New House Organic Farm

We spent just under a week at New House Organic Farm, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It was by far our most challenging host to date, due entirely to a rather unique domestic situation with the hosts who had been a couple but were no longer together and both had their new partners living at the farm too. This made for all sorts of friction, domestic unrest and bad feeling. It was a great shame as the farm is very diverse and there was plenty to learn there. Also Bob, one of the hosts, was incredibly knowledgable and only too happy to tell us and show us things, a great explainer and very passionate about livestock, wildlife and sustainable living.

Unfortunately too much of our time there was clouded by having different people giving us different jobs to do, some of which were clearly not the sort of tasks WWOOFing is about and taught us very little. We struggled to get food each day and instead of the usual arrangement of eating alongside hosts each day we were dished out food to cook ourselves, some of which was simply not acceptable due to being out of date. This was interspersed with sufficient interesting and educational tasks to keep us there and the stunning location in the peak district coupled with lovely weather made up for enough to look on the bright side of the situation. I am writing candidly about our experience as I want to be honest about the challenges WWOOFing can present and as I have name checked all our hosts I am continuing to do so. I think the farm has plenty to offer and in reading the visitors book they have historically been an excellent host so I am sure we were there in a blip in a usually worthwhile place to be. I think they are also rather misrepresented in their listing which mentions alternative energy – a great draw for me – which is infact non-operational currently, and animals, various of which are not being milked or all even on that farmland at the moment.

We did have some great experiences there nonetheless; Dragon and Star loved spending time with the dogs, chickens, ducks and geese, in particular a gosling called Gerald

We did lots of chopping firewood, which both Dragon and Star are getting pretty good at themselves

Other tasks included some crushing and sorting of cans – food and drink tins, fruit picking (mainly gooseberries and blackcurrants), mowing, clearing piles of garden waste and pushing it up hills in wheelbarrows, sweeping, generally tidying and some livestock handling with the cattle. We got involved in ear tagging, weighing, taking temperature, some medication dosing.

For us though I think the most memorable part of the week was the time we spent together in the evenings. We had a campfire every night, which we cooked over (sausages, burgers, chips, egg, bacon and various other dishes over the week) and a bonfire of the heaped up garden waste on our last night, which happened to coincide with the full moon and made for a beautiful evening. We were parked in the dip of a valley and so lost the sun each evening and were thrust into shade before the top of the hill. Three times we ran up the hill at the last minute to watch the sun dip behind the peaks – very gorgeous and a just reward for the run!

We had lots of time to chat between the four of us and have been really starting to hone our plans about what we do next. We are conscious of being half way though our planned hosts (we had nine months worth of booked places before we left) and with every new host we find new things to bat about as ideas, to discuss as possibilities for us or to write off as definitely not for us. New House Farm was no different and we came away with plenty to talk about and ponder on.

Bad: There was a lot of confusion about the food.
Good: It was good fun cooking dinner over the fire every night.
Learnt: All the different types of beer and cider tins. I didn’t know that different types of drinks cans are made of different things.

Bad: The dogs chased the gosling (there were several terriers at the farm) and that made me scared it would get hurt. We were not part of the family at all like we have been at every other WWOOFing host.
Good: I really liked the gosling at the farm, he was very cute.
Learnt: If you tame a boy gosling when it grows into a gander it can turn on you.

Bad: The tension at the farm. A lot of the jobs we were given were menial tasks which didn’t really represent the work that WWOOFing is supposed to be about.
Good: Bob was a great teacher and his devotion and dedication to giving us his time, sitting down and talking to us and going through things in great detail with us made him probably our best host so far. The animal welfare at the farm was exceptionally good, Bob knew each of his animals individually and really cared about them. It was another host that were very passionate about recycling their waste. The evenings spent with my family were brilliant. The weather was a huge factor in this as it was lovely every day but sitting round a fire in beautiful surroundings was a real highlight of the year so far.
Learnt: A lot about the paperwork and financial side of farming and agriculture. Bob taught us about grants and funding for various types of land which was fascinating and will certainly feature in our future plans. He also taught us about organic status. At the neighbouring farm we visited we learnt that our dreams of an educational facility for learning about farming, animals and agriculture is a realistic possibility.

Bad: The domestic unrest within the resident of the farm. WWOOFing does create a false and imediate intimacy as you live within a family as WWOOFers. This can be challenging even when the host family are lovely and welcomming. This particular host had so many issues around the relationships and family dynamics that they really should not have been inviting strangers and other people into the already complicated mix. A basic criteria of WWOOFing is that food is provided and this was sometimes a challenge to find and I felt many of the tasks we were given were not related to ‘working on organic farms’.
Good: Hands on working with the cattle – we did herding and driving the cows several times, dealt with some fiesty cattle and a bull and were given loads of practical hints and experience in that, we weighed cattle, took their temperature, ear tagged them, aided in medicating them (orally and injected) and had more contact with them than at any other host so far. The time Bob spent with us teaching us about paperwork and funding will prove invaluable in the future and Bob invited us to remain in contact for further help. The evenings were a real highlight and really gave us a feel of one of the reasons we had come WWOOFing.
Learnt: Gas cutting, cattle handling, host management!!! about grants and funding.

Pen Y Bonc

We finished yesterday at Pen Y Bonc, a half a hectare smallholding near Bangor, North Wales. They have a fantastic website at Busy Bees where you can read about them in their own words.

We spent a very lovely two weeks with Jonathan and Lisa learning all sorts of things from them. They have chickens and ducks, a large pond teeming with wildlife, areas of their land given over to nature, many beehives, a huge polytunnel, a small orchard and many raised beds. They are close to self sufficient in their fruit and veg growing, obviously we were there at the right time to be eating many things freshly picked from the garden but throughout the year they eat frozen, pickled, preserved food grown themselves too.

Our tasks included: helping with the bees (we assisted in moving a colony from one hive to another ready to be passed on to a new beekeeper), bottling honey, bottling wine (mead, made with honey), picking off dried herbs and jarring them, picking soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, loganberries, red, black and white currants, gooseberries, jostaberries, loganberries), salad leaves, thinning carrots, grapes and apples, sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, weeding, strimming, mowing, mulching, feeding and watering plants (including a diluted wee feed and a diluted seaweed extract foliage feed), treating the ends of some wood for use in building, harvesting garlic and onions and a bit of building work. Some helping to keep the ducks in the area they were supposed to be a mucking out their house and the chicken shed, collecting eggs and feeding the birds, setting a squirrel trap and a bit of moving firewood about. All hugely diverse and very educational.

It was a very enjoyable WWOOF experience, Lisa and Jonathan are interesting, inspirational people only too happy to share their knowledge and skills and everything we did was fully explained and had an obvious reasoning and purpose. We really enjoyed spending time with them and their children and the little community of their friends and neighbours around them. Our days off were spent walking into the local town, driving a short way to enjoy Anglesey and we loved spreading ourselves out of an evening and making use of the static that they had as WWOOFers accomodation.

pruning and thinning grapes

bottling honey

mmmm honey

I put that in there (with a little help from those bees!)

grading and trimming carrots

checking apple tree grafts

corking the mead

corking the mead

treating the cordwood

digging up the garlic

elephant garlic!

blackcurrant harvesting

onion harvesting

Bad: The hosts were vegetarian and I really missed eating meat while we were there. It did make me realise that meat is a luxury food though. We used to eat meat most days at home so not having it at all was hard.
Good: I enjoyed the time we spent doing beekeeping stuff. I got to have a go with the smoker which was fun, it worked differently to how I expected it to.
Learnt: About bees, about winemaking (sterilising and corking the bottles).

Bad: I found the beekeeping suit really uncomfortable. Daddy had zipped my hair into the velcro which pulled and I really needed to blow my nose!
Good: I liked the ducks and the chickens and that I got to do lots with them.
Learnt: About bottling honey, we used a special container with a tap to fill the jars and had to skim stuff off the top and bottom of the honey.

Bad: The return to suburbia! Despite having land and beautiful views there was traffic noise, helicopters overhead landing at the nearby hospital and a huge retail park very close by. There was loads of light pollution too.
Good: The innovation behind the planning of their land. Everything was well organised, the hosts were very close to self sufficient with their fruit and veg growing on a really small space. Every area was being used for something whether it was growing food or given to wildlife. It was a very efficient operation.
Learnt: About thinning fruit; apples, grapes and carrots. The irrigation system and use of the polytunnel.

Bad: Hogweed! Ady and I both have scarred arms and chests from strimming the hogweed. We had no idea it was dangerous but a combination of the sunshine, damp skin and the sap caused phytophotodermatitis. This caused itchy red spots, which blistered and have scarred. I’m hoping the scars will heal or fade.
Good: Pen Y Bonc was a great place for seeing a less extreme version of the lifestyles we have previously experienced. They are not off grid but do use a green energy provider for their mains electricity, they are using mains water but conserve water where possible and work with nature and the elements as much as they can to have as light an impact as possible. It was heartening to see that on a relatively small plot of land, in a pretty urban area it is feasible to lead the lifestyle we hanker after.
Learnt: A great taster in beekeeping – still loads to learn and I’d like to be around for some of the ‘other end’ stuff like honey extraction. I learnt lots from Lisa’s very organised approach to planning her entire calendar of events; sowing, transplanting, harvesting, feeding, mulching and thinning, crop rotation, companion planting and more.

This post is brought to you by a Mifi, from Three.

Bryn Mawr

It all went rather quiet didn’t it?

A fair representation of our experience too really – we spent just over two weeks at our most extreme and remote WWOOFing hosts yet. A 77 acre hillside farm, in conversion to organic, almost totally self sufficient in fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs nestled in an isolated area about 20 miles from Welshpool in Wales.

Our hosts were Anna and Alan, a couple with 3 Home Educated boys aged 11, 8 and 5 and Alan’s sister Abi and her (schooled) 14 year old daughter. Alan, Anna and boys lived between a tent and several caravans while Abi and her daughter had a static. Food, tea breaks and general hanging out happened in a converted animal barn kitted out with table and chairs, wood burning stove, electric cooker, sink etc. A collection of out buildings housed the firewood, Alan’s wood and metal working tools, a selection of chest freezers – some plugged in to keep food frozen, some just used as airtight, pest proof storage space, pig feed, a sofa and TV with dvd player and video. Toilet facilities are three compost loos – two for poo and one for wee. There is a bath but not plumbed in although an old water tank, filled by rainwater and heated by a log burner underneath is used for a hot tub – not operational while we were there but a fabulous idea under the stars. Showers could be taken using a hose pipe after a long hot day of the water in the hose being warmed, or in the rather more luxurious location of Abi’s static!

Much of the 77 acres is unused other than for wildlife or with young trees planted for future woodlands. Some of the land is used for grazing their small herd of highland cattle or rented to a neighbouring farmer for grazing his sheep. Pigs are in three sectioned off areas on the land, as are chickens, ducks and geese on others. There are three main cultivated growing areas, planted into beds with crop rotation programmes set up. A very young orchard is in place along with other fruit and nut trees.

A strong thread of permaculture principles runs through Bryn Mawr with nothing wasted and the most made of natural resources and working with what they have got. Grass cut is used for mulch or compost, suppressing weeds and creating feed for plants. Alan has plans for a cut grass compost water heating system at some future point. Weeds are pig feed, stones collected from rotovated beds are put to one side for use in building or hole filling / ground levelling.

Alan is a very talented and knowledgable man with huge amounts to share and teach and we learnt loads from him about alternative technologies, eco-building ideas, green energy and more. He also was our saviour when Willow had various ailments which would have prevented us travelling much further and helped us out with arranging for a damaged water pump to be reconditioned, replacing our broken fan with a new one from a car he had for spares and various other things. She is now running really well and we are so very grateful to have been able to have her fixed up and show our appreciation with a few tokens in exchange for all Alan did for us.

Anna was an inspirational person to spend time with, particularly for me. I learnt so much from her about growing, harvesting, preserving and breadmaking. She taught me a tiny fraction of what she knows about herbs and plants and some of the uses for them in medicine. She coached me through all aspects of carving a spoon from wood selection and first shaping with a carving axe to using the saw horse and draw knife, hammer and carving chisel. We talked about education, parenting, community living, alternative lifestyles, being off grid and loads more. I felt I could have spent years in Anna’s company and still learnt from her every day.

Abi worked full time so was not around all that much but as an education officer for the local wildlife trust she was a mine of information about various wildlife and regularly joined us in the evenings to share what she had been up to that day. We were fortunate to be around to share Abi’s birthday with her too, coming together for a big evening meal and jelly, ice cream and birthday cake eating.

We were joined by another WWOOFer for most of our stay at Bryn Mawr which is always interesting. Meeting someone else doing the same as us but for very different reasons and with very different expectations. We crossed paths with several WWOOFers at a couple of our early hosts but had not worked alongside someone else for a while so that was good to do again. Knowing how much our adventure has already changed our outlook and approach to live means it will be interesting to meet our felllow WWOOFer this time again in the future and see whether further into his journey he has changed or altered at all as this was his very first host.

Our tasks over the two weeks included; weeding, mulching, gathering cut grass, helping to load the trailer with sawn wood, chopping firewood, sowing some seeds, tilling and farrowing, gathering stones, feeding the pigs and chickens, putting up an enormous compost bin and loads more. As ever what we learnt in our daily working was easily matched by what we learnt by simply living alongside our hosts, learning from them and talking to them about their lives.

The challenges, as ever, were present – this was an extreme off grid lifestyle with an hour or so per day of a diesel generator being run which meant we were able to charge things up while our hosts powered their electric oven for bread baking, washing machines to clean clothes, charge up their batteries to run lights and the TV for the kids, power the freezers sufficiently to ensure food remained frozen and for Alan to run his welder or other tools to build woodburning stoves which he makes to sell. We had virtually no moile phone or internet signal so I had to walk up the hill once a day to check for any urgent voicemail messages to my phone to make sure we were not totally cut off from the outside world.

Bad: I found it difficult to share Daddy with other children that I didn’t have much in common with.
Good: I tried lots of new foods and some I really enjoyed.
Learnt: More about being off grid and how to make most use of limited electricity and really value it.

Bad: The remoteness of the location. I like to feel some sort of civilisation, shop or similar is accessible by walking. At this host there was nothing within walking distance at all.
Good: The remoteness of the location! Conversely it was also lovely to be so isolated and feel really ‘away from it all’
Learnt: How important south facing aspect is for land you are growing on.

Bad: I was sad when ducklings died (about four were lost over a few days) and the cats caught lots of voles and mice which I felt sad about but Mummy and I talked about the voles and mice being hunted and food chains.
Good:  I liked there being lots of animals – cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, cows, ducks, geese.
Learnt: About grafting trees, how to do it and why.

This was a challenging place to be for lots of reasons. Being so remote was tough, being so remote with Willow out of action was even tougher as we have always consoled ourselves that we can drive away from a host at any time if we have had enough – being 17 miles from the nearest town with no mode of transport was enough to have me feeling twitchy about being ‘trapped’. The lack of communication with the outside world – very patchy mobile / internet connection also had me feeling uneasy as I constantly fretted about emergencies happening to friends or family and us not knowing. I guess I came to realise my reliance on some sort of community – either local or virtual and how at sea I felt without that safety net within easy reach. There were aspects of our experience here which threw into sharp relief some of the less easy aspects of the relationships between the four of us, so much talking things over, accepting each other and giving credability to how the other person was feeling even if we were unable to empathise was in order, which is testing, even if ultimately healthy.
Good: I loved spending time with Anna, I found her interesting, inspiring and with so much knowledge to share. I felt like I learnt so much at this host and I cannot possibly imagine a better or more extreme example of the ‘ultimate’ in the off-grid, self sufficient, alternative technology lifestyle. Having these sorts of experiences gives us so much to draw upon in creating our own wishlist for the future and helping us realise what we are and are not prepared to give up / compromise / not have in our lives.
Learnt: so, so, so much! About mulching, breadmaking and preserving, clever use of land and resources to make the most of limited energy, reusing almost everything. I learnt the basics of spoon carving, how to identify various wild foods, some new ideas for food and ways to cook things, massive sparks of ideas for green building, alternative energy, growing foods and more.

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 🙂

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.

Story so far…

 We’ve done five weeks of WWOOFing, nearly seven weeks away from the house and totted up over 400 miles so far so we’ve been chatting about how we’re finding it. I think we’ve all hit a wall here and there, had moments of loving it and moments of wanting to click our fingers and make it stop. We’ve all learnt loads and made an excellent start to achieving some of our list of aims and objectives for the adventure.

We have had a pretty diverse mix of host in just the first three – slept in a tent, in Willow and in a cottage. We’ve had time living communally, time left to our own devices and times spent mixing the two. Work has been varied, expectations have been different and we have met the biggest mix of people from the most amazing variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Unexpected advantages have been Ady and I enjoying working together so much, I miss the kids being off doing their own thing so much but I don’t remember the last time Ady and I had so much child-free time together, even if we are technically working. Not having as much time with the children as usual for me has been tough, in our previous life we were together most days, all day, often doing our own thing around the house or garden it’s true but always with time cuddled up together watching half an hour of TV, reading a book, chatting about something or finding out answers to their questions together. I’ve missed that and they tell me they have too, I’m keen to find time to make sure that has been a temporary blip rather than a long term casualty of the year. We are definitely on the way to a fitter and healthier lifestyle – again this past two weeks have been a slight blip but even so we are eating and drinking far less and spending far more time outside, being active. I think regular swims and walks more than made up for the less physical work anyway.

We’ve learnt lots about nature – we’ve seen buzzards, sparrowhawks, otter, deer and various other wildlife, spent time with dogs, pigs, chickens, sheep, ponies, goats as farm animals and learnt about feeding and keeping them. We’ve sampled local delights including eggs and sausages from places we’ve stayed, local wine, cider, beer, cheese, ice cream, butter and so on. We’ve experienced an extreme off grid lifestyle, done tent dwelling in heavy frosts, lived in the van without hook up, seen some beautiful sights, some stunning scenery and above all met some amazing, inspirational and interesting people.

It’s been a fabulous start to our adventure, everything we hoped for and more really. We’re starting to anticipate what might be potential issues and discuss how we will deal with them as and when they might arise, getting a real flavour of what our year might bring at the same time learning that unexpected twists and turns to our careful planning are around every corner, along with new opportunities and unforeseen offers. We need to be flexible, subject to change and ready to roll with whatever comes along. These are great lessons to learn, a fab code for living and teaching all four of us so much about ourselves, each other and all the other people we meet.

I was expecting to only stay on farms, I was expecting to stick to our planned hosts rather than get invited to stay with people we only just met. I thought living in Willow would have been harder than it is. I’m not missing electricity as much as I thought I would, not missing a real bed, I probably sleep better in Willow than my bed at home. I’m having lots of fun, I feel healthier and think I sleep better. Before we left I thought I’d miss our house so much but I don’t miss it at all. I am missing friends who live near us – Toby, Archie, Eliot, Jack, Maisie & Lorna and Granny & Grandad. I am missing friends who are far away but can’t wait to see them while we’re travelling. I love the fact that before we go to each host I am never sure what they will be like or what that part of the country will be like and so every time it is new and exciting, not like at home when all our days out were to places we had been before.

I was expecting us to have to work or we wouldn’t get fed and there to be lots of rules and do as we were told even if we didn’t know how to but it hasn’t been like that at all. I really miss the chickens, ducks and our house but I am loving the freedom to run around, play in woods, going for adventures with dogs, goats. I like living in Willow because I like the fact everything is all here like our beds and the sofa. I like spending more time with Mummy and Daddy.

So far I am finding the adventure far easier than I thought I would. Living in the van, travelling in the van and the work were all things I was worrying about but so far they have all gone really smoothly and far easier than I expected. The variety of people we are meeting, the generosity of people we meet is overwhelming and I never realised people could be so kind. I struggle with moving on from place to place, I get really at home and find it hard to say goodbye and move on. I like the work, being physical and outdoors.

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.

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 – don’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 can’t eat rhubarb, that mutton is ‘old sheep’ 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

This post was bought to you using a Mifi from three

Steward Wood, Devon

We’ve had two weeks at Steward Community Woodland an intentional community in Devon. It’s been an amazing experience for all sorts of reasons and the most perfect start imaginable to our adventure and voyage of discovery.

We arrived and were slightly traumatised by the hill the community live on. It is very, very steep and thanks to a spring at the top which supplies water and also generates hydro power it is very muddy in places too. We were greeted by dogs -four live there full time, my personal phobia – and a collection of dreadlocked people using hippy talk like cool, awesome, man. Everyone lives in benders or other low impact housing, clad with army surplus tarps and solar panels, a communal ‘longhouse’ is where WWOOFers are hosted, everyone is fed and gathers for chatting, meetings and regular social events such as music evenings or storytelling sessions. There is a compost loo, sawdust urinals and strawbale urinal for men and women, a bathhouse with a wood burner to heat the bathwater and we were shown to a flat area chiselled into the hillside with stunning views to pitch our tent. Sleeping in a tent for two weeks in March was a challenge, at least twice the overnight temperature dipped below zero and there were two very heavy frosts. Food is vegan or vegetarian, organic, wholefood, there is no alcohol, WWOOFers work mostly on splitting or chopping wood, carrying heavy stuff up or down the hill, assisting with gardening tasks, helping with food preparation or whatever else needs doing at the time. It is very seasonal with a heavy focus on wood.

Our work varied from chopping and splitting firewood, taking bark off felled trees (which is then used to surround the base of saplings to suppress weed growth), carrying mulch (made from chipped wood, bark, pine needles etc rotted down) up or down the hill to put around the saplings, we helped in the kitchen, lit the bathhouse burner most evenings, did some clearing of areas – much of the woodland is left alone as it is wildlife habitat but areas are cleared and coppiced and two different areas of forest garden are being planted out. We did lots of brash clearing, moving piles of ivy, branches and wood from one pile to another and put up a brash fence around an area of young hazel trees to protect them from deer and spent time clearing another area ready to put up a goat pen. The work is physically demanding, there is no denying that but it does all make sense – there is a logic and rhythm to spending your day chopping wood to provide heat, warmth, cooking, hot water,  planting trees for the future, using everything to create such a minimal level of waste.

There was plenty that would push us to look for a different permanent home; the hill being the main decider, but Steward Wood is changing; it has only very recently moved from being a vegan communal area to a vegetarian one; they keep chickens and at a meeting while we were there it was passed for them to start keeping goats for their diary needs. Almost all of the community actually eat meat in their own dwellings. They started with no machinery at all but now use chainsaws and one of the community has a landrover which is used for winching felled trees, moving large and heavy things. There are challenges and down sides to living in a community; occassional tensions when ideas and ideals clash but they seem to have communication and discussion down to a fine art and things are aired and talked over rather than left to fester so while there are frustrations when consenus can’t be reached on issues and people have to compromise it does have the feel of a loving, large family.

We learnt a huge amount there – practical stuff like how they make use of and harness solar and hydro energy, how much wood is needed to keep everything operational, a small insight into how their buildings are constructed, how the toilet systems work, how they filter drinking water only, how long term plans have to be and how most of them realise that the work and energy they invest today will possibly not even come to fruition in their time for them to enjoy, but that’s not why they are doing it. We learnt from the individuals there; some of them shared their stories with us, showed us their homes, taught us things they know from bird language and wildlife, to wilderness skills, their personal spiritual beliefs and customs, we learnt about sharing, about community, about openness and entitlement.

The people are what makes Steward Wood such an amazing place. It has stunning scenery, rich and varied wildlife with ravens, buzzards, bagders, deer, owls, foxes and much more. It has gorgeous views (the upside to the hill!) and it’s a woodland which is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend time, watching, listening, being. But it is the mix of fantastic individuals who live there who make it such a special and inspiring place to be. The community began with a group of ex protesters, who had spent time living on protest sites fighting road widenings, by-passes, holiday villages, Tesco stores, housing developments from claiming chunks of nature. They had some victories too but many more losses and all of the negative attention that comes with living outside of society and fighting against change. One of the community told me she was just tired of always spending energy on negative things and wanted to be investing herself in something positive. I think that sums up Steward Wood for me really, it’s Something Positive. It demonstrates that you don’t need running water, flushing toilets, gas and electric, you don’t need supermarkets, chemicals and televisions, you don’t need a washing machine, fridge or built in oven and if you want to change the world the very best place to start is by changing your world. I guess we already knew that but Steward Wood was a fantastic place to spend time to prove it and give a living example to us.

But there is much more we want to learn, see and experience. This was merely the beginning of our adventure. So we’ve added all the best bits to our wish list, forged some close bonds with some of the amazing people there and have promised to stay in touch, visit again and spread the word about them and now we’re off to the next host.

Some words from everyone now on their bad, good and what they learnt at Steward Wood:
Bad: The food, I tried all the food but I didn’t like most of it.
Good: It was really, really good fun. I enjoyed the work, learnt about solar power, made new friends
Learnt: How much can be run off solar panels.

Bad: Missed cheese and butter and meat
Good: Made loads of new friends and I liked the food I tried
Learnt: About ravens

Bad: putting cold and damp clothes on each morning after a night in the tent
Good: All the new people I met; members of the community, visiting friends and other WWOOFers
Learnt: building fences, lighting fires, bird language, about keeping goats, some basic Chinese Mandarin from a fellow WWOOFer, startling example of the power of people working together as a team.

Bad: The hill. I struggled with all sorts of aspects there – the food, sleeping in a tent, the hard work, the mud – everything else is surmountable and possibly changable but the hill will always be there and it was the single toughest aspect of the time there for me – my knees protested, my feet ached from slipping up and down and I wheezed and gasped my way up hill whenever I had to go up. every single task is made 10 times harder because of the steepness of that hill.
Good: Amazing people, stunningly beautiful location and everything just makes sense. The theme of permaculture runs through everything but every task is logical and has a purpose and end result.
Learnt: Hard to pin down to one sentence really; I learnt I have so much more to learn and I really want to learn it.

We’ve had a night in a campsite – the only people here, topped up our meat rations with a mighty cooked breakfast eaten sitting outside in the sunshine, we’ve dealt with all the dirty washing the weather conspired against us to not get dry outside and now we’re off to the next host, ready to meet more new people and learn more new skills.

A word or two from the Wanderers

I’ve just been reading the last couple of entries out to the others and that coupled with a conversation we had earlier today about journal keeping and diaries I wrote as a teenager myself and enjoy re-reading from time to time led to the idea of them having a turn at blogging every so often. I’m very aware that this blog has my voice as the narrator and while I hope I can give a fairly accurate representation of the year I think it would be nice to have the occasional ‘in their own words’ contribution from the rest of the family. So, dictated to me, at the time of coming up with the idea so with no prior planning are a couple of sentences each from the rest of the WW crew.

Star says:
“I think it’s going to be really exciting. I think this bit is a bit boring waiting at the campsite, I want to get started with the rest of the year. I’m enjoying the walks and I like wild garlic leaves!”

Dragon says:
“I’ve only just recovered from Star’s stinky garlic breath after she ate the wild garlic! Since we’ve been in the van my sleeping habits have changed lots and lots. I’m getting used to other food – oh talking about food, the gas bottle has just run out halfway through cooking our dinner. Daddy has gone outside with a torch to see if he can change over the gas bottle. I’m getting excited about actually doing some work (WWOOFing stuff – getting out and being busy rather than sitting around). I’m missing our chickens and eating their grain (Nic says – I didn’t know you did that!) – that’s all folks!”

Ady says:
“I’m finding that I can do things that I would previously have decided I couldn’t do without trying and called someone out to do for me. I’m really touched by the phonecalls and support from friends (thank yous particularly to Fergie and James). I’m finding it mad and crazy staying on a campsite where there are loads of people still clinging to the same lifestyle they would have at home – watching TV in their van rather than actually spending time outside, parked in a campsite right next to another caravan or campervan just like a housing estate. My wonderance of the day is why are all caravans and campervans white?”