Alfie the Labrador wakes instantly from a good night’s sleep with one ear already on the door. Having excellent hearing, he is already appraised of my approach several minutes before the door actually opens, anticipating the start of his day. He piles out with all his friends and relations in a furore of paws and tails and we all set off to greet the morning. As far as he is concerned, every day is a good day.
In Alfie’s view, there is something entirely reassuring and relaxing about routine. There are lots of new scents to explore, familiar people to greet and foraging to be done as they all make their way across the large field in front of the Castle. I’m on my bicycle and the dogs know that there is a set route to follow and that they all, at least vaguely, need to keep to it. We pass by the car parking team and Alfie slips off to say hello, slide into visitor reception and sample Iona’s sandwich lunch. With this snack on board, he skips out to join his friends again and, passing through the wide brown wooden gates, we all head down Lime Avenue. There is something so peaceful about the closely planted trees reaching upwards to glimpse the white studded skies.
We trundle along to the end, turn round and return via the Wood of Goodwill. I push my bike along a narrow, overgrown path, removing stray roots which clasp themselves around the bike chains as I go. The dogs have no such problem and dash through the next gate and into the arboretum with its many inviting paths. At this point, I like to abandon the bike, undo the yoga mat on my back, turn the phone on to Mozart and spend a little time stretching. Alfie, ever loving, takes the opportunity to lick my hands and feet taking little notice of protestations, convinced I need a bit of a wash and brush up. That done, he then lies down glued to one side of me whilst Stella takes up position on the other side. With the spaniels occupying the top of the mat, Yoga starts to become even more challenging and they are despatched to join Scooby-doo inspecting an old tree stump.
A little later we are nearly back to the south side of the castle, Alfie padding quite close to me, the others strung out. Passing by the tearooms and Luis’s bar, I pause to greet those who are there and Alfie seizes the moment. He leads them all astray. Unseen dropped cakes, sandwiches and other delicacies are swiftly located whilst bin lids inadequately battened down offer swift rewards. Sally’s gift shop door is usually open and he often gets lucky in there although the ladies have learnt through experience to hide their lunches out of reach.
At this time of day, Maggie is often in the middle of preparing the horses’ food and Alfie remains convinced that he should at least get to taste it. His final port of call is the Beaters’ room which at the moment is full of gift shop deliveries. Finding something delicious behind the door, he unfortunately closes it and shuts himself in. There could be worse places however and he makes good use of his time until I guess where he might be.
It is now time for his official breakfast which he eats very delicately and much enjoys followed by a period of rest and digestion.
Later on in the morning, I take them out again into another field where, come rain or shine, it’s time for a bath. There is a handy water trough here and, although Stella is usually the first in, Alfie is always quick to follow. They don’t really both fit so half in and half out, he pushes her away and properly submerges himself. Jumping out again, after a quick shake and maybe a roll, he is good to go. Labradors have amazing coats, built in two layers with plenty of oil which waterproofs it. Alfie’s coat is a beautiful red foxy colour – his mother Bella was very pale but his father a fox red Labrador.
Before you know it, it is time for tea before a nap with his brother Scooby-doo and perhaps a brush of his coat at tea time. There is a last walk round the garden in the evening and a chance to check out Luis’s bar again or to bark at a few pigeons as he potters around checking all is as it should be.
A final bedtime outing as I happily stargaze. It is eternally peaceful and quiet, except for Stella who always seems to have rather a lot to say for herself. The darkness reveals all the stars and constellations, the skies are always beautiful and it’s a lovely way to end the day. Alfie inevitably has a last late-night bin inspection, feigning instant deafness before Geordie kindly goes out to find him. With a look of injured innocence, he skids back inside past Geordie trying to avoid any exasperated words.
A last handful of biscuits and time to sleep, perchance to dream…of tomorrow’s snacks.