DOG WALKS COME in three flavours. The
good. The bad. And the ugly.
Pretty much all my walks before I moved
to this country were, I realise belatedly,
of the first variety.
Strolling through the
Botanical Gardens at sunset,
our German shepherd, Rocky,
bustling ahead, big ears swivelling, bigger nose twitching as he
scanned the dusk for news while
birds sang in the bushes and the
sky turned to flame behind the banyan
trees...those were good walks.
Splashing along the edge of Clearwater,
much later, as my parents’ lovely Alsatian Mya
lengthened her trot in the surf by my side.
Show your pony!
Laughing with my sister and nephews as her
crazy springer George zigged and zagged along
the beach, curly ears akimbo.
Flash forward to the classic British dog
walk, one of which I’ve just survived. My
hair is plastered to my face in the sort of I,
Claudius ‘do that I bet was a disaster even
back in A.D. 41. My nose has turned Alex
Ferguson red due to prolonged exposure to
the elements. And the rain has dried on my
glasses so it looks like spots are dancing before
my eyes. No, wait...spots really ARE dancing
before my eyes!
Before you protest, I accept that it is
possible to have a good dog walk in Britain.
For days, sometimes weeks at a time you can
stop and smell the roses, or piddle on them,
depending on your preference.
And the common or garden bad walks—the
unsatisfying “Must you sniff every last lamp
post!” battles when you want a quick one and
he, sensing your impatience, does an excellent
impression of molasses—well, they’re hardly
But the truly ugly walks? They require a
specific combination of ingredients. Rain,
sometimes mixed with fog. Strong winds (to
style that “Hail, Caesar” hair). And mud. Lots
and lots of mud.
Add one dog who, jeepers creepers, doesn’t
care what the weatherman says, and you’ve got
the fixings for an ordeal with a capital “O.”
Luckily, there’s an outfit designed to protect
against all of the above—and I happen to have it.
Rubber pants—rather sooner than I
thought I’d need them but what the heck.
Hiking boots—tread like a Chieftain tank
and weighing almost as much.
Waterproof, windproof coat. From Sea-salt—a Cornish company that prides itself on
functionality not fashion. (My sister refused
to buy one on the grounds that people might
think she’d stolen it from the Public Works
When I get to the Devil’s Dyke, where Oliver and I prefer to take our perambulations, I
pull all these items on, over my normal, non-dog-duty duds. It takes a while.
When I’m done, zipped and cinched, hood
battened down, I look like one of the brutes in
hazmat suits who break into Elliott’s house in
E. T. and make everyone cry. Or the Hartley’s
Helmet Diving man, about to set off on his
Outside my waterproof bubble, where the
day, as my mother-in-law would put it, has
degenerated to “dreich,” the dog is doing his
thing—bounding about, tail spinning like
a propeller, singularly failing to retrieve the
wretched tennis ball even though, as a golden
retriever, it’s in his job description.
Inside my bubble, I can hear Kate Bush
singing “Wuthering Heights” in my head
(“Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy, I’ve come
home!”), as I peer through my porthole, scan-
ning my 15 degree field of vision for
landmarks (“Where has the pub
gone?!”) and the enemy of the
dog walker, the cow.
For the record, I have nothing against cows when they’re in
some far-off field, minding their
I have everything against them when,
as now, we are bogged down in a turf war.
( Thanks to the freakishly warm weather, the
herd has been allowed to graze on National
Trust land all winter long.)
Have you ever noticed how absolutely
bloody enormous a full-grown cow is? (No
fair, Mom and Dad, because I know you do.)
Anyone else? I’ll tell you. Huge. Just two,
standing nose to bony backside, can block off
the low road to Poynings.
I hate their unpredictability. Will Bossy
and Baby Bossy continue to chew their cud
if I try to sneak behind them? Or will she get
all maternal, take exception to my gooberish
non-retrieving retriever, fix us with her great,
bulbous, long-lashed eyes and crush the pair of
us like a couple of Pringles?
And I really hate the trail of destruction
they leave—ground churned into what Chancellor George Osborne would surely describe
as a “dangerous cocktail” of soil and another
“s” word that I cannot mention in a family
And let us not even discuss the cowpat
But you know what? By the time we finally
get back to the car, both of us exhausted,
Oliver resembling some creature made of
coarse-cut marmalade, in knee socks, and me
looking like a health-care worker who has
misplaced her Ebola patient, I always think:
“Am I completely mad? And what possessed
me to buy a light-coloured, long-haired dog in
That’s Life! A Letter from London | WRITTEN BY WINIFRED BLACKMORE