Wednesday, May 18, 2011

9/4/11 First time WWOOFing

         My first experience wwoofing was amazing.  I'm so glad I did it and I thank all my wonderful friends who lead me on to it.  For anyone who doesn't know WWOOF, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  Here is the link:
         I signed up online and was quickly overwhelmed by the number of farms in England, Scotland, and Ireland.  How to choose?! I read through quite a few listings and decided to pick something relatively close to London.  Maybe a train ride away instead of a flight, that way if things went awry I could easily slip back home.  I emailed several farms and there were a few that really caught my eye.  Particularly the one that was in view of the sea.  Luckily the woman who owns the farm got back to me immediately and we set up a date for me to come work.  I was indeed a bit nervous to go off on my own but I felt sure that this woman was alright to go stay with and she gave me great details of where I would be staying and what work she required.
    I bought myself a grand pair of hunter boots and then jumped on the train southwest for five days.  The views from the train were beautiful but it was the bus ride into Bridport that melted my heart.  The bus quickly found its way down the narrow and winding country roads.  Cows, sheep, chickens.  Small streams and so much green my eyes felt alive and in bloom.  I soaked it all in.  What a change from the streets and sounds of London.
   I quickly realized that I did not do too much planning for this leg of the trip.  The train was easy to figure out.  I had two different phone numbers to reach Veronica, the woman at the farm, and I had studied and drooled over google maps for hours before leaving.  However, I failed to investigate Bridport and the trip from train to town via bus.  I assumed there would be signs or at least announcements for upcoming stops but there was nothing like that. Ten minutes into the ride I realized it wasn't that easy.  'That man just got off the bus and the only thing in sight is cows.'  'That last woman hopped off with her grocery bag and the only place to go was into the stream or the forest.  Maybe her connecting route is via horse back.'  I kept an eye out for road signs once I figured bus stop signs were obsolete.  4 km to Bridport.  Once I had a distance in mind I was able to settle in and enjoy the views. The 40 minute bus trip from Dorchester to Bridport was stunningly beautiful.  The countryside was so billowy and green.  It was like a giant green mossy comforter.  Pastures covered the land like giant green pillows, separated by hedges and hidden fences.  Sheep, cows, horses, ponies have all grazed the grass to a soft evenness.  This road we were on was antyhing but flat and smooth.  It was a sublte wake up from the flat but busy streets of London.  Up and down over these hills, looking down into green valleys and up onto rounded peaks.  Stone farmhouses nested into the perfect corners of each farms. I wouldn't mind living there.
   I couldn't fall too far into daydreams though, I needed to keep my eyes pealed for any sign or marker indicating where I should be going.  Veronica told me her farm had views of the sea.  I thought that was too good to be true.  The bus chugged up a rather large hill and there it was, a smooth glassy sea.  Sun, sea, green and everything in bloom.  At that moment I felt that even if this trips turns out to be a disaster it was well worth that bus ride through the country.
   I saw a sign for Bridport and hopped off.  Maybe it was a little early.  I ended up hiking about 25 minutes into town with my bags and boots, I felt like a happy hobo.  I instintively found my way to town and found a cafe to have lunch and a drink while I waited for Veronica to pick me up.  She swung by a little later with her two young boys and dog and we headed to her property.
    I had a hard time understanding her accent and with the dog and boys and squeaky van it was a little awkward ride.  She was so warm and welcoming though and her children were great.  I was anxious to see where she lived and if what I was picturing in my head matched reality.  I was a little off.  It was more beautiful than I could have imagined.
The small town of Bridport.  In between green hills and a
sunny sea.  
   Veronica owned a 200 year old farm house with back gardens split between four large terraced areas.  From her back patio you could see out to the sea.  Breathtaking.  I got a quick tour of her home then she led me down to the caravan at the bottom of the property where I would stay.  It was really cute!  A step up from camping in a tent but still felt a little like "roughing it."  The bed was surprisingly comfortable and there was a woodburning stove in the middle.  She showed me how to work the gas burner to make tea and cook myself some meals.
My home away from home.  An old caravan, much used, much
loved and "home" to many visitors before me. 

The living room/dining room in the caravan.
The shelves were stocked with food for me and
Veronica made sure I was well fed.  
    Veronica is an artist and off to one side of her land she build an amazing studio.  In the summer she would rent out her home then her and her boys would move into the studio for the time.  While I was there she held an art class and offered me the space while it wasn't in use.  It was marvelous and I was completely envious.  That little porch looked right out to the sea and the pastures below.

The art studio.  Besides being a studio it also had a shower
and bath that I used along with a fridge and another stove.
Next time I visit I will be sure to bring some art supplies and
take Veronica up on the offer of using the space.  

The house seen from the last and bottom terrace.  So amazing but also
so much work.  On the level right above those stairs you can
sort of make out a little greenhouse to the left.  I worked on
clearing that out, weeding it, turning the compost and getting
it ready for planting.  On the other side, not visible in the photo,
was a large patch of garden that I also worked in.  This wasn't
quite a farm but rather a large family garden.  Of course it was all
organic and it may not have been a huge production but it
would feed people.   

     The first night there Veronica invited me to eat with her and her boys and a few friends that she invited over.  The meal; their pigs from last year.  This was the first time they had raised pigs then butchered them.  It was interesting to hear her talk about how they loved those pigs but then in the end had to kill them.   She seemed torn between loving those animals but also loving the fact that her family had a great meal to eat.  
    The dinner was interesting.  I listened in on their conversations about tree projects, music projects, farming and fruit trees.  Art, bookbinding and gardening.  Perfect.  The pork was roasting in the oven and when it came out it was delicious.  I was tired from traveling all day and everyone left early because it was a school night.  I headed down to the caravan in the dark.  It was a bit hard to sleep that night.  It was so quiet and dark out, I was so alone and a little unnerved about being in the middle of nowhere, without any doors to lock.  That night there was also some terrible winds and I could feel the whole caravan shake.  In my sleepy fog I thought for sure I was going to tip over and roll down the hill, taking out a few sheep on the way then splashing into the rough sea down below.  
    I woke up the next morning to the sound of cows and peasants outside.  I did not sleep good but I was still anxious to start working.  The day was overcast and rainy.  On my way to the house I stopped in the studio to use the bathroom and make some coffee.  Veronica had a class in there that day and she was getting it ready.  The lights were on, the fire was stoked and it was so cozy and smelling of art.  I wanted to work in the dirt but I also wanted to be there, setting up my paper and getting ready to sketch the model.  
   My tasks for the first day were modest.  I pulled weeds from around then new fruit trees then put some compost around the soil (which would later be dug up by the dog and chickens).  When that was done I headed down one terrace and started turning the dirt in the larger garden.  It looked beautiful crawling with worms and mixed well with compost.  The two ducks hung around me but the chickens found cover from the drizzly rain.   I worked for  four hours interrupted often by Veronica offering me coffee, biscuits and breaks.  My work day consisted of a short shift from 9 am to 1pm then I was done.  
    After a quick lunch of spaghetti and some warm bread I headed to the trail to do some walking.  I didn't take too many photos that day as it was rainy and cloudy and foggy but it was still astonishing.  All along the coast are National Trust farms.  This means that the government owns this property and leases it out to farmers.  It can only be used for farming so no one can develop it into cheap tourist towns and RV parks.  Farmers lease this land and use it to graze their animals.  Along the coastline is a continuous trail and you can hike around the entire Southwest tip of England.  I think it's something like 630 miles long.  You walk through all these pastures, on one side you have green rolling hills dotted with cows and sheep.  On the other side is the sea stretching out below you.  I walked that first day for about four hours up and down the lush hills with the wind from the sea beating me.  It felt so wonderful.  Veronica told me the quickest way to the beach and so I headed down there.  The waves were angry and I was surprised to see that the beach was all stone.  Very round stones that made that wonderful sound when the waves retreated back.  The cliffs were large and made of some sort of soft clay.  Apparently this is also considered the Jurassic Coast.  Lots of fossils. Lots of dinosaurs to be found.  I walked the shore for a while then when I was feeling cold I headed back to the caravan.  I made a blazing fire in the wood burning stove to warm my cold bones from the damp weather and feasted on more pasta and cheese. I was so tired from not sleeping well the night before and working all day that I quickly fell asleep.
My little collection of round stones from the beach. 
   The next morning I woke up feeling fabulous.  The sun was out, the cows sounded happy and I could here the chickens ready to go.  I drank my tea on the steps and watched the sun dry out the dewy grass.  My work for the day consisted of turning more soil and mixing in all that great compost.  The chickens found me and my work early and hung around all day.  I thought they wanted to be friends but I quickly learned they just wanted the juicy worms I was exposing.  Still, they were amusing and I began to fall in love with them.  The day slipped by quickly and the sun felt fantastic.   I was down to short sleeves and rolled my jeans up.  Veronica once again regualarly interrupted my work by offering me food, breaks, tea and small chit chat.  Her hospitality was so warming but I was just content to be working in the dirt and getting her garden ready.  Before I knew it it was 1 and I quit for the day.  I went back to the trail but walked in the opposite direction.  I was told that a few miles along the coast there's a great pub to sit and have a pint and enjoy the view.  So I did just that.

The path through the pastures along the coast. 
Hello pretty cow. 

One of Veronica's sheep. Incredibly friendly
and incredibly fluffy. 

Little lambs. 

A view of the coast.  That was a big hill to walk up. 

The beach.  Pebbles and smooth rocks.
I walked out to that point where I found some
interesting looking rocks.  I'm sure if I knew
what I was looking at they would've been
fossils.  I did however find a few fossils on
the beach.  

Green green green

Sunrise over the neighbor's cattle farm. 

You know those California ads with the happy
cows? Those cows have crap compared to these
guys.  These animals looked happy.

On top of a green and blue world. 

Fossily looking thing. 

That must be a good patch of grass right there.

The coast near sunset.  

     The third night I ate dinner with the family again.  The two boys asked me lots of questions about where I was from and where I grew up.  They were amused that I called their courgettes "zucchini."  The world atlas was quickly brought out to the table and we all discussed geography while we ate our courgettes, chicken, and couscous.  I went to bed happy and tired from all the work and hiking.  The next day Sean was meeting me out there and I couldn't wait to show him around.  
   I put in another full morning of work then walked 45 minutes into the town of Bridport where I was meeting Sean.  I was so excited for him to see this area.  I knew he would love it.  I met him when he hopped off the bus and this time I had better directions to give him.  We got a bite to eat at a cafe in town then hiked back to the house.  Everyone had traveled to London for the day so it was quiet and I showed him around the property.  After a quick tour we headed back out to the coast where we hiked and soaked up that sunshine.   We stopped at the pub for some drinks then went exploring on the beach looking for some dinosaur bones.  No luck but we had a great time just enjoying the scene and relaxing to the sound of the waves.  Later that night we made a little gypsy meal in the caravan of ravioli, bread, cheese and wine.  Sean brought his laptop and we watched reruns of the Office.  
     The next day Sean and I both put in a days worth of work.  Veronica was wary of us clearing too much space for gardening.  She had help now but what would happen when we left?  She would be left to this space that's too large for her alone.  We worked on clearing the grass and weeds from the stone steps.  The whole time the chickens wanted in on the worms and grubs we were pulling up.  Once we cleared one set of steps we were ready to move onto the next but Veronica insisted we quit early and enjoy the sun and scenes.  We headed down the road to the little cafe where we feasted on homemade local food.  In the late afternoon we caught a ride back into town with Veronica and hopped on the bus and headed back to London.

Sean found the sheep.  Sean also found nettles.  If you look
at the weeds under his knees you'll see that those are the
stinging nettles.  I had no clue what they were.  Veronica
told me that they "sting" you.  I was confused.  I thought
she meant they had prickers.  Nope. They sure as hell
sting you.  Beware! They feel like miniature bee stings.
Luckily I had some heavy duty gloves for the trip but
Sean brought some simple fabric ones.  I warned him
about the nettles and the first thing he grabbed was a huge
stalk of the plant.  He quickly let go and gave a little
roar.  Yup. No joke! 
Sean and the chickens working on the
overgrown stone steps.  Those chickens were
gorgeous and so friendly especially that
black one.  
    This was such a fun experience.  Being out here just simply grounds you.  It simplifies things and your feelings.  The sun, the dirt, the green, the animals and the vast blue sky and sea was just wonderful. My first experience wwoofing was fantastic.  It may not have been on a large farm with acres of fields but it was great to help someone with their garden.