My dear friend, the Only Blonde in the Village, recently celebrated her birthday and we decided to mark it with a visit to Broadhembury in East Devon. Broadhembury is one of Devon's most historic and picturesque villages and has a fine, centuries-old - and dog-friendly - pub, the Drewe Arms: perfect for a birthday lunch.
Our first stop was Broadhembury's parish church of St Andrew Apostle and Martyr, which was originally consecrated in 1259 but most of which dates from the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century.
How many feet, we wondered, had walked across these tiles?
How many eyes had gazed up at the gilded stars and moons of the barrel vault ceiling?
St Andrew's still has a gallery, where the church musicians would once have played. Suddenly I was 15 again, reading my first Thomas Hardy novel, Under the Greenwood Tree, in which the Reverend Maybold, the vicar of Mellstock, attempts to replace the village church's traditional musicians with an organ player . . .
England's ancient churches are such repositories of local and national history - ecclesiastical, political and social. St Andrew's is no exception. These donation boards offer a window into the harsh and impoverished lives of Devon's agricultural labourers almost 300 years ago:
Babies, children and adults have been baptised at this font since the 1400s:
The north porch, with its elegant white tracery, reminiscent of the lace made in nearby Honiton since the 1600s:
Above the door, keeping watch on those who enter and leave the church, St Andrew the Fisherman, complete with birds' nest:
Despite being a summer's day, it was chilly and grey outside, so the thoughtful hosts had given us a table near the woodburner, for which we were more than grateful. The Only Blonde had the seat of honour, a splendid old oak settle, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch, which was excellent value. (It was such a contrast to our own dismal village pub, which a series of inexperienced and unimaginative landlords have driven increasingly downmarket over the past 10 years or so, to the point at which it was running at a permanent loss. It is now closed, along with the village school, the village shop and the village post office.)
Dogs are as welcome as people at the Drewe Arms; on a previous visit on a busy Saturday evening, I had seen dogs galore, including an Irish wolfound, a yellow Labrador, several Springer spaniels and a Jack Russell terrier. On this weekday, however, there was only one but he was rather special: a gentle, sweet-natured Doberman Pinscher, who emerged from under the table where he was resting to have his photo taken:
He has cancer but is still well enough to enjoy an outing. The Only Blonde and I exchanged sympathetic looks with the owner. Lump in the throat time.
A few days after our visit to Broadhembury we were talking about our own dogs, two of whom are now elderly in terms of dog years: the Only Blonde's Jack Russell-Norfolk terrier cross, Sir M, and my Edinburgh Boy are both almost eleven. Being a terrier, Sir M could go on for many years yet but I am conscious that the Boy is now well into his third age. He walks more slowly, sleeps more deeply, wades in the water rather than swims, but still enjoys life, albeit at a gentler pace.
A love of animals runs deep in both the Other Blonde and in me and in our respective families. We grew up with animals, as did our children. We could not, we said, imagine a life without four-legged companions; well, we could imagine it but it would, we agreed, be a far poorer life.