My partner Nick and I spent last Easter at a farmhouse in a Cotswolds village. We read books, enjoyed lunches on the terrace and took long walks along footpaths between the canary-yellow rapeseed fields. With an aga, original art works and an en suite bathroom with claw-foot bath, this limestone mansion would have cost thousands to rent – especially in the Easter holidays. But we stayed for free, in return for looking after the owners’ friendly cocker spaniels, a long-haired cat and the children’s hamster, while the family went skiing in the Alps.
We landed this amazing break through Trusted Housesitters, a website that matches owners with sitters worldwide (membership £99 for a year). House Sitters UK offers a similar service, but covers only this country (£29 a year). Unsurprisingly given the state of the economy, companies offering housesitting services are reporting a boom this year. Trusted House Sitters has seen a 130% increase in new members compared with 2019, and owners have posted more than double the number of requests for UK sitters.
We discovered Trusted Housesitters in summer 2013, when Nick chucked in his job and we decided to leave our London flat and go travelling for a while. Money was tight so we needed to get creative, and decided to give housesitting a go. Creating a profile detailing our animal, gardening and domestic experience, we posted it, along with peppy photos of us among the poppies in Italy, and crossed our fingers.
Nick and Nicki having lunch on the terrace in Wicklow, Ireland. Photograph: Courtesy of Nicki Grinhault
We didn’t have to wait long. We were soon contacted by Rachel and Frank, who were desperate for a break from their smallholding in County Wicklow, Ireland (and were perhaps persuaded by my stint as a jillaroo on a sheep station in Australia). We were greeted by excited sheepdogs, and introduced to their chickens, ducks (which produced fresh eggs each morning), pet sheep and a tabby cat called Bruiser. Sunny days were spent with the dogs – picking fat blackberries, walking in the Wicklow mountains and swimming among seals in Clogga Cove. We were hooked and realised housesitting could help us travel on a budget.
Sits have included a three-storey townhouse in London and a lakeside pad in Montreux, Switzerland, and we ended our year away caring for two Labrador-crosses in a croft house on the Isle of Lewis. That was a magical trip: we explored the atmospheric Calanais standing stones, picnicked on wild beaches where the Vikings once landed (and where we witnessed a whale carcass being eaten by ravens) and watched porpoises leap out of a glassy sea.
Looking after a cat in London, we were invited for dinner by the lady next door – and ended up sitting her wide-eyed kitten the following spring
Nearly a decade later, we are still housesitting. Nick retrained as a teacher, and we housesit in the UK, and sometimes …….