Our second house sit in England was also our shortest, and it was located in a small village outside of Shipston-on-Stour in the Cotswolds. In case you are unfamiliar, the Cotswolds are a fairly hilly area in the country, historically used to graze sheep. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed our time in the countryside.
When we arrived at our new home, the owners Emma and George gave us a full rundown on how things worked around the house, and even made us dinner the night we arrived, and lunch the afternoon before they left on their trip. This was the first house sit we’ve had that the owners hung around for a full day to help us figure out the schedule and care instructions for everything we needed to do. It was extremely helpful, and I kind of wish more of our house sits were arranged with an extra day to get to know everything we might need.
For this house sit, we were charged with taking care of four energetic puppers, feeding a couple of chickens, and the over-all ‘make sure the house doesn’t burn down’ sort of tasks. Each day three of the dogs required an hour-long (or longer) walk to work out all of their excess energy (the fourth was a bit too old to be going on romps around the hills), and this was my main task for the week. Near the end of our time in Swanage, Ian began to get some kind of tendinitis in his foot, and he was laid up for most of our time in Shipston because of it; but since he was the one waking up early in the morning to get the dogs up and fed, it seemed like a pretty even trade off.
On the very first day we were there, I heard the sound of horse hooves, clip-clopping outside the front of the house, and looked out to see something I had never expected. First, three men on horses trotted up to the neighboring house, and then a pack of no fewer than fifty hunting hounds came tearing down the street and into the property next-door. A few minutes later, a hunting party of nearly one hundred boys and men on horseback lined up on the street and trotted off after the hounds onto the property. For our first time in England, it was fascinating to see an actual Hunt take place.
To make things a bit easier on me, George made a map of the trails where he normally walked the dogs, and pointed out which ones to avoid that day (because the hunt could make things dangerous if I walked the dogs too close to the village). Unfortunately, even days later, when I walked the dogs on a longer, four mile walk (Ian dropped me off a ways away, and I walked the dogs back home through the countryside), I found the paths nearest the village muddy and pock-marked, with deep ruts from the hundreds of horse hooves that passed through during the hunt.
Walking the dogs everyday was simultaneously one of my favorite, and one of the most stressful times of my day. Only three of the four dogs (Mungo- a black lab, Mole- a rat terrier, and Coquet- a springer spaniel) went on walks, as Bodger (another spaniel) couldn’t run around as he once did. Although the fresh country air and the exertion of walking several miles a day were invigorating, there were several times one or more of the dogs ran off after a hare or a deer, and I thought I had lost them for sure. But each time they ran off, they would come skulking back within five minutes, and my heart would unclench itself and I would be able to breathe again.
Though they tried to stop my heart once or twice, Mungo, Mole, Coquet, and Bodger were all very sweet, and we had a great time taking care of them. Mole was a snuggly little couch companion, though he was constantly picking on his big brothers, tugging on their ears and trying to hamstring them at any opportunity. Small dog syndrome at its finest. Ian desperately wished he could have snuck Mungo away in his luggage when we left; but I think a 70 pound Labrador would put his luggage into the “overweight” category at the airport. Coquet was by far the most entertaining on our walks, as he enjoyed rolling around in the cabbage fields, and his short tail was constantly wiggling back and forth as he sniffed his way along our path. Finally, of the four, Bodger was definitely the sneakiest; since he wasn’t allowed on the long walks, he would try and sneak out the front gate at any opportunity, but he would always be tucked away in his armchair (the old man) whenever we returned from a trip to town.
Each day, when I returned from my long walk with the dogs, I would duck in to the chicken coop to collect their eggs and throw out some feed for them. Having never eaten fresh, home collected chicken eggs before, it was actually really fun going out there to see if they had laid any eggs, and then cooking them up in the morning if they had. At times, the thought of having our own chickens one day would cross my mind, but then I would think about how we were told not to worry about mucking out the coop while we were taking care of the house, and I realized that I would never actually want to deal with that part of owning chickens. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to deal with fresh chicken eggs from the farmers market in the future.
Spending a week playing with the dogs and falling into a nice routine of chores, cooking fresh meals for dinner (something we have sadly been lacking as of late), and then relaxing on the couch watching television or a movie in the evening was almost luxurious. The weather held off most of the time we were there, and we were even treated with a few glowing sunsets. Although we did go on a couple of day trips to Warwick Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon while we were there, each place deserves more screen-time than I can offer in this post, so they’ll be coming up in the next week or so.