“You want to winter in Great Britain?” was Aaron’s first response to my query about meeting my sister and family in England, checking out Ireland, and maybe house-sitting over the December holidays. So when the request came for a sweet house and kitty sitting job in Edinburgh, his next response was, “Do you know how far north that is?”
I reminded him that as former Alaskans and rain swollen former Seattleites we go by the Norwegian creed: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
My sister’s wise observation that visiting a country that is prepared for cold and rain because they are used to a colder wetter climate tipped us both towards an enthusiastic acceptance of the offer to house-sit for a month just north of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Our plans for the winter months began to take shape while the winds off the North Atlantic began to blow the trees bare.
We boarded an Irish Seaways ferry in the Normandy town of Cherbourg, France. With Charlie snug in the hull of the ship, and Aaron and I enjoying a movie in the theatre, our ship rocked and rolled across the notoriously rough Irish Sea towards the Irish port of Rosslare. Although our cozy berth was adequate, the pitching of the boat and howling wind kept us awake through the night.
The weather didn’t let up until our last days in the 3 weeks we spent in Ireland. Our road trip along The Wild Atlantic Way was fraught with dramatic clouds, pelting rain at times, and Charlie-rocking wind storms. Additionally, we were the only campers in every campground except Dublin where there were about 5 other campers in the park.
Dramatic Landscapes and Friendly People
A couple of times we start to question why we chose to visit Ireland in November, but the next moment we’d be rewarded with a vista of the greenest green rolling hills dotted with sheep and defined by ancient rock walls, with a quintessential rainbow half-arcing into the valley floor. Our stops at the village pubs for lunch were punctuated with friendly encounters with locals and nary a foreigner other than us in sight. Our question was answered time and again by the beauty of Ireland and its people.
Few Tourists Amongst Lots of Holidaymakers
Our off-season adventure in the cold continued to England where the evident slow season in terms of concentrated tourists was a blessing. Some of the bigger London attractions like Westminster Abbey and The National Gallery were busy even in early December; I can’t imagine what the elbow-room would be like during summer high season.
Despite the decreased number of tourists filling businesses in London, the eating establishments were filled with local holiday-makers! Eating a fine English pub meal while being drowned out by the neighboring tables of the holiday office party is a fun way to absorb culture.
Even highly visited sites, like the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge, are less crowded in the low season.
Tromping through the venerable ruins of Avebury (the largest pre-historic stone circle in the world), climbing the grassy hillock of Old Sarum, or experiencing a magnificent sight like Chatsworth House make the odd raindrop, need for warm gloves and solid boots worthwhile.
House Sitting, Literally
Our last month in the UK was our first ever official house sitting job. By official, I mean that we had never house sat for people we didn’t already know. The house owners chose our profile from the house sitting platform called Housesitters UK . An hour-long Skype call showed that we were a good match meeting both couples’ needs.
Our need was clear: we were a bit tired of not sleeping well in the wind-blown Charlie in the stormy weather that had plagued us for weeks. Staying in one spot for awhile would also allow us the time to make the decisions impacting the coming months.
As planned, arriving a day beforehand confirmed our compatibility. Our new friends Simmone and Al are smart, funny and interesting and their kitty Misi is delightful. For the next 24 hours we stepped into a comfortable rhythm where they shared the inner workings of their home.
Our duties were simple, to care for the house and love on the resident cat, the estimable grey from-nose-to-tail Misi. What we didn’t anticipate is just how much we enjoyed being homebodies. After months and months of travel, it was nice to hole up for awhile. It wasn’t just the weather that was keeping us in, it was this need to lay low before the spring storm of activity hits us as we anticipate it will.
Two major benefits of our winter house-sit for us was the use of a fully-outfitted kitchen where Aaron prepared more complicated meals than he had been in Charlie our motor home, and the accessibility of high-speed internet with the luxury of a big screen television and Netflix!
The hills around Edinburgh were dusted with snow, but the cold weather didn’t hold us back from making friends with the butcher, the checker at the market, or our neighbor who took us into town for a New Year’s Eve party where we had been guest-listed by our house owner and DJ extraordinaire Simmone. The weather didn’t stop us from experiencing the Christmas market in Edinburgh, the frozen canals and Falkirk Wheel, or enjoying the sledders next to the Linlithgow Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born.
The weather stormed on yet we lived those months appreciating the bright spots. We learned we love house sitting and are seeking a similar sit for next winter. Visiting the British Isles during the winter months offers the opportunity of an authentic experience with less crowds and dramatic landscapes in dramatic weather.
-written and photographed by Tammy