May/June – Two weeks in Rotherfield

This blog post was originally published on the 17th October 2018.

Our next housesit took us to a beautiful, secluded part of Rotherfield in Kent, where we met our largest group of animals yet! Over our week long stay we had the pleasure of looking after Hetty, Rosie and Dougie (three lovely labradoodles) and Dibble (the very shy kitty), as well as nine ducks, two cockerels, seven hens and ten alpacas! We loved caring for our new menagerie so much that we agreed to return a couple of weeks after our sit ended to take care of them all again for another week! Here’s what we got up to over our two sits!

Settling in

On our first sit, our lovely hosts welcomed us into their gorgeous home – three converted oast houses with so much character we were blown away! Our bedroom was situated in the top part of the middle oast – a gorgeous circular room with a big window overlooking one of the fields of alpacas. Our hosts took us on a walk around the field with the dogs (who were very excited to walk with us) to show us where to cut through into another field, which became a good short walk for the dogs on days when the weather wasn’t great. Coming back to the house we were introduced to the sweet group of ducks, who all followed a beige-coloured ‘alpha’ duck when they waddled around, and we also met the hens and cockerels in their roost. We’d soon get used to the sound of the cockerels crowing in the morning, and waking up to the gorgeous stillness of the sun rising over the alpaca fields. Before our hosts left they told us about caring for the alpacas, who were split into two fields of boys and girls save for one young male that had never left his mother. We had been apprehensive about caring for alpacas as it was something we’d never done before, but we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look after them! Alpacas are surprisingly easy to take care for – in the winter they need fresh hay, but as we visited in hot summer months they only required water and space to graze! Our hosts also let us know that the alpacas were very friendly, and after they get used to you you can pet them, and they very much enjoy being hand fed fruit and veg! That evening, when our hosts had departed, we were both very keen to let the alpacas get used to us so we could feed them during our stay! They are such sweet and curious animals – as soon as we walked into the field they all came over to see us, and one brave, young male named Humphrey stood beside us and let us stroke his long, fluffy neck!

Suze getting to know Humphrey

When it began to get dark, we headed inside to introduce ourselves to Dibble, the sweet but incredibly nervous cat. A very new addition to the family having only arrived at the house from a rescue centre some weeks before our sit, Dibble was extremely nervous and for the first few days he wouldn’t come out from behind a footstool in the study – the farthest room in the house. On our first evening, we let him get used to our scent before leaving him be for the night. We spent the rest of the evening snuggled up in the living room with all three dogs lounging at our feet. We knew right from the start this would be a lovely week!

Very shy Dibble at the start of our stay

Our first morning at the oasts was a drizzly one. We headed out in the grey morning to let the ducks out of the little Wendy house they slept in, so they could go for a swim in the water-filled tubs in the field. We couldn’t help but giggle when watching the ducks waddling around in their formation, and we came to learn that they are very playful and curious creatures as one afternoon we laughed while watching them chase after a butterfly! We fed them and the hens, having to make sure to spread out the feed so the female alpacas couldn’t eat it! We collected five eggs from the hen roost on our first morning, before getting Hetty, Dougie and Rosie ready for our first walk alone together.

The ducks having a swim!

The fields around the oasts were vast and open – perfect for the dogs to bound through the long grass. Coming back into the house we had to dry off all three soggy dogs – Hetty especially would love being towel dried as it was like a big belly rub! Over the week, after she’d been dried and we’d moved onto Dougie or Rosie, she would stand beside them as if waiting for her turn again! She loved to follow Suze around the house, and Dougie was definitely Chris’ boy, while Rosie was more laidback and kept to herself. The dogs would come and go as they pleased through the large dog-flap in the kitchen, and when we’d go into the field to hand-feed the alpacas as we were itching to do during those first few days, the dogs would follow us out of curiosity. As soon as the alpacas saw us with grated apple and carrot, they all came flocking to us which was intimidating at first! Albert, the young male in the female field, would always make sure he was first in line for feeding while the female alpacas waited a crowd behind him. After a few days feeding them like this, they were used to having us around and we spent lots of time hanging out with them and petting them. We also made a lot of progress with shy kitty Dibble, as Chris spent hours sitting with him and coaxing him out to sit with us. Towards the end of the week, Dibble would curl up on the sofa in the study with us or rub himself against our legs. Although he was still skittish, we were really happy to have helped him gain some confidence in his surroundings during our stay!

Chris feeding the alpacas – Albert at the front!

Being the end of May, we were lucky enough to have some brilliantly sunny days over our stay at the oasts. This made for some gorgeous strolls in the fields surrounding the oasts – speckled with yellow from buttercups growing in the tall grass. In those days we had to keep an eye on Hetty and Rosie, who would chase after deer they saw basking in the sun! We spent our last couple of afternoons at the oasts playing cards or reading on the patio overlooking the ducks and alpacas. On our last day we had lots of fluffy cuddles with the dogs, plus some unexpected cuddles with one of the smaller ducks who had narrowly escaped a fox in the field. We picked him up out of the tub he was swimming in, knowing already that something was wrong as it wasn’t trying to get out of the tub and follow the other ducks. When we set it down on the ground, it fell down and we realised it couldn’t walk. We wrapped it up in a towel and took it inside with us, taking it in turns to hold it in our arms until enough time had passed that we felt confident enough to set him down on the stone floor of the kitchen. Much to our relief, it stood up and began cleaning its feathers! The shock had obviously worn off and we felt we could put it back in with its fluffy friends in the field, after a few more snuggles. We were so sad to say goodbye to all our new babies, but we looked forward to our next sit with them!

Chris and one lucky duck!

Settling back in for our June sit

When we returned for our second sit just two weeks later, we were greeted by the very excitable trio of dogs who obviously remembered us from our previous stay! Hetty wasted no time catching up with Suze, and we were amazed to see that Dibble had made so much more progress since our last sit. On our first evening, he jumped up to sit on Chris’ lap in the lounge where he stayed all evening while we watched tv together and settled back in at the oasts.

Chris playing with much more confident Dibble!

Big Millhole Wood

The next morning we got right back into our lovely country bumpkin lifestyle! We took the dogs for a walk around Big Millhole Wood, a short distance from the house, which was just beautiful in the June sunshine. With lots of different paths to choose from, we let Hetty, Rosie and Dougie lead the way through the tall shady trees and gorgeous wildflowers, before peeling off the beaten track to follow a dismantled railway line cutting straight through the woods. It was so eery and silent, with only the sound of a trickling river running underneath a disused railway bridge where the doggies happily lapped up the cool water.

Hetty, Rosie and Dougie at Big Millhole Wood

We enjoyed lots of good weather during our second week at the oasts, which made for another beautiful walk around Big Millhole Wood exploring different paths and making friends with other dogs along the way! We kept Hetty, Rosie and Dougie close when walking through the fields surrounding the house this time around, as some sheep had got loose from their farm and all three dogs seemed very interested in making friends! Mostly it was too hot to walk for too long as the dogs got easily tired out under their fluffy coats, so we spent many hours relaxing and playing cards or chatting on the patio round the side of the the oasts, overlooking the alpacas relaxing in the shade of the trees.

On our last day of the sit, Chris took advantage of the lovely weather and managed to get some stunning photos of the oasts and fields from above using his drone. We discovered that the alpacas couldn’t have cared less about the sound as Chris got close enough to take some brilliant shots, while the dogs were more wary! We gave all three of the dogs lots of cuddles in preparation for leaving that afternoon, and boiled a few eggs that the hens had laid that morning to make the most of our last day with freshly laid eggs! We were sad to leave the menagerie again, but we’re so happy that we had the opportunity to experience such an eclectic mix of animals in a truly beautiful setting. It’s the kind of laidback country lifestyle that we’ve been missing while living in cities for three years! The curiosity of the alpacas and ducks made for some really sweet memories, while the hens laying eggs and the cockerels crowing every morning made the country lifestyle all the more charming. We were happy to have contributed to Dibble the kitty making such good progress in growing his confidence – by the end of the second sit he would happily curl up with us and even the dogs! Hetty, Rosie and Dougie were the most affectionate trio of labradoodles and made our time in Rotherfield even sweeter. Top it all off with staying in a stunning oast house and this stay became one of our most memorable yet!

One of Chris’ drone shots of the beautiful oasts – with some of the alpacas in the nearest field!