Just a few hours after the homeowners returned to our stay in Canterbury we were on our way to the next sit, this time in Wiltshire. In fact this would be the first of four sits in that county that we have arranged. Once again, it is another county of our beautiful country that we have only passed through on our way elsewhere so it was going to be great to be able to explore a little more.
Jungle Book Characters
Our destination was Pewsey which is about 70 miles south west of London. After meeting James and Harriet and a short orientation drive around the village and viewing access points to footpaths (so useful), we were introduced to the Jungle Book characters Baloo and Mowgli.
Baloo is a lively black cocker spaniel and Mowgli an elderly more sedate (15) terrier. The housesitting listing had also mentioned sheep, a first for us, but thankfully they have a shepherd to take care of them. Our only interaction with them would be to wander through the field with the dogs. Their home is a beautiful extended thatched cottage complete with tennis court, swimming pool and croquet lawn. It was going to be a sporty week and with a huge veggie garden full of produce ready for harvesting it was going to be a healthy diet too.
First job, as always, was to walk to the shop and stock up on supplies. So backpacks on and off down the footpaths to Pewsey. It was about a mile but apart from crossing one road it was all through fields. That’s my type of shopping trip.
The village centres around a statue of King Alfred, an early King of Wessex who owned much of the land in the Pewsey Vale. Legend has it that he went off to war and left his wife in the care of the people of Pewsey. On his safe return he gave the villagers the right to an annual feast. There is still an annual carnival in Pewsey in September with various activities taking place over the two weeks. It would have been great to see this but by then we would be on our way.
There is a lot going on in Pewsey for a small village. They even have their own flag. We walked past the tennis, bowls and football clubs and the posters on noticeboards about quizzes, carnivals, walks, yoga, choir gave a flavour of this lively community. A few houses still had their scarecrows in their gardens following the Scarecrow Festival that had taken place over the Bank Holiday weekend. Although poor Dorothy looked a little pitiful.
There was a fairly large co-op, a craft and tea shop, two charity chops and lots of other independent shops. We also found a small Heritage Museum which was only a couple of pounds to enter but what I liked most of all was the fact that the row of shops behind the statue of King Alfred were thatched. I don’t think I have ever visited a village and seen this before.
Wandering on a Tow Path
With so many walks on our doorstep and beautiful weather, we needed to explore. Baloo would have loved nothing more but to join us but having a black coat and never knowing when to stop it would have been too hot for him. As for Mowgli, although spritely a few laps around the garden, orchard and field are about his limit before he needs a little nap. After a mile or so north and we ended up on the Kennet and Avon Canal.
This 87 mile canal with 105 locks was built to link Bath to London. After years of decline it is now thriving again with lots of narrow boats berthed along its banks. Some where leisure craft but others were clearly homes. We enjoyed looking at the different set ups each boat had. Solar panels, bikes, tomato plants and wheelbarrows were a common feature seen strapped to the roof on each boat but the addition I liked best was an apple tree growing in a large planter on the bow of one boat.
A few miles along the tow path in the sunshine, surprisingly passing a few WWII pillbox defences, brought us to The Waterside Inn which is on the Pewsey Wharf. Once a busy hub of transport along the canal it is now a quiet stop off for boats to access utilities such as water, sewage disposal and, of course, have a crafty pint in the pub.
It was a great walk and has given us a plan to JWalk along a canal for a couple of days. They pass through the heart of many cities and then meander through some beautiful countryside. A stopover in a nice pub or inn along the way would complete the experience. I feel some Jonno research coming on.
The Hidden Valley
From garden of our house sit we had fantastic views up to Pewsey Hill. James and Harriet had left us an ordnance survey map and mentioned a hidden valley. Well that was like dangling a carrot right in front of my nose. We like nothing better than heading off with a bottle of water and a snack to explore. Once again it was too warm to take our four legged friends so after walking them in shady areas we headed for the hills!
After one little detour, which I don’t think was the original plan, across a field full of cows we could see the long hidden valley. It is true to say it is an optical illusions. From the house you face what looks like one hill but when you get up half way up there there is a deepish valley and then another rise. With nothing for miles but the views, we were surprised to come across a family having their picnic. Their dog didn’t seem too impressed with us so we walked on and had our snack in another spot with equally stunning views of Pewsey Vale, Pewsey and Milton Lilbourne.
The Pewsey White Horse
Being on a hill and having a great overview of the fields and drovers roads, we figured out a different route back that would take us past the Pewsey White Horse. There are a number of these white horses carved into the chalk on the downs/hills in Wiltshire. Of the 24 in the country, 13 can be found in Wiltshire. The Pewsey White Horse is the smallest one in Wiltshire and is in a fenced off enclosure to protect it from the crazing animals.
I sort of get carving shapes and symbols in the chalk but why a horse? In Christianity they can be associated with death but in some other cultures are linked to fertility, wisdom and power but I think I like the interpretation that the horse is symbol of freedom without restraint. Either the horse galloping freely or a rider feeling that they are free from the confines of life. All a bit deep isn’t it? Whatever it symbolises, to me, it doesn’t spoil the countryside it gives it an interesting historic feature.
During the course of the week we had enjoyed a few swims but today was the day for full on sports. The programme of events were to be:
- Croquet (made up rules and deciding whether to swing the mallet between the legs or like golf from the side)
- Archery (make sure Baloo, Mowgli and sheep are out of range)
- Tennis (hard work on grass)
- Swimming (after disposing of one dead frog, one live newt and many many leaves)
You can’t say we didn’t take advantage of the facilities. Nearly forgot the warm down was picking sweatpeas!
After the last paragraph you may think that housesitting is one long day of mucking about but there is a large burden of responsibility for the owners treasured home and pets. It is always in the back of our mind, and sometimes nearer to the front, that one day one of our charges may get sick or injured. Hopefully this day will never come.
Another concern for sits such as this one is when the dogs have the free run of extensive grounds which do not have secure boundaries. We had no concerns about Mowgli, he was happy to just wander and potter around not far from the house but Baloo was capable of launching himself over or under 5 bar gates with ease. Add into the equation the fact that a few houses along the lane there was a bitch in season and he had a full on motive to roam further afield. We kept him on a lead for walks outside the property because of nesting pheasants and the potential girlfriend up the lane but within the grounds he had kept fairly close to us.
A short trip out to the garden was the norm before the dogs settled down for the night and we headed to bed too. Around 12.30am Jonno could here whining so went down assuming one of the dogs needed to go out. It was Baloo who needed to go out. Well go out he did! He headed straight through the hedge and into the blackness beyond. By now, I was up to and we did a bit of calling and whistling in the garden but to no avail.
A wander down the lane with the torch did not bring him running but we didn’t want to disturb or alarm the neighbours by having two strangers snooping around with torches. Baloo obviously knew his way around so we decided the best thing to do was just wait at home and hope that once he knew he couldn’t get access to said bitch he would be back. With the backdoor open for his return Jonno put on a film. I couldn’t sit still so paced around a bit then went to lay down just listening out for the pitter patter of his return.
Half an hour went by, one hour, one and a half hours – all the time thoughts going through our head of “What if…….” Jonno, although concerned, is better at managing the anxiety, I am the one nearer to panic. Two hours later around 2.40am, in the door he trots like nothing had ever happened (or maybe it had and he was less pent up!) Jonno felt sure that his disappearing act was a regular occurrence and James and Harriet were used to it but for us it was a painful experience that we wouldn’t like to repeat.
We were due to leave the next day, so just not to take any chances he was walked on lead and even went out for a wee on lead. Half a day with less freedom would not do him any harm. So for all you folks out there thinking we lead the life of Riley think on, there is a lot of responsibility, anxiety and the odd sleepless night and that is before I tell you about the sheep fatality…..that was nothing to do with us, honestly! Natural causes and the shepherd’s responsibility thank goodness. Just one sad lonely lamb missing his Mum to look in on. And so our stay in this beautiful village comes to an end but no doubt Baloo’s adventures continue.
26/08 – 02/09/2019