Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Surprised by Bolsover

Here’s a little secret that not many people know. Derbyshire is home to one of England’s finest medieval attractions, Bolsover Castle. This place is not just a haven for time travellers, it’s also a great day out for families, as we discovered last Saturday. Despite quizzing my friends and neighbours in the village, it transpired that everyone has heard of Bolsover Castle but no one has been. Equipped with information provided by the site’s mangers, English Heritage, and a postcode for Tobias (our very posh SatNav speaker) we set out to conquer Bolsover. A 40 minutes drive from our home, and we began to see the majestic Castle towering down onto the village of Bolsover. This place has not one but two castles (well one fortress ruin and a Duke’s show home) to explore at your leisure. Our children loved the freedom of Bolsover Castle. Running from building to building and room to room they played hide and seek and re-enacted dungeons and dragons themes. They were in paradise, and we were happy to see them enchanted with this wonderful monument. They built mini castles and dressed up as Cavaliers in The Discovery Centre as well as marvelling at the displays of swordsmanship from the performing knights. We ate our picnic in the grounds, spent more than one penny in the sparkling clean toilets and where very tempted with the play swords from the shop. At a very reasonable price of just over £7 per adult for entry, we will be sure to return, especially as we discovered a CAMRA pub located just five minutes away. The Arkwright Arms may be a little tired in places yet you can’t fault the range of ales on offer or the dragon and shoe-house slides. The children once again surprised us with their endless energy to enjoy themselves by spending a good hour happily playing in the pub’s beer garden. Close the draw bridges Bolsover Castle, you’ve not seen the last of us.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Stuck in a rut

Is it just the curse of Chinley Chuckles or has the weather put a damper on my enthusiasm to become listed on Intervac? After spring cleaning the bedroom and photographing them, I’ve now come to a complete standstill. Part of my trouble is that I’m torn between looking for a job (yes that saga continues), general mother duties, and planning the forthcoming camping holiday to Bournemouth. Perhaps the truth is that our home needs more than just a quick dust and hoover for our listing on Intervac. Have other houseswappers experienced this problem before, I’d love to know your thoughts.
In an attempt to get motivated, I’ve put together a quick summary of items or jobs that I believe myself and other potential house swappers need to consider.

  1. Soul searching
Ask yourself if you’re ready to offer your home and not just your house and garden but bed linen, cutlery and possibly DVD collection to strangers? If not, then house swapping is isn't for you. Does the thought of living by someone else’s rules on holiday fill you with dread, especially when they are not around to enforce them? House swapping takes time and effort, although it’s worth it for the rewards, it’s not for everyone.

  1. Research the market
Take time to investigate the plethora of holiday swapping organisations available on the net. Don’t just look around these sites; find out what people, especially members, say about them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as the better informed you are the wiser your choice will be.

  1. Be an estate agent
Take a good look at your home and garden, and start to think as an estate agent would. Be honest and think how a holiday swapper would see your home. Would you like to stay in a house where the kitchen cupboard doors are falling off? Could you sleep in a bedroom without curtains? Don’t panic. View this time as the ideal opportunity to get all those nagging jobs around the home done. Your house does not have to be a Grand Design yet it does need to be clean and tidy.

Further reading about holiday house swapping from the Independent

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The house swap shop of sites

Well I’ve taken the bait to do a house exchange and now all that’s left is the mountain of tasks to set this objective in motion. One of the greatest challenges facing potential houseswappers is choosing where to advertise their homes. Luckily for me this decision has already been taken care off via my fairy PR mother. For the next 12-months our little house in the country will be available for holiday house swaps through intervac. Now before I launch into a sales pitch on our home, let’s take some time to discuss the range of houseswapping sites on that big wide web.

A quick Google lists an array of website offering this service. The big names in the business are;

Homelink – Established in 1953, this site is the oldest international home exchange organisation in the world. Currently run by a British couple in Winchester, it’s a very informative website with heaps of information. Although our home may not fit into its target bracket of show houses, it’s a fantastic resource for anyone who may be thinking about a houseswap.
Guardianhomexchange – If you’re house is more of a home rather than a showcase of the latest products and designs than this site could be for you. Not great on general houseswapping information so it’s probably best to do your homework elsewhere before you sign-up.
Luxehomesswap – In their own words ‘Luxe Home Swap offers a different spin on the well-established home exchange for vacations concept, focusing on a more stylish experience - with many homes you won't find listed anywhere else.’ This is one for Chinley Chuckles to dream about.
Intervac – This international outlet has been going for more than 50 years and has representatives in most countries to review all listings. As this is the site we’ve chosen to go with, you’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the future.
In addition to the big boys there are specialist holiday house exchange websites catering for families with children, people living on narrow boats and even teachers.
Canaljunction – If you’re looking for a novel houseswap then this site may be worth checking out. Homeowners can exchange their houses for a holiday on a narrow boat and vice versa.
Matchinghouses – Houseswappers that need to consider disabled access or have limited mobility can exchange with people with similar accessibility needs. The site has a range of properties in the UK and further afield.
NCT House Swap – Recommend by Prima Baby and Essentials this site caters just for families, and has been active since 1976. Chinley Chuckles has previously used this site and although the swap didn’t go to plan we couldn’t fault the website or its administrators.
Swap My City Pad – A relative newbie to the market place, this site is dedicated to city dwellers. If you’re an urbanite and would like to discover new cities around the globe then you’re probably best suited here.
Homes Around The World – For gay and lesbian houseswappers this resource lists homes and flats around the world for couples, singles and families. The site has now extended its network to include gay-friendly houseswappers.

Of course there are loads more holiday house exchange websites out there. This list is just a selection. If you’d like to add a site just include the details on the comments section or email me, and I’ll endeavour to include them.

Alternatively you could do as we have and just ask friends and family if they’d like to exchange homes. We’ve had a lovely houseswap in France, and we’re just started organising another one for later this year with some friends in Shrewsbury.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The journey begins for real this time

It’s been a long time. Didn’t know what to write. Couldn’t find the time to express myself.
There are many excuses for my absence yet the greatest hurdle was clarifying exactly what I was going to write about. Finally I think I’ve got an ‘issue’ or ‘story’ that I’d like to share with you.
Last week I was contacted by a fellow PR professional who asked me if I’d like to undertake a houseswap? The proposal was that I would gain free membership of their client’s holiday houseswapping online network in exchange for becoming a case study. With two houseswaps already under our belts I decided to take my colleague up on the offer; and to begin a diary of our next home exchange via my blog. My aim is to share the highs and lows of house swapping minus the glorified advertising claims you might read on the brochures.If you’ve got any advice on this subject I’d love to hear from you.

More very soon…I promise