Our countryside companions: how dog walks help us connect to the outdoors
Countryside dog walks, including those familiar routes close to home, can help us connect to the great outdoors and to ourselves. Here, three sets of dog owners share how walking their dogs has helped their health and sense of place.
There’s something about strolling in green spaces with a happy canine companion at your heels that changes the shape of the outdoors experience. Being in the countryside with a dog gives a new sense of purpose and focus, and research suggests that dog owners are more likely to meet recommended exercise levels than non-dog-owners.
Here, our dog walkers share the local countryside walks that they love to do with their dogs and how spending time walking in the countryside helps them to connect to their local area – as well as help with physical and mental health.
Jean, Martin, Lola and Hetty: ‘Getting her regular walks in became a useful milestone in the day and set a rhythm’
‘As a family, we’d had cats before – as well as a smattering of short-lived goldfish and gerbils – but after our daughters had all left home and we moved towards retirement, it felt like the right time to own a dog.
‘Lola, a playful beagle, changed the shape of our days forever. Getting her regular walks in became a useful milestone in the day and set a rhythm that would stand us in good stead for years – not least during the strangeness of the pandemic, when so much around was changing and feeling alien.
‘Putting Lola’s collar on each morning to take a walk to the village shop was a familiar and important part of the day. And we got fitter and healthier for being outdoors and walking more.
‘Having a dog changed our relationship with our local area, too. We always did enjoy the green of the Gloucestershire countryside and walked with friends, but having a dog that needed a good leg stretch each day made us explore new places to keep walks interesting.
‘We balanced familiar, very local dog walks, which we came to know intimately (the odd jagged bit of fence, the sound of the trains) with longer and newer ones where Lola would find new smells to snuffle at! Our ‘home’ short walk runs along a stretch of the Great Western railway right in our village, Bredon, and was a good ‘out and back’ stroll even on wet days.
‘For longer walks, we love to go up Bredon Hill. It’s a gorgeous little ‘mini mountain’ with amazing Cotswold views, and you’ll often meet and chat with other dog owners along the way.
‘Through our walks with Lola both in our own area and when on holiday we met many other dog owners and spent time exchanging doggy tales, getting to know them and their pets. Such were the friendships developed over the years that there was a genuine outpouring of shared sadness when Lola died unexpectedly in early 2021.
‘She’d made a huge impact on not only our lives but those of fellow villagers as well and at that horrible time, we really felt the benefit of being part of that community.
‘We’ve just welcomed Hetty, a new baby beagle, to the family. We can’t wait to do the same walks with her and introduce her to the people we meet in the village as we walk her.’
Ros and Nero: ‘I was so grateful when Nero came into our lives … my love of walking has definitely returned.’
‘Nero came to live with us in March after a very long journey from Romania. He’d spent the first four months of his life in a compound with only a fenced yard for outside space, although thankfully he was safe and well cared for.
‘It’s been an absolute joy to introduce him to the beautiful countryside of the Peak District where we live. He’s thrown himself at (and often into!) everything it has to offer, from bounding joyously through fields of long grass to diving into the brook that runs through our village.
‘What I love most about owning a dog in the countryside is that whether you’re racing out of the door on a beautiful spring morning, or reluctantly zipping up your waterproofs to venture into a rainstorm, there’s always something different to see. It can simply be a sign of the changing of the seasons such as the first bluebells emerging, a chance encounter with a deer or a buzzard mewling overhead – no two walks are ever the same.
‘This morning there were swallows lined up on telephone wires as I stepped outside. They won’t be here much longer and it made me stop and appreciate them… though only for a moment as Nero was keen to get to his favourite field to hunt for sticks!
‘I’m lucky to live in a small village in the same valley as Chatsworth House. It’s pretty here, but very busy with visitors especially at weekends and in holiday times. It’s the quiet walks away from the popular tourist trails that I seek out, and it’s surprisingly easy not to meet a soul on a sunny summer Sunday if you know where to go.
‘We love to walk on Beeley Moor and hear the skylarks in the spring or wander amongst the heather in full bloom in late summer. Nero always finds plenty to sniff, lots of bees to say hello to, and occasionally, to his delight, something ‘interesting’ to roll in!
‘Our previous dog Meg, unfortunately passed away at the end of 2020, at the end of a difficult year for our family. I’ve always been a walker but I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of the door without her. My walks just didn’t seem right without a friendly face looking back at me when I called.
‘I was so grateful when Nero came into our lives, we’ve had many adventures already and my love of walking has definitely returned.
‘Going out three times a day means you really appreciate the seasons. At the moment, our favourite thing to do is foraging for hazelnuts. He’s surprisingly good at it!
‘The blackberries are starting to ripen and given how efficiently he stripped the strawberry plants in our garden of fruit, I think we’ll have a ton of blackberry jam this year! I just need to teach him to put them in a basket instead of eating them all!’
Lewis and Willow: ‘Our dog and the countryside helped me heal’.
‘We’ve had Willow the wheaten terrier for eight years now, and have never looked back. Her courageous, silly, lazy and excitable energy permeates through our house and always revitalises us.
‘In the early stages of lockdown, my mental health deteriorated – fast. I was fed up of my busy, catastrophising mind and felt trapped inside of it. My wife was and always has been incredibly supportive during these dark days, and our dog helped enormously, too.
‘Willow and I would take long, ambling walks around the Lincolnshire Wolds. I’d plan a circular route – somewhere between two and four hours. It was during these walks that I was able to develop a kinder dialogue with myself. I felt comforted by Willow’s gentle, inquisitive exploration of the ground and verges; her regular checks to see that I was there, and her endless patience as I tried, sometimes for the whole walk, to verbalise how I was feeling to the ether (out loud!)
‘Willow gives us a reason to be outside, and helps us connect with the countryside. She helps us understand how exciting and interesting it is. Although we only take longer walks every so often, we usually do the same 5km circular every day. There aren’t many days that go by where Willow isn’t beside herself with excitement about that same walk. We can all learn from that!’
Countryside dog walks: how to get the best out of them
If you’re a dog owner or are planning to be, there are some handy things to know that can help you and your four-legged friend connect with your local green spaces.
Looking for recommendations of great nearby dog walks in your area? Your local CPRE group will have tons of friendly members with great local knowledge, so joining us will guarantee some top tips for the places to walk your dog near you. Especially those all-important walks that feature a cafe or pub stop…
And this will come as no surprise to dog walkers, but when you’re out and about with a dog it’s even more important than ever to be up to speed on the Countryside Code – the set of rules first created in 1951 (thanks to a CPRE campaign!) that tell us how to take care of the countryside when we visit it.
A big part of this of course is knowing how to make sure that sheep and cattle are kept safe from dogs, who can do lots of harm, especially during lambing season, and that the countryside is kept free from dog poo.
Our friends at The Ramblers have created a brilliant Dog Walking Code that lays out how to make sure dogs and owners can enjoy the countryside whilst also keeping it safe and healthy. These include keeping your dog on a lead near crops, livestock and cliff edges and bagging and taking all dog poo with you. The Blue Cross reminds us of the crucial laws to know around dog behaviour.
And the RSPCA also have some great reminders about how to be mindful of wildlife when out with your dog, including considering deer and ground-nesting birds. Remember, too that some of the dogs you meet on countryside walks might be working, farm dogs – and as with all dogs, don’t assume they’ll want to be approached or stroked.
But most importantly of all? Enjoy your dog-walking adventures in the countryside! Share your photos of time outdoors with your canine chum on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – we’d wuff to see them!