Money worries may persuade families to take short breaks closer to home this year – but the good news is that it means the pet dog can come too. Just load up the car and catch the ferry to Ireland...
'Ah, would you look at the wee Willy dog,' squealed our ruddy-cheeked landlady as we pulled up outside our Irish b&b and began unpacking.
'Why is she calling him Willy?' my nephew Jake, 11, asked his dad. in that endearing non-discreet way children have. But my brother Owen was too busy emptying the contents of the boot to hear. Out came two suitcases, then dog bowl, blanket, snuggly pet bed, doggie coat, chews, squeaky boot toy, ball, spare ball… Buddy the cream miniature poodle pup had managed to fill a space incommensurate with his size. Well, this was his first holiday with the family, and we weren’t sure what exactly he might need.
If you’re watching your budget this year, holidaying closer to home could be an option, particularly if it means you can save on heavy kennels bills by taking the pooch along, too. We’d decided on Ireland. Ireland and Britain are free of rabies, so pet dogs and cats may travel between the two without a Pet Passport. Plus on Irish Ferries’ crossing from Pembroke to Rosslare aboard the Isle of Inishmore, dogs go free. They have to stay in the car during the trip, but it’s only around four hours, just enough time for a nice dognap. (There are kennels on the car deck, but they’re a bit bleak for most pampered pets. Buddy survived the journey out in one, but his hangdog expression afterwards persuaded us to leave him in the car for the way back.)
We’d found a nice b&b, White Webbs, in Waterford, just an hour’s drive from the port. The owners were dog lovers themselves so adored well-behaved Buddy and his bed.
Day one, and after a hearty Irish breakfast (ok, the odd bit of sausage found its way to doggy under the table), first stop was Waterford itself. Port Lairge, as it is also called, is Ireland’s oldest city and seemingly full of dog lovers. Buddy received loads of attention, though Jake still wondered why everyone kept calling him Willy.
We spent a happy hour ambling aimlessly, but you could take the one-hour walking tour to learn about the two cathedrals and Reginalds Tower, the 1,000-year-old stone building that’s the oldest urban civic building in the country.
The city, founded by the Vikings, is best known for its crystal, and a visit to the Waterford Crystal factory was on sister-in-law Debbie’s list and mine. There are tours giving an insight into the craft of glass blowing and cutting, and showrooms featuring spectacular crystal chandeliers and ornaments worth a fortune – needless to say, clumsy dogs are not welcome, but Buddy was happy enough to be left in the car (with a window ajar for ventilation).
After all that urban sightseeing, we needed a beach. Follow the South East Coastal Drive westwards and you can stop off at any quaint village and secret cove you fancy. Tramore is a busy little coastal town, with a long promenade, tourist shops and funfair. We preferred Dungarvan – where we stopped for tea and huge rock cakes - and Dunmore East, where Buddy had his first ever romp on sand.
Yes, dogs, too, do love to be beside the seaside. Soft sand squidged between his toes as he pelted up and down, barking with delight. A sea breeze ruffled his fur into ringlets as he helped Jake and his sister Holly explore all the rock pools. He even caught a large piece of seaweed. Brave Little Willy, as we’d now nicknamed him.
He wasn’t the only dog around, and it was nice to see owners being careful to clean up after their pets. Having a dog with you does restrict your movements a little (and remember some beaches only allow dogs out of season) as you can’t take them into restaurants etc.
But we were happy to park up by the sea to eat takeaway tea, and we did enjoy a pub lunch once, leaving Buddy in the car bribed with tasty treats. Buddy (and family) loved soda bread, white pudding (a bit like black but not so strong) - and Tayto’s original Irish crisps, cheese and onion flavour, made since 1954.
But generally, we brought Buddy with us to be with us. So he got out for a look at Dromana Lodge, an attractive oriental-style edifice built in the middle of nowhere; and he loved his walk round picturesque Lismore. The castle (not open to the public, but the gardens are) is awesome, a real fairytale complex of ivy-covered towers and turrets.
Good job we had the car – Buddy was exhausted by the end of the day.
Day two, and we drove eastwards to County Wexford. Here, we found our best beach, at Duncannon. Go off-season and this glorious, huge stretch of sand is empty. We let Buddy’s long lead out – we didn’t want him running off in search of more Tayto’s – and all played a great game of baseball.
Next stop Hook Head, perched right at the tip of the peninsular and the oldest operational lighthouse in Ireland. The first light was, according to legend, founded on the site by a sixth-century Welsh monk who had been so dismayed by the sight of shipwrecked sailors on the treacherous rocks. You can climb the 115 steps up the lighthouse, but it’s worth coming here just to see the spectacular rugged coastline with huge waves crashing in. If you’re lucky, you might see whales breaching, even dolphins and porpoises, and there are loads of birds – gannets, auks, kittiwakes. You’re warned not to step out too far, as freak waves could carry you off. We held on tight to Little Willy.
Back at the b&b, our landlady sighed at the sight of Buddy, curly fur still damp from his beach dashes, being carried comatose to his bed to sleep off his exhaustion. 'Well, he looks even more like a little willy sheep now,' she whispered. Ah, woolly dog, we finally twigged, now we were used to the sing-song Irish accent.
Meanwhile, Buddy snoozed on, paws twitching as if he were still chasing seaweed on the sand.