We were really happy to be back in Gravesend house sitting and looking after Marley for sit number 2 of our 52 sits. Marley is a cat with attitude… and his own Facebook Group!
Gravesend is situated on the River Thames, to the east of London in the county of Kent – we could easily walk down to the ferry that crosses the river to Tilbury Docks.
It’s strange when house sitting, as I can honestly say Gravesend would never have been on my list of UK destinations to visit. However, it’s turned out to be full of so much history, and we have really enjoyed both its close proximity to London and the Kent and Sussex countryside, as well as the local area itself.
It’s very easy to be attracted to the prime London sits, but position yourself just outside in the suburbs and you’ll find less competition, and potentially much easier access to road and rail networks, with the possibility of hopping on a train or a bus to explore London central.
Remember there’s a congestion charge too if you are thinking of driving into the central zone – worth checking that out here:
It’s pricey at GBP £11.50 per day, with hefty fines if you forget to pay it! On this topic it’s also worth remembering that if you pass through the Dartford Crossing on the M25, you’ll also have to pay a toll online. It’s only £2.50 but… the fine for not going online and paying within 24 hours is £70, and it’s easily forgotten… I know !
The most regal of cats
We love all our house sit pets, but Marley is a favourite because he’s so regal – it’s like looking after royalty. It’s just the way he looks at you! He’s very easy to take care of and an endless source of entertainment as he guards his territory with such seriousness, from arch rival Sid!
Last time we visited in winter and didn’t see much of the garden, but the remnants of the hot UK summer meant we were still wearing t-shirts in October, and enjoying an amazing crop of grapes. Haven’t seen as many that tasted as sweet since my garden in Southern Spain.
What are the benefits of repeat sits?
Obviously the best part of a repeat sit is getting to see the pets again, and hopefully again and again! But there are other more practical issues that make repeats nice to add into the mix of house sits.
- The need for a longer handover is often eliminated, as everything has been covered, you’ve hopefully got all your notes and a record of the sit details, and so you can either arrive and enjoy time with the home owner (if they’ve become friends), or arrive and settle quickly into a familiar routine.
- The pets settle much more quickly, especially if they remember you and the time between sits isn’t a long period.
- You can relax more quickly – I sometimes think it’s a bit like “coming home” – the same feeling you get if you return to the same vacation home and you know where to find things, how the systems work, etc.
- You can spend more time enjoying the local neighbourhood as you’ve already done all the research needed – pubs, vets, restaurants, sights and so on.
- Appliances and technology in the property are all familiar.
- It can be the start of longer term friendships with home owners.
Disadvantages of repeat house sits
There aren’t many disadvantages that we can think of, but one would be a feeling of obligation towards home owners, especially if you take a regular repeat and then decide to go travelling for a year or two! This is where it’s important to always keep your home owners in the loop regarding your future plans, then there’s no shock or disappointment later.
For some, repeat sits take away the element of excitement and joy of exploring a new area of the world, something us travellers particularly enjoy, so a mix of repeats and new sits might be a good balance.
Of course, the sadder part of repeat sits is possibly experiencing the deterioration of health of older pets, and even worse, their passing.
What to do and see in and around Gravesend?
We had just bought our small Citroen Berlingo van for our year of house sitting, and it was in for a major service, so we took to finding things to see by foot.
Here are a few of our favourites:
Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara
This is one of the largest Sikh Gurdwara Temples in Europe. We came across it on a walk along the edge of the Thames, when we spotted the magnificent temple roof in the distance. It was quickly located on the map and what a surprise when we approached the entrance!
We found out after that it’s possible to visit, free head scarves are handed out on entry, and apparently you can get a delicious vegetarian meal for free as well. Unaware of this at the time, we simply took some photos, but we’ve got this as top of our list for our next visit next summer!
We did one of the most difficult escape rooms when we first did this house sit last year. Panic or escape rooms were new to us, but it seems they are all over the world. There are several dotted around Gravesend, and they are regularly changed. Again, no time this sit, but it’s nice to know that we can do this on our third repeat!
New Tavern Fort and Tunnels
This was an unexpected surprise for us, not in as much the artillery fort itself, but certainly the underground tunnels which provided a fascinating step back in time. The fort was originally designed to defend London against any enemy fleet advancing up the Thames River. It dates mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, and is very well-preserved. It remained in use for defensive purposes until the Second World War with the added installation of anti-aircraft guns.
The tunnels and magazines of the New Tavern Fort are open on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from April until the end of September. Entry is just £1 per person. They are normally staffed by the volunteers from Thames Defence Heritage, who look after the site, working in conjunction with the Council. There is parking adjacent to the site.
The Chantry, Old Tavern Fort
Located within the same grounds as the New Tavern Fort is Gravesend’s oldest building which used to be a 14th century chapel and then later a tavern. The volunteers are really helpful, there’s a free self guided audio, and you’ll learn a lot about the history of the local area across several centuries.
Sadly it’s only open weekends and bank holidays April to September 12noon – 5pm
Gravesend Nuclear Bunker
Another surprise. Without a car we began an online search on Google Maps for local monuments and sights. In a local park I spotted a nuclear bunker and so we took a walk to see what this was all about.
We found the entrance and a little bit of info, but it was only when visiting the Old Tavern Fort that we discovered you can book for a tour at certain times of the year. There are thirteen rooms that you can visit, which include the communications rooms and sleeping quarters. The bunker was recently refurbished and it’s all laid out exactly as it would have been at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s.
The bunker can be found close to the main entrance of Woodlands Park and you can park on Dashwood Road nearby. For details of the tours check events at the Visit Gravesend website:
Tickets are only £5 for adults and £3 for children – again on our list for next time!
Tilbury Ferry, Fort and Docks
At the bottom of the High Street in Gravesend, you’ll find a ferry that crosses the Thames Estuary from where you can walk to Tilbury Fort. We weren’t able to do this as we hadn’t realised the ferry didn’t run on Sundays, our last day. All other days of the week the ferry runs every half an hour – timetable here:
This is a good way to get to the station across the river for a trip to Southend-on-Sea – an iconic British seaside town, if you like that sort of thing!
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London
When we got our car back we decided to take a trip into east London to re-visit Greenwich park and the observatory. Neither of us had visited since childhood so it was a little trip down memory lane.
I was in awe of the amazing view across London, most of the new buildings of course, didn’t exist when I was a young kid! The observatory is fascinating, although expensive. As we’d visited before we chose to take a quick look in the shop and take advantage of the free entry from inside, up to the telescope area.
Then we spent our time walking around the park, looking out for the parakeets that now dominate the area, before going to the National Maritime Museum down the hill. This is free to enter, as are most of the UK’s museums. Only privately run concerns like the observatory and planetarium make a charge.
I found the National Maritime Museum fascinating, and there much more to see around that area with a bit more time. You can visit the Cutty Sark, The Queen’s House and Old Royal Naval College or even browse nearby Greenwich market. We took a quick look at the free exhibits in the Peter Harrison Planetarium next to the observatory, but have done our fair share of planetarium shows now around the world, so skipped this.
You can go further afield to the O2 arena, and from close to there you can take a walk in the tunnel that traverses under the Thames. We only had a few hours so need a return visit, but really enjoyed the short time spent in this area of London. If you are world-schooling your kids, there’s so much to educate, engage and enthrall.
This is just the tip of the iceberg really. From Gravesend you can take the fast train into London for more central sight-seeing, you can visit the cathedral city of Canterbury, the coastal towns of Whitstable, Dover and Folkestone.
We aren’t big shoppers, but if you are then you’ll find Bluewater, a destination shopping mall, featuring department stores, fashion shops, lakeside dining and a cinema, just a short drive away.
A car really helps, but there’s a great public transport network across the region, and as we found while our car was out of action, everything we needed could be done on foot too. Having a car enabled us to meet up with other house sitting friends also in the area, something we love to use the house sitter meetup app, mapahub.com for.
So the moral of this story is… don’t discount the house sitting locations that sound less glamorous, you may find a bit of a hidden treasure instead!