butter.
We’re now back in London, but planning more day trips. This whole project has been far more inspiring than I expected – it reminded me how much of the proper English countryside is within a relatively short drive of London, and it also showed me just how much the dogs love being out in wide open spaces. And Lettice is pretty happy with her monster bag of kibble.
Look, lady! LOOK!
hmmm I see competition