The weekend with Mark & Elizabeth passed very quickly. We had a lovely afternoon exploring local towns and walked around Lewes in the pouring rain. It didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves; we found some great coffee and a nice smattering of history (Henry III lost a battle against his barons here in the Second Barons War on the 14th of May 1264, which led me down a lovely research rabbit hole about the various instabilities of the English monarchy from time to time).
In the evening on Sunday, Mark & Elizabeth had arranged a dinner party with a few of their friends, including two of them originally from Adelaide. We were very proud that we made it half way through the evening before the inevitable "So which school did you go to?" question was asked! Mark generously popped open a 1990 bottle of red, which was delicious.
On Monday morning, it was farewell and up and off to West Surrey near Cranleigh, where we started our second house sit with the host, Natasha. Unfortunately, one of the dogs was ill and had a vet visit scheduled, so we spent the first two nights as guests in the house while Natasha was still there. Although it was perfectly fine, it's still a strange feeling being in someone's place when you don't know them, and we had a more relaxed week after she'd left.
The dogs have been excellent: a large Golden Retriever called Beau, a Labradoodle Monty and a smaller Cockapoo Flinty. They are very chill, used to hanging around the house, and as long as they have pats and cuddles, they are pretty content to occasionally sniff around the large garden and stay warm inside.
We're currently located in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty, essentially a national park but overlaid over the villages, farms and remaining woodlands in this area. As you can imagine, the local villages are very much "chocolate box" type affairs - at home on the cover of a box of chocolates. The one downside is all the lanes are original too, small one-way paths not meant for the volume of tourist and business traffic they attract these days! We headed up to Shere, enjoyed walking around there, and were amazed at how busy it was, even on a Monday with tourists.
Because Natasha was still home, we could spend a bit more time out on Tuesday. We headed to the local village of Godalming, which is very historic, with lots of medieval buildings dating back to Henry VIII and earlier. It's always fun seeing snippets of history: a plaque on one wall proclaiming Peter the Great stayed in the coach inn 300+ years before, another that announces Godalming had the first electric street lights, predating New York. On Tuesday evening, we headed to the local pub. Enjoying a roast meal and local brew on a cold evening outside is very satisfying.
The property we are house-sitting is part of a more significant estate. Learning how the death tax impacts things here in the UK is interesting. Because it's so high (as much as 40% after a few thresholds), wealthy families often have to sell or subdivide the family estate to pay for it. The house we're in is the old Coach House, converted to a lovely modern home, and it was sold off when the previous estate owner died. His son had to sell the land or the houses to meet the inheritance tax.
The estate is now a collection of smaller farm enterprises and makes most of its revenue as a game property where people come to shoot ducks, pheasants and wood pigeons. Pheasants are a VERY common sight around here; it's almost impossible to drive down the driveway without seeing several and nearly hitting them with the car. They are beautiful birds but also quite stupid! Every Monday and Friday, the estate hosts shooters, and the hills echo with the sound of shotguns (much to Beau's disgust, he's not a fan) as they hunt. I was amazed to learn how many pheasants are bred to be shot here in the UK; it's a crazy number. Between 35 - 48 MILLION pheasants are bred and released onto estates in the UK for game hunting EACH YEAR! The depressing part is that the pheasants are rarely eaten; in most cases, they are bulldozed back into the ground.
We've enjoyed a few walks around the property, and there are lots of public footpaths that the dogs love to sniff and explore. It's rained a lot the last few days, so everything is very wet and muddy, but that seems to be part of living in the UK. I've been writing, and Karina has completed one puzzle and is starting another.
We'll be here until Wednesday, continuing to enjoy the Aga and the cozy kitchen until we head home on a late-night flight back to Athens with a connection the next morning to Mytilene, which means it's sleeping at the airport for us!
While it's been a wonderful time living like the landed gentry, we are now looking forward to returning to our home on Matilda and preparing for Christmas and (more importantly) seeing Jasper, who will join us from Tokyo.
Until next time,
Tim & Karina