A ruff guide to the Lakes
By Buster (as told to Roy Hattersley), Daily Mail, 26th June 2006
Buster made sure Roy Hattersley had a great holiday
For once, The Man was in a good temper at the end of a journey. On the motorway, driving north, he was, as usual, full of moans - complaining about the way other motorists were driving (which was silly because they could not hear him) and complaining about me for lying on the back seat instead of navigating (which is sillier still because I am a dog).
But as soon as we arrived at what he called 'The Lakes', he was all sweetness and light. 'Look, Buster,' he kept saying. 'Look at the hills. This must be one of the most beautiful places on Earth.'
He had to say 'one of . . .' because he is never prepared to admit that anywhere is better than the Peak District. 'One of the most beautiful. . .' is as far - by way of extravagant compliment - as he is prepared to go.
When we got to our first hotel - The Inn on the Lake on the shores of Ullswater - he gushed even more. Being low on the ground, I could not see what he was on about. But once we got to our room, he led me across to the window.
'This view,' he said 'is as good as anything you would find in Austria or Switzerland.'
Our bedroom looked out over a formal garden to Ullswater and the mountains which rose from its far shore. The water rippled silver and blue and the distant trees were a dozen shades of green. Boats of every sort - some of them from the quays at the end of the garden - bobbed and danced on the little wind-whipped waves. 'Tomorrow,' The Man promised, 'we will go on a pleasure steamer.' And so we did, with The Man still singing the praises of the 'excellent dinner in the hotel last night'. We sat at the very front of a boat called the Lady Wakefield (owned by Ullswater Steamers) and sailed right up the lake and back again.
Halfway home, The Man - not having a fur coat like mine - felt cold and went into the saloon for a cup of tea. He was not sure that I would be allowed in. But he was wrong.
One of the nicest things about the Lake District is the way in which dogs are welcomed everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. That afternoon we moved on to Yew Tree Farm near Coniston - another one of the lakes. It is what The Man called 'a bed and breakfast' - at least before he got there. When we arrived he said it was 'an idyll of old England, straight out of a Turner painting'. He also said that the Prince of Wales had stayed there. But he was wrong. Prince Charles (who is a man, the spaniel is King Charles) stayed at another B&B with a similar name. Four dogs live at Yew Tree Farm. John Watson, the farmer, called the two Jack Russells 'pooches who just hang about the house'. He has two sheepdogs to help him keep his flock in order. There were 12 tiny lambs baa-ing in the farm's lovely front garden. I could have taught them a thing or two about how to behave. But The Man told me: 'Working dogs have to live in kennels outside the house'. I would not like that. I was allowed in the bedroom.
In the morning I smelled what was clearly 'the best full English breakfast in the Lake District, and all the food came from the surrounding area' - a particularly insensitive remark, I thought, since, as always, I was required to live off the sawdust balls which are said to keep me healthy.
The Lake District is good for dogs because it is good for walks. We went to see Aira Force (a big waterfall) before we left Ullswater and, when we got to Yew Tree Farm, we walked along Hodge Close, a valley which ends at a disused slate mine with a 1,000ft-deep lake at the bottom - or so the rock climbers claim. I thought that, judging by the length of the walk, The Man was going out in the evening without me and wanted me to be so tired that I went early to sleep. In fact, he took me with him to the Drunken Duck Inn at Barngates, near Ambleside - a famous restaurant with lots of prize-winning real ale from the Barnsgate Brewery. But I stayed in the car.
When he came out, after about an hour, all he could say was that he had sacrificed his pudding to make sure that I was not alone for too long. As he then went on about his 'wonderful risotto', I found it hard to feel sympathetic. When we came back from the next morning's constitutional, a bus had arrived at Yew Tree Farm. It was full of Japanese tourists. The farm once belonged to a lady called Beatrix Potter who owned a lot of property in the area.
When nearly everybody was unemployed - a long time ago at about the time when The Man was born - she encouraged her tenants to set up tearooms for tourists and bought the furniture they needed. Just before we left, we went to say goodbye to Caroline, the farmer's wife who runs the bed and breakfast. She was in the kitchen, teaching the Japanese tourists how to make scones. Each one had a plastic bowl filled with butter and flour. 'Remember,' Caroline said, 'keep your spoon high. You've got to let the air in.' The Japanese all lifted their spoons in perfect unison.
Next day we went to Hill Top, where Beatrix Potter lived (on and off). The Tale Of Mr Jeremy Fisher was finished there. The Tale Of Tom Kitten was set in the house. And The Tale Of Jemima Puddleduck recounts the adventure of a real duck which wandered away from Hill Top. Beatrix Potter drew the pictures which illustrated her tales and all over the house her books have been left open near to furniture included in her illustrations. The Georgian-style dresser and the grandfather clock in the hall appear in The Tailor Of Gloucester. The balustrade on the half landing is the one behind which the hero of Samuel Whiskers' Tale hides from his feline tormentor. Strange though it is to see the illustrations come to life, the strangest thing about Hill Top is its visitors. When we were there, they were nearly all Japanese.
We spent the last days of our visit on Windermere, at a place called Miller Howe. Though what The Man calls 'reasonably priced', Miller Howe is one of those hotels that makes you feel rich as soon as you walk inside. The antiques, paintings, china and carpets were special. Yet I was allowed everywhere, and didn't break anything.
We had a cottage of our own and I made myself at home. Every night before dinner, The Man had a drink (or two) on the terrace, which had a spectacular view over the lake beyond the huge gardens. And I sat there with him. But, never being satisfied, one night he drove miles to a hotel called Sharrow Bay, which is supposed to serve the best food in the world. He came back saying he wished he had stayed in with me. 'Sharrow Bay's cooking is as good as all the experts say. But eating there is like going to church. The atmosphere is reverential.'
I think it was visiting the big houses that The Man liked most - he seemed to go to one every day. The house he seemed to like most of all was called Blackwell and had been built in a style called Arts and Crafts. The Man was ecstatic. 'Everything,' he said, 'is in harmony. Furniture blends with architecture and it all seems to spring out of the local countryside.' He talks like that sometimes, though I've no idea what he means.
The other two houses he especially enjoyed were Brantwood - where John Ruskin, the writer and poet, once lived - and Holker Hall, a stately home owned by Lord and Lady Cavendish. The Man called Holker Hall 'more impressive than beautiful. You know, heavy Victorian'. But Brantwood was 'an absolute joy'. Then he asked me why Ruskin 'kept going on about Venice when he could live, write about and paint the views from the window on the side of his house?' Naturally, I had no idea of the answer. I suspect he did not mind. My job is to look impressed when he says supposedly wise things.
During our six days in the Lake District, we drove for miles. The Man wanted to see all the villages - places like Cartmel, where he visited the 800-year-old priory, and also ate the biggest vanilla ice cream cone that I have ever seen. But, despite the narrow roads and the steep hills, he never seemed to mind the journeys. For, as he kept saying, the glory of the Lake District is its scenery. The Man found it hard to choose the right words with which to describe it and, unusually for him, admitted his difficulty. He tried 'grandeur', but it sounded pompous, and 'awesome', but that has become what footballers say when they score long-range goals. All he could manage was a simple repetition of what he had seen. Mountains grey in the distance. Hills green at the mountains' foot. Lakes that ripple in the summer breeze. And flowers everywhere.
He did not have the courtesy to tell me that we will be going back quite soon.
# Buster's Secret Diaries As Discovered By Roy Hattersley will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson next spring.