Keeping the kids amused over a wet February half term without going near a softplay centre is always a good shout. This February we went on our eighth home swap, choosing to spend a week in a four bed house in Newlyn, Cornwall. You can read more about our homeswapping experience here, we’ve been members of a worldwide home exchange site for over ten years, although some years haven’t been active members with our homes being renovated and thus not able to be swapped. People are often curious when we tell them we house swap and you do get mixed reactions but touch wood we’ve not had a single bad experience. In fact I believe our home swaps are less hassle than a hotel holiday, plus they save us so much cash. Our first home swap to California (pre-children) cost us nothing but our flights. Last week’s trip to Cornwall ? Our only expense was the tank of petrol in my car and the frequent tea and cake stops we made each day throughout Cornwall!
There are other benefits to swapping, when I’ve been away on a package holiday I’ve always felt some anxiety about our home being left empty and vulnerable to intruders. With a swap you place your home in the hands of someone who equally is trusting you to respect and care for their home. We are respectful of the house we are in and are confident that the people we are swapping with are like minded.
Homelink has a huge directory of properties all around the world, you can search by date / location as well as more specific preferences such as whether you need pet care or whether your car is included in the swap or not. We only swapped cars once when we went to Florida, other times we’ve not needed to as we’ve been staying very centrally. Our California swap included bicycles and we spent our days cycling around sunny Belmont Shore, we then hired a car during the middle of our swap when we chose to explore Laguna and LA. You list a description of your home on the website including photos and then send and receive home exchange offers using the secure HomeLink messaging system – without revealing your personal email address. We’ve had offers from Australia, lots from Europe and throughout the UK. Australia is somewhere we’ll definitely swap with once the children are a little older and able to manage a long flight. A month in Australia with no accommodation costs – yes please.
Before you head off to your home swap you naturally tidy your home so that it looks its best. Floors are cleaned, refrigerator emptied, oven and hob are cleaned, bathrooms are cleaned and surfaces are dust-free. You also agree up front what you want to do with regarding to bedding and towels at the end of the swap. When we left Cornwall I placed our bedding in the washing machine and returned to our home to find all bedding washed and in the tumble dryer. The house was immaculate and we’d both left each other milk and bread.
As part of swapping each home leaves the guests arriving a simple home and location guide. This include local tourist information, instructions for household and electrical appliances, details of any pet and plant care required etc. Phone numbers of a recommended doctor, dentist, good restaurants, cafes and tourists attractions are also shared. We find this document invaluable, you get to go off the typical beaten track taking advantage of the locals knowledge, eating at those hidden gems that you wouldn’t always be aware of if you holidayed in the usual way. Its also a home swap tradition to leave a small gift of welcome: a bottle of wine or champagne, just something small so that your guests feel welcomed. When we left for Cornwall we left a bottle of wine, a pizza in the fridge, fresh doughnuts and croissants – as well as fresh flowers. We arrived to fresh flowers, wine, two boxes of biscuits and nuts, it’s a lovely touch.
So in summary I’d recommend Homelink and house swapping 100 x over, we’re off on our ninth house swap this August and are considering a possible winter sun swap over Christmas 2020.
We had a great week in Cornwall, our house swap home was located in Newlyn. This is a working fishing village and we felt it was well placed for exploring the rest of the Peninsula – Lands End is roughly 20min by car, Mousehole and Lamorna are also just around the corner and St Ives was one hour away.
Our favourite places we visited were:
- Falmouth was lovely to visit, we had lunch in Dolly’s Tea Room (famous for gin/wine/tea) and then explored the high street and harbour area browsing the shops. The high street was pretty buzzing and had more going on here than we found in Penzance.
- Sennen Cove – a wide sandy beach popular with surfers and families. Great facilities and parking. Nice pub Across from carpark- The Old Success, often has live music. Little Bo cafe down the road has an excellent Cornish breaky and lots of lovely cakes and coffee. At low tide the beach stretches to Gwynver. The coast path can be walked from Sennen Cove to Lands End for spectacular coastal views. Great surf school on the beach (Sennen Surf Centre) highly recommended for surfing lessons at a great price!!
- Porthcurno – A perfect sandy cove with coastal scenery below the fantastic Minack theatre. We didn’t get to visit the little Telegraph Museum that is here as it was out of season but this has a cafe, a restaurant, pub and ice cream stop by the car park with a toilet block. From the car park its just a short walk to stunning sheltered beach, we felt this was one of the nicest beaches we’ve been to in Cornwall. The sand was spotless and it was a beautiful cove. We enjoyed watching the waves crashing dramatically against the rocks here, then climbed the coast path up to the Minack Theatre. You can also reach the Minack by driving up the hill where there is plenty of parking. We caught the end of a children’s storytelling show when we arrived and then had lunch in the cafe. No ordinary cafe with incredible views across the sea. During proper performances there is usually pop up food places in car park at top too. Shows change weekly and vary widely, from musicals, theatre, opera, and singing groups. There is a small exhibition explaining about how Rowena Cade bought the site and built the theatre. The site is very steep so not recommended if you are a bit wobbly underfoot.
- Mousehole – I loved this lovely fishing village which is 2.5 miles from Penzance. It’s full of character and is very pretty with its small harbour. As we walked around it was clear that many of the properties in the village are holiday lets. There are a number of cafes and a couple of shops. We found it easier to park near the Rockpool cafe and then walk in to the harbour area of Mousehole. I highly recommend the Rockpool cafe, it is perched on the rocks overlooking the sea (and a large rockpool that is only visible during low tide). It sold lovely cakes and a great lunch selection. It’s also dog friendly if you are holidaying with your pooch.
- St Ives – Driving in to St Ives and you enter the town at the top of a hill, ahead of you is the beautiful view of this pretty spot. We found however that even in February (granted it was half term), parking was limited and we had to drive around and around to find a parking space. We stopped for (more) tea and cake as we explored the alleys, before making our way to the harbour front. Fore street has some great shops.
- Porthminster Beach – The gateway to St Ives town, boasts half a mile long strip of golden sand and crystal clear water. It offers safe swimming as well as organised beach activities for children in the Summer, mini golf and a fab cafe.
- Porthmeor Beach – Is St Ives largest beach, it has great surfing, good food, the Tate gallery and an open air cinema. Just up the road from the beach is a bowling green and mini golf, cafes and parking.
Other beaches which you can explore, but we didn’t get to go to include:
- Eastern Green – located just before Longrock beach and Marazion, which run into one. This is dog friendly with parking overlooking the beach, found via the level crossing opposite Long Rock Industrial Park.
- Marazion – long sand and pebble beach which stretches to Penzance. Good parking facilities and access for National Trust St Michael’s Mount. To visit the Mount, use the medieval cobblestone causeway at low tide and use the ferry when it is under water. We would have liked to have visit but were here out of season.
- Praa Sands – a huge sandy beach popular with families and surfers, with facilities and parking. There is good coast path walking to the east and west.
- Porth Chapel – a small but pleasant beach with spectacular scenery. Parking toilets and facilities are at Porthcurno.
- Gwynver Beach – A scenic white sand beach just north of Sennen. There is private parking on the owner’s property (about £3 for the day) and a steep path to the beach, but worth it. The beach is dog friendly and has great surfing but no facilities. In the house owner’s car park they have a toilet you can use and they often sell homemade fudge and jam from a little hut, which are very good. This is mostly a local’s secret as not signposted, before you get to Sennen you with see a sign for camping and it is down this road!
- Cape Cornwall – there is a small cove called Priest’s Cove with a pebble beach and lots of rockpools. There is also a small tidal pool. It is definitely worth climbing the footpath up to the Cape for spectacular views.
- Hayle Beach – an excellent three mile beach that stretches from Hayle Estuary to Gwithian Towans and Godrevy Point. The lower half of the beach is close to the town of Hayle and comprises different sections of beach known as Hayle Towans, Black Cliff and Mexico Towans.
- Gwithian Towans – effectively the middle part of Hayle Sands, a huge sandy beach which stretches from Hayle Estuary to Gwithian Towans and Godrevy Point. Gwithian is popular with surfers and families.
- Carbis Bay Beach – beautiful spot for sunbathing, water ski and wind surfing. Great restaurants and facilities and parking at hotel.
- Porthkidney Sands – Between Carbis Bay and Hayle estuary, is a local secret. There is small car park next to the church in Lelant, but you can also walk there along the coast path from Carbis Bay. Dog friendly.
We had two rainy mornings whilst we were there so we all went swimming at:
- Ships and Castles, Castle Drive, Falmouth TR11 4NG 01326 212129. Fun pool and swimming centre offering a 70m flume, a wave machine and rapid river ride, plus fitness gym.
- Penzance Leisure Centre St Clare, Penzance – 01736 874744. A 25 m pool and a heated learners pool.
If house swapping isn’t for you then there were plenty of Air B & B’s that we spotted in all the areas we stopped at, our favourites that we walked past were the Old Beach Store in Sennen, just three minutes from Lands End and right on Sennen Beach, this small but beautiful place in St Ives and Dolphin Cottage in Mousehole.