We have spent almost 4 months in the UK. Our thoughts were to explore the Southern half of England. We tried to books longer house sits and then jigsaws shorter ones in between. We completed a total of nine sits shown by the red markers below. The longer house sits were in Bury St Edmund (9), Thame (13) and Louth (16). The green markers show visits to friends in the Isle of Wight (5) and Birnham, Scotland to see my godparents (14). The purple markers show booked accommodation.
We looked after 12 dogs, 2 cats, 2 Guinea pigs and 1 gecko during our time in the UK. 7 of the 12 dogs were labradors. The UK has undergone an explosion in the amount of dogs added to families during the COVID pandemic. Three of our sits involved very young dogs.
We had the use of a car for all of our sits except three. We hired a car in Southampton and then made use of it in Devon (3) and at our housesit in Cornwall (4). We just existed without a car for the other two sits (8 and 12) . Car hire is incredibly expensive in peak months. Again we found the hack to rent a car in another big town away from the airport reduced the cost. It was a fair bit cheaper to rent it in Southampton than in Stansted. But in hindsight with a strike on, we had to spend the night at Stansted airport. If we had had a car we would have not had this cost.
Our aim in exploring the UK over the summer months, was to escape the heat of Europe. Although England did have heatwaves, (it hit the record 39 degrees in July), France was 46 degrees at the same time. In general the weather has been very good.
We only had accommodation costs for 13 nights. One night at Stansted airport (1) on the way into the UK, one night in Southampton (2) to get a rental car, and two nights in Crediton (3) to explore Devon. Then we had two nights before West Byfleet (6) , two nights before the Cotswolds (10) and three nights in Edinburgh. We then also had an unexpected night in the Yorkshire Dales (17) and a night at Edinburgh airport (18) as our flights to Italy were cancelled because of an Italian strike. Stansted and Edinburgh airport hotels were both expensive and were both needed because of strikes, one from the UK and the other from Italy. Strikes have been one unexpected variable that have plagued our travels in France, UK and Italy.
Our nicest paid for accommodation was this at this lovely cottage just outside Nuneaton (10).
Astley book farm & coffee shop was just amazing and we tried the recommended carrot cake & sausage pie!
We really have seen some beautiful places in the UK. Cornwall, Oxford, the Cotswolds and the Yorkshire Dales were amongst our favourite. There are beautiful old buildings and a feeling of ancient times. We also loved our time in Scotland. We plan to return and would like to see the Lake District and also something more of Scotland. Wales and Ireland would also be lovely to explore.
England is the most expensive country we have stayed in. It would be too costly for us to buy property here and rentals are very pricey. I know we would not have been able to explore as we have, if it wasn’t for housesitting. Eating out is also hugely expensive. Even pub food is not cheap. Groceries seem to be on a par with Europe. This menu in a pub in Edinburgh is a good example of the cost of food.
Alcohol is also VERY costly especially if drinking out. We always paid between 10 and 15 pounds for a beer for Adu and a large glass of wine for myself. We do always convert costs to our low value South African Rand but even so, I am comparing eating and drinking costs with our experiences across Europe.
There is an amazing network of footpaths everywhere. But, in certain seasons one must be very cautious of the stinging nettles. We (especially Adu with his love of geocaching) got stung many times.
We did manage to get both our covid autumn boosters and winter 2022 flu injections in the UK. Covid boosters were free. I now have an NHS number so I didn’t have to pay for my flu injection. Adu did pay and it cost him17 pounds in Louth. We both paid 30 Euro each the previous year in Germany.
I needed to see a GP and after a recommendation of a clinic I phoned each morning for four days until I was allocated an appointment. (There are limited slots available each day). I also waited at A & E in another town for 5 hours. In both instances it was an interesting experience and the doctors I saw were very helpful. The NHS is a huge, slow, bureaucratic machine. Adu also tried to get his current South African script filled for some meds that he takes. The chemist would not accept it. In the end a friend brought the meds over from SA and posted them to us. This has made us realise that wherever our bolthole or base becomes out of SA, we would like a better functioning medical system.
Uk train transport is expensive even with 2 for 1 discount card. The only trip that was very reasonable was the London – Edinburgh trip (probably because we booked this so long in advance). Often the trains were very full and generally had very few luggage holders. In fact they announced on the way to Edinburgh that the toilet compartment in our carriage was unavailable as it was jammed with luggage 😀 Poor Adu often stood at the entrance to our carriage with the luggage during the train journey. Trains also often ran late. On our trip to Stanwick via London the train was packed, with standing room only. Our carriage was full of guys drinking at 10am on way to a football match. They were very friendly and offered us both a beer. In hindsight we should have used coaches more, but they are often irregular and do take much longer.
Lots of rules
The UK is more rule based than I remember. There are a network of cameras everywhere. In a shopping centre you must park precisely between the lines of your car park. If your car is over the line you will get fine sent to you. There is also never any free parking. Once you have paid and displayed in a parking area, you need to be careful not to overrun your time. In Cornwall we were 10 minutes late in a 2-hour slot and the parking company sent us a 100 pound fine. One could pay it immediately and it reduced to 60 pounds, but that is still an expensive walk to see a view of fishing boats!
The SE part of the UK is experiencing an official drought. There are water restrictions and hose pipe bans in certain counties. So, the UK is so much browner and drier than I ever expected. Everyone thinks of England with rolling green hills. The only time I really saw the green one expects was in the WOLDS and in the Yorkshire Dales.
Phone boxes and postboxes
Interestingly there are old red phone boxes everywhere and many of these are now filled with a defibrillator. I think this is such a clever idea. If someone you know is having a heart attack, you just have to get him to a phone box.
Red Postboxes are also everywhere. We never battled to find a postbox to post postcards to my Dad.
Grey squirrels have now overtaken the red squirrel in numbers. The stronger genetic strength of the grey means that the number of red squirrels is now becoming endangered. Red squirrels bring back childhood memories of stories such as Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. In some places there are signs indicating that if you see a grey squirrel you can call this number and they will come and shoot it. This is to enable the red squirrel population to grow. I quote “The UK population of red squirrels has dropped from a one time high of 3.5 million to under 140,000 compared to a current estimate of 2.5 million greys.”
I have kept some more humorous pictures of life in the UK that I wanted to share:
We laughed at the headless horseman, and the sign warning about ducks. The sign below is displayed near old age homes or frail care centres throughout the UK.
Some signs for a laugh
Lastly, we have seen some beautiful sights to remember. Here are some of my favourites: