We get compliments. I mean about our honesty and our objectivity. Then again, sometimes people whinge at us a little. That’s fine too. Recently, a resident of Glasgow took exception to my being in two minds about Scotland’s largest city and felt I was being unfair. And someone wrote to say they had been put off driving in Scotland after reading our page on it. Feedback, positive or negative, is helpful.
But, after all these years of having to be relentlessly upbeat while writing for the tourism industry here in Scotland, I can’t even begin to describe how liberating it is to be honest, straightforward - maybe even idiosyncratic and biased in places. (So: sorry, Aberdeen, the Battle of Bannockburn Centre...oh, and the Loch Ness Monster.) And we do hear of visitors modifying their itineraries on the strength of our descriptions of this or that Scottish destination.
So, with the usual proviso of cards on table, no axe to grind, no skin off our nose etc, here’s a description of a wee excursion with a dog.
Now, you may have more extreme views on dogs on holiday than we do. Yes, in the care of an untrained owner they can be a big negative. I hate the way some doggy folk let their dogs - off the leash - get into your private space (I said space) and think it’s acceptable so long as they shout ‘It’s OK, he’s friendly’. No, it isn’t - and please don’t demonstrate how little control you have over your dog.
Anyway, Britons (whatever species that is) spent £4.6 billion on their pets in 2015, so small wonder that even our national tourist board, VisitScotland, is encouraging tourism businesses to be dog friendly and even invited doggy entries for a recent Scotland’s Ambassadog competition.
Right...enough preamble. There we were with four friends visiting, taking them out along the Banffshire Coast. (This is the easternmost and bleaker section of the Moray Firth coast.) We had a dog with us: actually, our dog - Rupee (aka Robbie) and total failure when it came to winning the Ambassadog competition. (Inexplicable -huh? Didn’t even make the final.)
Anyway, back on the Banffshire Coast, it’s raining. We had reached the coastal village of Gardenstown, properly known as Gamrie. Funny wee place - known it all my days. Once upon a time it was a bastion of strict Sabbatarianism and curious sects. A droll lot, the folk from Gamrie, we used to think. But that was a very long time ago. Like most other unspoiled and wildly picturesque sea-coast villages in Scotland and beyond, it was discovered. Cheap properties, second homes, self-catering, lifestyle businesses, haven for artists - you know the sort of thing.
(Pictured) OK, I admit it. I made the rain look even worse by using one of the overlays available in the very wonderful PicMonkey, my favourite photo-editing tool.
Right, Robbie the Border terrier is small, portable, unobtrusive, well-behaved and cute (if you like dogs). We are a party of six and trying to spend money on lunch...it’s, frankly, miserably wet. Above the village, the cliffs soar, the gulls cry mournfully and the sea is flat and grey. Because it is Saturday (though it is July and hence, peak season), the heritage centre is closed, as is a restaurant by the harbour. Hang on, there’s a tea-shop, with a prominent ‘no dogs’ sign, so that’s no good. But, gosh, doesn’t the glow of the hotel bar down there look inviting - though strangely empty - wait, another large ‘no dogs’ sign. Well, that just about wraps it up…
Now, I don’t blame businesses for not wanting to serve these apparently dirty people with dogs. I’d rather not sit next to a smelly wet golden retriever while having a bar lunch in the Snug either. But is there no middle course? Perhaps an obedience test for the owners before letting them in? Or a couple of seats near the door or out in the cold? We are a long-suffering lot, us dog owners. We would willingly embrace second-class citizenship for a bowl of soup or a coffee. All we ask is a bit of shelter. I mean, it isn’t as if we are smoking or anything.
The day before, we went to Logie Steading near Forres - shops, garden, walks. It rained again but that was hardly their fault. It says it’s dog friendly but isn’t. Nope, wasn’t allowed into the restaurant there either. Ah, well, you see, it’s the individual business policy. Hmm, this is more complicated than it first appears.
Anyway, thank goodness for the exceptions: and I’m remembering Chandlers (formerly Charlie’s) in 65 High Street, North Berwick. Or...let me think...Mielle Patisserie, in West Street, Berwick-upon-Tweed; or the excellent Kothel in Crow Road, Glasgow. And the hospitable Mash Tun in Aberlour. Even Historic Environment Scotland will let you take your dog round the ramparts of the impressive Fort George near Inverness (though you have to sit outside in their cafe).
In fact there are lots of places - and your indispensable guide is the Dugs n Pubs Dog Friendly Guide to pubs, shops, hotels, dog walks and days out. If you are a dog owner eager to spend money, you will find plenty of places. Even the Banffshire Coast makes it via the Shore Inn at Portsoy.
Anyway, I have a feeling that it might be irresponsible dog owners letting down the rest of us. Maybe some of these no dog places had bad experiences when they did allow dogs. Who can say? All I know is that on two occasions this week, we, as a party of six, with money to spend, spent nothing because we were not welcome.
Tell you what. Go over to our Facebook Page and let us know if you have a good experience with your dog in a pub or restaurant.