• Jeff & Katie Miller

The English Countryside through Airbnb

During the first two weeks that Katie and I were in Leeds, we booked two Airbnb’s on two different Saturdays in order to “fill the gap” between our different hotel stays.

This was the first time we had used Airbnb, and looking back, we were very grateful that we had the option. Our experiences with both stays were pretty great on average, and definitely better than what we expected.

What is Airbnb?

For those of you that don’t know, Airbnb is a website which allows people who are looking for a reasonably priced place to stay – and who don’t mind staying in a stranger’s house – to chose from a selection of hosts who offer lodging at a price that is usually much better than what your would pay at a hotel.

After staying with a particular host, you can then rate that host based on your experience with them, as well as describe your experience in a comment on the website. This helps future Airbnb-ers decide which hosts are good to stay with, and which you may want to avoid.

The host, in turn, can do the same for you, giving a rating and comment that describes you as a guest, so that future hosts can see what they might be getting into. This system is nice in that it helps keep both hosts and guests accountable for how they treat each other.

The reason Katie and I chose to use Airbnb is that it offered a wide selection of reasonably priced options around Leeds, as well as last-minute availability, both of which we really needed.

First Experience – Morley

Our first experience with Airbnb took us to the Leeds suburb of Morley. Since our stay was just for one night over the weekend, we didn’t need to be within walking distance of the University, and going outside of the center of Leeds really helped us keep the price down.

Our host’s name was Tim, who appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, and lived in a fairly-tight-but-nice, two-story, brick house with his partner, James.

Tim was very nice, welcoming, and accommodating with our arrival time, which is another benefit of using Airbnb: often times the host will work with you on when you “check-in” and “check-out”, whereas hotels are usually more rigid about these timeframes.

At Tim’s place, Katie and I had a private bedroom, and a nice, spacious bathroom right outside our door which was shared with the hosts.

This was when we first realized how awkward it can be to stay in a stranger’s home as opposed to a hotel. As unfamiliar guests, our natural inclination was to be quiet, and as a result we spent the entire time whispering whenever we spoke, and it felt super weird being in someone else’s house to stay over without really knowing them, especially while they were in such close proximity the whole time (e.g. running upstairs to use the restroom right outside your room, hanging out watching TV like normal in the living room downstairs, sleeping in the bedroom right next to ours, etc). It just felt strange.

Regardless, we had a pretty good time watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on UK Netflix, and deciding on the flat we were finally going to sign for later that week.

The next day, the kitchen was offered to us to make our own breakfast if we wanted to go to the store to bring something back to cook. Suffice it to mention here that although the website is called “Airbnb”, the “b” traditionally meant for “breakfast” is less relevant than the “b” for “bed”, as breakfast isn’t always a guaranteed service. The good thing though is that you know ahead of time whether or not breakfast will be provided from the description on the host’s Airbnb page.

We decided to skip all that, and just headed back to our hotel in the early afternoon to check into a new room for the next few days, satisfied overall with our first Airbnb experience, but not overwhelmingly exhilarated, nor super anxious to do it again.

Second Experience – Pudsey

Our second experience with Airbnb was a far more enjoyable one, with some great surprises.

The following weekend, this stay took us out to the further Leeds suburb of Pudsey, to a location which was actually more on the edge of town, to a home situated on the side of a picturesque valley.

The street our hosts lived on was very quiet and quaint, their house being among a row of charming old buildings opposite a stone retaining wall, lined above with a forest of trees, grass and brush.

Despite discovering that our host’s house was under some degree of renovation, it was nonetheless pretty cool in its design, and deceptively so.

Pulling up to it, it appeared as if it was a simple, two-story cottage-like building (not shown here, for their privacy). Stepping inside, we were greeted immediately by our warm and welcoming hosts, who I’ll call Roger and Cindy.

They lead us from the entryway of their house into a central staircase, revealing that there was more to this somewhat split-level house than what had originally met the eye.

Going down the stair case, you found yourself in what appeared to be a basement, but which had a sizable exterior door, that was actually more like a formal-looking front door than the door that we entered through off of the street in front of the house, and that led to a large, private back yard surrounded by tall trees and bushes.

Also residing in this inviting lair were several four-legged companions who were excited to see us; three charismatic dogs that were kept on the basement level by a wooden swing-gate with a latch at the bottom of the steps.

As for our bedroom, it was located on the top floor of the house, which felt curiously high to me considering how the house looked from the street, but a perception I found to be accentuated by the natural descent of the valley hill behind the house.

We ascended up the winding right angles of the wooden staircase, past several other wooden doors that we would never see opened, and upon reaching our room at the summit and looking back down through the center of the steps and banisters, it felt as if we were staying at the whimsical Weasley residence from the Harry Potter movies.

Our room was clean and cozy, with low ceilings and two twin beds with floral comforters, a floral couch, and a tight, enclosed, private bathroom complete with shower. There was one window in our room, and while its inset position didn’t necessarily beckon one to gaze out, it was through this window that we caught our first spectacular view over the valley behind the house.

Roger explained to us that this was the “Tongue” valley, or the “Tang” valley; I wasn’t able to comprehend the spelling because of the accent. Regardless, we were immediately thrilled.

A Chance Meeting

After Katie and I settled in, we decided we’d like to find a grocery or convenience store to get some food for the evening. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, and still light out, so we asked Roger for directions, which he was happy to give us, and were off.

We grabbed the camera, and leaving their house, we turned out onto the street back toward the direction from which we had arrived, and walked along the aforementioned stone wall, capped with greenery, and took pictures of the road, the row of houses and buildings, the valley that we could see over the tops of the buildings on our right as we rose with the incline of the rode.

We came to a path off the street on the left that Roger told us that we should cut through to get to a neighborhood that we would then walk through to get to another main road, on which we would finally find the convenience store.

Like the street we had been on, the path was also upward-sloping, and led from our immediate neighborhood upward and through a pasture, and as we rose up the hillside, the views of the valley over the rooftops only got better and better.

We followed the path until we came out into the less-charming neighborhood that Roger promised we would find, followed the small street through the two story uniform houses with their quintessential big bay windows, and listened for the sound of fast moving cars, which reassured us that we were still heading the right direction.

When we reached the faster moving traffic, and looked to our right, we finally spotted the convenience store. Inside, we grabbed some bread, lunch meat, and some snacks to get us through the night and headed to the checkout.

At the checkout, we struck up a conversation with an Indian gentlemen (indeed, the stereotype of Indians running convenience stores and gas stations as a common profession appears to be as equally purported in England as in the US), who, recognizing our accents, asked us where we were from.

After telling him that we were originally from Illinois, we were almost completed floored when he mentioned that, not only did he himself have relatives who lived in Illinois too, they actually lived in ARCOLA(!), the same place where, as he put it, “The Amish people live”.

Katie and I couldn’t believe it. The bizarrest of bizarre events, if you could imagine; standing in a random convenience store in a random English suburb on a different continent speaking with a random Indian gentleman who just happened to have family in an area that you’ve visited, driven through, or had conversations about a hundred times since you were a kid… small, flipping, world.

After laughing for a few moments at our serendipitous encounter, we headed back to our home-for-the-night, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing up in our room, trying desperately to stay warm for a couple of hours and then chatting it up with Roger for about twenty minutes before going to bed as he crawled under the in-table in our room with a wrench that he would then use to loosen a valve in our radiator that he couldn’t believe wasn’t working properly, but, once fixed, would ensure we kept toasty the remainder of the stay.

And he was right.

Strolling the Countryside

The next day, Katie and I got up late and made our way downstairs to where breakfast had been laid out for us in the dining area of “the lair”. The radio was playing quietly in the painted concrete-floored dining room, with sunlight shooting in through the window above the sitting nook.

The dining room table was set cutely and formally for us, and Cindy wore an apron as she brought us orange juice and milk for our cereal, along with other here’s and there’s.

Where Cindy was more quiet and reserved, Roger was quite the conversationalist, and we had an spectacularly entertaining talk with him about his children and the stories behind the canines that swirled around us as we ate.

After breakfast, Katie and I headed out into the back yard to get some fresh air. Two of the dogs joined us, and they chased each other around, the bigger, light brown, boxer-like dog doing more of the chasing and the poor Spaniel really just fighting to stay alive.

Roger and Cindy soon joined us in the back yard as well, and we stood there chatting it up (a bit about Donald Trump, of course) and other random topics in the cool morning air.

It was quiet and relaxing, and whereas staying in Morley felt more like staying at a stranger’s house, staying in Pudsey felt closer to hanging out with family or friends.

Katie and I planned on heading back to our hotel in Leeds later in the afternoon, and decided beforehand to take some time to  see what there was to see up the other end of the street from Roger and Cindy’s house.

Our first stop was right after the end of the row of buildings that Roger and Cindy’s house was in, and where we were caught for a few moments by another pleasing view of the valley.

We then continued on up the road, and came upon another group of more modern-looking houses on the hillside, and then a pub further up on the right, where we were excited to see three full-grown horses stopped next to another stone wall. As we got closer, it appeared that the riders were actually kids, supposedly equestrian students, who appeared to have stopped there for refreshments (hopefully the non-alcoholic kind).

Coming up right next to the pub, and as we continued to check out the horses, we came upon an unpaved, stoney, single-lane, country road, that hooked back to the left and down the hillside.

A neighbor’s tiny dog ran out into the street from underneath the driveway gate of his master’s house, and kept us company for a short while as we made our way down this road, hopping up on yet another wall of uneven stone, just to make sure the coast was clear for us before running off ahead.

We wondered if we should try to return him, but he seemed to know his way around pretty well, so we decided not to worry about him. It seemed that the entire area was pretty laid back, with not much vehicular traffic to worry about to begin with.

We discovered a huge pastureland, where the grass was very green against the equally green backdrop of the opposite side of the valley. There were many horses grazing on the other side of the barbed wire fencing and further across expansive terrain, along with a charming farm house, and even more dogs popping up here and there.

And if the abundant presence of horses and equestrians wasn’t already enough to show someone what living in this neck of the woods was really all about, the weather-worn inscription on the wall next to the gate behind us would certainly accomplish the task:

“Riding turns I wish into I can”.

Corny, but telling. Haha.

It was all quite enough to make us want to stay another night, but we hung out for just a few more minutes, and then slowly headed back to Roger and Cindy’s place to gather our things; sad to go.

After bringing our stuff down the winding staircase one last time, we ordered our Amber car, and Roger and Cindy both hung out with us by the front door, chatting it up once more, until the car pulled up outside. We wished each other well, and as Katie and I headed back to our hotel, we felt especially grateful for the opportunity to have had such a nice, laid back, fresh and sunny reprise from our daily thoughts and stresses for few hours, with a few, new, two- and four-legged friends, in the English countryside.

— For privacy reasons, the names of the Airbnb hosts mentioned in this blog have been changed.

Photo Credit: Katie Miller

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