The Wonderers Return

We were due to be at an intentional community In Devon this week and next week but when I emailed them to confirm the details they said they had re-read our initial email and were worried we would not learn enough from them. They were concerned that we were looking to find hosts who could show us about self-sufficiency, green technology and rearing livestock and they are none of those things. They said they would love to meet us and we would be very welcome to come as there was always something to do in their communal gardens but we felt two weeks would be too long to spend somewhere that didn’t cover enough of the things we want to learn about. So we made contact with another couple of hosts on our reserve list. One was not able to accomodate us but the other, back in Glastonbury again could take us for the second week. That was enough to persuade us to take Jill at Middlewick Holiday Cottages up on her offer to ‘come back any time’. We had stayed in touch with a couple of phonecalls anyway, so it was simply a matter of seeing which cottages she had room in and what time we could arrive.

We’ve had another lovely week here, helping with various tasks as diverse as trimming hedges, mowing lawns, manning the office, tidying the library, converting an old red telephone box into a very small tourist information centre, filling up salt and pepper pots, serving breakfast to a group of Italians, cleaning windows, scrubbing the swimming pool steps, lighting the fire in the pizza oven, feeding the chickens and tending the vegetables. Enough glimmers of growing and animals to keep our hand in WWOOFing-wise and sufficient touches of luxury in the shape of proper beds, baths, large kitchens and of course the swimming pool and steam room to make it feel like a mini break!

Star has been happy to be back with Maggie the dog  with the added attraction of chickens and horses:

Dragon has very much enjoyed learning how to drive the quad bike, practising his Harry Potter / Jedi / Pirate moves with sticks /swords / wands / light sabres and some space to spread out all his drawing materials and get creative:

Ady celebrated his birthday too this week, the first of the birthdays we’ll spend away from home. We managed to get cards from friends and family send here, presents delivered bought online and had the day off ‘work’. We spent it doing the couple of things we’d not managed to get round to last time we were in Glastonbury and had wished we’d done; visiting the Chalice Well & Gardens  where we drank some of the water and had a quick bathe in the water too, reputed to have healing properties. I’m not sure if I believe in such things but it certainly felt lovely to put my shoes back on again after such shockingly cold water!

The other Glastonbury experience we had missed time we were here was fish & chips at Knights, an award winning F&C shop. We’d meant to get there but the only time we were organised to be there when we were hungry it was closed last time we were here. This time we managed to get there at lunchtime 🙂

It’s been nice to be somewhere where people already know our story, we have met new more people as well as strengthening links with people in this area. We’re looking forward to our next host; a week shared between two neighbouring farms.

Bad: missed farm-like jobs, I find gardening a bit boring (qualified that it is no one’s fault as she knows this is not a farm, just that she loves being on a farm!)
Good: Got to spend time with Maggie (the dog) and Jill again.
Learnt: How you can furnish a house for free – not technically learnt from Middlewick, we visited a neighbour who have furnished their entire shell of a house using free stuff from freecycle / friends / rubbish and it is fabulous, Star was very impressed 🙂

Bad: The cottages have been very busy, fully booked most of the time which has meant we have not had the run of the place as much as we did last time.
Good: Spent lots of time pretend sword fighting with Daddy
Learnt: How to drive the quad bike.

Bad: Missed Johnnie, Jill’s husband who was here more last time and we only saw briefly last weekend.
Good: The hospitality and generosity of Jill has been amazing once again, it’s a fab place to be with stunning scenery and a great place to spend time. Also it was nice to be somewhere that feels like a home away from home for my birthday.
Learnt: About repairing a rotten wooden window frame from spending some time with the carpenter working here.

Bad: It’s been a more sedentry week for me, less time spent outdoors and rather more sitting down. Nice, certainly but  not good for me, particularly when coupled with our own kitchen to cook bigger dinners in!
Good: Lovely to see everyone here again, have a rest from Willow in a real bed, with access to bath, swimming pool etc. A busman’s holiday certainly as we’ve carried on working but a slight rest nonetheless.
Learnt: more about the hospitality business; we got involved in catering for breakfast, more housekeeping and I spent several ‘shifts’ covering the office answering the phone and checking emails.

Middlewick Cottages

Today we said teary goodbyes and gave hugs to all at Middlewick before hitting the road again and heading Devon-way again to host number four. We’ve arrived and are currently enjoying an amazing view including a little corner of sea through a gap in hills. We’re in the van for tonight at least as the owner is away until tomorrow so we’re on hook up in their little camping field and are enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and the prospect of a relaxing evening before starting work tomorrow.

So a round up of Middlewick, host number three. A fab place to spend two weeks – we had a really good time there, loved the company and surroundings and enjoyed what was effectively a break from WWOOFing as we went back into luxury holiday cottage accomodation and had access to the swimming pool, massages and other home comforts. We slipped back into our old dynamics rather with later nights, evening glass of wine or two, TV watching etc. but were all very aware it was an exception to this year rather than a return to the norm.

It would have been all too easy to carry on there and it certainly added plenty to our lists of what we do and don’t want eventually and prolonged our time in Somerset, giving us another insight into that part of the country. We got a lot out of our time at Middlewick, Dragon and Star had loads of freedom, adopted Maggie the resident dog and spent hours walking with her out in the surrounding fields. A lovely moment I will take with me from there is standing chatting with Ady in the sunshine and catching a distant glimpse of the kids and dog in a field across the hills, all running with hair streaming behind them. Although the work wasn’t ticking boxes in terms of our learning objectives for the year it was still very interesting and varied with the very large added advantage of Ady and I spending lots of time working together. In previous years we have worked together a fair bit and always enjoyed it; it’s nice to be reminded of those aspects of our relationship and partnership. We have very complementary skills and make a good team, helping each other amd enjoying each others’ company. It’s also good to be impressed with those qualities in each other again, remembering we are not just co-parents or paying the bills in the same house but are actually first and foremost a couple.

Jill & Jonathan, along with all of the other people at Middlewick were a fab bunch to spend time with and get to know. We enjoyed their company, felt like part of a team doing something worthwhile and working together making headway. More people’s names have been added to my phonebook as friends and I know our paths will cross again and we’ll be visiting there again in the future.

It was one of many fortunate path crossings with someone unexpected, deviating from our planned path and saying yes to an opportunity that arose from nowhere that I suspect may make up a fair chunk of the twists and turns of this year. What could have potentially been a very early pitfall appeared in the shape of two hosts unable to take us after all (one due to ill health, the other due to some other unidentified issue) and ended up costing us money in campsite fees and food was answered in the shape of a chance meeting with Jill who happened to need some willing hands to help out. I love the way it all fell perfectly into place and became a great solution for everyone with new friendships forged at the same time.

Bad: No livestock (although there are sheep and chickens planned)
Good: Really enjoyed playing with Maggie the dog and I saw a stag deer.
Learnt: How to play various card games.

Bad: Not as many children to play with (in comparison to Steward Wood, for example)
Good: Saw a stag deer, really enjoyed the swimming, liked choosing my own food all week.
Learnt: How quickly we slipped back into old ways once we were in a house again – using loads of electricity, water, gathering things we don’t really need again, got lazy.

Bad: Leaving! Really missing it there, I enjoyed it a lot but it was bad to get back into creature comforts and luxuries of four walls, a bed and a bath again. I thought I would really appreciate those luxuries when we were in the tent and campervan but very quickly I was taking it all for granted again.
Good: Being made to feel so welcome and being taken into their world, we really felt like part of the team, took us on face value, trusted and valued.
Learnt: I didn’t learn any new skills- I was gardening, tidying, working with mowers. But I did learn how easily we judge people and shouldn’t. We have mixed with people now who live in the woods with dreadlocks, millionaires with successful businesses, people like us living in vans and everyone has a story to tell, something to teach you and an interesting idea to share.

Bad: I felt we really lost focus of all our aims for the year. I found myself stressed one evening when I hadn’t turned the immersion on for an instant hot water bath, we slipped back into patterns of behaviour such as drinking alcohol, using electrical appliances, gathering things we didn’t need and taking things for granted. This year has taken so much energy and planning, so many sacrifices and decisions and planning, so much letting things go and deciding what is really important to us and it was all too easy to slip back into greedy ways and lazy habits.
Good: The people! I really felt as though we became part of the family – Jill, Jonathan and Thomas, Kathleen & Norman (Jonathan’s parent’s), Shirely & Shelagh the rest of the team and even Jude, the previous owner who is still around all became like family or long lost friends. We were made to feel so welcome and once again I feel we have made contact with new friends who will stay friends long after we have driven away in the van.
Learnt: I don’t think I learnt any new skills as such, although I did learn how quickly I can turn my hand back to skills from the past. At previous hosts I sometimes felt like the weaker link as I wasn’t able to manage as well with hills, hard physical labour, this time I felt my natural skills were valued and useful as I helped with tasks I was more than able to do competantly. I know a fair bit about the hospitality business although I did get an insight into what it might be like to be an onsite owner / manager of a holiday cottage business and in conversation with Jill I learnt plenty about her previous enterprises. Like Ady I think most of what I learnt was in conversation with the interesting and diverse people we spent time with.

Midway through host number three

and a change is as good as a rest, particularly if the change is to such a restful place 🙂

We  have had to shuffle about the next few weeks as we had a couple of cancellations which would have left us with empty weeks. We had been invited to stay at Paddington and our next host was flexible with us about when we arrived but we got one of those offers you just can’t refuse and fate conspired to mean our move was just next door!

Whilst at Paddington we were invited to the new neighbours for a pizza evening mid week. New owners have just taken over at Middlewick Holiday Cottages and have a regular Wednesday night pizza party using the fab brick built outdoor pizza oven. Neighbours, local friends and any residents of the cottages are all invited along to bring their own toppings and a bottle and join the fun. We headed over with T&M and had a fab few hours chatting to various people including the old and new owners, a couple of guests and some of the staff.

The following day Jill, the owner came and found us working in the orchards and offered us a swim in the residents pool which we very gratefully accepted. We crossed paths most days and we went over again on Sunday for another swim and some delicious rhubarb cake and Jill showed us round one of the cottages and made us the rather un-turn-downable offer of WWOOFing for her for a week in exchange for use of the cottage, plus swimming pool, plus trampoline, plus access to her very lovely dog Maggie who Dragon and Star adore, plus a fridge-full of food.

Well what would you do?

We decided that people who jack in their jobs, rent their house out and head off in a very well loved campervan for a year have to practise saying ‘yes’ to pretty much every opportunity that comes along and this seemed like a good opportunity. So we finished up Monday’s tasks at Paddington of cleaning out the feed shed, feeding the animals and dusting pigs and chickens for mites, went on a very unproductive shoe hunt to nearby Street and Wells for Dragon (have since ordered some online) and then arrived and settled in to Orchard View. Oh to have a bed, a shower, a kitchen, electricity again 🙂

We’re doing a vast array of tasks here including: gardening, clearing rubbish, tidying, painting, cleaning and housekeeping, some painting and decorating, reorganising the library, lighting the pizza oven, testing appliances and TV channels in each cottage, a spot of ghost-hunting (cottages are 350 years old and reputed to be haunted). We’re also doing plenty of swimming, getting to know Jill (and now her son who has arrived today and is currently having a great time with Dragon and Star in the swimming pool), playing with Maggie the dog, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful massage from the lovely Shirley and enjoying the luxury interlude of four walls again for a while. We’re learning loads about all sorts of things and really enjoying yet another diverse environment to the ones we’ve already stayed in – definitely another interesting chapter in what is already shaping up to be a good story of our year.

Infact, it’s going so swimmingly that we have done some further reshuffling of our schedule and filled what was an empty week with staying on here for longer. Jill seems pleased with what we’re doing (although she was less keen on my bad influence of ‘one more glass of wine’ the evening she came and had dinner with us!), there is plenty to be getting on with helping with here and as there are plenty of children around next week Dragon and Star are only too happy to hang out here a bit longer.