Little Coombe / Hallr Wood

We’ve finished Zone One with a week in Somerset shared between two hosts. This was somewhere we were supposed to have stayed earlier but had been put off by the host as they were unwell when we were due to be with them. They had asked us to stay in touch and reschedule if possible and when we had an empty week in the vicinity we got in touch and arranged it.

We were staying parked in the Caravan Club listed campsite within the land of Rob & Jane and our week was split between Rob and Jane; doing a variety of tasks on their land and Peter, who I had actually made contact with first working in his field and woodland. We slept in Willow, breakfasted in there from food given to us by our hosts and then had lunch and dinner with whichever host we had been working with that day.

We arrived on Monday and after parking up and having a brief tour around some of the smallholding at Rob & Jane’s we set to work moving some firewood, grading it for various different piles and stacking it up ready to season for next winter. There is a real art to creating a decent woodpile; one that will not rot away or cause damp problems for a wall it may be stacked next to, fall down or be unstable – Dragon likened it to playing Jenga and I think he is pretty close; except with far less regularly shaped pieces!

Tuesday I have previously blogged complete with photos and was a day spent with Peter.

On Wednesday we were back with Rob and Jane and spent time having a really good tour of all their land. More firewood moving and some pulling weeds and clearing an area that had had some hedge laying done in the past but had grown over.

Thursday we had a day off and spent it trawling charity shops for some replacement jeans for those of us who have gone down a size or up a size in three months! After messing about with various footwear options for me I finally decided I need some proper workboots with steel toecaps so that I can be confident of safety, waterproofness and so on. I’ve been looking in charity shops everywhere we have been and not come across any so I decided to invest in a new pair. We were near one of those horrible outlet village shopping centres so we ventured in far enough to visit the Dickies outlet store and pick up a pair of very heavily discounted boots for me (well under half the website price) . They have already been very comprehensively tested with Dragon and Star both standing on my feet to check they work! In the evening we headed over to Middlewick for a very nice evening with Jill as we’d not managed a proper goodbye when we left to move on earlier in the week.

Friday we were with Peter again and did some putting down plastic and carpet to suppress weeds and warm the ground up ready for autumn planting in a couple of hours, harvested some comfrey, checked on the trees we’d planted and mulched earlier in the week and had the tough task of drinking a whole bottle of fizzy drink between us so we could use the plastic bottle to make some sapling protectors.

On Saturday Dragon and Star painted some bituminous paint on the ends of some posts and we spent some time in the orchard grading and stacking and splitting more firewood. In the afternoon we went along with Rob to a local jumble sale and picked up huge bargains of jeans and jumpers all round along with some books and a couple of toys for Dragon and Star all for about 20p each.

Sunday morning was more time in the orchard clearing nettles, time in the chicken house clearing nettles, time in the hedge clearing dead wood and some time spent watching two sheep being sheared and having a little go ourselves.

In the evening we all had a big group dinner with Jane, Rob, their two teenagers who live at home (a third is off at uni) and Jane’s parents which was very jolly and felt rather like Christmas all sat at a long table. We had lots of compliments about Dragon and Star which was lovely, lots of enthusiasm for our long term plans and offers to return again for another stint, which if we end up going round again is something we may well take them up on.

Bad: It was frustrating to realise very close to the end of the week just how much knowledge our hosts had about so many of the things we are interested in. They had a very full library full of books on farming, smallholding, dairy sheep, beekeeping and so on and lots of experience of animal rearing and crop growing. I felt it was a missed opportunity not learning more from them or spending more time with them. On a more flippant note I also ate way too many lentils – I bloody hate lentils!
Good: It was a restorative place to spend time and gave us back some faith in smallholding and animal keeping after the rather frantic and haphazard environment of previous animal keeping hosts. The animals were all cared for with compassion and respect, they deliberately kept their flock of sheep small so they were able to give individual attention, shear by hand, lamb with involvement where required and so on. There was also a relaxed, slow pace to life with both hosts, a real feeling that everything would happen in it’s own time, working alongside the seasons and with nature – permaculture in action I guess, without the fancy label or need to reinvent the wheel. There was recycling, reusing of resources and plenty of ‘green’ living at both hosts.
Learnt:Sadly very little in entirety but plenty of sparks of knowledge and food for thought – Jane talked to me about milking sheep which was something I had not thought about and will learn about more, we got to have a go at sheep shearing which was far trickier than it looked and I’d like to do more of. I learnt a little about woodland, trees and tree planting from Peter which I’d also like to take further. We got involved in a bit of clearing where some hedgelaying had been done – hedgelaying is another skill I’d like to learn more about. Like Star I also felt there were some areas we were more knowledgable about than our hosts (chicken keeping particularly) which was heartening that we do have some knowledge already.

Bad: I didn’t feel like I helped Mummy and Daddy much.
Good: I found that it’s getting easier to eat different foods.
Learnt:: I learnt most on the days with Peter, including that every bit of land has some use, whether it is bumpy, hilly, bad soil, water available or not. I leant bow line, granny and reef knots from Peter too.

I enjoy being at places with more animals.
Good: They looked after their animals really well, the best of anywhere we have been so far.
Learnt: about the dogwood tree, how to identify it and that you can use it for arrow making. I also learnt there are different types including yellow dogwood. That I know loads already about chickens, it was nice to feel like a bit of an expert and realise I already knew more than our hosts did about hatching and breeding because I have done lots of it already.

Bad: We didn’t have much time spent working alongside the hosts while we were at Little Coombe, which for me is usually one of the best bits of WWOOFing.
Good: The animal welfare was exceptional at Little Coombe. The chickens and sheep were treated so well and it was so lovely to witness, exactly how I would like to run a smallholding.
Learnt: About hand shearing sheep, only a little which has whetted my appetite to learn more about that. I also learnt lots with Peter about comfrey which I am really interested in and tree planting.

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Paddington Farm Trust

We have finished at host number two, Paddington Farm Trust, near Glastonbury, Somerset.

It’s been a really interesting week, a huge contrast to our first host and an education in all sorts of ways.

I’ve already talked a little about the work in the previous post, along with pictures so this is an overview of the week rather than more of that.

We spent our time there feeding animals and doing general animal care including trimming sheeps and goats hooves, dusting the pigs ears and the chickens bellies for mites, walking the goat twice a day back and forth from field to yard, did some brash clearing, some burning rubbish, took some fencing down, put some fencing up, cleaned the feed shed, lit a pizza oven, moved some chickens from one area to another, drove the tractor around and got a really good overview of how the farm works.

We spent loads of time talking to people; M&T the farm managers who gave us an insight into how working for a trust and managing a farmland works, some of the other long term volunteers including a couple of foreign men who had stories to tell of other farms around the world they have stayed at, an ex traveller who is a whizz at green woodworking, a retired engineer who maintains the machinery, the teachers accompanying various special needs children including teens with behavioural, attitudinal and learning difficulties, a selective mute boy, autistic children and other special needs, the people at the food co operative that M&T are also involved in running locally and the other residents of the farm who run an organic fruit and veg growing business. We spent time talking to a man pruning apple trees in the orchards and all sorts of other visitors to the farm from weekend guests, nearby neighbours and ramblers taking the footpath through the farm.

We spent a fair bit of time in Glastonbury itself, a mere 20 minute walk away which has been an interesting experience as it’s unlike any other place we’ve ever been to. There is lots to love with a laid back air, plenty of spiritual stuff, lots of people hugging and being all peaceful but also plenty to cast a cynical eye at particularly if like us you are less comfortable around casual drug use and not quite so into crystal healing and the smell of joss sticks! It’s way before my time but this is what I imagine living in the sixties would have been like…

We’ll stay in touch with our hosts, it was a great place to spend a week, a chilled out experience after the full on living of the previous two weeks. Our first impressions were not great; the kids got involved in playing with a rather wild child who turned violent with them both which is simply not something they are used to so they were shaken and disturbed by that, we lived in the van without hookup so all evenings were torchlit and although we were given free rein to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen it felt too strange to go and help ourselves so we ended up buying most of our own food for the week which put rather a strain on our budget. But on balance we gained loads of new skills, new experiences and made some contacts that will hopefully prove useful in the future.

Finishing with bad, good and learnt at Paddington Farm:
Bad – less direction than the previous host in terms of what we were expected to do… but…
Good – the freedom of directing our own workload
Learnt – donโ€™t panic, give things a second chance.


Bad – it didn’t feel like I thought WWOOFing would be because we spent so much time just the four of us rather than working alongside hosts and learning from them and eating with them at mealtimes.
Good – spending time with the animals on the farm
Learnt – that goats canโ€™t eat rhubarb, that mutton is โ€˜old sheepโ€™ meat, about fighting cockerels (the resident cockerel is that sort of breed) how fun tractor driving is

Bad – being hurt on the first night by a visiting child
Good – all the animals on the farm
Learnt – various things about animals including a first sign of an unhappy sheep is droopy ears.

Bad – a more expensive week as we spent money topping up food supplies
Good – diverse environment for learning – lots of different aspects
Learnt – about animals hooves, that there are jobs managing farms, how to drive a tractor

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what we lack in hill we gain in crystals

We’re at a farm trust near to Glastonbury, Somerset for about 10 days. I say ‘about’ because we were planned for a week here and then a week at a nearby farm but due to problems there we are staying on here for an extra few days but I don’t yet know quite how many. Which is fine as we are enjoying it, learning loads and adding huge amounts to our ‘stories to tell’ quota ๐Ÿ™‚

We are in Willow for the week but without hook up, so relying on charging up laptops etc in the house every couple of days and torchlight for cooking and eating and evenings. But it’s cosy and warm and beats a tent!

This is a very different experience again as the farm trust exists to bring opportunities for experiencing the countryside and farming to people who would not otherwise access it. This means trips from cities, adults and children with learning difficulties, special educational needs, rehabilitation for substance or alcohol abuse aswell as being part of the local community and a working farm. It is currently in a quite downsized phase of it’s 25 year history but on the up with big plans afoot and changes happening all the time. The livestock here includes: a goat, four sheep (three ewes all pregnant, and a ram), two pigs (mother and daughter – grandmother/mother and four siblings are in the freezer, we’ve been enjoying them as sausages!), seven hens and a cockerel. The land includes a couple of orchards, a paddock and various fields for animals including Silver the pony who also lives here, a small area of woodland where an outdoor classroom is in the process of being built for forest school type activities, an enclosed organic fruit and vegetable patch with 3 polytunnels and a wildlife pond, and along with the farmhouse there is a barn being converted into a farm shop, a workshop and art room, feed shed, a long house and a hostel style building with self contained kitchen and bathroom facilities and a fab playground with wooden equipment along with a fire pit and pizza oven. We are parked up between the pigs pen and the playground, bliss for Dragon and Star all round ๐Ÿ™‚

We’re quickly learning that no two days are typical but there is a rhythm and pattern to our days which begin nice and leisurely with us rising around 8am, listening to the radio to hear the news and some of Chris Evans early morning banter while we breakfast and get dressed – the last couple of mornings we’ve been breakfasting outside it is so lovely. From the windows of the van we can see the pigs, various fields containing all sorts of wildlife but sparrowhawks, buzzards and starlings doing their murmerations are a fairly common mornings entertainment. We then let the chickens out and feed them, gather food for the pigs and sheep and bring the goat round with his breakfast to walk alongside us from his night time dwelling in the yard to his daytime haunt of the field with the pony. Never did we anticipate taking a goat for a walk twice a day ๐Ÿ™‚

Once all the animals are in the right place with food we tackle whatever task we’ve been alloted. So far this has included fencing, moving brash about, lighting and tending bonfires, clipping the goat and sheep hooves, riding on the trailer to different parts of the farm and woodland, helping light a fire in the woods to burn brash and load the tractor, working in the orchard clearing pruned branches ready for firewood or burning, taking down an old fence, cleaning out the feed bins, helping to chicken proof a chicken run and much more. We have learnt about feeding and keeping animals, pruning apple trees, using various tools, driving the tractor and loads more.

We have spent time walking locally, into Glastonbury, up the Tor, visited the neighbours who had a pizza oven warming party and we were then invited back the next day for a private session in the swimming pool in exchange for some photos of the kids enjoying the pool for their website. We also had a tour round the 350year old holiday cottages, reputed to be haunted with the kids playing Ghostbusters. We’ve visisted the food co op our hosts also run and met a huge variety of people who live and work in the area too.

It’s yet another different experience to the last host; challenges are new and different and Glastonbury itself has taken a little getting used to. Working days are far less intense and more laid back and flexible but we are fending for ourselves a lot more food wise and making our own workload a lot of the time which is a huge contrast to the last couple of weeks.

The down time is free, fabulous and very welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

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