Saturday, 30 July 2016

From dogs, cats and BBQ in Redmarley to bunnies, hamster and treasure hunt in Aylesbury and Tring

They say a week is a long time in politics but it seems a long time in our lives too - it is amazing what can be crammed into a week!

Jackie cooks the paella assisted by Ian
With Richard and Judith’s permission we invited newly-wed Iain and Bev and Ian and Helen down to Redmarley for a warm sunny summer evening BBQ. Nibbles and wine on the patio amongst sleeping dogs and cats wanting the occasional fuss while we gazed across the expansive country views watching the sun slowly sink to the horizon while Jackie cooked two fabulous paellas on the BBQ nearby, ably helped by Ian and lots of laughter and wine! 

Enjoying the afternoon sunshine pre BBQ. LtoR: Iain, Helen, Bev, Ian, Jackie
Cooking nicely on the BBQ
Later we went indoors to the upstairs conservatory as the sun set to enjoy the meal, more wine and laughter before Ian and Helen drove home as no doggie day care (or night care) available for Monty dog (so Ian had to remain sober, always difficult when everyone else gets silly with wine!), while Iain and Bev stayed the night to enjoy a lazy Sunday morning, breakfast in the conservatory and good conversation until early afternoon.

Two fabulous paellas, one fish and meat, the other just fish for our piscitarian
No sooner had they gone than Abi (Sooty’s owner from our Hall Green housesit) arrived for afternoon tea and cake and more fun and laughter, taking us through to evening dog walking, plant watering and final chill out on the sofas with dogs and cats - all very nice and a great end to a lovely weekend.

Sunday night relaxation with Oscar and Max, dogs, and Ginger, cat.
After final dog walking and feeding on Tuesday we repacked the car, waited for the phone call from Richard and Judith to say their plane had arrived in Bergerac airport in France, meaning they were definitely on time for their flight back to Birmingham, we left, as arranged, to drive across to Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire for a weeks housesit at Judith’s daughter Imogen and partner Matthew.

Goodbye for now to Charlie cat, Flora dog and all the other animals at Richard and Judith's house
Shirley, the 'pocket rocket' hamster
All this was arranged between Judith and Imogen and we were happy to oblige as Aylesbury is but a ‘stones throw’ from Jackie’s brothers house and meant we could catch up with them and see Jackie’s niece and nephew Charles and Caroline.

Imogen and Matthew are a likeable young couple who have recently bought a new house on a modern housing estate in Aylesbury and our task is to look after their two rabbits and hamster – what a hardship! They were off to Judith and Richards house in France (where we went last October), so were flying out to Bergerac to relax in the house that mum and dad had just spent the week we were housitting for them working very hard on – we think they were quite pleased to get home for a rest!

Winston munching away at his breakfast
Edith and Winston sharing breakfast
The two bunnies, Winston and Edith and hamster, Shirley are a joy to look after, all providing endless entertainment, as long as you remember to close doors on rooms they are not supposed to go in and we are constantly alert when running free! Chewing things for both bunnies and hamster are a pastime they enjoy and they are very fast, so ‘eyes everywhere’ is an absolute must, but their constant antics have caused huge laughter from us. Little Shirley attacks things in her cage and constantly climbs and falls off things, but when she’s out (only allowed with us on the sofa) she is constantly running about, through her cardboard tube, up over the cushions, over us, everywhere! I’ve forgiven her for sinking her teeth into my hand on the first day just moments after Imogen told us she doesn’t bite! The stress becomes too much after a short while so we return her to her cage to watch this little pocket of energy dash round climbing upside down and falling off things in a very cute fashion.

Jackie studying the treasure hunt clues at Charles and Caroline's house
Bunnies are kept in the kitchen, which seems to be rabbit proof, with door closed, but they are keen to get out as soon as the door is opened and dash about to explore, even going upstairs, getting into everything. They particularly like the stackable coloured beakers, picking out each one with their teeth and throwing them aside and it was particularly funny when Jackie hid bunny treats inside some of the inner ones, leading to a very excited Winston who couldn’t control his desire to get them apart and get the treat before Edith cottoned on and joined in. Have a look at this little video on Facebook of him playing: Bunny video

While Charles adds new paper to the printer, supervised by Caroline
As we were so close and Charles and Caroline are on school summer holidays we had a couple of daytimes with them, taking them indoor rock climbing at Milton Keynes, where they did really well, climbing up to 6a+, with only a bit of rope support (well, a lot actually!) one day, and then outdoor stuff on another day.

The ‘outdoor stuff’ started with a walk up to the high summit of Ivinghoe Beacon, well, at least from the car park. There’s a ‘trig point’ on the summit and the views around are expansive, particularly on such a nice day, however the numbers in metres of the actual height were a little disappointing at only 233m. 
Charles and Caroline on our walk up to Ivinghoe Beacon
It didn’t stop Charles running the last few metres to the top after I challenged him and then stopped shortly after he set off at speed! Fabulous views from the top, including a view of the famous Whipsnade Zoo lion carved into the chalk on the hillside nearby, although it looks a bit dirty these days. Charles spotted a tree just off from the summit and decided it needed climbing, so we all had a go. How many aunts and uncles climb trees with their nieces and nephews and sit up there and have a chat I wonder!

The four of us on the summit
The famous Whipsnade Zoo lion cut into the chalk hillside
Anyway, back down and a quick visit to a restored windmill nearby and then into Tring to do a treasure hunt and a trip down memory lane for Jackie. Tring is where she and her family originate from and it’s been a while since she has been there so it was an emotional trip for her and we heard all about hers and Charles and Caroline’s dad’s early life, visiting the house they lived in, the old factory her granddad started all those years ago in which her father in Spain worked, the large house her granddad owned and we visited the venue of Charles and Caroline’s mum and dads wedding reception, the Rose and Crown. 
Charles spots a tree we all had to climb
Meeting and discussion in the tree
Tried as I did to get C&C to pretend to be newly-weds standing outside they wouldn’t! The treasure hunt was a fun thing to do, we purchased off the internet, downloaded and printed the instructions for it from the internet website: It isn’t only for Tring, there are over 1000 of them throughout the UK and it provides entertainment and a walk round a town for two to three hours and, with kids, it’s an enjoyable outing.

Jackie explains the workings of the windmill to C&C
Group photo
We successfully completed it, went back onto the internet to enter the decoded message we deciphered, found out we were correct and we were entered into the monthly draw for a £100 prize. On the way back we drove past ‘the windmill’ house Jackie used to live in. I’d heard much about this converted windmill with a big downstairs extension that her mum and dad used to own but never seen it so it was a bit of a treat. We couldn’t see it close to as it’s down a private drive, but we could see it from a distance between houses and I managed to get a photo. I wanted to walk down the drive, knock on the door, say Jackie and C&C’s dad used to live there and could we look round, but I was overruled.

You seem to have gots grassy things stuck in your hair Jackie, how did that happen?
It’s already been a great few days here and we still have until next Wednesday here before returning to Alvechurch and then going on up to Derby for yet another housesit. What an interesting summer it’s turning out to be!
Jackie showed Caroline the 'Nanny, nanny, jump out of bed' trick with the large Convulvulus flowers
Jackies grandfathers and fathers old company building in Tring
Caroline, Jackie and Charles outside the Rose and Crown, venue for the mum and dads wedding reception many years ago
The sign above the door is the solution to the final clue on the Tring treasure hunt
The old sail-less windmill is Jackie's mum and dads old house
Caroline gives us a very professional demonstration of her flute playing, with great sillyness from Charles behind (there's another photo we'll save for his 18th birthday party!)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Back to Brum and on to Redmarley d'Abitot

Where has the time gone? Again?

Back in Hall Green, Birmingham with Sooty the cat
An easy journey home after final dog walk the first 15 mins of which was spent circumnavigating the house to bundle Oscar into Brian's arms so Angus and I could have a decent walk without him, it was a shame, as it is so cute, but he needed a good walk, and was very keen. Horrible saying goodbye as they were all very cute, but on a practical note horrible not seeing the family safely home, already knowing they were delayed in the States and may miss their connection back up to Edinburgh. 

And then on to Redmarley with dogs, Oscar, Flora, Muffin and Max
However dog walking had been organised and texts with Louise at least let us know they were back in the UK.

Quick fish and chip at mums before heading off to Sooty in Hall Green, arriving by 19.00, do we want to go to either party we've been invited to? A quick look at Brian's face said it all. Chilling with Sooty and a movie it was then. Sunday tea club with special guests Phil and Sue from Poole was fantastic as ever, in fact Crystal really excelled herself.

Jackie walking through the woods with the dogs
Brian with Fred the cat
Down to Richard and Judith on Monday in time for dog walking which due to the ridiculous temperatures kept getting pushed back. Richard has worked hard in the woods, taking out a pair of secateurs on walks with him, and in areas where route finding may be tricky moving logs to form a path for us to walk down, not that the dogs would actually let us get lost but they might think it was funny to make us blunder through the undergrowth! The most exciting thing though is a new path going down to a flooded field where they can all swim. Oscar surprisingly quickly.

Back for yummy quiche and lots more talking, there never is enough time for that, before bed. Up in the am and we were on duty as departure time for R&J was 08.30. By the time we've walked for an hour, fed the dogs on their BARF diet (bones and raw food) which takes some preparation, and had breakfast it's almost 10.30 and the cleaners have arrived.

'Feed me!'
Max and Jackie reach an understanding
Wednesday Helen came to visit to meet the furries and help with dog walking as B was on the 'magic powder' before his regular medical procedure on Thursday. Sadly we had a lovely lunch but no dog walking as it was just too hot. B managed an hour out between doses fortunately as four woofies on my own is a scary prospect. I know R&J do it individually, but they are their dogs! Fortunately while we still had the dogs on their leads having just arrived, a fox ran across our path! Flora gave chase for all but gave up a long time before the others would have, so we are not still there waiting for their return!

Animals relaxing in their purpose built raised dog platform bed in the 'dog room'. Charlie the little fluffy cat has pushed Max the dog out, who has to rest on the floor!
Oscar decides Brian is a comfy bed!
B's procedure went well and he was back in time for lunch, hurrah. The week has continued in much the same vein with the 'excitement' last night of Oscar heading into the lake after the duck that can't fly. He's done this before but the duck has always given him the slip. Last night it couldn't lose him and they went back and forth for a good 20 mins. We all went and hid before one very, very tired dog finally admitted defeat.

Off out now, back into the woods before paella for six tonight, most of the prep is done, just hope the sun stays in, perverse really, but it's just been too hot!

Oscar decides he needs most of the sofa for serious relaxation!
Down at the flooded field for cooling off on a hot afternoon

While Oscar goes swimming in the deep part

Here he is swimming after the duck - which he did for at least 20 minutes

While the other dogs look on

A Jackie and Ginger cat selfie

Friday, 15 July 2016

Last week in Arbroath

Oscar explores our car

Our three week housesit in Arbroath has nearly come to an end, tomorrow morning we say goodbye to Angus the dog and Oscar and Toby the cats, pack the car and head back to the Midlands, back to Hall Green to look after Sooty the cat for a couple of days and then down to Redmarley d’Abitot to look after four dogs and five cats – hectic life!

For our last week here we were joined by Pauline, Jackie’s mum, who came up on the train last Saturday. Angus the dog is back in ‘doggie day care’ this week so we only have evening ‘dog comfort’ walks round the golf course, so our days are free. 

Creeps over the parcel shelf and has a look inside
'I'll come with you'
We’ve packed the week for Pauline, on Sunday we did a 5km dog walk along the old railway track nature walk into St Vigeans from Letham Grange, followed by ice creams on the harbour front in the rain (!) and a walk round the town after it stopped raining.

Jackie and Pauline with Angus on the nature walk to St Vigeans
In the Arbroath Smokie house
Arbroath is famous for its ‘Arbroath Smokies’ which is haddock smoked in its skin to produce a wonderfully tasting fish that is a ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ by the European Commission and the town has quite a number of small smokie shops producing them. In walking up a back street we came across a small one, the unusually named ‘Arbroath Smokie’ a couple of workers (maybe they were the owners, who knows) were outside cleaning their new van next to the smokie house issuing forth plenty of smoke, so we asked if we could take a look. 
The smoke house
They were really friendly folk and took us to the door to see inside, removing the large wet cloth covering the fire so we could see it. It’s like a large barbeque, the fish laid on a grid over the burning wood and then covered with a heavy wet cloth and left to smoke for an hour or so. I did walk in to take a photo but couldn’t stay for more than 30 seconds as the smoke stings the eyes and you just can’t breathe. How do they do it?

An Arbroath Smokie
Toby decides to have a look inside our car too.
Anyway, we called into the shop a couple of days later and bought one to have for our dinner. It was to be a starter for the three of us, followed by haggis, neeps and tatties, a good traditional Scottish dinner, except we washed it all down with a bottle of red wine rather than whisky.

Jackie had another visit to her ‘foot doctor’ on Monday in Dundee to have a ‘full service’ on her Achilles tendons and calf muscles which involved sticking pins into her muscles. Think it may have done a bit of good, but there’s more work to do apparently. 
And on top of the car
It did cost a fortune though as she came out with specially moulded inserts for her shoes - and she has to remember to stretch every day and also before and after any exercise which, by all accounts we all need to do. As we were going back to Dundee we made a bit more of a day of it by going back to Broughty Castle, this time in a slightly more relaxed way rather than ‘we close in 15 minutes’ on our last visit and Pauline and I took a trip up Dundee Law hill to look at the view while Jackie had pins stuck in her.

In the old cart tracks on the Arbroath coastal walk
More walking on Tuesday, this time a 5.5km walk along the coastal path from Arbroath’s Victoria Park, this time armed with the geology leaflet so we could look at the interesting rock formations of this SSSI site, at least I thought it was interesting, not so sure about Jackie and Pauline! We did walk in the grooves in the rocks said to be the wear tracks of the carts used to quarry the sandstone for building Arbroath Abbey in the 12th century though, so plenty of history.

Geology lesson? By Jackies head are the tilted 410 million year old sandstone layers of the Lower Devonian era, above are the later horizontal layers of the Upper Devonian era, a mere 370 million years old
This is what we get grandmothers to do! Jackie and Pauline on top of the arch
We drove back up to Glen Clova on Wednesday, splitting into two groups. Jackie and Pauline went to do some walking along the rivers and lochans in the Glen, hoping to spot a Golden Eagle but at least seeing a deer munching grass about 10m away from them, followed by ‘Ladies do lunch’ in the Glen Clova Inn. Brian meanwhile went off to tick off a couple of ‘Munros’ (Scottish mountains of over 3000ft in height, originally compiled by Sir Hugh Munro and now totalling 282), Mayar and Dreish, completing the 14.5km and 880m of ascent in four and a quarter hours. They are fairly straightforward routes with fairly rounded grassy tops, but the views from the top were good and it was good exercise on a relatively clear, partly sunny day with only 15 minutes of light rain on the way down.

And on the edge of a 100ft drop to watch nesting seabirds
And look at the little chicks we saw!
The beach beckoned on Thursday so we went back to Montrose, briefly to look at the bird nature reserve and then for a walk along the beach at St Cyrus, stopping to look at caves and little inlets before walking back again and home in time for afternoon tea.

It’s Friday, Jackie has been back to the ‘foot doctor’ again, Jackie and I took a tour of Arbroath Abbey this morning to learn all about the Arbroath Declaration (a letter sent from Arbroath Abbey to Pope John XXII in 1320 asking for recognition of Scottish Independence from England on behalf of Robert The Bruce after his victory over Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314), we’ve packed, cleaned round and now are trying to finish the 3000 piece jigsaw started over two weeks ago – it’s addictive! 
Glen Clova on the walk up to the Munro Mayar
Pussy cats have made the occasional visit and Toby has been on the table, has sat on the jigsaw, in the box on the pieces and has even played and chewed pieces, sending them scattering on the floor. Angus has no idea what we are doing but has flopped out on the floor by us whilst we wander round the table with pieces in hand.

On passing two other walkers on the path he said 'don't forget to look back as you go up, it's a geology lesson' He was right, the valley was sculptured by a glacier in the last ice age and those humps on the valley floor are glacial moraine, deposited there by the retreating glacier
The Munro Dreish from the summit cairn on Mayar
It’s been a real treat being here, the house is lovely, the animals great fun ad we’ve had pretty good weather. We’ll be sad to leave, particularly as we won’t see Colin and Louise before they get home, we have to leave by about 11:00am to get back to the Midlands by evening and they don’t get back from the USA until late tomorrow. At least the doggie day care walkers will be here to exercise Angus in the meantime! We’ve been in touch with them by email during the stay and they’ve read our blog reports, but we’re going to have a Skype conversation with them on Tuesday just to catch up.

The summit and trig point on Dreish
So it’s ‘bye-bye’ to Angus, Oscar and Toby in Scotland and ‘hello again’ to Sooty in Birmingham. Only 320 miles and a 6 hour drive between them!
I saw this friendly little dog on the summit of Dreish. He had followed three others walkers with their dog up from Glen Prosen and was keen to follow me down into Glen Clova. Fortunately they took charge of him to make sure he found his way back down into the correct Glen

Pauline and Jackie walking along the beach in St Cyrus

View from a cave on the beach

Jackie relaxing with a very chilled Toby cat and Angus in the afternoon sunshine

A very interested Oscar cat and Angus dog tucking into the cooked chicken pieces they have at their bedtime each night. Colin and Louise told us that Oscar isn't that keen on the chicke, well it certainly doesn't look that way!

Arbroath Abbey
The jigsaw isn't finished and Toby wants to make sure we don't!

And finally.....the completed jigsaw, minus 2 missing pieces, finished at 21:30 on Friday night!