Monday, 18 August 2014

Going Wild in Wales

A 9 day dog holiday with Caesar in Llandeilo.

Holidays are expensive. Spending a lot of money is stressful!  But it's ok because holidays distress us. Right?  So it was all worth it in the end wasn't it?  Or that's what I hoped as I made the bank transfer of £580 and cringed.  The problem or at least potential problem was that this year, for the first time, our major holiday of the year would be taken with Caesar.  A very relaxing 7 days in Wales with a hotel stop-off on both ends to break up the 7 hour car ride (for all of us!)

Day 1 - Oldham
We were running very late.  Very very late.  It was almost three and we hadn't set off yet, despite making plans to meet family in Manchester for dinner.  Caesar always knows when something is amiss and danced around our legs as we attempted to load the car.  I had chosen him a special new collar off the rail for his holidays; Spongebob Squarepants in a bright yellow with lots of funny faces.  Car finally packed with; dog food, dog treats, dog toys, dog towel, dog deodorant, dog chews, whistle, extension leads, spare collar, dog coat, dog bed, dog bowls, water and finally the actual dog, we were ready to go.  And we set off three hours late for hour journey to Oldham.

Apart from finding myself circling the ring road like a roundabout with Caesar screeching 'it's past my tea time!' in the boot at rush hour, the journey went fairly well. And 3 hours after beginning our journey, we pulled up outside the 247 Hotel in Manchester.  The room rate was very reasonable at £35 per night with a small charge for dogs added - I had prebooked it a few weeks ago on Late Rooms.  And the staff were sweet about the dog.  Inside, I managed to tackle the stairs with Caesar and two bags!  Luckily there were only 2 floors.  And then find my way to an immaculately clean, spacious room with the biggest bed I had ever seen!  Damien pulled the huge cage upstairs and we put it up next to the window with room to spare.

Where are we going this time?

Then we headed out.  We met my aunt and uncle at their flat in Salford and managed to negotiate tea for five in a flat for two with Caesar running between everyone's legs. And, as a bonus, the flat was still completely in tact when we left. Then, we visited 'The Star', a pub that is owned by over 60 members of the community in Salford!  As it was a warm night, we sat outside with Caesar and he was made a fuss of by almost everyone who passed him.  What'd great about The Star is its warm atmosphere and sense of community - almost everyone greets you as a friend and being small and at least a little furry, Caesae was receiving VIP attention.  By the end of the night, he was sitting at the bench practically joining in with the cheery conversation.  It was almost midnight when we all bundled back into the car and headed the 20 minutes back to the hotel.

Exhausted from the journey and a constant stream of admirers, Caesar slept soundly all night, barking only occasionally at customers choosing to take advantage of the hotel's 24 check in.  But, by the time he'd woken anyone, he was fast asleep again.  We didn't eat at the hotel, but 2 advantages (in addition to the room prices and dog friendliness) were the price of food on the menu and check out time of 12 o'clock.  

For more information about the 247 hotel in Oldham:  http://www.247hotel.com
For more information about The Star in Salford:  http://www.staronthecliff.co.uk

Day 2 - Oldham --> Llandeilo
Caesar was unsettled as we climbed back into the car at 11 the following day.  He bobbed around in the boot squealing; not exactly what you need when you're trying to unparallell park your car which someone has kindly parked very close to the back of and someone else has kindly parked very close to the front of and your SatNav is telling you to 'make a uturn where possible' over and over.  Damien, a non driver himself, kindly told me I can be short tempered when driving but I think having a screeching dog whose noise makes you wince behind you while trying to do a turn in the road between tightly parked cars is enough to test anyone's patience to the limit.

Finally, almost 10 minutes after leaving the hotel, we were on our way. The journey took over five hours and, with the start of a migraine bubbling after the first 2, I pulled over and gave Caesar a rest.  It was hot in the car and, with the temperamental fans that only work on your fourth setting, I did feel sorry for the furry guy.  We both had a rest, a drink and I had some ibuprofen to soothe the pain which was partly brought in by three separate idiots with caravans all of whom almost ended our journey and possibly our lives at different points and one of whom had me throwing my car into a bush as he took a 30mph bend at no less than 50, almost turning the caravan over and, as it rocked, causing me to swerve into the shrubbery on the outside of my lane.  Caesar, thank goodness, was not phased by this.  But he did begin to grow tired of travelling as we hit the 3 hour mark.

We pulled into the tiny road at around 4pm.  And immediately drove straight past the cottage, onto a farm track, over an ungated railway crossing at the top of a mound, finally ending up on the bank of a river where I had to manoeuvre a turn in the road between a ditch and a fast moving river. Incidentally, I am glad that I don't own or tow a caravan. Particularly as, inevitably, Caesar chose this as his time to start howling and jumping up at the windows in the boot.

As we pulled up, Caesar screeching loudly in the boot, the owner of the cottage came to greet us.  I grimaced inside knowing that if I didn't take Caesar out of the boot he would simply get louder and louder.  And knowing that, if I did, he would fling himself at the man with every second of pent up excitement that he had collected over the last five hours.  The latter happened.  But the owner seemed very understanding and we'd later see that he had two large Irish Wolfhounds of his own. 

He gave us a tour of the house and showed us, the part we had all been waiting for, the 2 acre dog excercise field that was exclusively ours at certain parts of the day.  The field was beautiful and I couldn't wait to get Caesar onto it for a run.  But first we had all of our belongings to fetch from the car.   At 7 we headed for the field which was through a gate in the garden of our cottage.  Given Caesars reputation for being a fence bouncer, I didn't want to let him off his lead as the field had a fence leading directly to an enclosure where the owners kept their dogs. Even at almost 8ft I had visions of Caesar lunging over and chasing the dogs around.
Caesar loved the owner's field
He loved running in the field.  And we had hoped that he would sleep all night but his separation anxiety/attachment disorder reared it's ugly head again and, by the morning, we were both exhausted from his all nighter.  I resolved to ask the owners for special measures the following day.

Demoted to crate sleeping - one sulky pooch.

Day 3 - Llandeilo
Despite hardly sleeping all night, kept awake by Caesars barking and howling and whimpering, I refused to admit defeat until almost 9:30.  My eyes ached a little and I felt frustrated with Caesar for crying all night.  'It was supposed to be a nice break for us all,' I reminded Damien irritably as he donned my wellies and called Caesar outside. The ginger monster jogged past as if he were cool as a cucumber.  I narrowed my eyes and flopped onto the sofa.

Weather forecast for today; rain, then thunder, then a bit more rain, topped with a bit more thunder. The silver lining was that the thunderstorm had come early - my iPad weather forecast had predicted it on Wednesday and I'd hoped it might break the weather.  Despite this, we made a short trip into Llandeilo.  Everything was shut apart from a supermarket which boasted a grade 2 hygiene rating (!!).  From which, in desperation, we bought some cream cakes (!!!!!). And which sold Fajita packs but nit the other ingredients to go with them.  I stood outside with Caesar. And a nice Polish family pulled up and asked me for directions to Issac Newton's house. Less than helpfully I answered 'I didn't know he lived here' then he complemented Caesar, saying 'hiya boys,' and told me he liked him very much before driving off up a side road.  

We returned to the house after finding a nice round walk from the station in Llandeilo up to a promenade with benches and picnic tables looking out to a scenic countryside view. I made a mental note that, on a warm day, it looked like a nice place for a picnic. We were home by two and just in time for the second storm to begin. Caesar had some field time at 3 but kept being told off for crashing into my legs. Then we returned to the cottage and felt warm and cosy as we watched the rain dribble down the bay window and bounce off the roof of the car.

Luckily I managed to catch the owner who nipped in to check we were ok and ask about my plan. I explained about Caesars mental state and asked if, slightly breaking the bedroom rule, I could put up a small cage at the foot of the bed and allow Caesar to sleep inside. She agreed and in turn apologised for her dogs barking.  She explained one was in heat.  I couldn't have been happier to say 'it's fine!' Usually I'm the one apologising for caesar's behaviour.  I told her as much and said its nice that she had dogs that acted like dogs and not robotic shadows or stuffed animals.  She smiled.

Day 4 - Dinefwr Castle and Park
Although the weather forecast constantly threatened bad weather for the week, the sun shone through the curtains when I turned over this morning. Caesar was in a cage at the side of the bed that was rather smaller than I would have liked but all the same did get us all a good nights sleep.

After a good hearty breakfast, we set out in search of adventure and found, a short few miles away, Dinefwr Park and Castle.  The castle is owned by the National Trust so those with memberships will benefit from free parking.  However it cost us £6 to park the car if you're not a member - ouch!  We then took a path towards the castle which took around 40 minutes at a leisurely pace.  For us, it was relieving that the park had an 'all dogs on lead' policy that meant we didn't have any unwanted visitors heading for Caesar. In fact, the only other dog that we saw on the walk seemed to be of a similarly reactive state to Caesar. It's owner wrestled it past, never looking up to see Caesar reacting in almost exactly the same way.  



Dogs seemed to be welcome in the castle area and we climbed the steps with Caesar to get a good look at the view.  I'd like to think he enjoyed it trying to climb up on the wall to get a look at the huge drop and giving me a tiny panic attack.  The weather, although changeable, did stay fair for 90% of the day and I treated myself to a much deserved ice cream after we climbed down.  However, reviews suggest that's its a good place to visit come rain or shine.  We wandered back through the fields on our return to the car and found ourselves in a field of sheep.  There were lots of paths heading off in different directions and I'm sure we missed lots of interesting tracks and trails to explore!  For those wanting to visit, there is only the tea van at the bottom of the hill so get a drink before you go up if it's going to be a hot day.  Caesar seemed to enjoy the walk and was quiet for at least some of the way home!  

For those interested in visiting Dinefwr Park and Castle, details can be found here:  http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/dinefwrcastle/?lang=en

In other news: I threw the only dog toy we had over a farmers fence! Since it's next to our cottage they're bound to know it was us.  I found myself wondering, what's the etiquette here? I don't even know who owns the field.  But I bet the owners of the cottage do.  I don't feel right bothering them with such a menial matter though although I'm certain they wouldn't mind.  And the fence is far too high to be able to retrieve it myself.  I don't mind losing the toy.  I suppose it's like kicking a football over a fence, they'll either throw it back boer or chuck it away.  I just hope it doesn't cause any problems!



Day 5 - Carmarthen
Last night, Caesar fell asleep in the crate the front room.  So we left him to see if he would see the night out.  He must've been exhausted because we didn't hear from him until seven in the morning.  



The weather wasn't great today so we decided to take a trip over to Carmarthen, a place where I had seen there was at least one pet shop where I could replace Caesar's AWOL toy.  Although, he did eventually settle, Caesar was a little rowdy in the car when we set off.  I'm not sure if it was the heavy rain that calmed him or simply tiring himself of crying.  

There weren't many people with dogs walking the streets of Carmarthen but we did see a few.  We wandered around and I went in the occasional shop, some of whom kindly invited the dogs in.  The best find of the day had to be a little pet shop backing onto the indoor market.  'Pets corner,' although fairly small was stuffed with everything you could dream of for your pets; chews, toys, food, treats, harnesses, collars AND Dogmatic head collars!  I've been wanting another for Caesar for some time but I'm not a good internet shopper.  Every time I see one online I convince myself the one he has, though stinky and fraying somewhat, is fine and we don't need another.  Faced with a smart new one in a shop though I couldn't help myself! I bought a few new toys for much less than they would cost at a more major retailer and bought a black Dogmatic; £23.99.  I wasn't keen on black, but when I tried it on him, I felt he looked the bees knees so I had to treat him.  I'm sure he really appreciated it.  We had a good walk around the shops and found a castle too.

It was raining again when we came back so we played tug for a bit and waited for our field time.



Day 6 - Swansea, Pembrey and Carmarthen
What I learnt today: never attempt to go to Swansea with dogs.  We ended up going round the ring road looking for parking only to discover dead end rows of parking spaces and having to reverse out into heavy traffic.  The more I tried to find a car park, the further away from the place I seemed to get!  Caesar was starting to get restless so I told my phones sat nav to take us to Swansea Bay instead. It looked like a nice place when I'd googled it the previous night.  I found it much easier to park at the bay among hot dog vans and lifeguard services. And, I was just about to pay, when I noticed a sign telling me that dogs were not allowed on the beach at this time of year.  In one sense, I was pleased that the car park sign told us this before we had paid to park and headed down the beach.  However I was equally unhappy that I had woken up early and driven for over an hour to find that digs weren't welcome at the bay and all of the car parks were immensely hard to navigate around and then, inevitably, full.  If you do decide to ever visit Swansea, the park and ride might be a better option.  I didn't check it see if it was dog friendly.

I gave up on Swansea shortly after 11 and brought my phone's map up. As we were on the coast, I remembered I had read something about Pembrey beach in the visitors guide. As we live on a beach ourselves, I never find beaches too exciting.  However, I do like coastal villages, so I set the sat nav to take us to Pembrey. It took another hour, despite only being 18 miles from Swansea.

When we arrived, we were charged £5 before entering the car park.  Damien and I frowned at each other as we passed through, £5 lighter!  Then we drove for what seemed like quite some time.   It was not evident where we should be parking, it seemed to be some kind of forest.  I told Damien we'd probably come to the wrong place as it didn't look as if there was a beach here but noted that we'd have to make the most of it since we had paid a not insignificant amount to come in.  We passed a riding school, caravan park and Segway track all within the confines of the parking I'd just paid to enter.  Each attraction was separated by rolling grassy slopes and forestry walkways.



We parked up near to the Segway track and wandered in the direction that other people seemed to be heading, finally finding a sign that read 'beach for dogs'.  The path took us directly to a wonderful beach which stretched out for miles.  The tide was out too and everybody was able to keep a good distance from each other.  After a lovely walk and a chance for Caesar to wear his Doggles, we headed for food.  Everywhere at Pembrey seems to be dog friendly and dogs were even allowed in parts of the ice cream parlour/bar/restaurant.  In fact, looking around there were lots of dogs and owners.  It was a truly peaceful and beautiful place with lots of things to keep everyone occupied.  And, it did occur to me that not so long ago, we would not have so peacefully enjoyed lunch with other dogs in the vicinity.  However, we sat in the beautiful surroundings go the park with dogs at either side and behind and Caesar never so much as batted an eyelid.  Pembrey was a beautiful place with lots to do and I have a feeling that I will find myself back there at some point.  

Caesar was so good while we had lunch, despite several other dogs at surrounding tables, that I let him eat the rest of my burger.  He sat looking very proudly around the surrounding area and some children called their mum to come and see his Doggles.  

After we had eaten, mainly because we hadn't dressed or packed appropriately for this sort of day (much to my disappointment), we bundled back in the car and headed back to Carmathen to buy something for tea and so that I could exchange some walking clothes I'd bought the previous day.  While I was in a shop, Damien observed how different reactions to Caesar could be; one man shepherded his wife away from Caesar saying 'he looks like a real fighter, him' (hilarious when you actually know him) where as two old dears sat and talked to him telling him not to cry as his mummy (who was listening from inside the shop) would be back soon.  Another old lady also stopped to tell Damien how beautiful he was (the dog - not Damien!). I suppose people see what they want to.  

If you are interested in visiting Pembrey Park and beach (which we give 5 doggie stars) go to: http://www.discovercarmarthenshire.com/parks/index.html

I think we succeeded in exhausting him.  He had much more fun than he would have in Swansea so I suppose my parking crisis turned out to be a happy accident!

Day 7 - The day of nothing...
Today the weather forecast looked more promising.  However, after getting up, we soon learnt that the weather forecast here is not always to be trusted.  In fact, looking at the guest book, the weather forecast can rarely be trusted.  You need to live on the edge a bit.  And, above all, dress for all weathers!  The kind of rain was falling that makes you cringe to think about going out in it - heavy downpours that warrant the use of the highest setting of windscreen wipers.  Thankfully, Caesar seemed exhausted from the previous day and was as enthusiastic about leaving the cottage as us.  We even struggled to get him to go to the garden for a wee!  We decided to go back to Llandeilo if it calmed and then out to a dog friendly eatery for tea.  I wanted to try a shop in Llandeilo called 'Heavenly' which sold chocolate and ice cream; I'd seen it recommended in the visitors book as well as a magazine.

Actually, what happened was odd, it did turn out to be sunny on the evening.  However, Damien, the dogs and I were equally shattered.  And, because I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm supposed to relax on holiday, we allowed ourselves the day (which we were supposed to be having tomorrow) to recuperate before the long drive back.

Although, since we hadn't eaten out much since arriving, I did decided we should have a meal out.  We drove over to the nearest pub, 'The Plough Inn' and, feeling immensely guilty for leaving the dogs in the car, we asked for a table.  They had none and were completely booked up.  So, we began driving around the Welsh countryside looking for somewhere to eat.  I'd have preferred somewhere dog friendly.  But the problem with that, for us, is that there could be other dogs there.  I'll never forget the dreaded time when I took Caesar into a pub at lunch time.  Of course, as we were waiting for our desserts, a person turned up with a really yappy terrier.  Caesar immediately started jumping around and squealing and squirming and brought the whole pub to silence.  We had to drag him past the terrier to get him out of the door.  How embarassing.  Needless to say, Damien ended up outside in the rain while I gulped down a boiling how apple crumble.  Anyway, I digress.  We drove for almost an hour, our stomachs gradually getting more and more hungry.  Eventually, we gave up and ordered a Chinese takeaway from a local Chinese in Llandeilo.  

We got home and sat hungrily munching our spare ribs, prawn toasts and noodles.  When we had finished, Damien asked if I could help him work out the washing machine.  I left to go to the kitchen and, by the time we'd realised that no one was manning the left over Chinese, Caesar had already guzzled down a plate of noodles and eaten the spare rib bones!!  I'm sure this stealing food behaviour will be the end of him one day!  I was quite relieved he hadn't choked on fragments of the rib bone - he probably swallowed it whole!

Day 8 - Llandeilo (when it's open) and the river
I had vowed not to do much on Friday as I had a long drive ahead of me and didn't want to tire myself out.  We parked up in Llandeilo and set about looking for 'Heavenly', the little confectionary shop that I'd heard so much about.  We walked past on four different occasions without noticing and I'd just about decided that it had gone!  However, when I found it, it was very much there and doing very well too.  It's not particularly a dog friendly thing to do although the kind shop keeper did invite the dogs in - I refused of course, imagining how much damage Caesar could do to the delicate chocolate displays - but I did think Heavenly was worth a mention.  In fact, we decided to visit again the next day because it was so nice!  If you're ever in that neck of the woods, I do recommend a visit - and the delicious ice cream is worth a taste. http://www.heavenlychoc.co.uk/

Llandeilo itself wasn't exactly a great place for dogs and with it's very narrow footpaths, it did make it hard to squeeze a larger dog such as Caesar past.  However, I will say this for all areas that we visited; most of them were extremely dog friendly and even chocolate shops and cafes were more than happy to allow dogs to enter; something that I found a stark contrast with in the North East of England.

Not sure I love the water...

We finished the day with a walk down to the river which was about 10 minutes away from our cottage.  It was warm and I'd hoped Caesar might have enjoyed a little swim (on flexi lead of course) as the river was quite fast moving).  However he avoided the water like the plague, not even wanting to get his feet wet - typical!  



During our river walk we had time to take in the beauty of the welsh countryside.  We had seen so many rolling green hills and farms and rivers on the way to the cottage but standing by the flowing water and looking up to green fields on the other side, I had time to take in the beauty of the place.  There was a longer field walk following a footpath and crossing over a bridge but we decided not to take it in favour of returning to the field for a run.  Particularly because the water seemed to be making Caesar nervous and, instead of running around and enjoying himself, he chose to hide behind my legs.



Day 9 - Runcorn
We left the beautiful cottage at 10, bidding goodbye to the owners.  Caesar was surprisingly quiet in the car.  As my uncle and aunt were away for the weekend, we decided to split our journey into two parts and stay the night in Runcorn.  The reasons for this were three fold; firstly because Runcorn was not far off the beaten track, secondly because it split our journey into two neat halves and thirdly because it was cheap - if you've ever holidayed in Runcorn you may understand why.

At the same price as the Oldham 247 Hotel, the Campenile Hotel in Runcorn set us back £50 for the night.  It was dog friendly.  More like a motel than a hotel, it spanned over 3 floors and access to all rooms was on the exterior of the hotel.  We found ourselves situated on the top floor, which did make it difficult to toilet Caesar.  And also to carry all of our belongings up two flights of stairs as well as being yanked along by our lovely mutt.  

So am I allowed on this bed then?

I asked at the counter if the restaurant/bar, which was empty, was also dog friendly but was told no but we could sit outside if we liked.  I looked at the graying sky and thought of the long journey.  Finally, I negotiated taking food from the restaurant back to our room and the staff agreed.  They seemed eager to help and I was fairly stuck as there didn't look to be too many other places to eat in the local area.  Particularly given the fact that we found The Campenile by following a sign that simply said 'hotel'.  I'm guessing it was the only one.  The room was pretty simple, it had one towel (which was one towel not enough) and there was a slight blood stain on the quilt (I gave Damien that side of the bed).  When the hot water was on in the bathroom, a rude message appeared on the mirror.  This told me that perhaps the hotel wasn't as clean as it could have been.  But, for ease more than goodwill, I decided to leave it.  I was tired and aching and not in the mood for a room change or having someone visit and Caesar make a huge fuss.  After all, it was only a one night thing and Caesar didn't seem to mind.

However, of the two hotel stop overs we made, I would recommend the 247 Hotel in Oldham over the Campenile in Runcorn.  The former was clean, well looked after and the rooms were large.  For a budget hotel that allowed dogs, it was great.

Never the less, if you're interested in staying at the Campenile Hotel, the link can be found here:  http://www.campanile.com/en/hotels/campanile-runcorn

Details of Afallon Cottage, South Wales
Our beautiful cottage was set in a rural location but with easy access from a main road.  It had a dog walking field of 2 acres and space for 4 persons + 2 dogs.  And, it seems, that many visitors are so pleased with the cottage that they return time and time again - I don't think you could get better credentials than that.  In true cottage form, the place is cosy.  It has a large front room/dining room.  The kitchen is quite small but the use of the space available maximises it's potential and we didn't struggle to cook anything.  What impressed me most about the place is how well equipped it was.  Everything had been thought through from fresh, clean towels and handwash in the bathroom to salt and pepper in the dining room.  We even arrived to find freshly made Welsh cake, a jug of milk and a box of teabags - what more could you ask for? 

Noteworthy points:  With a dog like Caesar one thing did cross my mind when booking the cottage; was the dog exercise area secure and away from other animals (having a reactive dog)?  Yes and no.  The owners have some beautiful Irish Wolfhounds whose enclosure does border the field.  They do bark if you pass close by their enclosure, which is understandable.  For dogs like Caesar (who can jump high fences) and reacted to the barking, I didn't feel right about letting him off his lead.  He may have done nothing but I was afraid he would damage the wired enclosure fence or try to jump to get to the other dogs (a bad habit he showed off when he was in kennels).  



Overall:  I would recommend the cottage to anyone wishing to visit this part of Wales.  The owners were very friendly and, although living on the same site, were keen to allow privacy which was lovely.  We had a beautiful outdoor space that was all ours and access to the owners' private field that is brilliant for those whose dogs perhaps can't come off the lead in wide open spaces (although do remember the dogs can see other animals including other dogs and sheep).  It is brilliantly situated for main roads and also for countryside walks.  Who could ask for more?

Also, we booked through Dogs Trust Cottages.  This meant that 10% of the fee went to Dogs Trust which is great because the price was the same as other booking sites for the same cottage.  Details of Afallon Cottage can be found here:  http://www.chooseacottage.co.uk/DGP/afallon-cottage-23879

If you've been on a holiday with dogs that you think is worth a mention, why not share it with everyone by leaving a comment?

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