Yes, we are in England. Currently the southern portion of England, at that. From just before New Year’s, until the end of March, we have four different house sits set up across this glorious country. The first of which is in Swanage, a lovely little village in the middle of England’s south coast.
While I never have trouble with jetlag when traveling east to west, the jetlag while traveling from west to east always hits me pretty hard. The night we stayed in Poole, we were both out like lights around 8:30, but I was unlucky enough to wake up at 2:30 in the morning (7:30pm back home in Colorado) and was not able to fall back asleep for about three hours. Since we needed to be up and moving by 8, I wasn’t too pleased with my brain and body thinking they needed to be awake in the middle of the night. Nonetheless, when morning rolled around, we packed up our stuff, loaded it into the car, and began our hour long drive along the coast, to Swanage.
The roads we traveled grew narrower the farther we got away from Poole, and the two-lane roundabouts with no lane markings or signage gave us pause at several intersections, but we began to get used to the country highways. When we were about five miles out from our destination in Swanage, we began passing signs for “Corfe Castle”, and were eventually given our first glimpse of the wonderful crumbled ruin that is Corfe Castle. Sitting atop one of the taller hills in the area, the castle stood over the village of Corfe Castle, casting an enormous shadow in the early, winter sunlight. Passing by, on our way to meet our first house sit, we decided we would have to come back and take a tour of the castle and the town.
As we turned away from Corfe Castle and drove on towards Swanage, the road into town was so narrow and winding that we took the final few miles much slower. With the heath rising up on either side of the road, there was very little space for two cars to pass one another, and we felt fortunate to pass through the stretch of road without meeting another car coming the other way. Once into Swanage proper, we were met by twisting one-way roads, and a bustling downtown, before winding our way up into the hills. Turning right into a narrow drive, our GPS announced we had arrived at our destination, and we looked up at the homes crowded on either side of the dead end, wondering which one we were destined for.
After double-checking the address in our documents, and the numbers on the houses, we found the front gate to the garden, and climbed up to the house. Before we even made it to the front door, we were met by the barks of a dog, and one of the owners, Helen, swung open the door to greet us. A blur of wiry, tan fur bounded out the door to greet us, and Helen introduced him as “Spike”. Another couple of steps into the kitchen and a fluffy black Ewok-on-four-legs (Bugsy) came to join his brother in meeting us. While Helen introduced us to Spike and Bugsy, her husband Ian came into the kitchen to meet us as well, and together they gave us a tour of the house.
Once they had showed us where we would be staying, we grabbed our bags from the car and dropped them in our room. As we brought our belongings in, Helen made us a cup of tea, and we returned to the kitchen where she and Ian gave us the run down. We learned about some of Spike and Bugsy’s quirks (like how Bugsy will sit right next to you at the table, staring, if he thinks you have food) and what their eating and walking schedules were. With a few more things to pack, Helen and Ian left us to peruse their house sitting welcome guide, and get settled into our room.
With our bags unpacked and put away, we began to smell something wonderful wafting up from the kitchen. Helen was making bacon and lentil soup, and I couldn’t wait to get a taste of that amazing smelling food. Stomachs rumbling, we sat down to the table and chowed down on soup and crusty bread, while we learned more about our hosts, their trip to Australia, and the tasks we would need to handle around the house while they were away. Other than a few house plants and a couple of easy appliances which needed maintaining, we were just at the whim of the two beasties.
In order for Helen and Ian to slip out without the notice of the doggos, Ian and I took them out for a stroll around the neighborhood. This is where we really started to learn the subtle differences between Spike and Bugsy. While Bugsy likes to run ahead, as far as his lead will allow him to go, Spike likes to stop and sniff every flower and blade of grass. So, as they took their sweet time, we got a beautiful look at the hills, and the valley in which Swanage is nestled.
If we were worried about going soft on our trip, eating all of the teacakes and Indian food we could get our hands on, we were no longer worried after our first walk. Although the walk began downhill, we looped around and climbed back up the hill one street over, and then retraced our steps through the horseshoe shaped hike once more. We literally walk “uphill both ways” to take the dogs for a walk every single day. Honestly, the first week of walks was rough, but we have acclimated to the steep hills quite well. We have even walked down into town to get groceries, and carried them all the way back up the hill once or twice!
Back at the house, we flipped on the telly and snuggled up with Spike and Bugsy; though we were nodding off as early as 4pm, due to the jetlag. Nerds that we are, the one entertaining thing we came across was Robot Wars: UK versus the Rest of the World (UK won, by the way) and we hunkered down to watch robots tear each other apart for an hour. Then, Ian plugged in our Amazon Fire stick (which we travel everywhere with) and we watched a bit of our favorite YouTube channel, Funhaus. Around 10 o’clock, we seemed to get our second wind, which was good, considering it just so happened to be New Year’s Eve. As this is the first time we have ever been out of the country to celebrate New Year’s, it was interesting to see how the village of Swanage would party.
Before they left, Ian told us about Swanage, and how people travel from all over to visit the village for New Year’s celebrations. They come for the fireworks over the bay, and bar-hop in their “fancy dress”. Around midnight, we went for a stroll down the hill, to see how the party was going, though we were a bit worried we were under dressed for the event. No matter how many Brit-slang terms I have learned from my boss, I always seem to forget a few. When we made it down to High Street, we found the sidewalks crammed with people dressed as everything from Despicable Me Minions to Austin Powers, and everything in between. Like a lightbulb going off in my head, it clicked: “Oh yeah, ‘fancy dress’ means costumes!” Haha.
Much more comfortable being slightly over-dressed, we stopped through two bars, The White Swan and The Ship Inn to see what there was to see. Cider lovers (and hating beer) we rarely go out drinking back home. When we stepped into the pubs here though, we were surprised to find ciders of all kinds. So, at The Ship Inn, Ian ordered a passionfruit cider, and I got myself a pear cider, and we stepped out into the party in the streets. Being from the US, it felt a bit odd seeing parents out drinking with their teens; and I really got a kick out of seeing the Bobbies walking about, keeping order.
Our last stop before climbing back up the hill to the house, was to drop by The White Swan, from which we could hear a variety of disco and rock. On a whim, I walked up to the DJ and requested “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show (what better song is there to ring in a New Year to?), and was not disappointed. When the song started, I was thrilled to hear 90% of the people at the pub start singing, and watched as the dance floor started “jumping to the left” and “stepping to the right”.
After getting little sleep the night before, staying up all day, and trudging back up the steep hill to the house, I was completely content to take a quick shower, and fall into bed. We got to spend the last day of 2017, and the first day (night?) of 2018 in an amazing village by the sea. With almost 6 months of travel and adventure ahead of us, the New Year was looking pretty good from where we were standing.