An Unexpected Break in House Sitting

24 Jul

Surrey, Reading, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk

You get some weird road signs in the UK!

Our next house sit was in Egham, 20 miles (32km) south-west of central London on the River Thames.  When we arrived at 10.30a.m. Mr Client was busy loading up their car, by the time he was finished there was just enough room for an infant’s car seat and a place for Mum and not a lot else!  They were one of our few clients that were off for a holiday break in the UK, most of them have been off overseas to Egypt, Thailand, France, Canada, USA, Kenya, Jersey and Guernsey Islands (oops, they are technically part of the UK as well)Once more the house was a semi-detached one, this time with households with young children either side.  I am thankful that when we had five small kids at home we didn’t have neighbours quite so close!!  This three bedroomed home was quite comfortable and actually had an outdoor washing line. 

Looking down from our bedroom gives you a good idea of how tiny the sections are and how close the neighbours are! Ours is the middle section.

So nice to see people keen on their garden

We had two cats, Samson and Delilah, to look after for a week.  Happily, these owners were normal people who were brave enough to own a cat flap, which enabled both animals to make up their own minds as to when and where they may wander.  I just had to secure them inside at night to stop them killing every young bird and rodent for miles around and sharing their treasures with us in the morning.

Samson and Delilah

Kitchen in Egham, great oven – gas on top and electric in oven, my favourite sort

Sign on the front of these semi-detached houses

Looking towards the back of the house. Upstairs window to the right is the neighbour’s and the small path on the left hand side separates us from those neighbours

Instead of having all underground services or all overground, they have a mix in the UK. Mostly you will see one or two of these poles in the residential streets, just for the telephone cables, I think

The most striking thing about this house was that it was directly underneath the flight path from Heathrow, about 5 miles away as the crow flies.  Greater London actually has seven airports, five of which are international, with Heathrow being the busiest.  If you think of the face of a clock then Stansted is at 1 o’clock, Gatwick at 6 o’clock, Heathrow at 9, Luton at 11 and City more-or-less in the middle.  As we have been moving from house to house throughout the Greater London area, on our house sitting adventures, we often see relatively low flying aeroplanes and many, many vapour trails and it wasn’t until I sat down with a map that I understood where they all were coming from or going toThe planes flying above Egham had just taken off and were still climbing steeply and I just loved it!  I was forever zipping out into the back garden, camera in hand, trying to capture the extraordinary sight of these huge planes.  But every photo was a disappointment, because they looked so far away, when in reality they were so close!  I didn’t find them very noisy really but it got on Dennis’ nerves, not so much the noise but the frequency!  Looking down the length of our garden, every 90 seconds one took off at right angles to where I stood, then alternated between flying straight ahead and away from us or turning to the right away from us or to the left, meaning every third flight came over our house.  Heathrow runs at 98% capacity at the moment, I can’t imagine what a nightmare it will be when the visitors for the Olympics start arriving in town.  They expect 200,000 people flying into Heathrow each day from 14 days before the Games start and then throughout the season.  We will make sure that we don’t go anywhere near London during that time, as all up they tell us there will be 5 million people coming for the Games, that’s on top of the usual 8 million residents in Greater London!

Egham is a cute, wee place with a population of around 6,000.  We often comment to each other about just how many Charity Shops there are in each town in the UK, so this time I decided to photograph them all in this one small town…..

Other towns have charity shops for British Red Cross, Pets Need Vets and others that I can’t remember.   Also, there were two shoe repairers, it’s very obvious that British people are more inclined to repair their shoes rather than just throw them away, going by the number of repairers there are everywhere.         

Egham is famous for the surrounding grasslands called Runnymede.  This was where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed. 

This time it led to the American Bar Association Memorial to Magna Carta

Even on the bike Dennis finds worthwhile detours!

All takeaways in the UK are twice the price as back home ($NZ20!)

A coot, as in “silly ol’ coot”

Bee, another species I’ve not seen before

We were so pleased to have beautiful weather again than we took the opportunity to climb onto our bikes and explore the Thames Path.  This cycle/walking track generally takes the route of the old towpath where the horses used to walk pulling the canal boats behind them and is 294km long starting at the source of the Thames.  When we were still staying at Rob’s place we had cycled down by Greenwich, east of London and seen the Thames Barrier up close, this is the end of the Path.    This time we went from Windsor to Staines, which is about two-thirds the way down the length of the entire Path and west of London.  It’s a great way to enjoy the place, England is surely blessed with its beautiful scenery!

We seem to be bumping into more and more ramblers as we take to the highways and byways

Opposite the Castle  the Windsor Dog Show was in full swing. It was held over four days to accommodate the 10,000 dogs on show!

A completely different perspective of Windsor Castle from the Thames Path

It was a tight squeeze biking through Eton. They still have all the bunting out since the Jubilee Celebrations

Some beautiful canal boats tried up alongside or waiting their turn in the lock system, this one had a huge  mast  for sailing

Beautiful wild flowers

are encouraged

to grow everywhere

by not mowing alongside the roads, paths and canals

We took the van back to Old Amersham, north of London.  We had been here previously on a walking tour of the town, while we were staying in Chalfont St. Peter, but had missed the monthly Martyrs’ Walk on that occasion.  Back in 1521 seven Lollards were burnt at the stake in Amersham for their refusal to submit to the established Church’s absolute decrees.  “They died for the principles of religious liberty, for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God’s Holy Word” as inscribed on the monument.   John Wycliffe was one of their leaders and he proposed that every man should be able to read the Bible in his own language and laboured at translating it from Latin to English.   The Lollards had 12 basic principles where they differed with the Catholic Church of their day and also held a strong conviction that there needed to be a distinct divide between the Church and the State.  The tour was really good and the seven guides all dressed up in the appropriate clothing and spoke using the appropriate language of the day.  It proved to have been very worthwhile to revisit this beautiful old village.

Following the leader up beside a wheat paddock on our way to the monument

The monument at Old Amersham with one of the guides on The Martyrs’ Walk

It was obvious that the clutch was playing up in our trusty vehicle so Dennis took it along to the local garage in Egham and after parting with over $1000 we now have a smooth machine!  I guess that’s what happens when you buy an older model, we thought it prudent to have it repaired now in England rather than risking it when we’re on our way to Istanbul and back.

The garage where our clutch was repaired had this Bugatti to advertise their business.

Whenever we leave our latest house sitting place we always are careful to leave the house clean and tidy with the bed remade with fresh sheets, the fridge and oven cleaned, the lawns mowed, a bit of weeding done (if they don’t have their own gardener that is), everything looking spic and span and the animals well looked after.  Mrs Client had left piles of washing behind in this particular sit so I had spent days washing, drying and ironing it all as a surprise for her.  I was thrilled to get a lovely text from her when she got home, a nice touch.  It’s amazing really, after travelling around in the small, contained space of the motorhome how I enjoy having the use of an oven and a washing machine when I get to these houses.  I have never been known for my housekeeping skills and have always preferred to be out in my garden getting my hands dirty, so all this house cleaning is quite a turn around for me!  My mother would have been proud to finally see that her teaching has actually had some effect.

We had been feeling rather chuffed with our full calendar of house sitting jobs booked in from May through to the end of July so it came as a shock to have our next job cancelled a couple of days before we were due there.  This left us with a gap of two weeks to fill, so we looked at the map and chose to explore the coast from the northern side of the Thames Estuary up to Great Yarmouth (up by Norwich).  Once we have completed this stretch it will mean we have driven all along the coast of England and Wales (and of course Ireland). Only Scotland to go…..

Steering clear of the M25 we took the slow route to find the northern bank of the Thames.  Travelling on these big motorways means all you see really is the busy road with the full complement of trucks, buses, cars, etc and very little scenery so even though it is slow we prefer to use the narrow lanes to get a feel for the country.  We were aiming for Tilbury, right on the river bank, and found an intriguing sign on our way in Ongar.  “Secret Nuclear Bunker”  seemed pretty exciting but proved to be a disappointment because by the time we got there, they were just about to close up for the day.  It is a small guardhouse which hides a three-level bunker complex 38 metres underground; a long corridor leads down to a place in which up to 600 people would have been confined behind blast-proof doors in the event of a nuclear war. The bunker was originally built in 1952/3 during the Cold War.  It was sold in the 1990s and is now a tourist attraction and film location and owned and operated by the family who originally owned the land before the military moved in.  As we got closer to Tilbury the land looked unusually unproductive and everything looked tired and past its use by date.  The town itself looked so poor, with maybe 50% of the businesses closed and reinforced with steel rolladoors.  We found a perfect parking place for the night beside a ferry crossing jetty (Gravesend is on the other side of the river) and enjoyed watching the many large ships plying the Thames, container ships, ferries to the Continent, tugs and dredges.  Made a nice change from craning my neck looking at planes! 

A freighter coming up the river, just on dusk

Shops at Tilbury looked as if they belonged in a third world country

Essex has a shocking reputation in the media – full of badly dressed women, lots of council housing complexes and a poor standard of living.  We found all these things to be true, an overall feeling of unemployment and loss of hope.  Looking at the map we had originally intended to stop for the second night on Canvey Island but after driving through this area (not an island at all, more a peninsular) we both had the feeling, and this was the first time we have felt it at all in England, that it was too unsafe to stop and park up for the night.    By just driving on for another hour or so we left all that poor country and inhabitants behind and ended up in Southend-on-Sea, a beautiful seaside town complete with pier.  Really delightful and such a contrast.

Everywhere you drive there’s Queen Anne’s Lace just growing wild along the roads, often up to a couple of metres tall! They don’t tend to mow the sides of the road very often so there’s always plenty of wildflowers growing in and amongst the nettles

I spent quite a few hours doing up an advert to sell our fully equipped motorhome on TradeMe.  My idea was to appeal to another Kiwi couple to consider the idea of travelling through the UK and Europe as we have done and sell them our accommodation and means of transport, all ready to go, available to drive away in December 2012.  Sounded like a good idea to me so after investing quite some time and effort I finally uploaded all the photos and so began the auction on TradeMe.  Unfortunately, after three days the TradeMe people not only pulled my ad but suspended our account!  Horrors!  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, you cannot list a vehicle that is not in either NZ or Australia.  Happily, after my complaining they did refund my money but it does leave me with nowhere to alert the prospective Kiwi buyers out there of our great offer.  So if you know of someone who might be thinking of travelling around this side of the globe please pass on Dennis’ email address. (

It was around this time that Dennis managed to lose his wallet for the second time!!  The first time he only mislaid it and it was returned to him by one of our clients but this time it appears to be actually lost.  What a pain, getting new credit cards sent over from NZ, the loss of discount cards, replacing International Driver’s License, replacing English debit card, etc, not to mention the actual wallet which was his father’s.

We had been investigating a new business venture to take back to NZ as a franchise and we had arranged to meet with three franchise holders and the owners of the business during this two-week break in house sitting.  It seemed like an interesting concept but as we investigated further we eventually decided against taking this franchise opportunity to the very different market in NZ.  But it did mean that we were in the general region of Welwyn on the weekend and we attended Welwyn Evangelical Church again (we had been there while house sitting in Stevenage in February).  We were so thrilled to be invited back to Nicky and Kevin’s for lunch between the services and had wonderful fellowship with them and their four children and also another family from Church.  This is just the second time in all the weeks we have been attending churches in the UK that we have received a personal invitation back to someone’s house!  The first time was to our own pastor’s brother’s (Andre Beck) house in London.   I must say that we miss the Reformed Churches and Gracenet’s general hospitality in NZ, I couldn’t imagine visitors being allowed to wander away from a service and not be invited out to lunch or coffee.  We had a grand time with them and just “clicked ” with them all, a real bond of Christian unity.  We also managed to take part in the Olympic Torch Relay that went through their village that day, which is such a BIG DEAL at the moment.  We will be going back to that Church in a couple of weeks again, while at our last house sit in Stevenage.

After purposely avoiding all villages and towns where the Olympic Torch was being run around because of the traffic delays, this Sunday we actually joined the crowds to cheer it on in Welwyn Garden City!!

We slept in a carpark under the viaduct that carries the Great Eastern railway lines, near Welwyn

Next day we took the inland route straight through to Great Yarmouth.  All the way up it was fields of barley, wheat, oats, brassicas, broadbeans (never seen so many broadbeans in all my life until we came to England), carrots, rape seed, peas and pasture destined for hay or silage.  The land is so productive and very beautiful.  With all the rain we continue to get, if there were diary or beef farms we certainly never saw the animals as they are all back inside the sheds, protecting their paddocks from becoming a muddy mess. There have been more and more areas effected by flooding in the UK and everyone is heartedly sick of this continual rain!  There have actually been fatalities now associated with the downpours.  The wettest April and June on record so far but the good news is that they have finally lifted the hose pipe ban!

It was interesting to take note of the date around this time – 11 July 2012 – marking one year since we sold Hurry Up Shoe Repairs.  12 months with no income is fairly sobering, though we have no regrets and feel particularly blessed to be able to enjoy this extended holiday.


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