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’

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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.

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