Unusually for us we arrived back in the UK and headed straight to the north, first to see Ian’s mum, and then to the tiny North Yorkshire village of Kirklington, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.
House Sit No 1 of 52
We were house sitting a beautiful property on the edge of the village green, opposite the village pub, surrounded by fields. It was the tail-end of what had been one of the warmest summers on record in the UK.
Our house sitting charges were two pure black Cocker Spaniels, mum Tinker and her daughter, Belle, who was just 7 months and a little bundle of ultra-high energy. Tinker is an extremely well trained working gun dog retriever and Belle a working pup in the making!
Trained to respond to a whistle, we learned this new skill over the first evening spent getting to know our home owners. We had so much fun with these two well behaved, but high energy dogs, it was hard to focus on getting our #52sit challenge off the ground!
Our house sitting duties
Apart from regularly walking, playing and grooming, there wasn’t much else we were asked to do. The large garden needed mowing, but that was easy with the ride-on mower. It wasn’t expected, more a “if you fancy doing it then here are the keys”, but Ian has used ride-ons before and it provided a morning of entertainment for him. It was nice to hand back a nicely tended lawn at the end of the sit too, which was definitely appreciated.
This was a sit where there was also a small holiday rental cottage, but we weren’t needed to assist with the changeovers – this was all handled externally. We just had to make sure we were at the house to allow staff access to cleaning materials and clean linen.
The tennis court kept us aerobically fit, and we had lots of fruit and veggies we were told to use while the owners were away. Fresh plums, peaches, apples and blackberries. In fact, Tinker and Belle both enjoyed rounding up the fallen apples on a daily basis as part of their exercise routine!
We hired a small Fiat 500 for just 9 GPB a day for the first two weeks of our return. Buying separate annual insurance to cover the excess is much less expensive than paying the daily rates to the car rental companies. Ours cost just 50 GPB for a year of worldwide cover, saving a lot on individual rentals.
But, renting is not ideal for the longer term and one of our first jobs was to buy a vehicle. This is much more cost effective, especially if you’re prepared to lower your sights and buy an older vehicle. In this case you are also less likely to lose money on the sale at the end of the period.
Our choice was to buy a Citroen Berlingo van. We are preparing ourselves for the year with all our worldly possessions and house sitting necessities packed into easily transportable storage boxes, which we can stack in the back of the van, along with a couple of bicycles. When looking after dogs, it’s so much easier to take them to their favorite walks, without the worry of muddy paws, or molting coats dirtying the upholstery of a car. The dogs have access to us, they aren’t closed off, and our van is kitted out with carpet, and a comfy dog bed. The van will be further accessorized with other items to make a happy space for pets on the move!
Tinker and Belle will have to wait until next year for this experience when we return in April as we had some work to do after getting the van at a bargain price. Knowing it needed a few fixes and a good valet before it met my standards of comfort, we started the process of getting the repairs and cleaning underway.
The magic of village pubs in the UK
For anyone new to the UK, and especially to village house sits, they may not be aware that most country locations will have a village pub you’ll more than likely be able to walk to. The standard may vary from a superb gastro pub to a simple but adequate place to enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of beer. Very often the pub will be dog friendly and have a bowl of water on hand for thirsty dogs at the end of long walks.
Our village pub was newly acquired and refurbished with great hosts, superb food and a good range of beers. It became the focus of our socializing over the two weeks we spent in Kirklington. Ian’s mum and brother visited for a family weekend lunch, we got to experience a great live band, Citizen Smith, and we also met-up with fellow UK house sitters, Sandy and Rob, as they set off on a longer-term overseas travel and house sitting adventure.
The pub was literally just across the road from our temporary home, so it was also where the first part of our house sitting handover took place with the property owners!
Countryside walks and dogs on farmland
If you’re visiting from overseas, you’ll discover one of the great things about the UK is the network of easily accessible footpaths. Even if you don’t have a car, you’ll be able to walk dogs from the property on paths that run alongside fields, over stiles and through woodland.
You should make yourself aware of any sheep and cattle in fields round and about, and keep your dogs on the leash when close to any farm animals. Where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock, the keeper of the dog is strictly liable for the damage without the need for the farmer to find fault.
What to do in and around Kirklington
There were plenty of walks through the surrounding fields, but we wanted to take the pups a little further afield, and so we spent a lovely day at Aysgarth Falls and Hardraw Force, both recently replenished with water after almost running dry in the unseasonably hot summer.
There are many surrounding villages and towns that are worth exploring, including Hawes at the centre of the Dales; the market towns of Bedale and Thirsk; Masham where you’ll find the Black Sheep and Theakston breweries; and, just a little further afield, the walled city of York, the historic cathedral city of Ripon, and the spa town of Harrogate. Ripon is purported to be one of the oldest cities in England, and one of the smallest, although there seems to be some discussion as to whether it’s the third or fourth, in this respect!
Castles are another strong feature across the Dales, and we visited both Bolton Castle (not dog friendly) and Middleham, which has some well preserved ruins to explore. If you enjoy sampling local food and drink, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to find a good lunch or dinner at either local, or gastro type pubs. For a fix of a fine English cheese, visit the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. Find the tasting room and work your way around all the different flavors, piece by piece! My favorite was Wensleydale with stem ginger.
If you’re looking for countryside walks, waterfalls, more challenging hikes, history, food, drink and local culture, then this is the perfect area in which to find a house sit. We quickly re-booked without hesitation when asked and are already looking forward to our stay next year.
A few tips when house sitting a large country property in the UK
- Country properties in the UK can require a lot of garden maintenance – check to see if a gardener will be employed through your stay, or check to see how much gardening work is involved.
- If there are cleaning or gardening staff, or if there is a holiday rental property, you may need to stay in on certain days to accommodate staff employed. It’s a good idea to have their names and contact details in case of any problems.
- Dogs can get very muddy on wet countryside walks in the UK. Often the only choice is to take them through fields and on tracks. Make sure you have access to good outside hiking shoes or Wellington boots (“wellies”), and a waterproof jacket. We’ve found home owners will often lend these to you if necessary. Don’t forget to find out what the cleaning procedure is for the dogs, and where are the shampoos, drying towels etc.
- Our house had an Aga for heating and cooking. They also had a normal style cooker, but many big old country houses do rely just on an Aga. This presents a completely different way of (slow) cooking and you may want to read up about this, and make sure you get good instructions for using it.
- Country properties can be over 100 years old and unless recently renovated their heating and water systems can be more primitive than in a new, modern house. It’s always wise to make sure you understand the heating system controls and learn the optimum settings for staying warm in winter. Make sure you’re shown where the water stop cock and electricity fuses are situated in case of age related problems.
We found this house sit through TrustedHousesitters who currently have almost 1000 house sits advertised in the UK. They range from short 2 or 3 day weekends or mid-week sits, through to one or two weeks and even longer term sits.