A nutty cockapoo, a dog the size of a bear, and Britain’s oddest pub â€¦ here’s what happened on our trip to Somerset and Devon for the first photos of the book
Honey and Dolly â€“ the King’s Arms, Bristol
Where better to start our travels than the west country â€“ by far our favourite part of Great Britain. Abbie and I packed our bags and set off from the crowded hell-hole that is London, our tails a-wagging.
First stop: Bristol, famed for Banksy, hot air balloons, and the slave trade. It also harbours a few pub dogs, and we headed straight for the Kings Arms on Whiteladies Road. Awaiting us in this multi-storey boozer were Honey and Dolly. Both dogs were in heavy relaxation mode. Honey was laid out on her Big Cushion, all big eyes and pigtail ears like a fragile children’s toy. Dolly was upstairs keeping cool on the leather sofa, a paw nonchalantly draped over the edge.
Neither dog looked in the mood for a photo shoot, so a message was sent to the kitchen â€“ get to work on a couple of sausages. Bribery material.
While pork sizzled, landlady Alison Weaver told us all about her incredible dogs. What stories they have â€“ hair-raising tales of heroism, hardship and loyalty. Both dogs were saved from abandonment and starvation, Honey in Newcastle and Dolly in Milton Keynes. Alison drove all the way to Newcastle to rescue Honey, fully intending to return home with just one dog. But on her way back, somewhere on the M1, she changed her mind. Dolly was in a bad way, but Alison scooped her up, and put her in the car with Honey.
For the rest of the journey, Alison had one dog under her legs and another on her lap, neither moving till the car stopped. She knew instantly sheâ€™d made the right decision.
That was in 2010. Honey and Dolly have been inseparable since. Dolly stops other dogs bullying Honey when theyâ€™re out on the Downs. To watch them posing on the sofa, and trotting from one area of the pub to the next, itâ€™s obvious that these two come as a pair. They quietly range around the pub, Honey sleek and cautious with her one blind eye, and Dolly the big-hearted muscle. Sometimes they trot outside and head to Alisonâ€™s other pub up the road. Theyâ€™re familiar faces round this part of Bristol. So drop in and see these two adopted sisters, theyâ€™re a little bit special.
Guinness â€“ the New Inn at Cross
We waved goodbye to the metropolis and entered the great British countryside. We were heading for Guinness, who had been treading the boards at the New Inn at Cross for 12 years. In his youth, Guinness would go sliding across the floor with unadulterated glee whenever a customer entered. On our visit, he cut a more sedate figure, pootling about this classic country pub, with the quiet authority of someone who ran the joint.
You have to take your hat off to Guinness. In all his years at the New Inn, he fully embraced the pub dog lifestyle, even if that meant he spent his dotage on a strictly vegetarian diet. This made Guinness like a sort of red-nosed uncle, whoâ€™s not allowed near booze or meat any more for the sake of his own health. But did Guinness ever complain? Not a bit. He happily munched through with his plate of red pepper and cucumber as if that was his plan all along.
Guinness died earlier this year aged 13. This caused much sadness at Pub Dog HQ, and we raised a glass in his honour. Friendly, well-loved, and a life lived in a pub, Guinness was a true Great British Pub Dog. Thatâ€™s why we awarded him â€œLifetime Achievement Awardâ€.
Dexter â€“ the Crown Inn, Axbridge
A sad tale. When researching GBPD, I spoke to Dexterâ€™s owner, Linda Bishop, about including him in our book. An emotional Lindarevealed that Dexter was suffering from cancer, and had only months to live, perhaps even weeks.
We planned our visit immediately. So itâ€™s because of Dexter that we made the west country our first road trip. We could not â€“ would not â€“ go to press without this big local character. Dexter lived up to expectations: an affectionate people-lover who pressed himself up to us and angled shamelessly for strokes.
His health wasnâ€™t too great by this point, his back legs failing him a little, but he was a happy dog, and you got the sense of what he was like in his prime. Most of all, the bond between Dexter and the people in the pub was undeniable. The locals loved him. Linda adored him. Everyone talked about him as if he were a best friend. And as he mingled among them all, Dexter gave as much love as he received.
Dexter died in late 2016, and no one at the Crown will forget him, least of all Linda.
Flora â€“ the Ness House Hotel, Teignmouth
From Somerset to Devon. In our generic silver hire car, we wound down to the harbour at Shaldon, and my word did it look enticing in the summer sun. Sure enough, there were dogs haring about on the sand, out of their minds with joy.
Flora is often one of those dogs letting off steam, but on this occasion she was at her home, the Ness House, a bright and breezy pub/hotel by the coast. Now, one of the questions we ask the dog owners on our visits, is what three words they would use to describe their dog. Floraâ€™s owner, Emma Hunt, went for â€œsociable,
lunatic, cuteâ€. This is bang on the money. Is Flora sociable? Just a bit! She dashes about the pub saying hello, receiving pats, getting offers to go for a walk. She even sits behind reception sometimes, as if sheâ€™s manning the desk. Is Flora a lunatic? Er, yes! She has these wild eyes that suggest she is READY for FUN at ALL TIMES, and sheâ€™s got a serious turn of pace. Is she cute? Weâ€™ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
If youâ€™ve ever tried to get a photo of a three-month-old puppy of dark fur, youâ€™ll know that it is basically impossible. Flora was true to her age and breed, and was a whirligig of excitement, constantly mobile, nosing, exploring, fidgeting, dashing, licking. Usually, we find that the dogs are excitable for the first 5-10 minutes of the photo shoot, then after that, they figure out that theyâ€™re the centre of attention and settle down. Thatâ€™s often when we get our best shots.
Flora wasnâ€™t really a settler, though. Much to the amusement of those watching our efforts to control this nutcase. Still, Abbie somehow managed to get some gorgeous shots when Flora was still for about one nanosecond every 20 minutes.
Mr Jones â€“ the Fisherman’s Arms, Plymouth
As afternoon turned to evening, we made our way to the port city of Plymouth, and the Fishermanâ€™s Arms. Itâ€™s the epitome of a â€œhidden gemâ€, homely and cosy, and tucked away in a narrow back street. I nailed the best bit of parallel parking Iâ€™ve ever done, and we went in to find Mr Jones.
He greeted us at the door, a friendly dog, despite that grumpy look that schnauzers wear so well. Having granted us permission to approach the bar, he retired to the spot on the floor where he was man-handling â€“ or dog-pawing â€“Â his favourite toy, which is a fluffy leopard-print snake. He would only be down there for a minute though before someone else came in, and he would hop up again to give them the once over. Any dogs that came in, especially female dogs, got extra special attention. Seems Mr Jones is sniffing out a Mrs Jones.
Mr Jones doesnâ€™t need any gimmicks to gain his status as a Great British Pub Dog, but we must mention that he has his own beer. His owners, Donna and Lee, named a hoppy bitter after him, and it is a lovely drop too.
The Fishermanâ€™s is the sort of pub youâ€™d want as your local, and Mr Jones is a big part of that. We were delighted to include him in our book.
Shiraz â€“ the East Dart Hotel, Postbridge
Our next stop was the East Dart Hotel, which required us to drive across Dartmoor in the evening gloom. Dartmoor is an eerie, atmospheric landscape as it is, but when the fog is descending and visibility is closing in, and youâ€™ve got an appointment with a dog thatâ€™s a big as a bear, itâ€™s something else. Itâ€™s the sort of place where, if we townie types broke down and had to take to the moor, weâ€™d probably die.
With that in mind, we filled up the tank and headed into the heart of darkness.
Shiraz must be one of the most striking pub dogs in the whole of Britain. Thereâ€™s something about a huge dog, their sheer presence, thatâ€™s awe-inspiring. Or should I say, paw-inspi â€¦ no stop that. Their size is also a constant surprise. Every time I looked away or Shiraz went out of sight for a few seconds, then I clapped eyes on her again, I was still taken aback by her size. Couldnâ€™t get used to it.
Sheâ€™s a black newfoundland, so as well as being tall, she has heft. That’s why she’s so reminiscent of a bear. She drifts slowly, like a big fluffy black cloud â€“ but a happy one. No one in the pub seemed perturbed by her at all, her soppy temperament was obvious to see. All of this makes her almost irresistibly cuddly. Few pub dogs I wanted to scoop up and take home as much as Shiraz.
She also feels perfectly apt for her surroundings. This is, after all, the area where Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Hound of the Baskervilles, about the legend of a huge black dog. In fact the pub has a claim to giving Doyle the idea for his book, which youâ€™ll have to read about in Great British Pub Dogs â€¦
Being an independent-spirited dog, and being black as the night, photos were another huge challenge, and it was a real group effort coaxing her into the right parts of the pub. Her owners Rosie and Paul helped out as did various bar staff. But when she wanted to put on a little show, Shiraz did so â€“Â her party trick is to lie on her back and paw at the air like sheâ€™s riding a bike. No one knows how she learned to do this â€“ another Dartmoor mystery to add to the pile.
An extraordinary dog in extraordinary surroundings. Shiraz is a true one-off.
Monty â€“ the Highwayman Inn, Stourton
When we left the East Dart, visibility was low. The rain was lashing and the fog was thick. We were off to our final stop of the day, and a pub thatâ€™s famous in its own right: the Highwayman Inn in Stourton.
If we said that you are greeted by a dragon on the roof, enter through a sort of S&M foyer and pass a Tutankhamen statue on your way to the grotto section, then youâ€™ll get the idea that this is a pub like no other. Itâ€™s a classic slice of Great British eccentricity, whose landlady Sally Thompson is everything you hope for. She and her dad made it what it is, the piece de resistance being the â€œship sectionâ€ of the pub thatâ€™s decked out like a hull, made from materials from an actual shipwreck, and was built by Sallyâ€™s late dad.
Then thereâ€™s Monty. Named after a French philosopher, and the runt of the litter â€œso he developed a personality insteadâ€ says Sally. He struts about the place as if heâ€™s had posture training. He looks completely at home in this eclectic bazaar of a pub, and despite all the talking points the Highwayman Inn throws at you, it still wouldnâ€™t be the same without Monty.
Heâ€™s the archetypal â€œsmall dog, big personalityâ€, and thanks to him and Sally we ended our inaugural pub dog road trip on a big high. It was 11pm by the time we left, a long but hugely satisfying day. We made for Tavistock where our friends Kate and Stuart plied us with alcohol and late-night snacks and put us up for the night.