Another month and another UK Prime Minister! The idea would have been ridiculous not long ago, but now anything seems plausible. It’s at times like this I’m quite glad I am not working with colleagues around the world anymore. It was embarrassing enough having blustering Boris representing the UK, but the antics of the last month have been absurd. Let’s hope the grown ups have now taken charge and those in government remember who they are actually working for.
While the media have been having a field day and financial markets have been in chaos, we endured yet more obstacles to buying our smallholding.
You may remember that we were waiting for test results for the private water supply, to identify where lead contamination was coming from. Unfortunately when the results were due, it became clear that Scottish Water had lost one of the samples🙄. This meant they had to come out to collect another one and we would have to wait for another 3 weeks for results. The good news was that they did not lose the sample from the well (just the one from the kitchen tap). This was analysed and declared to only contain a tiny trace of lead. This meant that we could be confident there was a lead pipe somewhere between the well and the house rather than some kind of contamination of the land. This could be rectified. The only question left was whether the extra filter had made the tap water drinkable, or whether it would fail the test again and we would have leverage to lower the price to deal with the lead pipe. Unfortunately, just as it looked like there was a way forwards, the seller’s onward purchase fell through. This left her with nowhere for her or her 200 sheep and a horse to go.
At this point we made plans to head up to Scotland to look at potential ‘plan B’ properties. We also made an offer to the seller to complete the purchase and move in, but rent the grazing and most of the outbuildings back to her for up to 12 months. This would remove the immediate issue of moving livestock and would make her a chain free cash buyer. We weren’t really expecting this to be well received, but it does seem to have been adopted as the way forwards, if she can find a house to rent locally. The agents have apparently put her in touch with a landlord with a vacant property, but we are waiting to hear more.
While this whole saga was unfolding, we spent October moving around a bit less than last month, with 2 long house sits in the east of England and then south west Scotland (this second opportunity popped up at just the right time to allow us to check out some other properties on the market).
The first 2 weeks of October saw us in Norfolk looking after a pointer called Baillie and a herd of 11 alpacas while their owner was away. We have never taken care of alpacas before, but it was pretty straight forward with dinner once a day and a bit of poo picking in their paddocks. Alpaca manure is apparently very sought after by gardeners, so the homeowner sells it. They are quite aloof creatures with humans, but have a very calming presence. I think this is because they seem very considered and don’t do much in a rush (apart from coming in for dinner that is :-)). They will not let you stroke them, in fact they aren’t too keen on hands at all. If you keep your hands by your side or behind your back, they will come and sniff your face. One of the boys, called Percy, was hand reared and very keen to see what we were up to at all times, while the others took a few days to warm up to us.
For the second half of the month, we moved on to a very rural house sit in south west Scotland and an English bull terrier called Bruce. We chose this sit purely for it’s location, rather than for the animal we would be looking after or any affinity with the homeowners. Bruce is not the kind of dog who would suit our lifestyle long term, but we went for it anyway, as we wanted to check out potential alternative properties locally (none of which turned out to be of much interest for various reasons). We felt a bit sorry for Bruce, as his owner is recently divorced and he was looking for a sitter while he was working away. What we didn’t find out until we applied was that he wasn’t just working away for a week or 2 at a time, but actually this is a permanent arrangement, and he has no long term plan for care of his dog.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but we ended up driving Bruce over 8hrs up the country from Hertfordshire to Scotland and at the point we picked him up, his owner had no idea who would take over from us at the end of our 2 week stay. On top of this, Bruce had suffered some kind of allergic reaction a few weeks before we met him, and the people looking after him before us had failed to give him the full course of anti-biotics to deal with the resultant skin infection. Poor Bruce was in a pretty sorry state, but thankfully a very good traveller. After a couple of vets visits and steroid and antibiotic injections and follow up tablets, I can confidently say he was in a much better condition physically when we left him. Feeling better definitely brought out his character, and I would mostly describe his character as belligerent. 35Kg of belligerent. He is the only dog we have ever met who prefers a car ride to a walk! Luckily he was relatively easy to bribe with a treat or two.
Even if Bruce didn’t always want to come with us, we enjoyed some beautiful walks from the cottage and saw a lot of wildlife including red squirrels, stoats and roe deer and many different birds. The cottage was right next to a river, with a waterfall and salmon ladder about 100 metres downstream. After heavy rainfall, the latter looked more like an olympic kayak course. It is the right time of year to see leaping salmon coming upstream to spawn, but despite a lot of watching at the beginning and end of the day, we weren’t able to spot one. I suspect this is a symptom of the steep decline in salmon numbers in Scotland generally, but it might just be they waited for us to give up and return to the cottage 😆
Although Bruce’s owner offered to let us stay longer, we opted to move on as planned, as we had looked at the properties we wanted to see (none of which turned out to be of much interest for various reasons). We spent the last couple of days of the month in the Scottish artists town of Kirkcudbright before moving on to our current sit, which I will talk more about next month.
With all this going on, weren’t paying much attention to what the freedom fund was doing. It turns out it was quietly creeping a bit higher after 2 months of falls in value.
- Freedom Fund Value: £1,159,247 (up £13k on last month)
- Monthly expenses: £1,927* or a withdrawal rate of 2.0% if we were to maintain this rate of spending
- Earned Income: £0
- Miles walked to end October: 1552 vs. a target of 1457**
Whilst not making a big impact on the overall total, it was fun to see our premium bonds produce a bumper result this month (possibly linked to the recent increase in prize fund?). A normal month for us is around £25-£75 in prizes, but Nov’s draw came in at £275.
I feared expenses might be up a bit this month, with spending including a few days in a paid for holiday cottage, as opposed to free house sits, and a pricey birthday meal in a luxury Scottish castle. The reality was that it was lower than last month. I think it helped that we spent most of the month miles from the nearest spending opportunity and as we were in each place for a couple of weeks, I got back to batch cooking.
I am still just about on track with my walking challenge, but 2 weeks looking after a dog that doesn’t like walking much made it more difficult this month. Having been comfortably ahead for most of the year, I need to be careful not to blow it at the end by being too complacent.
Potentially, our move could happen quite quickly now, so we have not made plans too far in advance. Of course, it could also grind on for another few months or fall apart altogether! Until this morning (Monday), we did not have a plan after Thursday. I think some of my old colleagues would find this completely out of character for me, but I am surprisingly comfortable with it.
Moving into November, the weather has definitely turned more wintery and the thought of wild camping in the van is not very appealing. With our underfloor heating, it would probably be ok hooked up on a campsite, but many of these closed at the end of October. We always said if there was no sign of a permanent home by the autumn, we would rent somewhere for 6 months. As we are in a kind of limbo, with a permanent home on the horizon, but just out of reach, we have been putting this off.
With housesits in the UK thinner on the ground and further apart, and also to give ourselves more options, we have decided to spend the next week or two exploring a bit further north of our current target locations. The aim is to expand the property search area, should it be required. Even if it is not, the chance to see some more of the beautiful Scottish west coast can never be a waste of time. Holiday cottages in Scotland are not great in demand in November, so there is quite a lot of choice for not a huge amount of money, even very last minute. We will definitely generate increased expenses next month as we will actually pay for some accommodation for more than a day or two. We will use the freedom of not having animals to care for, to explore new areas and view a few properties. It’s always good to have options.
When I sit down at the end of each month and look back through the photos on my phone, I realise what a great adventure we are having. Whilst the property purchase labyrinth is frustrating, life could be a lot worse…………
*Includes £500 per month personal allowances (£250 each), which may not be spent in the month, but which is not tracked. Some of it may show up in the freedom fund in the future, if savings build up and are invested.
** I challenged myself to walk the equivalent of Lands End to John O’Groats and back in 2022. This is the longest overland distance between 2 points on the UK mainland or 1748 miles.