Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Because of course you must have a status update, otherwise I don't know what might happen. Lions lying down with lambs before you can say winking.
The Pigeon and I left as the sun was rising. We slid over the Grampians, to the south. The mountains of Perthshire were looking particularly stately and blue. Into Cumbria, the green hills had a covering of snow. The winter sun dazzled off them and everything looked clean and beautiful.
The Pigeon, bored after five hours in the car, bounded into the Tebay hotel, and marched straight behind the reception desk, where she bonded fully with the receptionist.
'Does she want to help?’ said the receptionist, laughing quite a lot. ‘Shall I get her a name-badge?’
This is one of the lovely things about the hotel at Tebay. It is strictly called the Westmoreland Hotel, but it is part of Tebay, and that is the name any traveller to the north knows. For my readers abroad: Tebay is the only motorway service station in the country which is family-run, has a farm shop, and gives one delicious food cooked by smiling humans. (As opposed to disgusting faux-victuals, heated in a microwave.) It is so special and rare that is has become famous with anyone who ever has to make the long drive from Scotland to England. Its very name can make people smile, involuntarily.
Anyway, not only is this a motorway hotel that does not want to make you claw out your eyeballs; not only do they charge the same as a Premier Inn or Travel Lodge but decorate with lovely muted colours instead of searing orange and purple; not only do they have a soul, unlike the heartless chains; but they are nice to your dog.
There is a really bizarre thing about dear old Blighty. We are supposed to be this great nation of dog-lovers, but you try actually taking your canine anywhere. The awful expression Pet-Friendly returns a paltry amount of results on The Google. Almost every door has a no dogs allowed except guide dogs sign. I love guide dogs and revere those who train them, but I sometimes feel a bit sad that the poor Pigeon is treated as a second-class citizen by comparison.
Not at the Tebay hotel. They are nice to the dog; they make jokes about the dog; they seem genuinely pleased to see the dog. My dog, sensing adoration, wanders about, wafting her tail in slow circles, sniffing the air and making friends, which is her great talent, after chasing sticks.
‘What a confident, happy dog,’ says the receptionist. I have to restrain myself from hugging her, it is such a perfect compliment.
Then we go to my room and watch the racing. I do my usual shouting, which makes The Pigeon do her usual barking, until I suddenly remember I am in a motorway hotel, and the walls are thin, and fellow guests might not appreciate roars of ‘come on, my son’, accompanied by frenzied woofs.
I back three losers and two winners, the last of which gets me out of a very great deal of trouble. I was suddenly convinced that the spirit of my late father had possessed me, even though I do not believe in spirits and I do not believe in possession. But he was always having to ‘get out on the last’ and here I was, getting out on the last. (Thank you to the very talented trainer Alan King, and his sparkling run of form.)
Now I am eating the chicken sandwiches I made for the journey and eating watercress soup from a flask. I can’t work out if it is nerdishly sad, or chicly retro, but I now set out on the road with several sandwiches, crusts cut off, wrapped in neat foil packages, and one thermos of soup and one of coffee. It’s a very new austerity picnic, anyway, and as the Prime Minister likes to say, we are all in it together. Very, very lucky that lovely Giles Cross won the big race with my tenner on him, or it would be no sandwiches at all. I should have to eat grass. As it is, I live to fight another day.
Off at dawn for the second leg of the journey. There are gales outside my window and The Pigeon is slumbering on her special blanket. Only another two hundred and fifty miles to go.
Pictures of the day are of the views from my motorway hotel. I am half a mile from the M6. Can you believe it?:
The light kept changing in the gloaming, moment by moment. This sky is extraordinary:
I put this one in black and white so it made me think of something from before the Great War:
That little red lorry is charging up the M6 to Carlisle and all points beyond:
The Pidge, on a mossy hummock, checking about:
Just finished reading The Racing Post:
Looking very regal indeed on her special Johnstons of Elgin travelling blanket:
And also, pensive:
Actually, that look is because I am holding out my hand with a biscuit in it, and she is hatching a cunning plan to get me to give it to her. The plan, you will be amazed to hear, worked. It involved sitting and looking so enchanting that I gave her all the biscuits. And now she is fast asleep.