Sitting in our apartment in Buenos Aires, at the end of six months travelling around South America, Carolyn informed me that we would be house sitting for strangers upon our return to the U.K. “Right…How is this going to work?” I asked.
It is simple, she said. We look after someone’s home and foster their pets and in exchange see a different part of our home country – and here’s a list of where I’d like to go!
We had done this before locally and informally by word of mouth for friends, friends of friends, acquaintances etc. This time Carolyn had employed a more organised approach and had signed us up with an online house-sitting agency.
We posted our profile online and arranged references and within a few days people were contacting us with enquiries. It has worked out really well for us, and it seems for the people for whose homes and pets we care for as we have often been asked back again.
Over the last six months we have stayed in some great homes, in fantastic locations and have met some wonderful and very interesting people. All our hosts have been the very definition of hospitable. Not all the houses have had pets, but those that have, have been so adorable that we have grown attached to all of them. It has been hard to leave some of them behind!
Here is a little about some of our most recent experiences.
The first project this time was looking after Henry, a huge but gentle and adorable Labradoodle. Being a big, big dog he needed – and loved – lots of exercise. Fortunately, the house was just minutes from some beautiful walks in the Hertfordshire countryside. Good job that for such a large dog he was so well behaved.
This was last minute arrangement that we managed to squeeze in between other housesits. A lovely couple in Barnet, north London, needed to attend a wedding in Scotland, so we spent long weekend looking after their very affectionate and excitable two dogs that had been rescued in Greece and bought back to England.
November saw us in a remote farmhouse in an idyllic setting near Chippenham. Carolyn had travelled down on her own by train from our previous housesit as we didn’t want to leave those dogs alone for too long before their owners returned. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived by car, much of the area had been flooded!! It took me several hours of driving around the Wiltshire countryside at night taking instructions from the owners on how to navigate the maze of (mostly flooded and impassable) country lanes from the motorway to the farmhouse!!
After retracing my route many times, I eventually made it and was welcomed by our hosts with an amazing meal and some wonderful wine from their own vineyard in France.
We met with our charge for the next month, a beautiful cat named Cashmere. As with many cats he was a little aloof to start with but we very quickly became firm friends. His daily grooming routine (combing his lovely long fur for at least half an hour at a time) was something both we and he enjoyed.
Our month here allowed us to explore some of the most picture perfect villages in England. Castle Combe and Lacock were two particularly stunning villages. The City of Bath was fabulous with all its Georgian architecture and the busy Christmas market.
Christmas and the New Year were spent in Uppingham, home of the world famous public school whose more famous alumni include Rick Stein and Steven Fry. It is the very definition of a quaint English country town with a terrific weekly market, traditional butchers etc. and proved a great place to stock up with Christmas produce – we went a little over the top!
We were looking after a really quaint cottage right in the town, three dogs (which included a mother and her adorable puppy) and six chickens and some fish.
Three dogs, even three small ones, can be quite challenging. They all got very excitable at walk time, but we soon got the hang of it and highlights of our days were the morning walks across the frosty fields (this has been a very cold winter!) and the evening walks around the streets of the town ablaze with Christmas lights. The walks around the streets always took much longer than expected. Everyone wanted to stop and talk about and stroke the dogs!! Each exuberant dog had its own personality and foibles and we loved them for that. They, in turn, seemed to love sitting on us, watching us eat and following us everywhere. The happy clucking from the chickens when we gave them a tasty extra made us smile every time. Who knew chickens were so appreciative?
Lots of great pubs in the town and we visited most of them during our 5 weeks here. Boxing Day provided an extra treat of Morris Dancers in the square who later joined us in one of the pubs. We did explore a bit out of town, but not too much as we could not bear to leave these guys for long!
Henley on Thames
January-February saw us in beautiful Henley On Thames, famed for the Henley Royal Regatta. Henley has lots of beautiful riverside walks, some great pubs and restaurants both town and around the villages, all of which seemed to be dog friendly.
We were looking after a beautiful house and two small but, if anything, even more beautiful and uniquely characterful dogs. The younger female dog followed Carolyn around like a shadow, the older male dog was very much his own man, a real character and great fun to be around.
Henley is surrounded by gorgeous countryside and some impossibly picturesque villages, many of which have been used in filming period dramas for TV. One day we were watching “Endeavour” the prequel to Inspector Morse and realised that it was filmed in Hambleden the same village where we had walked the dogs that day! Spooky! The “Vicar of Dibley” a Dawn French classic TV series was filmed in a nearby village too, although the walk to the windmill on top of the hill looked too much for dear old Dennis.
Apparently one of England’s newest national parks. I spent a lot of time in this part of England in the seventies so it was great to get reacquainted with the area.
Our companions here are two cats, again each with there own personalities. As with most cats were a little cautious of us to start with but that only lasted a day or so and then they were friendly as can be. I am typing this with one of them sitting on my shoulder and one on my lap!
House and pet sitting has been great fun.
It is not for everyone – one couple we met found it very stressful to look after what turned out to be an ailing dog, and another couple found it stressful to provide top notch housekeeping skills. There are extra duties and some unexpected challenges with some housesits, but nothing we can’t cope with and nothing we have not enjoyed. We found it suits us perfectly, although we have learnt a lot through experience.
We have met some wonderful and very interesting people (specific names and exact locations have been omitted for obvious reasons). Walking a dog (or two or three) is quite sociable – complete strangers often say hello, other dog walkers give you the inside info on where is too muddy and butchers even sometimes donate bones (Thumbs up to Gabriel Machin). We have felt very much at home in every new location. Each home has been very comfortable and a joy to inhabit. The animals we have taken care of have, without exception, been terrific and we have got to know them all really well. We hope to see many of them again and are delighted to have already taken bookings for some!
At the end of March we head off to Andalucia in Spain for 6 weeks. At the moment we are busy planning our next jaunt to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. More on that to follow.