Battle of Hastings: A dog's bag for the beach
Thursday, 17 January 2013
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A dog's bag for the beach

All dogs need to pack a bag for the beach, says Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
Taking a dog for a walk on the beach has to be one of the most organically enjoyable experiences there is; assuming you are a dog lover, of course. Taking your dog out on a boat in a high tide is considerably more stressful but several of the fishermen who work the local fleet do just that. There is a strange voodoo relationship between the men in oilskins and their faithful (sure-footed) friends.

In the 1890s, the three-quartermile stretch of pebbly beach between Hastings Pier and the Lifeboat House was packed with entertainers and hawkers, the most popular of which were the fortunetelling dogs. Presumably trained to respond to key words, these ‘psychic pups’ cast spells on the thousands of visitors flooding the stalls. The fishermen themselves were not immune and frequently consulted them as to the likelihood of a good catch or a fateful storm.

For the dogs’ owners, theirs was easy money. The sea attracts a whole raft of superstitions, from the belief that stepping on the gang plank with your left foot first will cause a shipwreck to the idea that a woman onboard spells disaster. However, should such a calamity happen, and she gives birth, any boy born will be forever known as a ‘son of a gun’ as the safest place to deliver is on the gun deck, apparently.

Hastings-Jan18-02-590Duffle patrols the beach

The young cuttlefish fisherman who goes out accompanied by his perky little spaniel has chosen to ignore the one about bad luck coming if a dog is seen near fishing tackle. She is a feisty little thing and if my terriers, Duffle and Lady Sweetie, dare stray towards her master’s intricately woven net pots, she lets them have it. Quite right, too. I would like to think that she is a Sussex spaniel, one of the oldest breeds in England and first bred in Hastings in the late 18th century, but I suspect she is a cocker, as there are so few Sussexes around – at the end of the Second World War, only five remained. She is certainly lucky. Her place on the shingle is assured but the rest of the dogs promenading the foreshore are under siege.

Unlike many beaches that are off limits from March to September, in Hastings it is still possible to walk them in high summer as long as you stick to the south side of the harbour wall: ie, the fishing-fleet side. But increasingly, the rights of dog walkers to roam our beaches are being eroded. The clamour for a blue flag is often the cause, but so too is the refusal of some owners to pack a few plastic bags. Hastings council is encouraging people to challenge and report ‘mess’ makers. Hopefully they will be shamed out of their bad habits. As the saying goes: You don’t get bad dogs, just bad owners.

Next week: Chaise longing…

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