“I’ve organised a birthday surprise. We’re going somewhere that does great food but is also dog-friendly. Like, ACTUALLY, dog friendly.” Words that might sound strange and a bit crazy to anyone else, but to me they are the stuff of dreams.
The words ‘dog-friendly’ seem simple, but like so many terms and phrases in our modern world, are laden with more complexity than they appear to be. Dog friendly can mean a venue is prepared to accept dogs. It can mean they actively welcome dogs. And it can mean everything in between.
I make no judgement on the places that use the term dog friendly in various ways – it is, after all, their prerogative. And to many people it might not matter, or ever be discernible (in fact, if you’re not a dog owner you may have switched off by now, but bear with me, we’ll get to the food imminently).
But to the owner of two large – often judged – dogs it does. It can mean the difference between a lunch, dinner or hotel stay of relaxation and fun or one laced with worry, discomfort and stress.
What that means is that the promise of somewhere that isn’t just dog friendly, but ‘dog friendly’, is special. It’s that rare treat that promises everything all in one place without the sacrifice of a single element. And it’s one of the many reasons my husband is a legend.
The treat was for my birthday – to mark the end of our road trip around the Lake District in September. A nignt in a hotel, joined by our dogs, and a slap-up meal to boot. He had researched for days for the right place apparently, and landed on The Wild Boar.
Tucked up in the hills above Windermere, it seemed to have it all. Dog-friendly rooms, acres of private grounds to walk them in, it’s only smokery and micro-brewery. Oh, and when he called them to tell them our dining partners would be two large Rottweilers, they happily assured him they love all dogs. Hello to our favourite definition of dog-friendly.
We arrived after three weeks moving around Cumbria, excited for a comfy bed, an en-suite bathroom, and a touch of luxury. The hotel is warm and welcoming, with cosy communal spaces. Touches like special maps to walk around the grounds and wellies to borrow lend a home-from-home country house hotel feel.
Our dog-friendly room was expansive, complete with a lounge-area and plenty of floor space for the dogs to make themselves at home, as well as well-equipped en-suite bathroom.
The little touches were all there, from the flowers and Prosecco Jamie had asked to be put in our room, to the dog beds and dog treats that he hadn’t requested but are yet another sign of how this place really is for all of your family, human or otherwise.
Alternative Afternoon Tea
Once settled, we started our stay with the Wild Boar’s Alternative Afternoon Tea – an experience that may have ruined all other afternoon teas for me forever. Forget tiny finger sandwiches and an imbalance of sweet and savoury.
Piled high on a rustic wooden tiered stand was a substantial meal for two, from mini Yorkshire puddings filled with horseradish and still-pink roast beef to fish alongside pork pie, chips, and chicken strips.
There were scones, of course, because you don’t mess with the basics, and a selection of cakes and sweets that had to be parcelled up to be finished on the journey home the next day.
Whether you’re a keen walker or not, the guided walk round the grounds with the assistance of a map is advisable after an afternoon tea of this size, as is a glass of something nice on the terrace or on benches dotted around the hotel grounds.
For evening meals restaurant is divided into two so don’t fear if you’re not a fan of dogs – there’s an area where you don’t have to be anywhere near them. We were in the same bar area that we took afternoon tea in with all the other dog owners – and area that’s helpfully spaced out to limit any unwanted interaction between various four-legged friends over dinner.
The menu is a mix of simple but appealing dishes, from starters of hummus and home cooked bread to gnocchi, as well as creation from the wild boar’s own smokehouse. There is meat, of course, and it will come as no surprise to you to hear that we ordered a tomahawk steak to share, cooked perfectly and carved up at our table much to the delight of the canines in the room.
The wine list is fairly extensive – for non-experts like me anyway – and you can also enjoy cocktails if they take your fancy. The staff are endlessly accommodating – from catering to Jamie’s special birthday requests to even packing up a bone for the dogs, bringing them their own special treats, and going that extra mile to make us feel as welcome as anyone without two large canines in tow.
We slept brilliantly, unsurprisingly, and if we were struggling to decide whether the afternoon tea or the dinner were the winner when it came to our eating experiences, breakfast added another strong contender. Jamie’s full English was everything a full English should be – a selection of top quality elements, cooked well and allowed to speak for themselves.
While my ‘ultimate French toast’ – a rare choice (for me) of a dish that reaches into the realms of the dessert world yet somehow gets away with it was an indulgent heap of thick, French toast piled high with apricots (the menu said they were marinated, but I’m not sure I could tell what in) perched on a dollop of vanilla mascarpone and sprinkled with a generous handful of crushed pistachio, with the whole lot swimming in rose water.
Let’s also not forget the sausages that appeared for the dogs – because everyone needs a treat at breakfast.
It was over too soon, as lovely things always are, but we left having put a wonderful full stop on a great trip. If you like fine dining food, a quiet restaurant where only the clink of cutlery can be heard, and where the focus is on perfection at every turn, maybe you won’t like The Wild Boar.
There are more refined experiences in the area, I’m sure. Probably more luxurious hotel rooms. And yes, maybe more extensive wine lists. But if you want a place with heart, that is comfortable yet special at the same time, where good food is served by staff whose focus is on a great experience, this could be the place for you.
And yes. It’s dog friendly. And I mean ‘dog friendly’.
[Disclosure – We paid in full at The Wild Boar (well, Jamie did) and they didn’t know I was a blogger)