Foreign travel was obviously out of the question, but luckily this year I have travelled a lot in Britain because of my work. Now Zephyr, our 18-month-old big white poodle, has his own suitcase - a brightly striped South American straw basket.
Besides his brush and a towel for rainy days, Zephyr also travels with plastic bowls for food and water, his food and a plastic-coated spongy place mat that a friend brought back from New York (where dog's best friend is a consumer not to be ignored. It may be awfully adorable - a complete place setting, including cutlery and the words 'Top Dog', are drawn on the mat - but this impermeable barrier between food, water and hotel carpet has proved to be very useful.
Zephyr has been on trains and boats and in a variety of hired cars since he left school. (Readers may recall a report on his progress through obedience training.) If you are a dog, the fare on British Rail isn't bad; pounds 8 buys a return ticket anywhere. It does not, however, buy a seat.
Since he weighs almost 70lb, it is everyone's good fortune that Zephyr fits between my feet and the seat in front and has stayed there practically without moving from Paddington to Penzance, from King's Cross to Edinburgh. (This is more a reflection of his placid nature than on my success as a dog trainer.) In fact, he behaves better on the road than at home, apart from his habit of 'mistaking' the gear lever of new cars for a bone.
It is like having home come with you when you go travelling with your dog. Some will say this is selfishness: after all, dogs like nothing better than doing today what they've done the day before. But even I have my limits. If there is a heatwave or he needs a break from travelling, Zephyr has a holiday staying with friends. But I'm glad that our dog, a city dweller, has learnt to climb ladder stiles and splash around in rivers (the Thames outside the National Theater is not a candidate for such outings).
And I like to think that when he gets back after travelling to the Farne Islands, where the sky is filled with puffins, or returns from tossing seaweed around on the beaches of North Wales, where he enjoys tossing seaweed around, our dog has a story or two to tell Ben and Shep when he meets them in the park.
Book me, book my dog. The following 11 places have obliged, graciously.
Callaly, Whittingham, Northumberland (066 574665). This large stone house in the Cheviot foothills has geese and chickens, a big walled garden and three labrador retrievers. It is a member of the Wolsey Lodge Association, which operates private homes as small, upmarket hotels.
Anne Fisher, the owner, provided crispy roast chicken with bread sauce for us and could not have been more welcoming to Zephyr. Not only did she invite him into her fine dining room with its tall-backed marquetry chairs for both dinner and breakfast, she also kept the door to the garden open so he could come and go as he pleased. The market town of Rothbury and Cragside House and garden are both 15 minutes' drive away.
BLUE BELL INN
Belford, Northumberland (0668 213543). A large, well-tended garden behind this popular hotel on the town square is a good place to leave your dog during breakfast in warm weather. (If you eat dinner here, stick to the bar menu, especially the Geordie steak and kidney pie.)
Boats to the Farne Islands leave from nearby Seahouses. Dogs can travel on some of the boats, but they are not allowed on the islands, which are a breeding ground for tens of thousands of seabirds, puffins among them.
THE LORD CREWE
Blanchlands, Co Durham (0434 675251). This mainly 18th-century planned hamlet looks more like something you would expect to find in the Cotswolds than on the edge of the lunar Durham dales. Apart from the taped music in the dining room, the hotel (part of which belonged to Blanchland Abbey 600 years ago) is enjoyable and cosy.
An external stone staircase leads from the street to the bedrooms so dog and you can enter and leave without traipsing through the public rooms. A path follows a stream at the edge of the village - a good spot for a long walk off the lead.
Stapleford, Leicestershire (057284 522). No hotel owner could possibly be doggier than Bob Payton. Two minutes after arriving, a bone tied in red-and-green plaid ribbon was delivered to our room accompanied by a letter of welcome for Zephyr from Gunther and Rufus, Mr Payton's bandana-wearing giant schnauzers. (The letter was, of course, signed with paw prints.)
Zephyr was given complete freedom of the grounds once it had been established that Rufus liked him. (Had Rufus growled, it might have been house arrest.) Gunther watched them romp from under the shade of a leafy tree. This is one hotel where you can ask for a doggie bag without blushing.
Fressingfield, North Suffolk (037 986 254). 'Don't hit your head on the beams,' Mrs Willis warns as she shows you to your room in this l5th-century farmhouse. There is a large lawn with garden benches at the front which guests are welcome to use.
Fressingfield is not far from Diss, Norfolk, and the beach at Southwold; but perhaps more important, it is a short walk to the Fox and Goose pub, which serves marvellous meals. Ruth Watson, the pub's owner, offers a B B & D package that includes Priory House for pounds 80 for two people. (On its own, the Priory charges pounds 16 per person.)
Penzance (0736 66906). This has lovely bedrooms that are remarkably personal - there is nothing of the decorator's touch here. Zephyr was given a big welcome by the resident dog while we, happily, were left to ourselves. (The pedigree in residence belongs to the proprietor, Mrs Cox, the former Jean Shrimpton.)
On the north Cornwall coast, in Padstow, Rick Stein's cooking and the spruce rooms upstairs with a view over the harbour, make the Seafood Restaurant (0841 532485) a favourite. You feel that the tension's focused on the cooking while for the rest - dogs, children - it's live and let live. . . If only Mr Stein's deli delivered.
Evershot, Dorset (0935 83424).
Recently commended in these pages as a place to eat and sleep, Summer Lodge is also a very nice place to stay with your dog. The porter - a local lad - when told that we would take our own bags to the room, offered to play with Zephyr while we did so. The two of them spent 20 minutes running around chasing ducks, in and out of the daffodils.
Kelso, Roxburghshire (05735 331). Set in a large park in the Borders, this spacious Victorian house manages to feel really like a house in the country - and attached to its place - rather than just a city slicker's fantasy. By chance it was Civic Pride week in Kelso when we stayed. A hundred or more horses and riders turned up in the field beyond the hotel for a gymkhana. Some of the riders and their friends came in for a wee drammie later.
ONE DEVONSHIRE GARDENS
Glasgow (041 339 2001). This is fantasy land, where the maids wear striped pinnies and mop caps and there are miles of crisp linen. The luxury may be self-conscious but there's nothing snooty about these town houses made into a hotel. When we were there with our previous dog he was pretty ancient and had taken to barking when left alone. But we went out because we had tickets for the opera. When we got back the dog - a black poodle with a gift for working a room that didn't weaken with age - was in the bar having made half a dozen new friends. The staff had had the wit and good nature to bring him downstairs once he'd started barking. They weren't the least bit grumpy about this, and neither were the other guests. I was grateful to both groups.
Pwllheli, Gwynedd (0758 612363). This Georgian house on the remote Llyn Peninsula bills itself as a restaurant with rooms - both a warning that the rooms are smallish and a hint that there is good food to come. After a long day walking and running up and down the beach - me shouting: 'Put down the filthy rotting fish head]' - we were all exhausted. Back at the hotel Zephyr and I sat on the long front porch and rested. Cows live in the field to one side, sheep in the other, while dead opposite there is an avenue of 200-year-old beeches.
Gibraltar Farm House
Firle, Sussex. (0273 858 225). This 17th- century flint and timber farmhouse looks on to the Downs. We were given tbe spacious Granary Cottage at the back. (Wherever there is an annexe of any kind, a cottage or converted stables, you will probably be put there if you've got a dog.) The talk and the breakfast were equally good.
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