Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sort it out, Scotland!


I make no secret of the fact that Scotland, in particular the Outer Hebrides, is my favourite place in the world. It’s one heck of a trek when you are based in Kent, but gradually my time North of the Border increases every year. 

There is only one thing that riles me about Scotland. OK, to be more accurate, about Scottish proprietors of food and drink establishments. That one major bugbear is ignorance, or hiding behind fake ignorance, of the correct law regarding dogs in a place where food and drink is served.

Where food and drink are SERVED, dogs ARE permitted by law.  Dogs are only NOT permitted by law in a place where food is being PREPARED, and quite right too. If you want to check that out, it is Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 Annex II Chapter IX Section 4.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a staunch believer in choice. I firmly believe that no proprietor should be forced into adopting any policy when it comes to dogs. In fact, when I used to rent out my house as a holiday let, I myself had a ‘no dogs’ policy. Enough of my neighbours allowed dogs into their holiday homes, and I wanted to give the allergy-sufferers an alternative, as well as not trusting the minority of irresponsible dog owners.

Responsible dog owners are as numerous as responsible parents. One or two let the side down by letting their dogs run riot, just as the one or two ‘pathetic’ parents have no control over their screaming kids. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour, and a proprietor has the right to ask people to leave.

Not one single café proprietor in Scotland outside of the Central Belt has welcomed Dougal into their premises. Every single one makes the same excuse: ‘It is against Health and Safety Regulations’.

As you can see if you do a search on the above regulation, it is not. I have argued this with many a proprietor until I am weary, but to no avail.

There is only one exception to this, and that is the proprietor of my favourite café in the world ever, in the Outer Hebrides. Here there is a lot of very gorgeous, very expensive art hanging on the walls. Dogs are barred here because if a wet and dirty dog comes in and shakes, that’s thousands of pounds worth of art written off. Who can blame a dog ban here?

I get so mad at ignorance of the law, or the spineless act of hiding behind fake ignorance to try and hide the fact that they would simply rather their café or pub be dog-free. I would have NO problem being told: ‘It’s simply our policy’. It’s then my choice to stay, or to eat elsewhere.

I guess this is where the problem lies. More often that not, there is no ‘elsewhere’ in rural Scotland. Take it or leave it. In the Central Belt, encompassing Glasgow and Edinburgh, the situation is very different and you can quite easily find a dog-friendly pub or bar serving food.

The ‘take it or leave it’ attitude was made so obviously apparent one Sunday on the Isle of Harris, when Dougal and I were out on a motorcycle ride. For those who don’t know, Harris staunchly observes the Sabbath and very, very few places are open. 

As we cruised into Tarbert, the heavens opened. With Dougal still in his rucksack in his biker gear we parked up and dashed into the only place open, the Hebrides Hotel. Naturally, we aimed for the public bar, not the posh restaurant.

I asked the barman if we’d be OK to sit and have lunch, and he looked at Dougal in the rucksack and said we would have to sit in the garden outside.

Remember, folks, it was teeming with rain.

Even the ferry waiting room was locked up. We ended up sheltering from the rain in a doorway.

I took up the issue with Visit Scotland. Their response? ‘There is a feature on our website that allows you to search for dog-friendly accommodation.’ My rant had nothing to do with finding somewhere to stay; we were in the Airstream after all. It would appear that the organisation is only interested in increasing the number of bums in beds, not educating its members that are providing tourist services by means of its newsletter.

Go somewhere far, far more populous and tourist-frequented like the Lake District in England, and you are tripping over signs everywhere that say ‘Dogs Welcome!’ In the Lakes, you’d be hard pushed to find a pub or café that did NOT welcome pooches.

And this is where Scotland needs to watch its back. In the short-term, there may be no alternative for the dog owner other than to leave the dog in the car if it’s not too sunny, or grab a takeaway and eat it outside. Or, in our case, sit on the ground in a doorway in the pouring rain hugging each other as we miserably sat cold, wet, and hungry. But longer term? It makes dog-friendly places like the Lake District, the Cotswolds, and Cornwall look far, far more attractive.

Scotland, I love you. But for goodness sake sort yourself out, get educated or at least be up front about your policies if you want to remain in the game longer term. 

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