One of the nicest surprises I had this summer was finding out how dog-friendly Cheddar Gorge is.
Betty and I were on holiday in Weston-Super-Mare and staying at the dog-friendly Richmond Hotel. The Richmond is welcoming and homely to humans and dogs alike. When we arrived, two middle-aged couples, holidaying together, had made themselves at home in the shared reception area, deciding on what everyone else was to watch on the communal TV and drinking their way through several multi-packs of beer. They thought Betty was adorable, so these were clearly people of good taste.
We checked in and were shown to our room. Clearly, the manager hadn’t read my message properly, and tried to put my purely-platonic friend and I into a small double bedroom, rather than the twin I had requested. The mistake was quickly corrected and we settled into a room that was on the main stairwell on the first floor. Most of the other rooms were along corridors through doors that led off from the main stairwell and, if I went back for another visit, I would request one of these instead.
One of Betty’s characteristics, from being part mini pinscher, is that she takes her duty as a guard dog very seriously. So, whenever there was a noise outside the door, she wanted to tell us about it. That aside, the hotel was comfortable and the manager, Jonathan, and his mum make you feel like you are in a home away from home. The food is excellent and the location could not be more perfect. You may need to drive around a bit to find a parking space, but you are only minutes from the beach, which is also dog friendly.
The beach is just about the flattest expanse of sand you will see anywhere. High tide lasts almost the blink of an eye, so for most of the time, your dog can run around freely. Based on my experience, the beach isn’t generally much of a sunbather’s paradise – holiday makers are more likely to spend time on the pier, playing crazy golf, or looking around the Sea Life centre. This makes a change from taking your dog to a beach that is more popular for sunbathers as, if your dog is anything like Betty, you will have to keep them on a lead to avoid them running over people and charging through picnics. Just take care of any vehicles that are using the beach to clear rubbish or transport donkeys around. I witnessed a near-miss and contacted the council, who responded with:
“Thank you for your e-mail. We are aware of the incident and, to our knowledge, the dog made a good recovery. There is an existing speed limit on the beach of 10 mph and vehicles are restricted to the areas designated for car parking. However, unfortunately some people do choose to ignore these restrictions. The beach and seafront areas are patrolled by rangers and we do what we can to enforce these limits. I hope this goes some way to putting your mind at rest. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can help with.”
If you are in Weston-Super-Mare for a couple of days, you can spend one day exploring Cheddar Gorge and the other enjoying the local beach, parks and other off-lead walking trails. The town became quite the arty hotspot during the summer of 2015, when the artist Banksy opened Dismaland and brought in more than 150,000 visitors from all over the world. Who knows what installation, temporary or otherwise, will inhabit the Tropicana lido next? I wanted to see the exhibition, but dogs weren’t allowed – boo!
The other attraction you may assume is dog-friendly, is the Grand Pier. Dogs aren’t allowed on there either. It is no big loss for someone who doesn’t enjoy arcades, and you can get great food along the seafront from cafes and shacks that open out onto the pavement.
After a run around on the beach, Betty and I took ourselves off to Weston Woods. There is a car park at the end of Worlebury Hill Road, where it is best to keep your dog on a lead as the area can get busy with people, cars, dogs and children. You can head off down any of the paths and find many different routes around the 130 hectares of woodland to keep your dog amused for hours. Just be aware that horses are allowed on the bridleways and you may run into a few cyclists.
The shade from the trees provides a nice respite if the beach is getting too hot.
On the morning we left to return home to Cambridge, we stopped by a favourite childhood spot of mine, from when I used to visit my grandparents: Ashcombe Park. You can enter the park from the top via Upper Bristol Road or from the bottom via Milton Road. The park is large enough for your dog to run around off-lead and hopefully meet some other dogs to play with. There are also tennis courts, a cafe in high season, and a children’s play area.
The main attraction of the trip to Weston-Super-Mare was to visit Cheddar Gorge. We got there early to avoid the slow traffic and find parking spaces. Amazingly, the gorge and caves are open every day of the year apart from Christmas Eve and Day. During high season, the attractions are available from 10am, but if you are early, you can wake yourself up by visiting a coffee house. During winter months, everything is open from 10.30am. Parking is monitored all the way up the gorge, and starts filling up from the bottom to the top.
Even if you get there later, the walk down through the gorge is pleasant – just remember to sort out your parking ticket before you set off exploring. The road through the gorge is tight and busy during high season – you will need to keep your dog close to the road edge, or make like a mountain goat on the grassy bank. However, once away from the main street, your dog can enjoy the caves and tour bus just as much as you. The more energetic people and dogs can climb Jacob’s Ladder and enjoy the cliff-top walk until it is time to return for a Ploughman’s lunch at one of the pubs with real Cheddar cheese.