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!”
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!
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!
Our love of animals
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.
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.
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.
Why am I so drawn to animals? Animals are totally honest.
Animals love unconditionally. Pets bring so much joy.
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.
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 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.
My sister and I strolled with fully-grown cougar and Andy, her handler.
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.
Possibly the most joyous moment was sitting in the Meerkat enclosure at “Werribee Zoo”, as the inquisitive young ones climbed all over me!
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.
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.
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.
You can find the Hawkridge Birds of Prey Centre at Westdown Lane, Sandy Bay, Exmouth EX85BY.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
How about spending an entire month during the springtime, living in a French Chateau at no cost to you?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So when we set out on one of our many trips – we had a suit case each and ONE backpack of camera gear!
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.
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.