Letter: Put your dog on a leash at Charmouth Beach

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My family have been in love with West Dorset for many years. Recently we parked next to the beach in dear old Charmouth. Naturally the parking meter was faulty, refusing to accept our pound coins! But the worst was to follow.

We walked quietly with our well behaved retriever beside us towards the cafe. Wherever she goes, children and adults always want to pet her. If all humans gave as much love as our retriever, this world would be a happier place. But what happened was about to change everything.

A gentleman approached us in front of the cafe. With courtesy, he insisted that our retriever be put on a leash and that in addition, he would go to the ice cream stand himself to get one! Now we can accept a sign that says ‘Please put dogs on a leash’ or ‘Please keep dogs under control’ we thought. If such signs had been clearly displayed throughout the area, we would of course have complied. However, such a sign about dogs at the entrance is unlikely to be read by those who focus on safe driving.

But why were we watched and controlled in this way? My 1984 holiday reading of George Orwell suddenly felt so fitting.

He then aggravated his criticism by making it perfectly, albeit polite, that if we didn’t obey we risked a hefty fine (out of all proportion to the “crime”) and, he added in somewhat chilling words, being guilty of antisocial or (if I heard it correctly) offensive behavior. It was obviously absurd. My wife and I were both shocked and surprised. We would never dream of being guilty of such a thing and would never allow our retriever to cause any nuisance to anyone!

I refused the leash he brought me and used my trouser belt to attach it to our dog’s collar to be in compliance and immediately returned to our car to leave Charmouth at all speed.

On my way out, I asked a local to walk his two dogs about it. “They’re watching you from up there,” he said grimly, pointing to the beach huts and cafe by the beach. I immediately felt the sensation of being in a WWII POW camp. Again, Orwell’s masterpiece came to mind. What had happened to the Charmouth we had known and loved for so many years?

Many people are now aware of our Charmouth experience. All were appalled. My family have been coming to West Dorset for many years and love the area. Charmouth was the essence of what it was to be British, in which consensual behavior was based on freedom, common sense, responsibility and fair laws, concepts in England created by Alfred the Great. Yet how foreign such concepts are now, as this attitude toward dog owners so clearly shows.

No one opposes a sign asking that dogs be kept on a leash, but few things annoy people more than the zealousness of bureaucracy, maintaining order and restricting freedom and responsibility.

We canceled our fall vacation there and after so many years will never return to Charmouth again, or spend a pound there in passing. I loved this place, I even wrote novels praising the area. But not more. I write this simply in the hope that these unnecessarily draconian rules and creepy insistence on obedience will one day give way to a more sensible approach that no longer alienates visitors but retains a sense of proportion. In the meantime, ‘1984’ is recommended reading for visitors to Charmouth!

Philip St. L. Morris


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