IT’S the sort of fantasy guaranteed to delight weary walkers at the end of a long day on the trail…
What if you could find a cosy cottage just yards from the footpath with a comfy king-size bed, luxurious bed linen and a power shower complete with Bluetooth music and steam jets? Ah, bliss.
Throw in a freshly baked Victoria sponge and ice-cold home-made apple juice, and that’s the reassuring reality of a stay at Hedgerow Cottage, a glorious hideaway in the shadow of the ancient Ridgeway at Wainhill on the Buckinghamshire-Oxfordshire border.
Owners Katrina Rowton-Lee and husband Charlie invited us to spend a couple of days sampling their dog-friendly hideaway after spotting a recent Beyonder post about four-legged friends.
With three dogs of their own and such an impressive location in the heart of the Chilterns countryside, they’re keen to share the spot with walking enthusiasts who have a canine companion in tow and who want to spend a few days exploring the many local attractions.
As idyllic country retreats go, Hedgerow takes some beating. It’s spotless, stylish and cosy, a purpose-built luxury cabin with wood-lined rooms decorated in rural chic style and its own kitchen, shower room and separate bedroom off the living room, complete with private garden area and parking.
It’s discreetly hidden to one side of the 17th-century thatched cottage that is Katrina and Charlie’s home, giving guests an open outlook over their own section of garden.
Nestled below the treeline, Wainhill comprises 20 acres of meadow and pasture which house friendly Herdwick sheep, a number of horses and an eclectic collection of classic caravans and other vintage vehicles Katrina hires out for for TV, filming, photoshoots and corporate events.
One of those intriguing vehicles is Alice, Katrina’s original 1955 English Eccles caravan, which has been lovingly restored and provides Hedgerow guests with a lovely space to enjoy during the summer months, just by their front door.
It’s a glorious spot and perfect for trips to places like Oxford, Henley and Marlow, visiting local vineyards or exploring the Midsomer Murders trail.
Take a weekend wander along the footpath to Chinnor and you could be treated to the sight of a steam engine tootling along a restored section of the old Watlington branch line from Princes Risborough which originally closed to passengers back in 1957.
Head off in the other direction towards the treeline, and you’ll quickly discover the Ridgeway national trail, a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers.
The 87-mile national trail follows a ridge of chalk hills from Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon and from your bed at Hedgerow the ancient track is about a quarter of a mile away.
For those wanting to tackle a longer section of the route, it’s an indication of Katrina’s “nothing is too much trouble” approach that she will cheerfully drive walkers to a suitable starting point from which they can walk back to Wainhill, allowing them to use the Hedgerow as a central point for a few days of exploring.
Routes fan out from here in all directions, criss-crossing the Chilterns AONB and allowing walkers access to miles of unspoilt countryside, so often overlooked by tourists in favour of the Cotswolds.
Visitors with pets even get home-made dog biscuits and their furry friends may get the chance to rub noses with the resident pack: Tilly the yellow labrador and a pair of teckels, or working dachshunds.
We saunter out of the back gate for a quick circuit up to the Ridgeway, and quickly discover it’s an immensely restful landscape and a welcome escape from city hubbub.
True, there’s a light drizzle on the weekend we visit, but it does nothing to dampen our spirits on a first brief foray up to the ridge and back, pausing only to greet the occasional dog walker or runner showing a similar disregard for the elements.
But even over such a rainy October weekend it’s not long before the sun’s out for long enough to show just how relaxing the garden must be in the summer months, far away from the sound of speeding traffic or aircraft noise.
Later, as dusk falls, with only the hooting of the owls to disturb the clear evening air it’s clear we will have no problem getting a great night’s sleep in our cosy wood-lined bedroom.
With no light pollution, it’s also a spectacular place for stargazing, and as the clouds clear we wander outside for a little to marvel as the heavens stage a dazzling display of planets and constellations.
It’s a fitting finale to a restful stay in a lovely location where those little touches like the fresh flowers and phenomenal Victoria sponge have made all the difference, as the comments in the guest book reflect.
Accommodation is available year round – check out the Wainhill website for details and prices.
THEY’RE our most faithful and trusted companions, and they’ve been close by our side for centuries.
Now we want to hear from dog lovers across the Chilterns about what makes your pets so very special.
Our recent feature reflects how dogs have won our love and admiration for their skills, intelligence and character, and we know that thousands of nature lovers rely on the companionship of their canine chums when they set out to explore the countryside.
Do you have a favourite place to walk or memory to share? Is your pet a pedigree champion or a scruffy rescue dog? It doesn’t matter — we’d love to feature your pictures and stories in our regular ‘dogsofthechilterns’ feature and social media feeds.
You don’t have to give away personal information or precise locations, but send us landscape-shaped pictures of your dog along with any details you’re happy for us to share — and remember to tell us who in the family took the picture.
With more than 200 breeds to choose from, Britain really is a national of dog lovers, and we’d like to celebrate the best aspects of responsible dog ownership on our pages.
As well as sharing your shots on our Twitter and Instagram feeds, we’re keen to hear your own stories about the impact and importance of four-legged friends in your life.
Your pictures should comply with the guidelines of The Kennel Club’s Canine Code and pleasure ensure you own the copyright to any picture you submit.
Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or our social media links — we look forward to hearing from you.
ROUND our way it sometimes seems as if everyone has a dog.
Little and large, fluffy and hectic or aloof and unflustered, they come in all shapes and sizes, from purebred aristocrats with a proud pedigree to scruffy scoundrels rescued from the streets.
But whatever their size, breed and provenance, we love them just as they are, taking them into our hearts and our families in their millions as part of an extraordinary symbiotic relationship where it can be hard to tell who needs the other more.
Dogs and people have lived together for thousands of years, and we have bred different breeds to hunt and to guard us, to herd sheep, retrieve game and just keep us company.
Domestic dogs may share 99% of their DNA with wolves, but they are social pack animals which thrive on attention and affection, helping them to win our love and admiration for their skills, intelligence and character.
They may need us to survive but it seems that we need them just as much: our most loyal and faithful companions cock a listening ear to our worries, give us a paw to hold and an unconditional love that sometimes borders on obsession.
Mind you, it’s an obsession that is mutual. Britain boasts a canine population of more than nine million, with more than 200 breeds to choose from.
Joyce Campbell, the Armadale farmer whose squad of collies were a hit with viewers of This Farming Life, said: “We really are a nation of dog lovers – my team of dogs have also been inundated with fan mail. We have genuinely all been blown away with everyone’s kindness.”
That’s why we’re setting out to meet some of the best-loved dogs in the Chilterns, and asking you to send us your pictures of them out and about enjoying our wonderful countryside.
As well as sharing your shots on our Twitter and Instagram feeds, we’re keen to hear your own stories about the impact and importance of four-legged friends in your life.
Most dog owners will tell you that their dog is a family member – and for many, dog ownership has proved a life-changing experience.
Lucy Parks has written in detail about her adventures with Cypriot rescue dog Yella as the four-legged arrival adjusted to a new life in the Chiltern Hills.
“She was my first ever dog, although I’d wanted one for ever,” says Lucy. “I finally got her aged 50 and she’s totally changed my life!
“Yella has got me out into the local countryside exploring new places and has introduced me to the dog-owning community in Amersham. I’ve got new friends as a result, as has Yella, and we know far more about the area we live in.”
From beagles to greyhounds, lapdogs to St Bernards, each breed has its own ardent fans, and although dog attacks have contributed to some chilling headlines in recent weeks, millions of responsible owners know how crucial it is to spend time training their pet to ensure that wagging tails and stress-free greetings help to put strangers at their ease.
The rewards are huge. No animal can surpass dogs for their devotion and intelligence, and it’s that unwavering loyalty and pure delight in our company that wins us over so readily. We know that our furry companions accept us for who we are, flaws and all, without reserve or judgement.
For Beyonder photographer Sue Craigs Erwin, energetic sprocker spaniel Ted has been at her side for the past six years.
“He has given me a reason to go out walking again after losing my husband six years ago,” she says. “I have become more aware of our beautiful surroundings. I always take my camera with me, capturing the day’s walk and sharing the beauty of the wildlife and changing seasons with my Facebook friends.
“We have recently made friends with a beautiful little robin in the woods. Ted now runs ahead of me and searches him out before I get there. I can’t resist a few shots of the friendly little chap everyday.
“It’s so therapeutic to be walking in the fresh air whatever the weather. Dogs are just the best company.”
Sue isn’t alone in appreciating Ted’s constant companionship. In a fast-paced world where human connections sometimes feel fleeting or even confrontational, dogs offer us vital emotional support, helping to reduce stress, anxiety and loneliness.
Says Jennifer Wynn, proud owner of a Great Swiss mountain dog: “Fearne is more than just a companion for exploring the beautiful Chilterns.
“She’s a friend for both of my teenage children, one of whom is autistic and the other is awaiting assessment. She listens without judging, loves no matter what and gives 50kg cuddles!”
Dogs have been our friends and protectors for centuries, and although they have transitioned from being primarily working animals to cherished family members, today they perhaps bring more joy and comfort than ever.
They teach us responsibility and help youngsters learn the importance of kindness, while formidable sheepdogs and astonishing therapy dogs startle us with their skill, sensitivity and ability to perform complex tasks.
Of course, the individual breed we favour will vary according to our own preferences and lifestyles. Do we want a snuggly cockapoo happy to flop around the house like a supersoft chenille throw, or a livewire collie who’s panting to head for the hills every morning?
Do we need a miniature dachsund getting under our feet or an Irish wolfhound or Great Swiss mountain dog edging our guests off the sofa?
It’s all very personal, as author Patrick Gale writes in The Returns Home, a chapter of Duncan Minshull’s 2022 collection of walking stories, Where My Feet Fall.
“Hounds are not emotionally needy dogs when walking; whippets and greyhounds have none of the collie’s need for constant affirmative interaction with its human but seem quite content to trot independently from smell to fascinating smell, occasionally breaking off to send up a pheasant or make a show of chasing a rabbit. They enjoy walks hugely but they’re not forever nudging you to say, ‘I’m enjoying my walk. I am. Are you? Are you enjoying yours? Are you really?'”
Whatever our personal choice of companion, those rambles allow us to come across a dozen other breeds, making new friends along the way, from doe-eyed whippets and gentle golden retrievers to inquisitive terriers or rumbustious young labradors.
Back in the Middle Ages, European nobles had close relationships with their dogs. Ladies doted on their fashionable lap dogs and noblemen went hunting with hounds — a practice that grew so popular that breeding hunting dogs became a trend throughout Europe.
By the Victorian era, dogs had wormed their way into the heart of family life and Britain had become a centre for dog breeding, with the first formal competitive dog shows held in the middle of the 19th century.
Canines played such vital roles in military operations during the two World Wars that they steadily gained increasing recognition of their intelligence and abilities throughout the 20th century, with films depicting the adventures of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin capturing the hearts of millions in the 1950s.
The Queen’s fondness for corgis helped to popularise the breed, while on the small screen Blue Peter presenter John Noakes became so inseparable from his excitable border collie that “Get down, Shep!” became a catchphrase so well known that it was even immortalised in song by The Barron Knights when the pair left the show in 1978.
These days dogs have become a much more familiar presence on TV and social media, with the Crufts dog show attracting an unbelievable 18,000 competitors and almost nightly programmes highlighting different aspects of canine behaviour and welfare, from sheepdog trials to different training techniques.
Of course, the difficult down side of our love affair with dogs is the pain we feel at losing them.
Countless online commentators attest to the fact that the death of a beloved pet is excruciating. With their shorter lifespans, it’s also unfortunately an inevitability, made all the more intense by their unconditional love and constant presence by our side.
Shepherdess Alison O’Neill has won a Twitter following of almost 50,000 for her glorious photographs and homely posts from her small hill farm in the Yorkshire Dales, where sheepdog Shadow is a star attraction.
“Dogs are the best,” she says. “But yes, I’ve known the loss of a dog. It’s no different than any family member passing.”
Coping when they are suddenly not there at our side can be devastating. But then perhaps that works both ways.
Many dog trainers and behaviourists believe that dogs feel grief too, being highly intuitive and sensitive animals — perhaps much more than people give them credit for.
It may not quite be on the scale of devotion demonstrated by the apocryphal Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, but artist Sir Edwin Landseer summed up the sense of loss memorably in his 1837 oil painting, The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner.
In a sparsely furnished room, a moping dog rests its head on the coffin of its master, the shepherd, whose staff and hat lie underneath a table supporting a closed bible.
The pathos of the scene made it popular with both collectors and the Victorian public in general, but it’s a striking representation of loss, described by the influential art critic John Ruskin as one of the “most perfect poems…which modern times have seen”.
Sentimental it may have been, but the painting also became an important part of animal advocacy campaigns in the 19th century, a reminder of the shared experiences and strong emotional bonds that can exist between human and non-human animals, and few 21st-century dog lovers would argue with the importance of that message.
We’d love to share your pictures and stories about your own dogs enjoying our wonderful Chilterns countryside. Contact us by email or our social media links — you don’t have to include personal details or precise locations, but we’d love to hear from you about the four-legged friends in your life.
Guest writer Lucy Parks always wanted to own a four-legged friend, but it was only in 2018 that Cypriot rescue dog Yella flew into the country and changed her life forever. With pet ownership still on the rise, she offers some timely advice for those yearning to own a dog of their own
THE UK’s dog and cat population has risen by around 50% since the end of 2019 and the number of lockdown puppies continues to grow as more and more people seek a flexible working arrangement and have more time to be at home with their pets.
For those still considering getting their first puppies, I offer a few words of wisdom based both on my own experience as a first-time dog-owner and the insight I have gained from working as a veterinary receptionist…
RESEARCH YOUR BREED
It’s easy to be swayed by cute puppies but it’s really important to know what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s not possible to do too much research: do think carefully about how the chosen breed will fit into your lifestyle and home environment.
How much time do you have to devote to training and walking your new pet? Yes, working cocker spaniels are adorable and, yes, they’re a fairly small dog, but they need A LOT of mental and physical stimulation. A husky or akita may appeal to your machismo, but do you have the firm hand and the time needed to train him? And are you ready for the hair shedding?
Poodle mixes are popular because they’re low-shedding but a) be sure you know what mix you’re getting or you could end up with a 30kg dog when you’re expecting a 10kg one and b) poodles are a high-energy, intelligent breed so whatever the mix, they’re going to need a lot of work… Oh, and low-shedding means an extra cost in regular visits to the groomer: that fur’s got to come off somehow.
If you’re going the rescue route, keep an open mind and listen to the advice given by the rescue centre. When a kokoni was suggested to me as a good first dog, I did my research. They’re loyal, low maintenance, stubborn and playful. Yella has totally lived up to this and she proved to be a perfect choice.
WHAT’S YOUR BACK-UP?
No dog-owner is an island and there will be times when you need support to just live your life, whether that’s someone taking your dog for an hour’s walk or having them overnight. I have both supportive friends and a paid dog sitter that I turn to; other friends have had great success through Borrow My Doggy.
Dog walkers and dog boarders are massively over-subscribed at the moment with the sheer volume of new pets and they can afford to be picky about who they take: a well-trained, well-socialised pooch will always win over the high-maintenance chewer!
GET A VET
With the surge in pet owners, and the double whammy of Covid and the impact of Brexit meaning fewer EU vets available in the UK, many vets are no longer taking new clients. We’ve had people register with us from 30 miles away, just because they couldn’t find a vet closer to get their puppy’s vital first vaccinations.
There’s some advice to get a vet before you even get a pet, but this may not always be possible. Either way, don’t forget to find your local vet for vaccinations, socialisation and, of course, should anything go drastically wrong…
LEAVE IT ALONE
Lockdown puppies have rarely been left on their own, which has led to a rise in separation anxiety. This can result in destructive behaviour, howling and a generally miserable dog. Get your pup used to being on its own by leaving it alone, gradually building up the amount of time each day. It may seem cruel, but it gets them used to their own company. It may be your rose-tinted dream to have a dog you can take with you everywhere, but it’s simply not feasible and, if you can’t even step into another room without your dog missing you, you’re both going to be miserable.
LET YOUR DOG BE A DOG
Many people opt for a small breed dog, simply because they’re more manageable, but there’s a danger in not allowing your dog to be a dog. Don’t carry him everywhere: he needs to walk, and sniff, and experience life from the ground.
Dogs need to socialise with other dogs. Yes, not all dogs get on – as with humans – but they need to find their own way. They’ll tell each other off if they’re not happy and, while this can be scary for owners, it’s part of their development.
As your dog gets older, you’ll get to understand them. Yella doesn’t like bouncy puppies and flat-faced dogs (and I steer her clear when possible) but she absolutely loves whippets, greyhounds and collies… it’s just her preference, which I’ve learned over time.
Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals.Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part and Part 7.
Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns
YELLA will be three at the end of this year, which means I’ve had her in my life for 2.5 years. And what a learning curve it’s been!
I thought I was prepared: I’d done a lot of research before I got her, I’d asked my dog-owning Facebook friends to give me their best advice, I’d booked her in for training, I’d bought what I understood I needed… but reality is often a surprise.
What I offer here, based purely on my own experiences, through trial and error, are my top tips for happy dogs and happy owners.
Training: as a first-time dog owner, I had both a one-to-one session with a dog trainer and took Yella to puppy classes. They gave me huge confidence and helped me to understand how best to train her, but two commands have proved invaluable: “wait” and “this way”.
“Wait” works in so many situations, whether it’s stopping her from running to the front door when someone rings the bell, to crossing the road safely or keeping her out of danger when it’s time to go back on the lead after a good run.
“This way” is a great alternative to saying “no” when encouraging her to go in a certain direction. It’s a simple distraction in a positive way rather than shouting “no!” to stop her running off – and I’m convinced Yella even knows her left from right because of this.
Visibility: as regular blog readers will know, Yella loves to go exploring in the woods. Because of her colour, it can be tricky to spot her, especially among autumn leaves, but I invested in some dog bells, which fit on her harness and it means I can always hear her, even if I can’t actually see her. They’re a cheap lifesaver from constant worry about where she’s gone.
In the winter, I add a dog light to her harness for extra visibility. One early evening last year we managed to startle some walkers in the woods when they saw just a jangling red light belting towards them. It took them a moment to realise it was only a friendly little dog, rushing up in the dark to say hello.
Toys and beds: It’s easy to spend a fortune on dog toys. One friend gave me a great piece of advice: buy children’s toys from a charity shop, wash them, remove any choke hazards, and you’ve got a new toy at a snip of the price. Yella doesn’t really much care for playing with toys, but she loves to play tug and, for that, her “toy” of choice is the leg of an old pair of tracksuit trousers…
Dog beds can be equally expensive. I bought a cheap child’s bean bag chair from Amazon (cost about a tenner), cover it with a £2 washable fleece from Ikea and she’s sorted. In fact, Yella and Nancy the cat have a bean bag chair bed each and Yella likes to spend her time between both of them.
Winter extras: I’ve found winter to be a more accessory-heavy time as a dog owner, a constant battle against the mud and wet. Early on I discovered Equafleece coats (above). They’re not cheap but they keep Yella warm, wick away moisture from her body and keep off the worse of the mud – plus she looks darn cute in it! She also has a stash of microfibre towels, which are great for towelling her down because they dry really quickly so there aren’t wet dog towels hanging around the house. A pack of (cheap) wet wipes by the front door also help to get muck off her paws when we’re back from a walk.
For me, Acai thermal, waterproof skinny trousers are a top find. They look good, dry fast, mud wipes off and they keep me toasty on winter walks. I could wear them all day, they’re so comfortable. Again, not cheap but worth every penny. The same goes for good walking boots and wellies. It’s worth spending a bit more (I know – I’ve tried the cheap ones and it’s a false economy). I favour Merrell walking boots and Hunter Balmoral wellies.
Practical tips: Yella is a shit-roller. Fox poo, badger doo-doo, bird mess, cow pats, even human excrement (I know: vile)… Yella has rolled in it all. I don’t like to bathe her too often but sometimes there’s no option and Animology dog shampoos do the trick for me. They get rid of the stink and she smells like biscuits afterwards. She hasn’t yet worked out the correlation between rolling in poo and having a bath, but she accepts her fate and quite enjoys having a good rub down.
Arden Grange liver paste is the answer when giving Yella meds. Simply wrap any tablet in a bit of paste and she’s mad for it. Nancy the cat has it, too, with her meds – it’s a winner in our house.
And, finally, if you allow your dog on the bed (Yella’s allowed only by invitation and usually only at weekends for a lie-in), a handheld vacuum cleaner is perfect to get rid of the dog hairs. It takes only a moment for a quick whizz over the duvet and saves finding dog hairs in your mouth at bedtime. And no-one wants that, right?
Next time: Some of our other favourite walks in the Chilterns.
Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals.Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.
Guest writer Lucy Parks continues her occasional blog about how Cypriot rescue dog Yella has adjusted to life in the Chilterns
top trails for tasty treats
AT THE weekends, Yella and I enjoy doing a longer walk – often with friends – that takes in a refreshment stop.
Okay, so maybe Yella (and canine companions) don’t enjoy the refreshment part quite as much as the humans, but it’s nice to reward yourself with a drink.
Here are three of our favourites…
Wendover Woods is a well-managed woodland area on the side of the Chiltern Hills with ample car parking. Some fellow dog-walkers aren’t too keen on the structured approach, but I think it’s got a good variety of terrain and a lovely cafe that serves good coffee and homemade cake. Plus it’s high up and there are stunning views across the Chilterns.
There are a number of established routes around the woods and we particularly enjoy the Firecrest Trail, a five kilometre route along bridleways, through woodland and with the all-important open spaces for crazy running. It can get quite busy in the areas around the car park/cafe – and presents a picnic hazard for inquisitive dogs on sunny days…
Wendover Woods can be found at HP22 5NQ. Parking is £2.50 for up to two hours.
Rickmansworth aquadrome is a popular public park and nature reserve that can become hideously busy on nice days… but hurry past the main areas near the car park and cafe and you’ll find a tranquil paradise, rich with wildlife.
There are lovely, level, paved walks around the main two lakes. If you’re feeling more adventurous (and your dog’s well-behaved), explore the more distant Stocker’s Lake Nature Reserve. Yella loves nosing around the water’s edge and then lets off steam in the wider open areas.
Again, there are picnickers on warmer days and lots of water birds – including swans that are quite happy to chase a small dog if it gets too close. And the cafe… oh, the cafe. The best meaty sausage rolls I’ve ever tasted, beautiful bacon sarnies and excellent coffee. It’s a hot-spot with yummy mummies during the week and with families at weekends, but it runs efficiently and is consistently good. Worth a trip for the cafe alone!
Rickmansworth Aquadrome is accessed via Frogmoor Lane, Rickmansworth WD3 1NB. Parking is free. More details on the cafe here: https://thecafeinthepark.com/
Penn Street woods is wet-weather favourite because of the thick tree cover. Park in the Holy Trinity Church car park (it’s free) and go where the mood takes you. There are clear paths, diversions down woody alleyways and an abundance of wildlife to chase (for the dogs). Penn Wood is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and it can get quite busy on Sunday afternoons. After a lovely dog walk, arrange for your walk to end at The Squirrel pub – it has a fabulous selection of libations, a big outdoor area and cosy nooks inside. Cheers!
Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals.Click on these links to see her earlier posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Next time: Squirrels, pigeons, deer and grouse…Yella proves her street dog credentials
Guest writer Lucy Parks recounts the pleasures and perils of adopting a rescue dog
A DOG CALLED YELLA
I CAN’T remember a time I didn’t want a dog.
My mother – who doesn’t like animals, hence no childhood dog – tells stories of me toddling up behind German Shepherds as a kid, just to give them a hug. To me, dogs were there to be loved and cuddled and I knew that, one day, I would fulfil my dream.
Cats filled the gap as I worked full-time and simply didn’t have room in my life for a dog.
Everything changed when I hit 50. Made redundant, I took the opportunity to pare back my life, stay local, work less. The moment had come. I always knew I was going to go down the rescue route but, having two cats at the time, it proved difficult with the UK rescue charities. They, understandably, want to be sure that when they re-home a dog into a house with cats, the dog (and cats) will be comfortable.
After a few months of looking, a friend with a Cypriot rescue dog suggested a Facebook group I might be interested in. To cut a very long story short, in July 2018, Yella flew into the country and into my arms.
Yella (Greek for “laugh” because, in the first photo we saw of her, she had a big grin) is a Kokoni-cross, a small, domestic Greek terrier known as “the daughter’s dog” for their gentle and devoted nature.
She was six months old, scared stupid and didn’t speak any English. But from the first moment we saw each other, on a dark night in the car park at South Mimms service station, it was love.
I’VE made a terrible mistake…
The first few days with Yella, my new rescue dog, were terrifying for both of us. She was away from everything she knew – albeit that she was only six months old – and not just in a strange home but in a strange country. She’d had an arduous plane and truck journey to the UK from Cyprus and, despite having wanted a dog forever, I had very little idea of what it actually entailed.
Yella wasn’t house-trained; she’d never worn a collar or harness or walked on a lead before; she’d not seen traffic before; she didn’t know how to play; wasn’t interested in sticks or balls. Oh and I discovered that she was in season, which is why she hadn’t been neutered before she came to me.
She followed me everywhere. Everywhere. I thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.
That first night, I’d slept in the hallway with her, next to her crate, waking up regularly to take her outside for a pee. She never really took to the crate, though, and it became a bit of a tussle every night. The sound of a puppy crying in her crate is just heartbreaking.
But as time went on, we both adapted as we got to know each other. Yella came to ParkRun with me at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, she came to the beer shop in Amersham and she revelled in the love and attention she got from my friends.
I guess I was hideously naive at the start. I was impatient to have the perfect pet but any dog, especially a rescue dog, needs time, understanding and patience.
Yella hadn’t had a bad start in life, she wasn’t abused or neglected, but she’d been brought up in shelter and her new life in the Chilterns could not have been more different.
discovering the chilterns
ONE of the very best things about getting a dog has been discovering the Chiltern Hills.
I’d lived in Amersham for 15 years when I got Yella and I was familiar with the well-trodden commuter route between home and the station but, admittedly, I’d explored very little further than that.
Yes, I liked going out for walks but it always felt a bit, well, empty without a dog. Now I was forced to venture down footpaths and into new places in search of good walking routes.
As well as finding the stunning scenery that had been right on my doorstep all along, I was blown away by the dog-owning community.
In my first few weeks with Yella, I spoke to more people in my home town than I had in the previous 15 years. Dog owners are always ready to stop for a chat, exchange stories and coo as their pets sniff each other’s butts.
It’s provided a totally unexpected, if slightly unusual, social avenue. I know very few owners’ names, but I know Lily, Arthur, Hector, JJ, Buddy and Billy – and Yella greets them as old friends.
One of my first regular walks with Yella was to Hervines Park in Amersham, which has the winning combination of open parkland to run in and long, deep woods to explore (where squirrels might be found).
The first time I lost Yella
IT WAS at Hervines Park where I lost Yella for the first time.
She’d not long been off-lead and I was still a bit nervous, but she’d always stayed close… but she was getting braver. In the woods at the edge of the park, she suddenly bolted off, chasing a squirrel. I called and called – Yella’s recall has always been a bit selective – and after a few minutes I started to panic.
Hours passed. Well, it was probably more like five minutes but felt like hours, and then I spotted two women and their dogs walking up through the woods. They hadn’t seen Yella, but they sympathised for a while. As we stood there, a man approached us from the woods with five dogs in tow.
It took me a moment to realise that one of them was Yella. My heart leapt and, boy, was she happy to see me. It transpired that only two of the dogs actually belonged to the man; the others had just joined his walk…
There are always lots of dogs to run around with at Hervines Park and it remains one of our favourites. It can be approached from many different directions, there’s parking at the end of Hervines Road and, if you feel inclined, can walk for miles.
stunning views on the doorstep
WITH hindsight, twilight wasn’t the best time to embark on the new walk that a local runner had told me about, especially one through woods.
I was a bit scared but Yella was oblivious, excited to find a whole new world of sniffs.
It was literally five minutes down the road from home on the Amersham/Chesham Bois border and yet – like many of the other walks I’ve found – I had no idea it was there.
At the end of the quiet but well-established wooded path, I could see daylight and we hurried towards it. We found ourselves crossing a railway bridge and then – oh goodness me, what a sight to behold: the Chilterns Hills, laid out before me like a landscape painting in the late afternoon sun. I could only stand and stare. It was simply stunning.
The Big Field, now one of our staple walks, lay ahead, a popular area with dog walkers and kite fliers. It’s on the side of the Chess Valley, exposed, open and perfect for crazy running.
We headed across the field to the left, following the path down the big hill. Only the occasional passing train on the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan line, high above you, reminds you that you’re in the Home Counties.
The footpath cuts through the valley, under a railway bridge with fine graffiti to the left and up into Blackwell Stubbs, a small but well-maintained woodland. Back up another hill – well, this is the Chilterns – and take the left fork up into Stubbs Wood (that’s a road, not a wood).
This is a lovely circular walk that takes about 45 minutes. Yella loves the variety of woodland and open space, the potential for deer and squirrels, and the chance to meet canine friends.
In the same area of Amersham are Chesham Bois Common and Great Bois Wood, both firm favourites with many different routes to explore.
It’s but a tiny area of the Chilterns and it offers so much. Yella and I have loved witnessing the changes of the seasons here, from slipping through snow and slopping through mud to hot summer evenings in the shade of the ancient beech trees. We are truly blessed to live in such a wonderful place.
Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog.A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals.