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Sunday, December 6, 2015

A wonderful English summer

Tennis at Wimbledon, Burghley Horse Trials, cricket at Lord’s, polo at Beaufort, international show-jumping at Hickstead, the air show at Duxford, visiting magnificent English gardens…oh and some pretty damn fine summer weather.   Our five months in England was absolutely amazing.  We saw England in its glorious summer finery with a few grey days and rainy thrown in just for good measure.  Being able to sip Pimm's at events such as Wimbledon and Hickstead were an added bonus but then that is the great thing about England - there is always something happening.


All those wearisome jokes about English weather have been cast aside as we were treated to some wonderfully sunny days, and evenings that seemed to go on and on.  At the height of summer it was light at about 4.30am and the sun didn’t set until well after 10pm.  We had some fantastic “sits” in wonderful homes ranging from grand manor houses in the beautiful English countryside to elegant houses in leafy suburban streets.  Our animals were an assorted lot including rescue greyhounds, entertaining pugdogs (they are hilarious), a lovely German shepherd, lots of Labradors and retrievers (our favourites), lurchers, spaniels and the ever gentle and sweet whippets.   We also had cats, chooks, goats, Shetland ponies, donkeys and Irish hunters.  Perhaps our most intriguing charge was a rescue hedgehog named Henry…we never saw him but each morning his feed bowl was empty.  At the same property we fed wild red kites, badgers, deer and a tame barn owl.


House and animal sitting is all about being totally adaptable.   We live in and out of suitcases as you are constantly on the move and never really know what situation you are about to walk into.   But it’s always exciting and enjoyable with few mishaps (I did manage to lock myself out of one house and had to be rescued by a locksmith!!).  It was wonderful to catch up with fellow Animal Aunts David and Nic Cambridge to discuss tactics.   They have been Animal Aunting for a few years now and thoroughly enjoying it.  Frank and Maria Nelson were also back in town for an AA stint which was fantastic.


We had a list of "summer" activities to tick off and top was visiting Wimbledon so on our one day off in July we headed to the hallowed grounds.  It was a beautifully fine day and luck was on our side as we not only managed to walk straight in without queuing but ended up with “resale” Centre Court tickets.  It was fantastic to watch Serena Williams in action.  Earlier, we’d sat with a well behaved yet lively crowd sipping Pimm’s on Henman Hill watching on the big screen.  Tennis absorbed us for all of June and into July with the French Open and Wimbledon live on BBC. 




Hickstead was top of my list and we had a wonderful day there.   A month later I was at Syon Park for the Logines International Showjumping watching the world’s best competing for $1million prizemoney.  We also managed to do a fair bit of Royal watching.   First up was the State Opening of Parliament followed a few weeks later by the Trooping of the Colour.  It’s always thrilling seeing British pomp and pageantry especially the mounted Household Cavalry.   We got a great spot in the Mall and saw all the Royals at close hand before moving up to Buckingham Palace for the flypast.



Then there was the polo.   After finishing a sit in the New Forest we headed up to Gloucestershire to catch up with Sally Wigley, who was  visiting daughter Annabel.  The Princes were playing in the annual Gloucestershire Festival of Polo and it was obligatory to pop along.   Afterwards we managed to explore the beautiful Cotswolds towns of Tetbury and Cirencester.

Princes of polo


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Joining the National Trust enable us to explore some wonderful stately homes and gardens including Polesdon Lacey.  We visited on a Sunday jazz day in magnificent weather.





We were lucky to be in London for most of August, firstly in Fulham then in Hornchurch and had lovely properties and fantastic dogs.  Our last sit was at the end of August and we then headed to Burghley for the prestigious annual horse trials.  I was covering the event for and David was photographer.  We both loved being part of the media contingent and the Kiwi riders were absolutely wonderful when it came to giving quotes and being photographed.   They all performed brilliantly with Tim and Jonelle Price taking out third and fifth respectively.  A great end to our summer in the UK.

    Todd    DSC_2784


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A brief Highland fling

Given David’s fondness for a wee dram, it was  surprising he had never visited Scotland.  I’d been briefly but only to Edinburgh and Perth.  Arriving in the UK in early May, before our house/animal sitting began in earnest, it seemed the ideal time to rectify matters.   We flew into Edinburgh and, after a day and night exploring this beautiful city, picked up a rental car and headed for the highlands.   We drove north to Inverness through breath-taking countryside, visiting spectacular Balmoral Castle and driving through several ski fields on the way.



Friends who’d visited waxed lyrical about Scotland’s beauty but nothing quite prepared us for the magnificence of the highlands – the remoteness, the vastness and the sheer and spectacular beauty were overwhelming.  From Inverness we headed up the coast visiting the privately owned and treasure filled Dunrobin Castle with its immaculately manicured formal gardens.  We were lucky enough to be in time for the magnificent falconry display.


On we drove, through magnificent country to the north coast where we were awed by the beauty of this rugged coastline.  The white sandy beaches and crystal clear water were not what we expected in this part of the world!  Durness, near the north west point of the aptly named Cape Wrath was a stunning spot- we strolled on the beach soaking up the late afternoon sunlight without realising it was in fact 9pm…the long evenings were wonderful.


Slowly and carefully we tackled the narrow and winding coastal roads, constantly stopping to admire the startling views.  After several days of blue sky Scotland decided to show us her true colours; the rain came as did the wind and suddenly the landscape and lochs changed from blue and green to gloomy grey.  The temperature plummeted and as the rain became torrential we decided to stop.  We found a wonderful hotel at Shieldag on the edge of Loch Torridon, booked a room overlooking the loch and hunkered down in front of the fire with the Sunday Paper and a bottle of red.  The Loch looked both magnificent and menacing as the wind whipped up the waves.  The weather abated enough the next day for us to drive the tortuous single track Bealach na Ba to Applecross.  Rising to 626m with hairpin bends it was heart in mouth stuff, especially with swirling mist!


Our visit to the Isle of Skye was particularly memorable mainly for the weather – horizontal rain and biting winds - but they did accentuate this island’s raw beauty.  What else should one do on a miserable Scottish day but visit the Talisker distillery?  Later that evening in the picturesque town of Portree, with the weather still ghastly, it seemed the only thing to do was to find a nice bar and enjoy more of this delicious peaty single malt.  It’s not hard to find a nice pub here and the whiskeys speak for themselves.


 From Skye we took the ferry across to Mallaig and drove through to Fort William enjoying a wonderful leisurely drive around beautiful Loch Leven and visiting the scenic Glencoe valley and town,  site of the 1692 massacre of Clan McDonald.


One of the highlights was spending a night in picturesque Inverary.  The first room we were given at the Argyll Hotel looked nothing like it did on the website so we complained (nicely) and were immediately upgraded to a huge room with a four poster bed and deep bath – bliss.  The buildings in Inverary are painted white with black accent – even shop signs conform.   Nearby, set in beautiful grounds with a seriously impressive stable complex is the privately owned Inverary Castle, home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.




Our time was running out so we reluctantly headed for Glasgow via Loch Lomond planning to do a cruise.  Once again the weather intervened and with the loch looking particularly gloomy we instead headed to Stirling and visited the magnificent castle.  Then it was on through the beautiful border country to Jedburgh to stay with David’s cousin Biddy and husband Bob.  They were wonderful hosts and we had a fantastic night with them.  Next day we were up early to get the car back to Edinburgh for our flight back to London.  It was a whirlwind trip but the magic of Scotland made its mark.