None Shall Pass

I am gradually coming to terms with dog-ownership.((http://An end to)) I still struggle with the presence of a restless and demanding animal1 in the house and her talent for destruction. This afternoon, for instance, she has eaten the lace on my new pair of vegan boots, for which I have saved for some time. Nevertheless, on the whole, Tia is extremely sweet-natured and is beginning to understand commands and, when she’s not distracted by smells, birds, the cat or other dogs, is attentive and obedient enough. I’ve walked her without Amanda a fair bit, and I am beginning to really enjoy the time I spend with her.

One advantage is that she has made having an English Heritage2 membership worthwhile. Apart from Osborne House3, the card gains us entry to Carisbrooke Castle4, which is a proper castle, in just the right state of decay.

It’s a Norman castle, with a high keep and a large bailey that has a variety of buildings within it, as well as a lovely walled garden. The bailey walls are almost complete and you can walk around them, which offers amazing views of the Island in all directions. The first picture above shows Tia, on guard, this morning.

There are fields and outer battlements, mostly Elizabethan and eighteenth century, around the outside, and dogs are free to run off-lead there. We started our visit with a circuit round the outside of the castle and Tia galloped about, inquisitive and gleeful, disappearing into the woods that ring the area before reappearing, with a look of joy, and racing towards me like a happy hare. One of the tricks a dog owner needs to develop is confidence in their animal. I am gradually learning that she will always return. She may wander, but she won’t go far without checking back with me.

After we’d had our gallop, we went into the castle. It was still early and the staff were getting ready for the last day of half-term events. We stopped at the donkey stables, which Tia wasn’t sure about, and then went up to the tea room, which is in a beautiful castle building, nestled against the bailey wall. We sat in the courtyard and I had my coffee and, unasked, a member of staff brought out a dog bowl of water for Tia. I was very moved by the kindness.

We were up in Suffolk for a few days this week, visiting my parents, who were charmed by the dog. Amanda wanted to do various bits of shopping, so on Friday I took Tia over to West Stow Country Park,5 which I loved when I was a child. There is a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon village there, but it is fenced and dogs are forbidden. However, the park itself is large and contains a lake, made from an old gravel pit, and has several long trails looping through it. When I was last there, fifteen years ago, it was still quite a bare place, with only young trees. The woods have thickened and matured now, and the lake looks quite natural. A river, the Lark, is well-maintained and is the only place I have ever seen otter trail in the wild, although that was when I was in my teens.

Tia and I walked around the lake, on a lovely late-autumn afternoon, with the sun low in the sky. We saw only a few other people and she was in her element. Unfortunately, there is a “dogs-on-leads-only” rule; Bury St Edmunds, being Tory to its very core, seems to be a place that loves rules for their own sake, as I can’t see what harm a dog running around in that large open space could do. However, I am an example of obedience, so Tia didn’t get to canter about, beyond the speed I can manage.

She seemed to enjoy it, though, and I achieved the peace that, as I am learning, a long walk in the company of a dog can inspire.

Yesterday, before we left Bury for the tedious journey home, we went into town to do some last-minute shopping. There is a science fiction exhibition on at Moyses Hall Museum6 and various cosplay people were standing outside, wearing Star Wars and Judge Dredd costumes and that expression of defiant embarrassment that cosplay fantasists maintain. I asked the stormtrooper to hold Tia’s lead while I took a photo, but she was unimpressed and failed to pose. The sweet young jedi made up for Tia’s failure. I have a feeling I will treasure this image.

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