Life's a beach! 'I put one of the UK's most dog-friendly holiday spots to the test with my pooch'

pet-friendly holiday spots
Chris Stoddard
Chris Stoddard

Finding dog-friendly holidays in the UK can be a daunting task but one village claims to tick all the boxes with its dog-friendly beaches, pubs, accommodation and activities – so we put it to the test.

Will Scooby be needing a lifejacket? Knowing how clumsy our 11- year-old cockapoo is, it’s a definite yes and the boatman helps our slightly bemused dog into a bright orange inflatable vest.

Scooby then clambers aboard our flat-bottomed cruiser (electric, in a very environmentally friendly way) for a few hours pottering around on the Norfolk Broads. It takes a while for Scooby to find his sea legs – there’s quite a bit of slipping and sliding as the boat bobs along – but once he has nabbed a perch by the steering wheel he is content.

That is what this trip was all about – keeping Scooby happy.

We had come on a dog-friendly holiday to the east Norfolk coast and looking after our canine companion was the top priority.

As every dog owner will know – and there are tens of thousands more since the pandemic – holidays and pets can be tricky. Kennels are expensive, your dog needs all its jabs, and it isn’t a lot of fun for them.

But if you want to bring along the most important member of the family, there’s plenty to think about. Will the hotel, holiday cottage or Airbnb take them? Where can you eat? Where can you walk them?

My wife Lucy and 18-year-old son Louis tagged along with Scooby on a weekend to Winterton-on-Sea, which claims, quite rightly, to be one of the dog-friendliest places in the country.

The historic fishing village is bounded by a gorgeous sandy beach on one side and the Broads on the other. Like many of the villages around the Norfolk coast it is peaceful and feels like a real get-away-from-it-all haven, even though it is only 20 miles east of Norwich.

The unspoilt sandy shores offer plenty of dog walks all year round – yes, even in the height of summer when most other beaches have put up the no-entry sign to our doggy friends.

Scooby, a city hound at heart, loved it – soft on the paws, something to smell or investigate around every corner, and he even had a slightly hesitant paddle in the sea.

Atlantic grey seals and common seals can be seen there – many come on to the beaches at nearby Horsey to give birth. We came across a handful lounging on the sand about a mile up the coast, keeping a watch on passing humans.

While you’re there, pop across to admire a classic Norfolk attraction – the recently-restored Horsey Windpump, which overlooks Horsey Mere. Dogs are allowed on the site, but not inside the National Trust managed windmill itself.

North of Winterton, behind the car park, there is an area called the back hills which is fantastic for walking and is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is home in the summer to an array of butterflies and damselflies – and the UK’s largest colony of terns.

Scooby isn’t particularly a nature lover, but again, you can walk as far as you like on the beach, then clamber up into the dunes and wander back through the hills.

We stayed in the heart of the village at the rather lovely Net House, a converted fisherman’s net store, just five minutes’ walk from the beach.

The house was spotless, comfortable and wonderfully restful, decorated in neutral tones, blues and greys. Three dogs can join you on your stay and the property, importantly for doggies, has an enclosed back garden.

A welcome pack of local produce included a very popular packet of tasty dog treats.

Although Winterton’s time as a significant fishing centre might be over, it still feels like a living village.

And the dog-friendly theme seems to have taken off. Dog walkers are everywhere and the locals leave water at the end of their drives for passing pooches. The 300-year-old brick and flint pub, The Fisherman’s Return, seemed to have dogs at every table.

The pub offers up to five real ales at a time and prides itself on using local produce – we had fish pie and pulled pork one night, with portions big enough to keep growing son and greedy dog happy. The local fish shop’s cod and chips were magnificent on our last night too.

Beyond the village there’s plenty to do for holidaymakers, with or without four-legged friends.

We took a trip to Great Yarmouth with its long promenade for a bit of traditional seaside fun, rides, slots, piers and ice creams. It has a huge beach which dogs can enjoy out of season. For those of a sportier disposition, Norfolk is the ideal part of the world for cycling, and the 92-mile Norfolk Coast Cycleway network offers gentle riding between King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

If you’re up for a big day trip, one of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite homes, the Sandringham Estate with its 600 acres of dog-friendly Royal Parkland, is worth the drive. There are also the year-round, dog-friendly beaches up the coast at Happisburgh with its 18th-century lighthouse, or five miles south at Caister-on-Sea, or a bit further down in Walberswick, famous for crabbing, in Suffolk.

But whether you want to potter around on a cruiser like us or go canoeing, kayaking or paddleboarding, the Broads are a must do. We hired an eight-seat cruiser called Rocket for four hours for £90 from Martham Ferry Boat Yard, two miles up from Winterton, and just loved the unique wilderness.

Meandering through the tall reeds, passing only the odd hopeful fisherman on the bank, and a variety of summer lets on the riverside, was blissful.

Lucy steered us sedately to Hickling Broad, the largest of the Broads, where we stopped for a drink at The Greyhound Inn, before a detour to Potter Heigham, one of the major boating centres of the Broads, with its famous medieval bridge.

By the end Scooby had taken to the front of the boat to sniff the air, showing us he was a proper sea dog. Beach walks, boat rides and titbits from the pubs – Scooby was wild for his holiday in Winterton – and we loved having him with us, every wag of the way.

Book the holiday

Winterton Cottages offers more than 40 dog-friendly self-catering holiday homes in Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk, and the surrounding villages of East Somerton and Martham. Seven-night stays at The Net House (sleeps four, three dogs allowed) from £626, three-night weekend break from £408.

(Article source: The Mirror)

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