My family have been lovers of west Dorset for many a year. Recently we parked adjacent to the beach in dear old Charmouth. Naturally the parking meter was faulty refusing to accept our pound coins! But worse was to follow.

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

A gentleman came up to us in front of the café. Courteously enough he insisted our retriever be put on a lead and that moreover, he would himself go to the ice cream stall to get one! Now we can accept a sign saying ‘Please put dogs on a lead’ or ‘Please keep dogs under control’ we thought. Had such signs been clearly displayed across the area we would of course have complied. Any such sign about dogs at the entrance however is unlikely to be read by those concentrating upon driving safely.

But why were we being watched and policed in such a manner? My holiday reading of George Orwell’s 1984 seemed suddenly so apt.

He then compounded his strictures by making it perfectly clear, albeit politely, that if we did not obey we could be in for a hefty fine, (out of all proportion to the ‘crime’) and, he added in somewhat chilling words, be guilty of anti-social or (if I heard him correctly) offensive behaviour. This was patently absurd. My wife and I were both shocked and taken aback. We would never dream of being guilty of any such thing and would never allow our retriever to cause the slightest nuisance to anyone!

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

On the way out I asked a local walking his two dogs about this. ‘They watch you from up there’ he said in a sinister tone pointing towards the beach huts and café adjoining the beach. Immediately I felt a sensation of being in a WW2 prison camp. Again, Orwell’s masterpiece shot to mind. What had happened to the Charmouth we had known and loved for so many years?

Lots of people now know about our experience of Charmouth. All have been appalled. My family have been coming to West Dorset for many years and love the area. Charmouth used to be the essence of what it was to be British, in which consensual behaviour was based upon freedom, common sense, responsibility and fair laws, concepts in England originated by Alfred the Great. Yet how alien such concepts are now as this attitude towards dog owners so clearly demonstrates.

No one objects to a sign asking for dogs to be put on a lead but few things annoy people more than over zealous officialdom and policing and curtailment of freedom and responsibility.

We have cancelled our autumn holiday there and will after so many years never return to Charmouth again, nor spend so much as a pound there in passing. I have loved this place, even written novels eulogising the area. But no more. I write this simply in the hope that these unnecessarily draconian rules and chilling insistence upon obedience will one day give way to a more common sense approach which no longer alienates visitors but keeps a sense of proportion. In the meantime ‘1984’ is recommended reading for visitors to Charmouth!

Philip St.L.Morris