CEO Jonathan Neame's favourite Kent dog walks
PUBLISHED: 14:08 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:08 13 March 2017
Striding out across the North Kent marshes with a Labrador in tow provides clarity of mind and a daily dose of exercise for one of the county's most successful businessmen. Pictures courtesy of: Visit Kent
Jonathan Neame, chairman of Visit Kent – the county’s tourist organisation – and chief executive of Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewer, wouldn’t start the day any other way than with a brisk stroll with 11-year-old pet dog Mackeson.
A plethora of diverse walks across the county is one the key attractions of living in Kent, according to the hospitality guru whose company owns a string of pubs and hotels in London and the south east.
This is also a major pull for many dog-loving visitors to the area which offers a network of well-maintained and clearly marked footpaths.
He explains: “We have got two dogs a chocolate Labrador and a Norfolk Terrier. I live on the North Kent marshes so I take my dog out every day for a walk and like all Labradors, Mackeson has a tendency to jump into the creek – he likes his morning swims.”
Jonathan’s wife, Lucie, owns five-year-old Norfolk Terrier, Dolly. Jonathan says while Mackeson is very calm, and spends most of the evening looking at his master, Dolly is very much Lucie’s dog and seizes every opportunity to get up onto sofas and beds.
Jonathan adds: “Going for a long walk is not only brilliant exercise but it clears your mind. I think it is a very different experience from going for a run or going to the gym, I think it’s actually better for you.
“From my point of view, I work hard in the week and walking is a wonderful way of clearing the mind, getting some fresh air and you get to see some beautiful scenery. Where I live, we are surrounded by extraordinary bird and wildlife. I think there’s something like 180 different species of bird that live or migrate to the marshes each year, so there’s always something going on and it changes every season.”
The prominent Kent personality says he also loves the walks around Crundale and Wye. “It’s a very different habitat, it’s a superb area for walking and probably one of the hilliest parts of Kent – there are fantastic views all around and lots of beautiful small churches.”
A refreshing post-walk drink at the Compasses in Crundale would round off the dog walk nicely Jonathan recommends and of course water is provided for four-legged friends at all Shepherd Neame dog-friendly establishments so that they too can quench their thirst.
Jonathan says he has had a lifelong love of dogs and over the years has experienced owning and growing up with different breeds including Cocker and English Spaniels, a number of Labradors, Norfolk Terriers and West Highland Terriers.
He adds that, like all good dog owners, he and Mackeson have a special bond and if pushed the Labrador would top his favourite breed list, closely followed by the Norfolk Terrier due to their “amazing personalities”.
“Like all small dogs, they have got big personalities and they are a key part of the household,” he admits.
However, he says it is companionship which makes being a pet owner special.
“I love going for a walk with my dog, I really do. I think you have a bit of solitude which everyone wants from time to time but you have got companionship as well,” he adds.
The bonus for dog walkers in Kent is the network of intricate footpaths which Jonathan stresses is not the case in every county.
He explains: “In my experience it is not true of some of the northern counties, where you may have wonderful big walks like the Pennine Way or something like that but here it’s all the crisscrossing little connections and from village to village that I think is a unique part of Kent’s make up.
“My mother lives in Cornwall and I go down there a lot and of course the coastal network is fantastic, but it’s one path going around the coast and the inland network is nowhere near as good as Kent’s. I think Kent has got both a very good coastal footpath, which of course in parts is also a good cycle trail, but the inland connectivity between all the towns and villages really is excellent.”
Having been chairman of Visit Kent for just over a year, Jonathan says overall the county welcomes dogs, but of course it does depend on what type of things visitors wish to do during their stay.
“The likelihood is that you are going to look to do a variety of things. You are probably going to go to a museum or an art gallery on one day and the reality is that those type of places are less accessible for dogs in the main.
“But, equally what Kent really has got to offer is that it isn’t just a single-destination place. The likelihood is also that you will go and find a small town or city to look round, you are probably going to have a meal out in a pub on the Sunday and there are any number of inland or coastal walks to choose from. I would say from that angle Kent is a very dog-friendly county.
He adds: “I don’t think that it is good tourism policy to say ‘we don’t allow pets’, most people are pet friendly and want to be flexible, but they also have to bear in mind their other customers and the general facilities that they have.
“Sometimes the pub owner or whoever it might be has to use his own judgement on these things. If someone suddenly turned up with 15 dogs in a restaurant that could be quite challenging for obvious reasons. However in my experience people, certainly in our pubs, are looking to welcome dogs and their owners and see it as a core part of trade, but pubs are very different to restaurants.”
Jonathan says the county is a haven for those wishing to experience varied environments in which to walk their dogs, including the central spine of the North Downs, the Romney Marshes and the re-emergence of the coastline, including many dog-friendly beaches.
One of Jonathan’s favourite dog walks starts at Kingsdown in Deal at The Zetland Arms and on to The Coastguard pub in St Margaret’s Bay. “It takes in the quintessential White Cliffs of Dover, from one beach to the other, it’s always teeming with dog walkers and both pubs are dog friendly, it’s a perfect length of walk there and back with spectacular views of the sea. I walk fairly fast but I would say it’s about two and half miles each way; start one end, go for lunch and then walk back again – a good way to spend a Sunday, I reckon.”
Jonathan adds that the King’s Head at Wye goes the extra mile for dog lovers with the chef creating and serving up dog biscuits to their canine customers.
“They are actively encouraging dog owners and going out of their way so bring your dog and why not stay for the weekend in Kent to enjoy the hospitality and many walks in all directions?”
For more information about dog friendly places in Kent visit www.visitkent.co.uk.
The Walpole Bay Hotel in Margate can accommodate dogs in their rooms on request. www.walpolebayhotel.co.uk
Nearly all Kent castles, houses, parks etc. accommodate dogs.
Kent and East Sussex Railway, Spa Valley Railway and Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway all welcome dogs on board.
Canterbury Historic River Tours accommodate dogs on tours, www.canterburyrivertours.co.uk.
Biddenden Vineyard welcomes dogs, www.biddendenvineyards.com
Cafés and pubs
Most Kent pubs will accommodate dogs, examples include: The Anchor in Faversham, www.anchor-pub.co.uk; The Woolpack Inn in Chilham, www.woolpackinnchilham.co.uk; The Unicorn Inn in Canterbury, www.unicorninn.com and The Zetland Arms in Kingsdown, www.zetlandarms.co.uk.
JoJo’s in Tankerton welcomes dogs on their patio area, www.jojosrestaurant.co.uk
Find out more
There are more than 4,000 miles of walks in Kent, making it a great doggy destination for travellers, and the proximity of the Eurotunnel and the pet passport service means the door is open to visitor from Europe.
Betteshanger Sustainable Parks has 250 acres of ideal dog waking terrain and 5km of traffic-free paths. There are many walking options in the open and through woodland, with wildlife and nature to be seen in abundance. Visit www.betteshanger-park.co.uk.