Scotland the Brave!

Scotland really is the land of the brave!

Neil and I wanted to see Scotland on our “Village to Villa” tour of the UK.

 

We were knocked out by the stunning location of our house and pet sit.

 

Before meeting Becky, the senior resident cat – I was ambivalent about actually owning a moggie.  This sweet, loving cat changed my mind. I fell a little bit in love with Becky!

 

Glenfarg is a village in the county of Perth, central Scotland. Mostly it’s a cluster of farmhouses and a pub.

Glenfarg is a 20 to 30 minute drive to the city of Perth – depending on how many times you stop to take photos!

Both of us have Scottish heritage and we wanted to see if we felt any connection. Neil had done a whirlwind trip a few years previously and this time, he wanted to experience real life as a Scotsman rather than a tourist.

One of Scotland’s most famous cities is Edinburgh. It’s a down with two sides and manages to blend the past with the present – architecturally and culturally.

The old medieval part of the city is bursting with entertainment.

We couldn’t resist looking up our family tartans.  Even though other countries have produced a similar look – the plaid has become a symbol of Scottish heritage, along with the kilt.  You can’t really have a kilt that’s NOT tartan – it just wouldn’t be right!

In my book, the Scottish really ARE brave.  First of all, their men not only wear a skirt, but it’s made of a plaid fabric we know as TARTAN.

The question that is most asked about this ensemble – is “what DO Scotsmen really wear under their kilt” and the answer we found was “NOTHING!”

Thank you Gordon Nicholson!

It’s Personal

First there was friendship….

Gai & Neil in Umbria

Neil:  We’ve been friends since 1982 when we both worked in regional TV in New South Wales. I worked in news and production…Gai in graphics.  She was newly married. Years later we met up in Brisbane. By then I was married with a young family. Gai was divorced and had taken a new direction, working in production.  We crossed paths every few years at TV stations or on Outside Broadcasts.

…. then fate intervened!

on board the Warrior at Portsmouth UK

Gai: In 2013 after 18 years as a network producer, I returned to my home town in NSW, in search of a new sense of belonging. In the same year, Neil had been lured back to regional news in NSW.  Fate intervened and we were re-acquainted!  This time we were both free to pursue more than a friendship!  We ended up on the Gold Coast in search of a new project, and the next chapter of our life. Together!

Guess where!

Our love of animals

Chooks are fascinating to watch!

Neil:  Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved animals.  From my first dogs, a gorgeous golden retriever and a black and white border collie, through to the delightful German Shepherd cross who was with me all through my teens and my best friend.  Swimming with dolphins was a life highlight.

snoozing with Ruby

Later there were two moodles who I loved so much it hurt!  Raised from tiny puppies, this pair of fluffy balls of energy were constant companions.

Neil and Millie
Over the last five years, there have been many dogs, cats, birds, chickens, rabbits, horses and various other four-legged friends. The year long pet and house sitting  adventure, Village to Villa saw a swag of new friends appear.
In Cannes with Charlie
Why am I so drawn to animals?  Animals are totally honest.
Animals love unconditionally.  Pets bring so much joy.
Alfie & Rosie, France
Neil & Lexie

From guinea pigs to orphaned lambs.

 Gai:  When I was growing up in a small country down, we had a string of pets from cats, dogs and guinea pigs – to lambs, calves, chickens, ducks and bossy geese on my grandmother’s farm.

Lexie, Gai & Monty, Italy

When I finished college I got my very own dog. Basil was a sweet Australian Terrier. He’s been gone for many years now but he’s still “my dog”.

my dog Basil

My love of animals went hand in hand with my job.  For 18 years I worked as a writer and producer on long running TV program “Totally Wild”.  The focus was on all creatures great and small.  I experienced many privileges and joyful animal encounters.

On a stretch of the Queensland coastline, I watched as hatchling sea turtles emerged from their nest on the beach and ran for their lives into the surf.

At “Dreamworld” I walked with a majestic white Bengal Tiger, then bottle fed a tiger cub.

Mohan, Dreamworld

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreamworld tiger cub

My sister and I strolled with fully-grown cougar and Andy, her handler.

Dreamworld Cougar, handler Andy

I met Steve Irwin and with my 2, now grown up nieces, sat on the grass at “Australia Zoo” with Harriet, his 170 year old Galapagos Tortoise.

Harriet, Australia Zoo

Possibly the most joyous moment was sitting in the Meerkat enclosure at “Werribee Zoo”, as the inquisitive young ones climbed all over me!

Meerkats at Werribee Zoo

These are the highlights that sustained my yearning for another pet. When Neil and I came together, that longing began to grow again, in both of us. And it was a big part of our decision to travel by via house and pet sitting.

What could be more soothing after a day of sightseeing – than smooching with an affectionate dog or cat.

We all speak the same language.

Livvy, Umbria

And THAT is why we love pet and house sitting.

Video: Australia’s biggest coal port

Newcastle is Australia’s biggest coal port.

This video shows you just how big the coal ships really are! This one is heading to Japan.  It will take 20 days.

One of the early house and pet sitting assignments we accepted – was in the Port Stephens region of NSW in Australia.  It’s a stunning piece of coastline.

Neil McLean
Gai at Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach

The city has regenerated itself over the past decade – changing from a gritty coal city to a cosmopolitan place to live –  while keeping its heritage architecture.

Art Deco hotel in Newcastle
Newcastle city
Newcastle docks area

We soon found the perfect location for a spot of ship spotting!

Frederico coal ship

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Video: Curious Cats

Cats are curious and can be incredibly funny.

During our year of travel in 4 countries, we had the privilege of taking care of 16 cats!

Neil, a comfortable couch!

We’d like to introduce you to some of the fantastic felines we met during the Village to Villa tour – so stay with us for the video at the end of this story.

It’s about one of the curious cats that shared their lifestyle with us while their human family took a holiday.

Marmaduke from the Cotswolds

 

A Guildford Girl

 

A cat who reads? Novel!

 

How is that dinner going?

 

It’s OK. I can reach it!

Only Becky from Scotland – was the solo occupant of her castle…

Becky from Scotland

Some had flatmates…

Cotswolds Cats

Some even shared with dogs!!!!!

Livvy loves her cats!

 

Pippa & one of the Spice Girls

 

Glamorous Gaston without Hector?!

 

Treacle loves to walk with Bingo and Hobey

AND HERE IS THEIR STORY….

If these fantastic felines gave you something to smile about… you will be filled with joy when you meet RUBY, the Moodle Queen of Queensland!

 

 

Video: BALD EAGLE

The awesome BALD EAGLE.

This awesome Bird of Prey is the BALD EAGLE…  national animal of the USA.  There are though to be around 150 thousand of them in North America, their native country.  They’re seen near large bodies of water from the north of Mexico north to Alaska.

See our video of HOLDING this magnificent bird at the Hawkridge Bird of Prey Centre in England.

They swoop at speeds of more than 140 kph to catch a fish.

Then they eat with both hands.

Bald Eagles don’t start producing until there about 4 years old, but they will live for 20 years in the wild…  twice that in captivity.

The eagles have a wingspan of 2 metres.  Baldric, the male bird that we both held, weighs around 4 kg and I struggled to hold him on one arm! The females are even heavier.  That doesn’t stop them flying at 48 kilometres per hour, even carrying a fish. Baldric started his training at around 6 months. It typically takes 2 months for the bird to trust you as a handler.

Birds of Prey Owl

We were incredibly privileged to see Baldric  up close and VERY personal, when we visited the Hawkridge Bird of Prey Centre near Exmouth in England. We were house sitting nearby near Ottery St Mary.

These highly trained aerial hunters have been closely associated with humans for thousands of years.  Falconry was a way of life and provided food for families.

It went out of fashion for many years, but is now back as a sport practiced all over the world.

Birds of Prey England

You can find the Hawkridge Birds of Prey Centre at Westdown Lane, Sandy Bay, Exmouth EX85BY.

www.hawkridgebirdsofprey.com    also on Facebook

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Video: Living in the Cotswolds

2 idyllic weeks in the Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds is an area that stretches across 5 counties in the South West of England. It’s known around the world as one of the prettiest areas, with its honeycomb stone architecture, green rolling hills and a fascinating back story.

Bibery, the Cotswolds

We were based in the village of Minchenhampton – to take care of the Brown Family home and animals.  But while we were there, we also became acquainted with the neighbours – including a 4 year old white bunny called Snowy!

We absolutely loved living in the Cotswolds.

Bibery, the Cotswolds

Please keep visiting this site for many more stories about the Cotswolds and all of our house and pet sitting adventures, in 4 countries.

THANK YOU to the Brown family for entrusting us with their entertaining, precious pets.  We will introduce Hobey and Bingo in another story.

Meanwhile, take a stroll on the pebbles at Lyme Regis.

VIDEO: In Memory of Guinness – the dog with 3 legs

During our time in Scotland, we met the 28th Laird of Craufurdland Castle near Kilmarnock.  He kindly invited us to stay for a few days with his lovely family.

Such an extraordinary invitation comes along rarely… so of course our answer was “We would love to… thank you for asking”!

 

Guinness – the dog with 3 legs had a set of wheels.

He was able to go walking with his brother Scrumpy.

The 2 Setters are treasured members of the family. Guinness lost his back leg after being hit by a car… but this hero dog hasn’t let that stop him from enjoying his walks. Scrumpy keeps close watch over his brother and patiently waits

Everyone loves and admires Guinness for his fighting Scottish spirit!

He won our hearts during the few days we spent living like locals in a Scottish castle!

Craufurdland Castle, Kilmarnock

This family home near Kilmarnock, dates back to 1245!

Like most of the large estates in the UK- the family has had to diversify to keep the place viable.  They’ve dedicated one half of the castle to B&B style accommodation.  Guests enjoy luxury accommodation – surrounded by history.

Lake at Craufurndland Castle

There’s a large lake on the estate – filled with trout and tranquility.  It’s the perfect male meditation and occasionally the day will produce supper!

Craufurdland Castle woodland

The family backyard is 600 acres of Scottish countryside.  And we were absolutely delighted to discover that humans are not the only guests having sleep overs at Craufurdland!  Boarding dogs are allowed to run freely off lead – to have a good sniff in the woodlands and some take a dip in the lake.

Craufurdland Castle lake

Some months after our return to Australia, we were sad when we heard from the family, that Guinness was not able to keep up this exhausting effort to sustain his life on three legs.

Guinness – we will always remember how lucky we were to share a few days with you and your kind family.

www,craufurdland.co.uk     Also on FACEBOOK

READ MORE ABOUT CRAUFURDLAND CASTLE 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIDEO: Village to Villa French Animals

From Spritely Spaniels to Newborn Lambs

Do French animals respond to spoken French?

Traveling around and living like locals in other countries, we discovered this –  the universal language between humans and animals – no matter where you are – is kindness.

Our treasured time in France was filled with the company of dogs of all sizes… a Movie Star Cat called Monsieur Gaston!!  Some we were pet sitting, others  belonged to neighbours.

These are just a few of  Village to Villa’s amazing animals – met during our house sitting in FRANCE.

You might like to meet more AMAZING ANIMALS

VIDEO: Want to live in a French Chateau?

How about spending an entire month during the springtime, living in a French Chateau at no cost to you?

Profusion of purple at the chateau
We were lucky enough to do exactly that during our year of house sitting.  We lived in a French Chateau in South West France.
This is a video about Chateau du Mauran in the south west of France.

The garden was at its best when we stayed at this stunning French Chateau.

From early to late May we watched as nature did her most amazing work.  The roses were resplendent but the real stars were the Wisteria and the “Van Gogh” Irises.  Perfection together.
Roses are red…

 

The kitchen fireplace was rescued from a Paris hotel demolition

 

The chandelier is from Venice
Staying in this amazing house for a month, gave us many stories for our TV series “Village to Villa”  We lived like locals and enjoyed authentic travel experiences with neighbours, friends of the house owners and people we met along the way.  We will share them all here on this blog.  If you’d like to follow our incredible year long journey, please leave us your details in SUBSCRIPTIONS – and we’ll send you a note when we post another story.  Thank you.

Shoot a TV series without a crew!

Can 2 producers really shoot video for a 13 part TV series without a crew?

Neil McLean and Gai Reid are the only members of the camera crew for their 13 episode TV series “Village to Villa”. We developed our “TV production in a back pack” so we could travel for one year and shoot a TV series without a camera crew!

Having covered 4 countries – living like locals – we have now begun the huge editing phase.  Luckily we have 2 awesome editors.  Meet our crew.

First edit session

Gai & Neil have worked in television production for most of our working lives. That’s a scary number of years!

Gai experienced a little bit of everything during her time spent working in regional television in NSW and Tasmania. Mostly she has worked in Brisbane networks as a writer and producer in factual programming.

Harriet, Australia Zoo

 

Dreamworld tiger cubs

Neil has worked mostly in news in regional  and the networks of NSW and Victoria– as a reporter, reader and news director.  We both know what it’s like to spend a week or longer on the road.

Neil in his TV news reporting days

click here to meet THE CREW 

What is a TV Production in a Back Pack?

Normally when a TV crew travels to shoot a program – 4 people would check in 12 to 18 pieces of luggage, including cameras, tripod, lights, sound gear as well as crew suitcases.  NOT for TV Production in a back pack.

Because of the nature of our project – we couldn’t take a traditional camera crew.  So WE became the crew!

That meant we had to figure out another way to bring you what we knew would be engaging and inspirational stories.

Maggie the Umbrian truffle hunter!

 

Donkey cuddles for Gai

We came up with PRODUCTION BACK PACK!

We streamlined down to the absolute minimum gear – we had to carry it where ever we went. It really was a production in a backpack.  AND it enabled us to shoot a TV series without a crew.

Most importantly – we wanted to record authentic  travel experiences that filled us with joy!

We wanted to be able to talk to strangers without intimidating them with a large camera on a tripod.  They needed to feel comfortable in order to open up and tell us their stories.  We wanted to make story gathering a pleasurable experience for everyone involved.

German bunker at Fort du Cap Levi, Normandy

So when we set out on one of our many trips –  we had a suit case each and ONE backpack of camera gear!

"Production in a Backpack"

We used a Nikon digital SLR with external Rode mic; a Samsung Galaxy-K phone with external Rodes mic; occasionally a basic Samsung phone; a Sony Action Can and a seriess of mounts.  Sometime we shot an interview with 2 different angles. We found a fantastic tripod that folds down to about the size of 2 fold up umbrellas.  THAT’S IT!  This is how we were able to shoot a TV series without a crew.

 

interviewing Ann Jeanne, “A Friend in Paris”

 

The Seine River, Paris

We wanted to be one of the early adopters of using a mobile phone camera to shoot a series – to show that it COULD be done.

on Mt Mutali with Florentine – our Italian guide

“Village to Villa” is now well and truly in edit!

There are 13 episodes of 22 minutes duration.

Here’s a preview   

 

recording voice overs with Ruby

 We have an abundance of extra stories and video clips to share with YOU over the coming months.

…but before you go, we are grateful for your support and in return – we’d like to keep you in the loop so you don’t miss a thing.

THANK YOU FOR SUBSCRIBING – it’s at the bottom of this page.

 

House sitting in 4 countries

What’s it really like to live like locals – in another country?

To find out, we took on HOUSE SITTING and PET SITTING in 4 countries.
Neil’s first day in Paris!

 

Pont Vecchio, Florence
One of the best ways to embed yourself into a community…  is to live in someone else’s house.  We discovered an ideal way to do that.

House sitting and pet sitting!

walking the dogs at Chateau Chaufaille
House Sitting is sweeping the world as a unique and convenient way to travel for long periods of time, rent free!

The possibilities are enormous!

Our Scottish Villa
La Fontanella at dusk

For one year – we visited a smorgasbord of locations in 4 countries

– beginning in our own back yard, Australia…then moving on to France…The United Kingdom …and to Italy.
During our year-long “Village to Villa” journey, we savoured …going coastal …going country….going quirky!

To kick off the tour, we show you Australia’s Gold Coast –  where WE live!

The Gold Coast canals
After spending serious time in the wine growing areas of South Australia, we were ready to take on France!

We spent a few days sampling the delights of Paris

Metro stop Paris
–  then we settled into rural life in south west France – to live like locals.
Connecting with neighbours gave us a real sense of the French village lifestyle.

Springtime in France
This 200 year old classic Chateau deep in the south of France –  was our home for one glorious month during spring time.

We gained a real perspective on the luxury of villa living.

Monsieur Gaston
After driving the length of France – we settled into our stylish farm house in Normandy.
From here we explored the famous WW2 landing beaches and historic coastal towns.
We also witnessed the birth of a lamb – which was awesome!
The Girls of Normandy
Hampshire in England – showed us how to achieve the perfect balance of city and country living. New friends introduced us to the joys of English pub culture.

For two weeks, we were the Laird and Lairdy of a modern castle!

Craufurdland Castle, Kilmarnock
We immersed ourselves in the rich and often quirky history and traditions of Scotland.
I hear the bagpipes calling!  Ian Smith, Balatar Bagpipes

 

Neil in a skirt…..kilt by Gordon Nicolson in Edinburgh
There are few places in the world as pretty as the Cotswolds – a cluster of quintessentially English villages straddling 5 counties.

Our Minchinhampton base put us close to these iconic villages.

Neil at the Secret Cottage, in The Cottwolds, UK
Ottery St Mary delivered the peace and tranquility of the East Devon countryside.

The large stately home came with an intriguing combination of pets.

Our love of animals lead us to a Sanctuary of very friendly donkeys…..and an American bald eagle called Baldrick!
Baldrick the Bald Eagle at Hawkridge Birds of Prey, Exmouth UK
We finished our year in a magnificent home high in the mountains of Umbria in central Italy.
La Fontainella in the mist
Being invited into the homes and lives of our warm and generous new friends and neighbours – was a highlight of our year of house sitting – and living like locals.
Italian Mummas in the kitchen

Village to Villa is based in reality – not everything goes to plan!  The animals have their own idea about the rules!

Bekky thinking about dinner

But they will always reward you with a special thank you for being there.

Living like locals in 4 very different countries – has given us an exceptional insight into other ways of life.
Harvesting the last of the olives

 

Maggie the truffle queen!

It’s shown us how to find the SPECIAL in the everyday.

Bellac France, in autumn

 

Chateau du Mauran irises
Village to Villa is a new way to experience travel and lifestyle from a fresh and personal perspective.

WHILE WE WERE TRAVELING – WE WERE SHOOTING AND WRITING A TV SERIES!

Village to Villa – living like locals through house sitting and pet sitting. Series 1 – 13 episodes are now in edit.

walking in Hampshire UK
Fortress St Giuliana, Umbria

Meet the crew.