Bendylegs Granola

Monday, 24 October 2011

House Swapping - The Preparation

How to be a House swapper

Are you…

  • Adventurous 
  • Organised
  • Open minded
  • Good communicator 
  • Proactive

Ways to get started

1. Browse the website and find properties that you like the look of in a certain area. 
2. Join and then send emails to a short list of properties.
3. Join and wait to be contacted by other people.

Things you should ensure you do

1. Give plenty of details in your description.
2. Ensure you include (nice) photos of your house/area ideally when its tidy on a sunny day.
3. Add personal touches, number of kids, able to borrow equipment etc
4. Be honest - there is no point exaggerating or pretending to be nearer the beach than you are for example. They will find out when they arrive!
5. Always reply to any swap requests you get. These come in thick and fast when you first join and it is always nice to get an acknowledgement even it is a negative response so that you don't keep people hanging on and they can move on and find alternatives.
6. Be proactive. People can always say no to you. You loose nothing by asking. You never know. Remember it is not like for like. You may not see the potential in your house or area but others will. People want different things. As well as lots of families there are many retired couples on Homelink who have large properties but are happy to swap for much smaller properties in the right location.
7. You can arrange to exchange cars or pets if this works for you. Every arrangement is different and depends on the wants and needs of each party, this is where communication comes in. 
8. Exchange emails, get to know the other family. We have made some lifelong friends through house swapping who we will always keep in touch with.
10. Consider non-simultaneous swaps. This gives you more flexibility. People use this system if they have a holiday home or if they are already away on another booked holiday. Some people move in with family or friends for the 2 weeks to enable swappers to use your house so you can then use their fabulous 2nd home at another time.. it is all flexible.
11. Don't forget long weekends or short breaks in this country. There are many families in the London area who are desperate for a seaside destination for half terms so you can take the kids to London without the ridiculous expense of accommodation.
To prepare
1. De clutter - I see it as my yearly spring clean. A good excuse to tidy up and get rid of a load of toys or junk that has accumulated.
2. Get together an information pack
3. Emergency phone numbers.
4. Neighbours names, who to contact with a problem
5. Numbers for doctors, hospital, dentist, vet, electrician, odd job person, whoever they should contact
6. Information about the area.
7. Local shops.
8. Your favourite or top 10... Restaurants, cafes, walks, views etc. You can go into as much or as little detail as you want.
9. Collect leaflets from tourist information.
10. Take away menus.
11. Any local books you may have, local walks, maps.
12. Recent copies of What's On guide and local magazines.
13. Info on playgrounds, groups, libraries and rainy day kids activities.
14. Day trips further afield.
15. Some history of the area or a book.
16. Put all instructions to appliances in a folder so they are easy to find
17. Information re putting the bins out, post etc
18. Any internet passwords or alarm numbers

Before you leave

1. Leave house tidy and clean
It doesn't need to be spotless just clean and as you would want to find it.
2. Bedding - you can either leave bedding or strip and ask swappers to bring it depending, on what you prefer
3. Valuables - Lock anything you are worried about away or in a room or if you are really worried then take it to a family or friend. Remember this is a like for like agreement. There is more information about this on the Homelink website.
4. Sign a reciprocal document via the website about who is coming to stay and your expectations. You can personalise this as you want.
5. Discuss with the swappers about what you went them to do at the end. Strip beds? In the past we have arranged to have our house cleaned after as have they, so that no one has to leave the properties cleaning the floors behind them.
6. Tell your neighbours or family about your swappers. It is so lovely to have a helpful face pop in when you arrive check all is ok.
7. You can arrange to leave numbers for childcare or numbers of friends with kids the same age. It is a wonderful opportunity for kids to meet children from other countries and even to practice their language skills.
8. Tell your insurance company. They like to know and most companies have experience in house swapping. Your car insurers will need to know as well if you are going to swap cars. A lot of companies do not insure people from USA, we had to change insurers on one occasion to be able to get cover for them.
9. Leave a pint of milk and maybe a bottle of wine. we often leave local produce and have always come home to a gift and a lovely card.
10. Arrange where to leave the keys then lock your house and head off on your adventure feeling happy that someone will be enjoying your lovely home and the beautiful area that you live in while you are away and will probably leave it cleaner than you left it!
It sounds like a lot to do and the first time it is a bit daunting but then you bring out all the information every year and each time you do it things become easier. We have managed to arrange a couple of holidays within one year of our subscription so we have now let our subscription run out but will be rejoining next autumn to get planning the holidays the following year.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

House Swaps

This weekend we will be having a family to stay in our house while we are away. Not unusual, you may think. What is different about this family, is that we have never met them. We met online. They want to surf for the summer and we like skiing. We live near the beach and they have a ski chalet in the Alps. We got chatting and that was that. Simple. That is how house swapping works. Like-minded people sharing their home and what their area has to offer and getting the same in return. No money exchanges hands just top tips on places to go and things to do that you don't get from impersonal rental properties. I did a 'welcome pack' the first time with loads of information on walks, cafes etc and I dig that out every year, edit it, depending on what has come and gone, then leave it out. You can swap cars and look after their pets if you want to. If you've both got kids it is like Christmas for them when they get to the house and discover all the toys. I tend to leave a few local treats and a bottle of wine.. and a some Bendylegs, of course. We have returned each time to find the house clean and tidy with wine, flowers, lovely thank you cards and last year a piece of original artwork from the very talented artist who stayed here with her family.
Ah... I know what you are thinking... No, you don't have to live by the sea for this to work. There is something for everyone. Each swapper has different wants and needs when it comes to what they are looking for in a holiday. City breaks, location close to family, small village, isolation, hills, central location, history, charm, suburbia. We joined 3 years ago which is a well established organisation with 25 years in the business. We have only ever had positive experiences. We have not rejoined next year purely because we have our trip to the Alps to take at some point and we are hoping to swap again with the lovely couple we first swapped with in Tofino, Canada the following year. I have no doubt we will rejoin after this. This will be our 5th swap in total. Tofino, Oxfordshire, rural France, Flaine and now Morzine. You can sit back and wait for people to contact you, but the best way to swap is to open up your mind to all sorts of possibilities and destinations, send out lots of e mails to places you like the look of, and see what you get in return. The more proactive you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. You can have a snoop on the website at all the potential houses you could swap with before you join as well.
If you are anything like me then the problem is actually saying no. We have been offered Dubai, Perth, Florida, Norway, Denmark and countless holidays in Europe. My poor, long suffering other half lives in constant dread, I am sure, of me saying 'We've had a swap offer... what about we go to.......' He listens (ish), nods, makes that 'mmmm.. really...?' face and then reminds me that the reason he lives here is because he likes being here... just occasionally... to enjoy it too.
So, try it. See where it takes you. You never know. Some friends of ours swapped their Cotswold cottage for what was essentially a private island in the Caribbean where the fisherman delivered a fresh catch everyday.... now, that reminds me. I wonder whether they'll fancy Christmas in Swansea. I'll get on to them....

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

We nearly got a third place....

Tri Bendylegs rider stripped of 3rd place 
Despite the horrible conditions, 11 members of Tri Bendylegs completed the Gower Triathlon held in Port Eynon last Saturday. Tri Bendylegs is a group of friends, from over the country, sponsored by Bendylegs Granola, who have joined forces this year to raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society and Swansea SCBU. Between them they are competing in a series of short and long course triathlons. Some have done some for the first time and others are more experienced. The fund raising will continue into the autumn when 2 members of the group will be taking part in the first Ironman competition to be held in Wales in Tenby. Fundraising to date is over £500. All donations welcome. 
All the competitors had a great race, despite the heavy sea swell and the driving rain, especially Stacy Turner from Bristol who came third out of over 300 competitors. Unfortunately, he was disqualified for dangerous driving after finding himself on the wrong side of the road on one section of the bike course. Stacy had just returned from a week biking in France which led to the confusion. Surely, the weather was a bit of a give away that he wasn’t in France! His team mates all enjoyed giving him a hard time about it but he really was very lucky not to have been injured thanks to the race marshals quick action. 
The Gower Triathlon is one of the fantastic events put on over the summer by Scott and Gareth from Tri and Enter ( They are open to anyone and everyone. They are brilliantly organised and great fun. There is an Olympic distance Triathlon in Port Eynon on 1st October and a short course fancy dress triathlon that Tri Bendylegs will be entering as a team. 
Triathlons sound daunting but the short course ones are really achievable with some basic training. You get a little taste of everything. Swimming, biking and running. You really do feel amazing when you get to the finish and everyone cheering you on keeps you going to the end. Then you go home with a smile on your face, and that feeling of bendylegs, knowing that you have done something that you didn’t think you were capable of doing. 
Go on. Have a go.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Live Bendylegs

Recently,  I came across a survey suggesting some worrying statistics which added fuel to my quest to get people spending more time outside.
  • 24% of British children rarely play outdoors.
  • British kids spend twice as much time watching TV as they do outside.
  • One third of families spend time outdoors less than once a month.

There are simple, cheap and easy ways of encouraging kids to explore nature and to see going for a walk as potentially more enjoyable as a trip to the soft play centre or the cinema. This website has some great ideas and nature pass challenges that can give you some tips as to what to do when you are out and about with the kids.

Wherever you live in the UK you are never far from a park or open space and often a short drive to the woodlands, hills or the coast. We are famed for complaining about the weather but that is no excuse and shouldn't stop us... ok, it would be nice if it was a little more predictable...
In Tofino, on the West coast of Vancouver Island we first came across the popular hiking mantra 'There is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing or equipment.' Here, they successfully market their weather system with 'Storm watching' packages available at the hotels along with coats and wellies...

Maybe we should be taking a leaf out of their book.


Turn off the TV
Go for a walk
Get on your bike

Take the kids on a nature treasure hunt
Count flowers, mole hills, dogs, different types of trees as you walk
Get them to search for triangles or circles around them
Keep them interested

Have a picnic in the garden

Fill a bucket with water and bubbles
Play party games in the park or on the beach
What's the time Mr Wolf
Hide and Seek
Stuck in the mud

British Bulldogs
Shadow chasing
Capture the flag

If they get bendylegs on the way home...try Grandmother's Footsteps. This has got my kids home up many a hill....

Monday, 9 May 2011

London Town

We are home from our road trip/mini break in London for the Real Food Festival. I'm not really sure where to start! On hearing on the way down to London that I was on the stall next to my pal and Gower celebrity Kate, provider of brownies to the rich and famous, I knew we were going to have a ball. There were too many highlights to mention. Sales weren't great but they weren't for anyone. It seemed like more of an exhibition and advertising event rather than a market. Those that tasted Bendylegs seemed to like it and plenty of people smiled and asked about the name. These events are more about the people you meet and what you can learn from other people and, as a new girl, this experience was invaluable. Any market is made by your neighbours. Kate, Rob and lovely Sophie (scouse) Elf from Gower Cottage Brownies, James from Trealy Farm and Pie Man (Robert from Tractor Pies, North Wales). We sold, we laughed, we moaned, we helped each other out. We traded our goods between us for lunch/breakfast and we had a little drink or two together once the sun was past the yard arm.... just.... Yesterday, it felt like leaving a bunch of people after a weeks holiday together!
Other highlights for me were meeting the lovely Masterchef boys of the class of 2010 Druv, Alex and Tim, meeting the hilarious Rhodri Williams and watching Kate from GCB begging Jay Rayner for his address to send him brownies. That girl is THE most amazing saleswoman! So, its all over. Back home to sell and to follow up all the exciting possibilities that could be in the pipeline for Bendylegs... I never realised how tiring standing still was until last night when I definitely had Bendylegs and then, after a day with the kids bouncing off the walls, standing still doesn't seem so exhausting after all...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Bendylegs Story

Bendylegs was created by me, Jo Watkins, a GP, wife, mother of two, and lover of the outdoors from Mumbles on the beautiful Gower Peninsula, South Wales. After a trip to see family in Canada, I became hooked on their homemade granola and came home to find all the brands on the shelves were too sweet or oily. I set about creating a fantastic tasting, healthy granola that would enable my family to eat a good balanced breakfast, giving slow release energy to last the day. I sourced a mixture of organic and local products to give Bendylegs a strong Welsh provenance. Friends and family tried it... they loved it. I approached local cafes and delicatessens. They tried it. They stocked it. People bought it. That is how it all began... Having left my regular GP job I now work freelance as a GP to enable me to grow my business and juggle a busy family life. I sell my product in local high end delicatessens, farm shops, B+B’s and hotels. Bendylegs is also available online. 
Bendylegs has no additives, no preservatives, no added salt and is made using only natural sugars. I use Welsh apple juice and Welsh rapeseed oil with pure Canadian maple syrup to give an extra special flavour and to remind us of our cousins in Vancouver. Over the past year, Bendylegs has become a well known and loved local brand putting a healthy breakfast on people’s kitchen tables and gracing the menus of the independent cafes. Through my website I showcase other local businesses and producers in the area and further afield in Wales. 
Bendylegs is more than just another granola. It is a way of life.  My vision is to encourage people to eat a good, healthy, balanced breakfast before getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors, so that at the end of each day you feel you have lived every minute. 
Why Bendylegs? This is a term first used by my nephew Charlie in 2003 after a long, windy beach walk in Tresaith, West Wales on the final stretch home...‘I can’t walk up the hill, I’ve got bendylegs’
When did you last have Bendylegs?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Road Trip

My hubby and I have just been on a road trip. 4 sleeps away from the kids leaving them at home with Granny North and Grandad. We slept through everynight... unlike the kids by all account.. We had planned to go skiing but we have both been poorly and so have the kids so Europe seemed a long way away so we decided to stay close. We went up to North Wales on Sunday and spent a couple of days mountain biking in Llandegla, Nr Wrexham and visiting friends and family.

We set off home on Wednesday stopping for a bike in Coed y Brenin near Machynlleth, a night in the lovely Fron Haul B+B in Abderdovey then we stopped off all the way home visiting lovely delis, handing out Bendylegs for people to try and meeting some great people along the way. It felt reminiscent of our trip this time 6 years ago around New Zealand. Each time I have been away traveling, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, I have come home and wondered why, despite our beautiful country and all it was to offer, we don't 'do' tourism better here in Wales.

The fact is that things have changed.

Wales has everything.

We've always had the stunning coastline, huge mountain ranges, rolling green hills, passionate and friendly locals and hundreds of castles but now we are also proud to offer very special places to stay, award winning produce and restaurants, some fantastic independent shops and galleries, arts, culture and outdoor activities that are world class.

Llandegla, Coed y Brenin and the other mountain bike centres in Wales are a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts who travel from all over the world to come and do the purpose made downhill tracks. They all have walking/running trails and family bike trails as well. There is something for everyone. Coed y Brenin in particular has a great playground and cafe with views over the river. Llandegla boasts the best bacon sandwich in the UK and a great cafe with wireless internet and comfy sofas. You can hires bikes from both places but walking is free.

Next time you are passing any of the mountain bike centres in Wales, stop... and have a look. Maybe even have a go, I'd forgotten how much fun it was...