Chasing Swans

Tim had to renew his visa, which meant not traveling outside of the UK until it was returned and gave us the opportunity to do just that. Our friends had recommended the Cotswolds and particularly the Old Swan & Minster Mill, an adorable English country house hotel and inn along the River Windrush that was not only pet-friendly, but considered dogs to be elite guests. Tim made driving a manual with the left hand on the other side of the road look easy and we drove the two hours from London, with a dog sleeping in the back seat.

We adopted Nutella from Vermont and two days later, drove the six-hour drive to Brooklyn while she slept sitting up on my lap with her face snuggled right below my chin. This has caused two things to occur: me to become utterly obsessed with cuddling her, and her to be an excellent car passenger. When we arrived, Nutella got a warmer welcome in the lobby than we did followed by “room service,” a full bowl of organic dog food. Even though the dog bed provided was way too small for her, she slept well knowing this was going to be the best weekend of her life.

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Meanwhile, Tim and I had dinner in the Old Swan’s living room referred to as “gastro-pub” cuisine, which was the finest food and the most quaint pub I’ve seen.The next morning, we used our spa vouchers from booking through Secret Escapes treating ourselves to aromatherapy massages followed by a breakfast buffet of locally grown produce to prepare for a choice of three hikes: a “short,” “medium” and “long” walk. We opted for the medium walk, which was a nine-mile walk from Minster Lovell through sheep fields and the town of Swinbrook to the adorable village of Burford.

As we turned left into the first field, something awoke within Nutella that neither she, nor us, knew existed: what a Labrador mixed with a German short-haired pointer is innately bred to do. Ponds lined the field causing her to lift her right leg and point her tail enough to signal where birds were hiding. The Labrador in her would emerge just in time to run toward the birds, not catching them, but scaring them enough that they would fly up.

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From field to field, we walked – surrounded by openness and fresh air. The only noise was our footsteps and the occasional gun shot of hunters. The fields were separated by intricate gates and Tim would responsibly look ahead before letting Nutella run free. Nutella is somewhat trained “off-leash” (known here in the UK as “off-lead,” which is comforting that I’m not the only one that gets led when dog-walking. When you live with a 6’6 man and want to name your dog Nutella, the dog has to be at least 60 lbs.). She won’t run away and will come back eventually but only when she feels like it or is done eating horse poop (yes, this has occurred. More than once).

There was a pond on the left that would for sure attract her attention but she was already covered in mud so a little fresh water would do us all some good. We let her go, both keeping a close eye on the pond below the small hill. A few minutes went by, enough for me to catch up, and no sign of Nutella. As we walked toward the pond, there was a sighting: about 100 sheep parting ways on the top of the hill and one most-excited-she’s-ever-been crazy black dog circling around them. “New friends!”

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Tim was worried for the sheep. I was worried for Nutella (well, not so worried that I didn’t have time to pull out my iPhone to catch this on video). Soon enough, the peacefulness of endless farmland quickly deteriorated into one tall man and a short girl sprinting with echoes of our screams across the fields of the English countryside, “Nutella!.. Nutella!.. Nutella!” I would have liked to hear the farmer’s thoughts when he came out with a shot gun: kill the dog who is threatening my sheep, my livelihood or kill the two crazy Americans in dire need of chocolate-hazelnut spread.

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We had barely caught our breath when we arrived at the next gate. Nutella couldn’t have been more proud of herself. She was dog smiling and tail wagging. If she was human, the conversation would have been high pitched with excitement. The prawn collar went around her neck – the equivalent of grounding. Tim held on to her leash as he maneuvered around a tiny gate he could barely fit into but the mud got the best of him. As he slipped, he could feel Nutella’s leash slip through his fingers. I always seem to trail behind those two.

There she sat: a beautiful swan, making her Queen proud. In England, all swans are the property of the Queen. It is a felony to harm a swan, which comes with a high fine or even imprisonment. Have you ever seen a swan try to fly? It is like a 747 preparing for take-off. Slow and steady. And in came Nutella: fast and flaky. The swan waddled into a run before  slowly raising off the ground and Nutella, running full speed ahead with her eyes laser focused above, neglected to see the drop ahead and flew into the river below. One moment you saw her. The next you didn’t. My heart stopped and I turned the video off.  Sure enough, she emerged from the river slightly startled but tail wagging. If there’s one thing she loves more than birds, it’s water!

When we reached Swinbrook, yellow flowers lured us into the town. As we approached, an old woman mumbled something to us. I laughed even though I didn’t hear what she said – I hoped it was meant to be funny. On our way out of the town, that same woman gave it another try. This time, we stopped. As she struggled to remember the name of the nearby town she was trying to recommend, I wished the  Swan Inn (what is it with swans around here?) up the road would just swallow me. All I wanted was a warm seat and a cold beer. When we finally sat down, they were done serving lunch so we put in our order – a beer for Tim and a coffee with Baileys for me. Nutella laid at our feet, seizuring with uncontrollable leg kicks which continued throughout that entire night. Enough so that I purchased data to look on WebMD pet and make sure she was going to be ok. Doctor’s orders: “You have to be your dog’s off switch. It doesn’t have that on its own.”

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The next day, we took her on the “short” walk called “The Great Cotswold Ramble” following a path known as ‘Wardens Way’ for about 2.5 miles, which goes from Upper Slaughter through Lower Slaughter and ends at Bourton-on-the-Water. We passed sheep fields again but knew better this time and kept Nutella on the leash. This was wise because these fields were littered with lambs wobbling at a few days old like Nutella did when she was just a puppy.

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Beyond the field was the small town of Lower Slaughter, a postcard village on the water where a plaque announced Prince Charles and Lady Diana visited in 1981. We had cream tea along the river while Nutella whined. She had had enough fun.

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On the ride home, Nutella dreamt of chasing swans… forever running, forever trying and never, ever giving up.

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