As I sit in the very comfortable business lounge in Doha, en route for my Brisbane home, I am reminiscing about the last couple of months when, once again we have enjoyed back to back house swaps. We had 6 back to back home exchanges this trip, two in Edinburgh, one in Orkney, one in St Andrews, one in Iceland and one in Stirling. We wanted the focus of this trip to be Scotland, and enjoyed the benefit of not only the wonderful sightseeing, but also catching up with friends and family. As often happens, I have been asked numerous questions about home exchanging.
The huge bonus is that we lived in lovely, comfortable homes for free. Our hosts left details of the off the beaten track places to visit (especially helpful in Iceland) which enabled us to visit special places that often only local people can visit. Was terrific. We were in very comfortable accommodations, often with donated wine and snacks, and always the full use of their commodities such as washing detergent, condiments, herbs, cooking oils etc. Of course we leave all of this for our visitors too, why wouldn’t we? Our rule is if we leave it in the house, please feel free to use it. If you finish the last of anything, please replace it, but only if you finish the last (eg cling film). An oft asked question is, do we pay for linen or electricity and gas. The answer is NO. Everything is free and we negotiate with many people to do a car swap too, which makes the travel extra easy.
Many people ask me about about how we do home exchanges. I have written the practical guide which you can find as a very inexpensive ebook on Amazon (with a free kindle download if you need one to read it). You can also ask me any further questions here if you have any burning questions. I really dont know why more people don’t travel this way. Such luxury. Why pay for a small hotel suite when you can luxuriate in an entire house with extras such as swimming pools, views to die for, and hot tubs, for free?
Iceland is mostly volcanic and some of the lava filled areas make you feel like you are walking on the moon.
Icelandic people generally speak excellent English and are very friendly. Their place names tend to have an enormous amount of letters in them and are very difficult to pronounce.
There are many hot springs throughout Iceland and we visited two, one being the oldest swimming pool in Iceland and the other being the Blue Lagoon which is really created for tourists rather than being authentic. We much preferred the more natural one where we could see the water being fed in through the hot springs and local geysers. The original “geyser” was in Iceland and all others have been named after that one. The original is currently dormant but is surrounded by very active ones.
The scenery in Iceland is breathtaking and well worth a visit. There are many tourist there at this time of year not only from Europe but also from USA as it is only a 5 hour flight from Boston.
Iceland is a very expensive place to eat and drink, yet the food was all worth trying. After all, where else in the world could we eat rotting shark, minke whale, puffin birds and horse?
Our next home exchange was a wee country cottage in the East Newk of Fife. Near St Andrews, an old university town in the Kingdom of Fife. We had a great time meeting up with my family and visiting the many quaint fishing villages along the east newk. We also had a great night with the neighbours to the cottage who showed us amazing Scottish hospitality. We visited the famous Wemyss Ware pottery and watched local potters at work.
Still in Orkney, braving the winds and enjoying the Orkney Show today. The locals know to wear their welly boots as the mud is very thick. Had a great day out viewing the local cattle and sampling the local oatcakes, cheeses, whisky and beer. Ye canny whack it! Also saw a spectacle. A local custom of “blackening”. A group of lassies running through the crowds, whistles blowing until they caught one lassie who is seemingly about to be married. They covered her in tomato sauce and black treacle and stuck rice crispies and other bits to her and then threw her into a cart and paraded her around the town. A local custom seemingly. Very quaint.
I’ve never seen a road sign like this before. I suppose I have never been in Otter country either. Nor have I seen a car sign quite like this one!
After driving to the northern most tip of the Scottish mainland at John O Groats, we took a ferry to The Orkney islands which are situated to the north.
The smooth ferry crossing arrived at St Margaret’s Hope on Orkney and we the short distance to our newest home exchange, an ex WWII radar bunker, now converted with a very comfortable and cosy modern house on top with all mod cons. It’s a lot of fun exploring the various old rooms downstairs in the house, the original WWII doors are still there. This is our base for the next ten days and we have been making the most of every day.
There is so much to see and do on these islands which have amazing history from Neolithic times, through to Viking invasions and then the scene of great sea battles during both World Wars. We overlook the historic Skapa Flow, a natural 100squ mile harbor where the German Navy scuttled its fleet of 70 ships in WW1. We drove over the Churchill barriers, built by Italian prisoners of war in WWII to connect some of the tiny islands and to stop enemy submarines sneaking in to torpedo the British Naval ships.
There is an abundance of natural birdlife on the islands attracting many visitors. We also have ponies and chickens in our garden (which consists of three fields as well as home made dry stane dyke walls). I have even managed a few geocaches during our gallivanting around.
Ten days is hardly enough to explore these wonderful islands, we find new places to visit daily.
The countryside in the border country between Scotland and England is particularly spectacular. Apart from eating the local Selkirk Bannocks (a delicious fruit bread with a distinctive flavor) we explored the area, taking time to wander around and enjoyed the local gardens and especially enjoyed our visit to Melrose Abbey which was built in the thirteenth century by the monks.
We had a family Sunday lunch at my cousins in South Queensferry. She has magnificent views over the three bridges spanning the river Forth. The newest bridge is still under construction and is nearly complete. I remember walking over the last “new” bridge when it was completed in the mid 1960s.
We took a leisurely drive, stopping frequently, from South Queensferry to North Queensferry, Inverkeithing, Dalgety, Aberdour, Burntisland , Kinghorn and finally my old home town of Kirkcaldy.
The towns all looked very similar to how I remember them and the river is much cleaner now that all of the coal mines have shut down. Years ago it was common in Kirkcaldy to see people gathering sea coal from the beach to burn for heat. Those days have luckily long gone.
Visiting Glasgow is always a lot of laughs. The Glaswegian sense of humour is renowned. We visited the People’s Palace where we saw Billy Connelly’s original Banana Welly Boots he used in his routines as well viewing some great old comedy favourites such as Francy and Josey, Stanley Baxter and Rab C Nesbit, all famous Scottish comedians.
We visited my cousin’s allotment down by the river Clyde. The ingenuious uses that were made of old pallets, baths, showers, sinks and fridges was amazing and I returned with fresh home grown vegetables which was a bonus too.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was magnificent with splendor, Glasgow really has transformed from the old industrial city to one of much more culture but never forgetting its sense of humour which was epitomized to me in the blue door plaque on one of the city centre buildings.