May 21 2024

Henry’s first visit to a Thames Basin Heath

As a dog owner I try to strike a balance between exploring new and exciting places with my dog, and minimising the impact that we could both have on the surrounding environment.

Back in February I took my 10-year old Shih Tzu Henry to Chobham Common in Surrey. It’s his first proper visit to a Thames Basin Heath so although I know Chobham Common well, I’m aware that it’s not familiar territory for him!

So, what did he make of it? Here’s Henry’s guide to visiting the Thames Basin Heaths.

Up and out of the car I’m feeling a bit wary. The car park is huge and already I can smell so many new whiffs in the air! Mum keeps me on the lead as I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and don’t recognise this place. Which way to go?

First stop I check the ‘pee-mail’ at the noticeboard while mum has a read up top! She’s wearing her concentration face! Is there anything that we need to know before we go on?

A small beige and white dog standing at the base of a wooden noticeboard containing colourful posters. With a background heathland setting

Checking out the noticeboard

Second stop we check out the ‘pee-mail’ at the poo bin. Good timing for me needing to toilet. It’s a good job that mum has a Heathland Hounds poo bag dispenser attached to my lead!

A small beige and white dog standing in front of a green dog waste bin. A heathland setting is behind.

Great placement of a dog poo bin, near the car park

Mum says that she’s planned out a route that goes round in a circle on main paths so that I don’t find it too daunting. She knows her way around and she knows when I’m going to run out of energy!

Ooh, who left that there? I’m not sniffing that. I’m sure they’ll pop it in the bin on the way back.

A small beige and white dog sniffing a wooden post with a blue arrow sign marking a bridleway

Which path to take?

Mum says we are going up Oystershell Hill. I’m not sure that I agreed to going uphill. I’ve only got little legs!

A small beige and white dog jumping up steep wooden steps set into a hill on a heathland

Steps up to Oystershell Hill

We are back on the flat. Phew. I’ve made a few buddies on the walk so far and there are so many interesting sniffs on these paths.

A small beige and white dog walking down a wide heathland path. There are lots of puddles and a ditch full of water running alongside. Blue sky and clouds in the background.

Chobham Common north has a main circular self-guided trail

Mum stops for a moment. She’s got her excited face on and is looking for her binoculars. She says she can hear a Woodlark. What is it? Can I sniff it? Or play with it? I can’t see anything! I’m still on the lead as although I’m starting to like this place I still feel a bit nervous. I’m not sure I want to go in there anyway, it looks a bit scratchy and I don’t know where it goes. I don’t want to get lost.

View across Chobham Common with dull winter colours of dark brown and green. A flat landscape with yellow grass and gorse with yellow flowers. Blue sky and white clouds.

Listening to a Woodlark singing out in the open heath

I’m getting a bit tired now, but mum wants to stop and look at things. I don’t mind as long as I can have a sniff and a short rest.

A small beige and white dog approaching a tall stone monument mounted on a stone base. In a heathland setting

Taking a peek at the Victoria Monument

We are back at the car now. Mum is reading a book about other walks. She has her happy face on again. I hope it’s not today though, I’m tired and ready for a treat, a drink and a nap. Bye for now! 

A hand holding an open booklet showing a map of heaths and numbered alternative greenspace walks

Where shall we visit next time? Plenty of alternative walks nearby!

All in all, a lovely two hours spent walking at a leisurely pace, stopping for sniffs and to watch wildlife. Henry doesn’t mind being on lead, which means that both he and I had fun, stayed safe and left little trace of our visit along the way.

We do however visit other places where I’m happier to let him off lead to run around and play.

Of course all dog breeds have their own characteristics and I am fortunate to have an older dog with a placid nature. Having said that, Henry does have a prey drive and will chase deer and rabbits given the chance. With his love of sniffing he could unwittingly disturb the nest of a ground-nesting bird but we avoid the likelihood of that by sticking to the main paths.

Breeding season for ground-nesting birds runs from 1st March to 15th September. We visited in February but I am mindful that Woodlark can find mates and nest earlier if weather conditions allow.

Not all dogs want to run down the straight line of a path. So by practicing recall, playing games with your dog, scattering treats and throwing balls or toys along the path are all great ways of keeping your dog entertained off lead, on path during the bird nesting season.  Most of our main heathland and forest paths are wider which helps. And don’t forget, most of our heaths have perimeter wooded areas that are less wildlife sensitive and provide much-needed shade during summer walks!

Why not join our friendly, community dog owner group Heathland Hounds for more useful tips? Or vary some of your regular heathland walks by trying out a dog-friendly Greenspace On Your Doorstep walk near you. Watch this space for future explorations!

Nicky, Communications Officer (and companion Henry)
Thames Basin Heaths Partnership


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