Wow! What a House!

15 Aug

East Sussex

Our next house sit was back in Uckfield but this time in the countryside, not in the village as on our last visit to this area.  We generally quite enjoy it when the clients ask us to come and stay the night before they leave, as then we get to know the family as well as their pets.  We arrived at 7p.m. and were immediately invited to join them for dinner but as we had already eaten, actually we had parked in the local railway station carpark a few miles back and I had cooked us a meal in the motorhome, we declined and settled ourselves in the Annexe while they finished up.  The house was AMAZING from the outside and the gardens looked well designed and cared for as well.  After dinner we meet the clients properly and were introduced to their 10 year-old triplets (two identical boys and their sister) and 2-year-old Joe.  Joe was so excited to see our motorhome and was distressed to be informed that he was not allowed to sleep in it!    We had quite a discussion about the last couple of days of the housesit.  Dennis was due to begin the next one two days before they returned and that would mean either Dennis returning to get me or finding a way for me to get to Stevenage under my own steam.  (Uckfield to Stevenage takes around four hours driving in our slow van.)   Mrs Client was so helpful and organised that she would run me to the nearest suitable railway station and I would take the train into London then another out in the opposite direction to be met by Dennis, I would end up staying one extra night, as they weren’t due home from France until 5p.m.  This helpful attitude didn’t stop there, she had a fridge full of food that she was adamant was meant for us and when the next organic veggie box arrived on Wednesday we were to just help ourselves and also please drink as much as you can from the bottles of milk delivered to the back door every three days!  We enjoyed a bottle of local wine as well!  It is amazing the different attitudes shown towards us from the various clients, this lady was so welcoming.   Her husband was quietly spoken but also a really friendly person.
We were warned about the various foibles of the animals, Monty will eat anything left on the bench, Henry loves to wander and if you forget to get the cat to come inside at night she may very well scare you silly when she jumps spread-eagled against the window behind you when you are watching TV!

Henry, the wanderer. We know all about dogs who go walkabout, we’ve got one at home!

Dizzy

Imagine getting your milk in bottles and having them delivered to your door!

Monty standing on the outdoor table-tennis table

I just loved that house, it had a great feeling about it and was so full of character but Dennis was blinded by the amount of work still to be completed and was genuinely amazed that someone would be willing to spend that amount of money, effort and patience on this old building.  I don’t know why wealthy people have the habit of leaving all their personal stuff lying around for all and sundry to read, like builder’s invoices for six figure sums each month, etc.  It was genuinely like living inside an episode of Grand Designs on TV.   Let me explain….

The first night we slept in the Annexe. This is a self-contained cottage, complete with kitchen and Aga stove.

The house was first built in 1450 (!) and was one of the original medieval Wealden Hall Houses of the area.  At the time it was built, the house would have had a thatched roof and walls of wattle and daub, whitewashed, but over the years as the house has been added  to some of the walls were rebuilt in brick and clay tiles and the thatch replaced with more permanent clay tiles.  The clients had bought this property just three years ago with a view to completely restoring the house and gardens and then selling up and taking early retirement and moving north, past the London commuter zone to a more affordable property.  Mr Client took the train to London Bridge each day to work in the financial district in “The City” and Mrs Client worked full-time on the house renovations, alongside a builder and in the designing and maintenance of the gardens, ably assisted by her gardener.  A Nanny was employed to care for Joe in the meantime.  By all accounts when they first moved here it was an absolute tip and extremely rundown.

Mrs Client had good ideas for her garden designs. That tree in the background had a huge wild beehive in its branches so I steered clear of that one as well!

The front of this 1450 house looks a picture

The first people they employed when they shifted in were two archaeologists, who had a good poke around and informed them what they were and were not allowed to do to the house.  They were told that there are bats in the ceiling cavity and now this section of the house has been nationally recognised as a Bat Nursery and as such is not to be touched!  They are not allowed to close off the gap where the bats enter and leave the premises as in this country bats take precedence over people!  When the moon was shining it was plain to see these little creatures flying in and out of their sanctuary.  Interestingly, the lady from the Bat Preservation Society is called Mrs Batty!
After completely rewiring and replumbing the house they started work on the kitchen and this is very nearly entirely finished, just a bit of paint needed in several places.  The house had been enlarged in this room and now reveals an original piece of wattle and daub wall, beautifully whitewashed.  Lifting up the lino on the kitchen floor they found the old bricks still in good shape and these are proudly on show now.  Interestingly, almost every room is at a different level so there are small steps everywhere and in the kitchen there are a couple of different levels.  I had to be especially careful as looking through my bifocals I often tend to trip on unfamiliar steps or do my ankle in coming down unexpectantly.  It is a source of constant amusement to Dennis and has developed into me looking a bit like Dick Emery and his silly walks, for those of you who remember his TV series years ago.  Even I have to laugh when Dennis gives me that look afer a stumble!

Part of the original wattle and daub left in the kitchen

 

The kitchen just needed the finishing touches (painting) to be the first room to completely rebuilt.

A smaller dining table in the bespoke kitchen

Alongside the property is a Bridle Path.  You see these all over the UK as well as the Walking Paths.  There is an extensive network of signposted, metalled paths open to the public to take their horses for a walk in particular but dog walkers and ramblers make good use of them as well.  Actually, the first section of this Bridle Path is on the clients’ property and it is their duty to keep this section free from obstruction and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Walking on down the Path a way, leads to the start of a 40 acre woodland owned by the clients’ as well.  This was where we took Monty, the 3-year-old Spaniel and Henry, a 12-year-old German Short-haired Pointer for their walks and Dizzy the cat followed on behind!   It had a small section of pine and fir trees but mostly it was a typical Wealden broadleaf forest of oak, elm, sycamore, birch, beech, hazel, holly, hornbeam and ash.  It also had a spring fed lake, which is one of the few times we have seen clear water on our travels, the last times I can remember was the mountain streams in Snowdonia in Wales and in The Lake District up north!  This lake had a real shimmer to it and was never completely still, it was beautiful.  There are a few paths in the forest but they are not really very distinct and sometimes just petter out.  Mrs Client tells me that she hands a cell phone to one of the triplets and sends them into the forest with instructions to only come back when dinner’s ready!  I can well imagine the fun and games those kids have here!   The dogs love it too and run around freely chasing the deer browsing in amongst the bracken.  One time I took the dogs by myself and managed to get myself lost!!  I was striding out quite confidently imagining the direction I was going would take me through to the other end of the Bridle Path when after 45 minutes I began to realise that I had in fact, walked in a big circle!  It was no use following the dogs as they could stay in there for hours, loving the freedom of running this way and that, sniffing down the rabbit and badger holes.  Obviously, I made it back but it was quite a walk that day!  I never did get a photo of the deer there, they were too quick or I had forgotten to bring the camera.  One walk we disturbed around eight fallow deer who were hiding in an area of lush bracken and were flushed out by the pointer. They are very small and pretty (like Bambi) standing about a metre tall.  

This lake was never still, had a beautiful shimmer to it

The Bridle Path

So beautiful,  even in the rain

What a fantastic place this forest is – so peaceful.

The dogs disturbed an adder in the forest but they were very wary of it and kept their distance. After the initial shock we were fascinated with this beautiful animal, he was about 1.5 metres long. It wasn’t until later the gardener assured us that they are poisonous  and that he thought maybe I was too close.

There are some huge specimens amongst the forest of slender birches as well.

This contraption was for the deer “stalkers”! They just climb up the ladder and sit in silence waiting for the deer to stroll past them!!

On one walk, returning this time along the narrow, country lanes, Dennis had elected that the dogs could wander freely (admittedly they chaffed at being held on a lead and were a real nuisance walking directly in front of you) so they were generally a bit faster than us and further up the road and they didn’t always respond obediently when called.  We heard a car coming up behind us and we started coaxing the dogs back to us in an attempt to hold onto their collars while the vehicle passed us.  But when the car came level with us and Henry was steadfastly ignoring the calls, it came as a bit of a shock when the driver leapt out of the car, strode down the hill away from the car leaving the driver’s door wide open!  He was clearly frustrated so I started apologising profusely for allowing the dogs to wander and not having them under control but he turned to me and more or less shrugged and then I heard the lady in the front seat screech, ” I told you, you were driving too fast!!” to which he replied, ” If you’re so good, why don’t you drive, you seem to know so much about it?”  Ahh, an ugly domestic.  We let Monty go and continued on our walk and left them to it.  It was a good few minutes before we heard the car begin to move in another direction from us.

Even way out in the country we see so many   public post boxes. There were two just along our road where we were, which was only a few miles long and less than 10 minutes drive away from the nearest post office!

I was happy to see they had five chickens, this being the first lot of chickens we’ve had at a house sit.  They had quite a large section fenced off with an ingenious electric fence system, powered by solar energy and battery.  This was as much to keep out the dogs as well as keeping the chickens contained and I was also told it was to help keep out the foxes as well! I was instructed to not only close the small house but ensure that the chickens were all roosting in the top floor of the pen and pull up the ladder and securely lock the outside doors, once more to deter the wily foxes!  Living in NZ you just never have to think of anything even scaring the chickens let alone eating them, other than rascal dogs.

Great little portable secure chook house

 

Mr Client had his own bee hive. Thankfully, we didn’t have to do anything for them!

At the back of the house there is another one of these spring fed lakes, though not as big or deep, with a sunken dingy in it, the kids used to have fun rowing it around but since it is out of action their Dad is in the process of building them a new one!
We had to make do with the large plasma TV in the games room for the first three days, as the boys had left the other smaller one in the lounge tuned to the Playstation and try as we might we could not get the normal TV to work!  We really have no clue to these technological things, as our children can testify to!  Rob came on the fourth day, this time taking his car for a spin as the weather had been so wet, and ended up spending a good deal of his time sorting out our computer, TV and other electronic issues!  It was good to see him for his company as well….
Having the use of a beautiful oven, I tend to use recipes that require baking while we are in people’s houses.  One night I cooked a roast chicken and lovely it was too, if I may say so!   I sliced up enough for our two meals, popped the rest back in the cold oven (as opposed to the hot one it had just come out of) and took the two plates to the lounge where we ate tea in front of the evening news.  Dennis liked it so much he helped himself to a second helping, as is his wont.  After dinner we came back out to the kitchen to clear up, etc and I opened the cold oven to retrieve the remainder of the chicken and it wasn’t there.  “Oh no, Dennis will have put it back in the warm oven and it will be drying out the meat!”   But, no.  No chicken anywhere!  Dennis had in fact just left it sitting in the dish on the bench and Monty had helped himself to it and eaten every scrap!  He had left a perfectly clean dish, no cooking juices, no bones, nothing left.  To achieve this he would have been standing on the bench, with not a worry in the world.
Five days before the clients due date of return, I received a text from Mrs Client telling me that since the weather in the south of France was so dreadful and since they were staying in a static caravan and since Joe wouldn’t let anyone sleep, they were coming home the following day!!  This was the first job cut short and I was wondering what the protocol might be about whether we should return part of the money we had already received or what?  But, once again she was so lovely, not only did she not accept our offer to give them a refund she had bought presents for us from France and when I worked out the money she had given us in the first place, discovered she paid us a tip! 

The other end of the lounge

The lounge room was once the original kitchen. This fireplace is four metres wide, two metres deep and two metres high and still has the small alcoves in either end where the pole for the spit was secured!  This space was once an enormous fireplace!!   On either side of the fireplace you can clearly see where the cook used to sharpen her knives, up and down on the stone! Very low ceiling in this room

Dining room. These photos don’t adequately show how low all the ceilings are!

A very narrow hallway towards the bathroom. Dennis had trouble hitting his head several times in the dark of the night in the countryside. That bit that sticks out a bit along the wall is the back of a chimney!

Looking from upstairs down onto the front door and entrance way. They intend to install a fabulous staircase in this area

Master bedroom

What you see from the road doesn’t prepare you for the real thing

The back of the house, still with wattle and daub walls

The old stables have been converted into a gym, a playroom, storage rooms and a water treatment plant for their own bore water.

A new matching building houses the utility room and laundry

Joe’s bedroom

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