Sept 16 – Oct 2, 2017
Our third and final house sit for this trip was for 16 days in rural Lincolnshire, about 15 minutes out of the town of Sleaford. Leaving Liverpool, we took a leisurely route through the Peak District, stopping for coffee just south of Manchester to meet with some longtime Facebook friends, Ian and Pauline, and we arrived at our destination at about 4pm. Our hosts were leaving the next morning and so we had the evening to get to know one another and learn everything we’d need to know about the pets, the house, and the yard.
This would be our longest and likely most challenging sit of the trip with four big dogs to care for – two English Setters and two Springer Spaniels – plus 13 laying hens who needed to be let in and out of the hen house each day, fed, watered, and eggs collected, and several acres of yard to care for (although Erik was excited to have a ride-on mower). As per usual, I chatted with the wife to get the lowdown on the kitchen appliances, washer, dryer, cleaning supplies, and wood stove while Erik visited with the husband to learn about the riding mower, the garage full of tools, the dog gear, and the car which we’d be using to take the dogs to a safe place to run.
After dinner, we brought in all of our stuff and got settled into our room which had a comfortable queen size bed, and private access to a full bathroom with large shower and a huge soaker tub (which was lovely but I never did use for some reason). The next morning, Erik went off with our host to take the dogs for a short run and after breakfast, we drove them to the Grantham train station to send them on their way.
Lincolnshire, or Lincs as it is often referred to in England, is quite different from southern England. Mostly agricultural with rolling fields of grain and vegetable crops, the landscape is decidedly flatter, but still picturesque. We were located on the site of an old farm estate which had been converted into six homes. The result was a small community of six families, all seemingly close-knit, although with busy lives. There was a certain degree of coziness and yet we had plenty of space to roam. We were staying in a large converted granary with a spacious living/dining room, kitchen, and conservatory downstairs, and two large bedrooms, bathroom, and two smaller rooms upstairs. In addition, there was an additional wing off the living room with a number of smaller rooms that were currently being used by the couple’s adult daughter (although she was away at the time.)
The house and yard was fully fenced with several acres of lawn, a large chicken run, and a detached garage and workroom. Every time the sun came out, we made a point of sitting outside on the patio or wandering around the yard and enjoy the landscape, including the lovely field of golden Canola next door.
We had mixed weather while we were there – some days were warm and sunny and other days, it was cool, windy, and showery – and fall was definitely in the air. In the evenings, we often made a fire in the wood stove while we watched TV.
It didn’t take long to get into a daily routine on this sit. Erik got up early (about 6am) to let the dogs out every morning, then he came back to bed and I got up little later and let the chickens out, filled the feeders, and fed the fish in the pond out back. Then we’d have breakfast and take the dogs out for their daily run.
We were fairly close to a busy highway so it was necessary to load all four dogs into the back of the car (their car, not our little rental), and drive 3-4 minutes to a place where the Springers could run free, and the Setters could walk on the lead. We usually did a loop down a gravel road and around a farmer’s field, then back to the car which was about two km. But for every kilometre we walked the Setters, the Springers must have run three, and by the time we got back to the car, they collapsed with exhaustion. For the most part, the dogs slept much of the rest of the day as they are not young pups any more (8-9 years old).
During the day, I would check the chickens several times a day, and it was fun to collect the eggs. The chickens were old battery hens, past their prime, and so were no longer laying an egg a day. From a dozen hens, we got 3-4 eggs each day which is not bad at all. I brought the eggs into the house, washed them, and put them into the egg carton in the fridge. In Europe, they don’t keep eggs in the fridge – not at the store, nor at home – but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave them out on the counter at room temperature.
During our first few days, we didn’t venture much further than the grocery store each day to pick up whatever we needed for supper, but we often took different routes into town to explore the countryside. Then after a few days, we took the opportunity to visit two National Trust sites near the larger town of Grantham.
The first was Woolsthorpe Manor where Isaac Newton grew up and where he came up with most of his theories in the 1600’s. It was really interesting to walk through the old house and see the old orchard outside his bedroom window. One of the old trees that had originally grown in the yard had been destroyed in a storm but a new tree grew from its roots and continues to grow to this day. Erik took a leaf from the tree and pressed it between the pages of a book of Dog Quotes that I bought for him.
The second NTS site was Belton House, another huge old home dating back to the 1600’s. What set this place apart was a fascinating “Below Stairs Tour” that showed us what it was like to work in these old places – very Downton Abbey. Given my ancestry, I felt a much greater connection to the lives of the housekeeper and the gardener than I did to the lord and lady of the manor. We went back three times in total, including once to enjoy a long walk around the beautifully landscaped grounds, with its “Orangery” full of tropical plants.
During our second week, we had two consecutive day trips to Lincoln, which was about 30 minutes drive north. We left our car at the Park & Ride, which I highly recommend doing in some of the busier towns in the UK, and caught a city bus into town. It was only a 10 minute ride with free parking and for less than £5 we had easy access to the main sights of the city.
We purchased a special pass that allowed us full two day access to all tours of both the Lincoln Castle and the Cathedral. Because we didn’t want to leave the dogs too long, we split our visit over two days and enjoyed it all a little more because we didn’t have to try to cram it all in. There was plenty to see and do and we could definitely have spent more time there. A highlight was seeing one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, dating back to 1215 – it recently celebrated its 800th anniversary – and I was amazed to realize the impact the document still has today.
We really only had one difficult day during the visit. Early on during our stay, we had the doors to the sunroom propped open, and the dogs were outside roaming around. Suddenly I heard them barking like crazy. They did like to “say hello” to anyone who happens to be walking by, but this time they were particularly excited. I went over to get them to settle down and saw that they had an escaped hen cornered against the fence. I quickly swooped in, picked her up, and put her back into the hen yard, making a mental note to keep a very close eye on the dogs/chicken. We checked the perimeter of the yard but couldn’t find a place that the chicken could have made it’s way into the yard. However, we suspected she may have flown up onto a low hanging branch and then dropped down onto the tempting grass on the other side of the fence.
Then, about a week later, I went outside to call the dogs into the house because I was going to close up the sunroom door but they didn’t respond. I went to investigate and found three of them were standing in a circle around something on the ground, while the fourth was running up to Erik to “tell” him something. They had a captured an escaped chicken. This time there had been no barking, and the chicken must have strayed far enough from the fence that they could easily grab her.
She was still alive but was obviously in distress and clearly injured beyond saving. I took three of the dogs into the house, and Erik had to put a collar and leash on the other dog to get him away from his prey. These breeds are meant for bird hunting and it’s in their blood to catch a hen so it was hard to be angry with them. But it was so sad.
I thought about whether I’d be able to put the chicken down myself, and knew that it would be really hard for me to do. It might be even harder for Erik to do it because he’s had no experience farming and is so caring about animals, however he agreed to do it. I googled the most humane way, discussed it with Erik, and then went into the house and left him to it. It’s a sad part of having livestock but it happens, and neither of us wanted the bird to be in pain and die slowly.
Other than that one distressing episode, we enjoyed our time in this rural location. We had lovely day trips around the country side, making short visits to nearby towns such as Southwell (with its very cool NTS Workhouse to visit), as well as the Cranford RAF museum just a few miles down the road. We also enjoyed watching the small planes taking off and landing and practicing cool aerial maneuvers at RAF Cranwell next door. We only went out to eat a couple of times – once for Indian food with some fifth cousins that I met on Ancestry.com, and another time for Sunday Roast Lunch at the restaurant just a 5 min walk away.
On the final day, we did a general house clean, packed up most of our stuff, and drove to Grantham at midnight to pick up our hosts from the train station. We stayed over one more night and then said our goodbyes in the morning. One of the nicest things about house sitting is making new friends and this was no exception. We really enjoyed getting to know the couples at each stay and it was particularly nice to be able to spend at least one night to get to know each other as well as staying in contact frequently during our stay.
The next morning we drove 90 minutes to Cambridge, and stayed at the beautiful Anstey Hall (a real treat for us) just outside of the city. We used the Park and Ride to get into the city, took a long walk around the lovely old university buildings, and enjoyed watching the punting boats on the River Cam. The next day we drove to Horley, near Gatwick airport, and checked into the same B&B we had stayed in seven weeks earlier. We left a suitcase there and flew to Crete the next morning for a week of fun in the sun before heading home. What a wonderful trip!
Next Up: Crete (it was really just some R&R at an all-inclusive resort, not a visit to a Greek island. 😉