Our fourth house-sit of 2019 got off to a sticky start. On Sunday we had a gruelling five-hour journey from Amsterdam to Dunkirk in 30 degrees heat (no air-con). Then long tailbacks at British passport control in Dunkirk because according to the official it was one of the busiest weekends in the year with kids going back to school after half-term. The ferry was overrun with marauding teenagers so a quick upgrade to the Premium Lounge meant we could at least relax for the three-hour crossing and have ‘free’ non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in peace. Once on English soil journey-wise things didn’t improve much and an hour-long tailback on the M25 left me wondering why we do this house-sitting malarky! But then after a good night’s sleep and awaking in a beautiful spot life seemed good again.
I agreed on this house-sit early in the year and I knew it was in a grand and spacious Georgian farmhouse in Hertfordshire, and that two dogs and a cat needed caring for. Only in the last email from the owner before we arrived did we hear about llamas. There is no work involved with their care apart from looking over the fence and checking that they haven’t keeled over, so easy peasy, till so far anyway as one never knows with animals! Today it’s cold, windy and wet and the llamas were shorn before our arrival so I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them out in the field with their backs to the rain. The neighbour’s horse looks none too happy about the weather either…
Spring of 1349 in Hertfordshire came with a black cloud – a plague that would wipe out as much as half the population. It brought death but also major social change.
Before the owners left, we were told that the llamas’ field butts onto the site of an abandoned plague village. The only visible remains of the settlement is a hollowed out track that leads to its centre, but the plague-ridden bodies are still buried there. *spooky sound effect* The farmhouse further up the lane does have ghosts, or entities that move chairs around we were told. (What is it with ghosts that they constantly have to move the furniture?) But the lady of ‘our’ house assured me that there are no spooks in this building. Read more about Ardwick Village and the surprisingly positive effects of the plague on survivors’ social mobility and bargaining ability here.
Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we took advantage of it and visited Waddesdon Manor just over the border in Buckinghamshire. Some people’s wealth is unimaginable to mortals like you and me, isn’t it? The French-style chateau was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his art collection. The last member of the Rothschild family to own Waddesdon was James de Rothschild (1878–1957). He bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust. It is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties, with over 466,000 visitors in 2018, and in 2017 Waddesdon Manor won ‘Visit England’s Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category.’ The Joshua Reynolds’ portraits were outstanding and it is a NT property that will stand out in my memory because of its opulence and grandeur. Entrance to the house was half-price on the day we visited due to upcoming filming but even so cost 16 pounds per person. It was worth it as we spend the biggest part of the day in the house and grounds.
I didn’t know much about Hertfordshire before we came here. I always found it a vaguely annoying place because people always muddle it with Herefordshire where I grew up. But it’s a beautiful county, and not as built up as I’d expected. It seems generally affluent because of its proximity to London, but the villages have plenty of rural charm. Nearby Tring has a wonderful High Street and all independent shops. A Midsomer Murders episode was shot in nearby Watlington. That will probably be next on the itinerary once this rain clears up…