Adam Henson: Those glorious dog days of summer
‘As long as owners act responsibly, follow the Countryside Code and keep their pets on a short lead near livestock, it’s a win-win for everyone’
Summer’s at its height, everyone’s heading out of doors and the Cotswold countryside awaits. I never have to be reminded just how lucky we are to live in one of Britain’s loveliest landscapes and for dog owners like me there’s an endless choice of places to walk and exercise our canine companions in the sunshine.
There are three breeds which are particularly special to me; I grew up with Labradors, I’ve worked all my life with border collies and Countryfile viewers will know how much I love my Hungarian wirehaired Vizslas. Originally bred as hunting hounds in their native country back in the 1930s, these friendly loyal creatures have been nicknamed ‘Velcro’ dogs because they stick so closely to their owners. All over the Cotswolds there’s plenty of parkland, commons and open access areas where you and your dog can stretch your legs and as long as owners act responsibly, follow the Countryside Code and keep their pets on a short lead near livestock, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Taking dogs to organised events and shows needs a bit more planning though. Apart from assistance dogs, you can’t assume that pets are always welcome, even at outdoor venues. That’s why I’m delighted that the biggest event I’m appearing at this August is also one of the most dog-friendly in the whole UK. BBC Countryfile Live returns to Blenheim Palace at the beginning of the month for a huge celebration of rural Britain, food, farming, crafts and conservation or what John Craven describes as “the best country fair in the world”.
Last year an incredible 10,000 dogs were brought to the event and they are very well catered for with water bowls and dog waste bins around the showground as well as vets on site ready to give a helping hand if it’s needed. You can even enter your pet in to Scruffts, the annual competition for crossbreeds. Heats for this year’s contest are taking place in the Dog Lover’s Arena where pets and their owners will be in the capable hands of the legendary BBC children’s presenter and all-round ‘Dog God’, Peter Purves. While Peter keeps the canines happy, I’ll be surrounded by animals of a different kind as we’re recreating Adam’s Farm at the show and bringing some of our rare breed cattle, sheep and pigs over the county border for the entire four days. We’ll also be shearing sheep, holding a life-like livestock auction and showing off one of Britain’s rarest breeds of all, a mighty Suffolk Punch horse.
I’ve got to know Blenheim very well in the past couple of years and it really will be a home-from-home for the duration of the event. So I was fascinated to spot some of my favourite views of the estate in an old black and white film that’s just come to light. The BBC Television Newsreel cameras were there in 1950 to record the palace opening to visitors for the first time. Sixty-eight years ago people paid half a crown for tours of the world famous site and there are long, lingering shots of all the places that visitors today will recognise; the beautiful palace architecture, Capability Brown’s landscaped grounds, lily ponds in the formal gardens, the Grand Bridge, the River Glyme and reaching up 134 feet in to the sky, the Column of Victory. The newsreel commentary is delivered in the classic BBC English of the day by announcer Edward Halliday; a fascinating character who was also a highly regarded portrait artist. He apparently used to paint in the mornings and broadcast in the afternoons. His script was almost as grand as the palace; “It was a conqueror’s home, conceived and built by a grateful nation for that first great Duke of Marlborough whose famous victories are immortalised in history”.
A lot to live up to at Countryfile Live, but I can’t wait for the gates to open to the public – and their pets – on August 2.