April 23, 2016
It's Shakespeare's birthday – 400-and-something today in human years – and to celebrate Jane and I have visited Stratford-upon-Avon. (As a dog of letters, it's right that I pay homage to a man of letters and, Elizabethan-style party hat on my bonce, bow to the bard.)
We're also celebrating as I, Attlee Common, have been asked to take part in the Naturo Change Challenge. Many of Britain's most famous Fidos are involved – Tilly the Westie who has a travel column in Dog-Friendly magazine, making her the second most famous news hound in the country after me, and Maggie, from Wag the Dog. Tilly needs to lose a few pounds and that's why she's making the change whereas me, I'm in peak physical fitness: I'm just trialling Naturo for a month because it's tasty. And Jane appreciates it as, when we travel, the plastic and cardboard packs don't weigh a tonne in her rucksack. (Dodger the cat likes it too but he is NOT ALLOWED to like it. It is MINE.)
After a stroll round Stratford, where we meet some more of William's waggy well-wishers (at least I can only assume that's why this dog is dressed thus) we catch the bus to Shipston-on-Stour and check into the White Bear, where we are to meet Jane's friend Apricot for a weekend of walking. We're traversing the Shakespeare Way, in fact – we really are Shaking It Up.
Apricot has bought us each a badge with a Shakespeare quote on it: mine proclaims Prone to Mischief. Sounds about right and I want to sport it on my collar but Jane, whose badge says For I Be a Neurotic Dog Owner, won't allow this, believing the badge will somehow compromise my collar's locking system. I make my feelings known, eyes fixed anywhere but on Jane, but when I'm offered a biscuit by the Bear's owner I climb down off my high horse and accept with as much sangfroid as a dog who has just climbed rather clumsily down from his high horse can muster.
By the next morning, after a breakfast of Naturo Duck, Rice and Vegetables, which is my personal favourite of the range, we're off. I'm blazing a trail, obviously, but I have to keep stopping as Apricot's the one with the map (and, despite Jane's C in Higher Geography, the only one who knows how to read it).
I'm confident my nose would have lead us to our first port of call, the charming Cherington Arms where we relax in the garden for half an hour so the girls (middle-aged women, ahem) can catch their breath. I am in no need of catching my breath, what with all the good stuff in my Naturo charging through my body. (Here's the science bit – Jane says I have to do the science bit. It's 60% duck, 20% brown rice, 15% vegetables and the rest is vitamins, oil and minerals. It's 100% Natural, it proclaims on the pack which I thought might make it boring-bones. But it's not boring-bones. It's exciting-bones, as there are little pieces of rice and vegetables in it! (And, I discover, a little bit excruciating-bones as, for the CHALLENGE, Jane and I are being filmed at a studio in East London to report our findings. I'm very excited when I hear this – Lights, Camera, ATTLEE, Action – but Jane has decided to take on the role of Gillian McKeith for the event and discuss my poo. The shame! So as we walk the Shakespeare Way, every time nature calls, she peers at my poo before bagging it. 'It looks healthy,' she reports to Apricot. Apricot doesn't want to know. No one wants to know! Dogs have dignity Jane. Please respect it.)
She does make it up to me, rather, with a trip to the much lauded for its dog-friendliness dog-friendly Red Lion in Long Compton, so dog-friendly that the manager is a Labrador called Cocoa and the decor is all DOG! The pictures are all of my canine compadres and Jane wanders round snapping them on her camera. She chats to the dogs at the bar queuing for pigs' ears too and wonders why some are rather wary of her. That's because I've warned them you will take photographs of their poo, Jane. Sorry, but if you are going to carry on with your self-appointed role as a McKeith for mutts you must accept the consequences.
After a rather lengthy pit stop, during which drink is taken, the girls (middle-aged women) wobble onwards to our kip for the night, passing, en route, The Rollright Stones, where an ancient pagan ceremony is taking place with much chanting, lighting of fires and general mayhem and merriment. 'Do not bark Attlee,' Jane instructs, scared that if I do some ancient curse will befall us. I am tempted to bark, to pay her back for the poo, but I desist. I don't much fancy being cursed either.
And then we're up and hill and down vale – rather beautiful hill and vale, actually, with the sun shining and smells assailing my nose which I keep, Bisto-kid style, in the air – to our final dog-friendly destination, another Red Lion Inn, this time in LITTLE Compton. How confuse-bones is that for a dog, even one taking the Naturo Change Challenge? When we walk in I figure it out, though. There are crisps on the floor and Jane and Apricot order burger and chips. The pub – after a long walk, this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.
Phileas Phacts: the Shakespeare Way
- The White Bear, High Street, Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire, CV36 4AJ, United Kingdom Tel: 01608 664199; www.whitebearinn.com
- The Cherington Arms, Cherington, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, CV36 5HS Tel: 01608 685183; www.thecheringtonarms.co.uk
- The Red Lion, Main Street, Long Compton, Warwickshire, CV36 5JS Tel: 01608 684221; website: www.redlion-longcompton.co.uk
- The Rollright s Stone, Stone Ct, Great Rollright, Chipping Norton OX7 5QB; www.rollrightstones.co.uk
- The Red Lion, Little Compton, Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire, GL56 0RT Tel: 01608 674397; www.theredlionlittlecompton.co.uk
Attlee took the Naturo Change Challenge – Naturo Pet Food, which comes in a variety of different ranges and sizes, is available from all good supermarkets and a 400g terrine of Salmon with Rice and Vegetables costs £1.20. For more information about Naturo log on to http://www.naturopetfoods.com/en/our-community/the-naturo-change