The sun was shining on our thatch-roofed cottage for the week when we drove up to it. It was charming in a mired-in-muck kind of way, and its quaint green door, with a friendly bench alongside, to sit and watch the animals or shake the mud off our boots before we stepped in, enhanced the welcome. There were chicken coops up a small swell in front of the cottage. Behind that we could hear a donkey braying, while a sheep dog winked at us from the open barn.

“Ooh, let’s go meet them all!” declared our daughter, but was soon distracted by the pitter-patter of tiny cloven feet as a cavalcade of goats rounded the corner to tilt their horned heads, and look at us in surprise. “If that isn’t the goofiest gathering I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed our son with glee. We all had a thing for goats – for their silly, happy faces, rotund bods, and unexpectedly nimble tread.

All this before we’d even opened the door to our cottage, which we found was really a hobbit hole, with rooms built along a long, dark passage that ran the length of the house. As the children ran off to bag a bed each, with Luna in the lead, we found our own cosy bedroom, past butter churns, coal scuttles, and mangles that hadn’t graced homes since milkmaids became cans. But this was the most singular farm! Even the pictures cluttering the walls were, on examination, quite surreal – most of them clearly done by a painter who loved animals but thought it rude to depict their limbs.

The idea was to have a holiday of two halves.

Though every morning started with a scramble up the swell to collect our own eggs from the coops, and a stop at the backdoor of the farmhouse for honey or bacon, as the day wore on it would become a little less homespun, especially if it involved a book festival visit. We knew they didn’t allow dogs in, so the plan was that each adult would take their turn at the festival, with a child in tow, to browse, buy, and hear discussions on books, while the other took the second child and the pup into town to explore.

But one of us would be getting the better deal, and as I was the first to go to the festival with my daughter, while father and son meandered through the quaint and lovely book village, biding their time, I thought it would be me. We were at the festival that day to see Julia Donaldson’s popular children’s show, one I’d wanted to watch while both Julia and I had been guest speakers at the Kolkata Literary Meet but couldn’t since our sessions had clashed. We had met at the dinner after however, and her husband had very sweetly taken a picture of us drinking.

We arrived to find ourselves at the end of a huge queue waiting to see Julia. The mothers chattered, as the children grazed. Till they were herded away by the same nice man I’d met at the book festival in Kolkata. He was strumming on a guitar and singing funny songs, and soon had all the kids gathered around him, including our little girl, like cuter-than-average rats following the Pied Piper.

He led them in song and dance while the mothers had a rest, coming over to say hello afterwards, and that he recognised me. A nice man, I decided, and his wife’s show was even nicer, keeping children of all ages enthralled for its entire duration. But the minute we were out, I could see the festival was not the vibrant, free-spirited event it had been when another man had made an impression on me (in an altogether different way).

Fourteen years ago, Sting had been about to enter the big top to talk about his new book Broken Music, when he’d stopped a moment to run his eyes over the crowd waiting to hear him.

In my early thirties and still alive to such things, I noticed he was taller and handsomer than I’d expected. With the sun falling upon it, his hair seemed spun from gold and without the bald patch that later became so apparent.

His broad shoulders looked capable of heroically bearing the world’s troubles (or at least several women at a time – his autobiography would suggest he had tried both), and his piercing blue gaze was…on me! We gazed at each other for what seemed like an eternity, till a guard opened a side gate for him, and the connection snapped.

It was then that I realised there was a very large ketchup stain down my front. Had he thought I was dying? Did he not think to try and save me with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an unusual staunch though that might seem for blood loss? I was a bit miffed, and with his book turning out to be as beautifully written as it was self-absorbed, I said to myself, “There, you see, not a thought for anyone other than himself. Not even when they’re dying.” And it was a good few months before he was allowed back into my good books again.

With the festival itself proving a soulless disappointment this time, we were happy to head into the quirky, old book town of Hay-on-Wye, where my husband, son, and dog were waiting.

And having more fun as it turned out! Here was the kind of book buying we liked to do, with time to canter through cobbled lanes, and spot the best bookshop signs – The Green Ink and The King of Hay, or Outcast and Barna-bee’s – and best window displays.

At one, I spotted a second-hand (as were most books in Hay) first edition PG Wodehouse that I felt compelled to go in and get. That they had the most charming reading nook, with deep armchairs in faded turquoise against a mustard wall plastered with gilt-framed illustrations from much-loved books, helped. As well as a book-lined fireplace that didn’t need lighting on that warm summer’s day, but looked perfect.

Having bought the book and happily skipped out, I was indulgently reminded by my husband that I had bought that very title, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, the last time we were there. “You can never have too many PeeGees!” I laughed, as we moved to another favourite book stop.

Murder and Mayhem, a bijou bookstore dedicated to sleuths, was packed to the rafters with crime fiction books, and a “crime scene” at the entrance we tiptoed around to avoid disturbing the “evidence”.

On this trip we visited children’s bookstores too, including one devoted entirely to comic books, of which our young man had a burgeoning collection. After a long and leisurely browse through every comic in the store, he finally plumped for an early edition of Superman.

Through it all we kept a firm eye on Luna, allowing her to neither sniff, never mind scoff, the books on show. But in every other way, she fully partook of our holiday – sauntering through the cobbled streets, sitting outside bookstores contentedly, to say hello to the swarms of dogs in town, with whichever one of us was keeping her company.

Between the distinctive bookstores on every street, and thin historic houses, were markets and delis crammed with delights. Although Luna reminded us it was time to eat, with so many festival goers scrambling for a spot, it was a while before we settled down to an appetising North African lunch, and a convivial chat with equally squeezed-for-space strangers. Picking up chicken, cream, and mushrooms at the central market for a stroganoff dinner, we found perches on its sturdy stone walls to watch the sun set on a wonderfully bookish day.

Handle with Care: Travels with My Family (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Excerpted with permission from Handle with Care: Travels with My Family (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Shreya Sen-Handley, HarperCollins India.