Saturday 7 May 2011

The Last Few Weeks

I’m a few weeks behind with blogging- we’ve just been having too much fun living it!

Our latest hosts were a field or two too remote for internet and phone reception, so everything has been limited and rushed for the last couple of weeks. By that, I mean one of us has been keeping the children busy while the other catches up with essential communications- no facebook isn’t essential, but it is addictive and can be brief!

Anyway, we had a wonderful week at Kennal Vale Mills. Its a beautiful wooded valley with fields at the top, which is where they have a forest garden and a more traditional allotment. We’ve learnt about variety, with one adult working part-time, as well as holiday cottages, home ed, flexi-schooling, splitting wood and unfortunately dealing with vandalism. No animals of their own, but a rescue dog which visited which unfortunately didn’t agree with us too well- Little One is scared of dogs ( after being knocked over by a friendly one a couple of years ago) and Big One is wary. This dog wasn’t used to small children, which really didn’t help- and took a dislike to us all ( as it was shut away the first night we met it, and was how the dog had previously lived). That was the main drawback, and hopefully we’ve learned a little more about dogs.

I was initially quite daunted by the steep hillside- our camping pitch was at the top, and the wood shed at the bottom. I’ve no idea how many steps it was, but to where we could park half way up the hill, DH tells me it was 135 yds to the tent, most of it uphill. I felt quite ill the day we arrived, so DH had most of the carrying to do- now we all appreciate parking near our campsite :-) After a few days the hillside didn’t feel much of a problem- well, just locating the girls, and the annoyance of a forgotten tool at the opposite end of the hill....

Our girls loved spending time with a bigger girls, who lived there, and fortunately she seemed to enjoy their company too, which on a practical level meant both of us could work more, which we both enjoyed.

Our work varied from weeding, to building a woodpile shelter/rain collection system (I think the rainwater collection was more important than protecting the woodpile!), lots of wood to split as a shady job whenever we felt like it, clearing a fire circle to DH having a wall to help repair from vandalism- nearby public access seems to have attracted some folk who don’t accept some of the woodland is privately owned and maintained.

Our campsite was at the edge of the forest garden, so within the windbreaks and lovely and sheltered, we had wonderful sunshine for most of our week and very little breeze. It was so hot we had the cooking stove outside the tent all week, too hot for cooking inside! We had a few shared meals, but this was the first place we did most of our own food, which seemed to work reasonably well. Of course, the only rainy day I remember is when I did the washing :-)

We had an education about lawnmowers- or at least we could have, had we let the 11 yr old really get going on his favourite topic! He has started an impressive collection, with some amazingly old and working mowers- I can see a Cornwall Mower Museum in the making.

We’ve had fascinating discussions and informative chats with a family who have been working on their forest garden for 10 yrs, and having such a diversity of work going on- amazing.

We also discovered just getting off the site for a little while really helped us to keep at it- we’ve been working over a month with a travelling day each week, so only really one day off ( apart from John sending us to the beach!)- and we’ve not always taken it if we’ve been wanting to finish something. We found a playground in the local village, and picked up a birthday present for Little One and wellies for Big One at a garden centre on our way into Truro for fish and chips.

Our week here felt very short, and we could have easily stayed longer.

We’ve moved onto North Devon, and home of the Thunderbox. My appreciation of compost toilets has gone up again!

Our facilities sound basic- a mobile compost loo in the next field, a tap up by the cabin being built, and an outside bath 2 fields away-and its utterly amazingly fabulous.

We’ve met a family actually Doing our dream. They have a few sheep, a few cows, a few horses, a few chickens and a wood. They’ve got temporary permission to live on their land, which they have had for 4 years and been living in a caravan for that long. Actually a few caravans, but you get the idea. Where they differ from our dream is that they have about 10 or 20 times the land we hope for, and got it as a bargain from knowing the right guy at the right time. They’ve WWOOFed as a family for years, and been travelling loads after giving up ‘standard’ jobs ( well, it actually sounded like a pretty fab job- apart from- you guessed it- management!). They may well apply for full planning permission to live here now, as their businesses are doing well enough- selling salad leaf bags, animal healing and of course the Thunderboxes ( anyone want a franchise? We’d be interested if we had the land and wood source!).

We’ve been having a wonderful time. The Weather has been more changeable than we’ve had before, a bit windy and wet, but plenty of sunshine as well.

The border collie here has been the perfect antidote from the dog we met at the last place, with Big One not scared of her at all, trying to boss her around, and Little One is still nervous but sooo much better than when we got here.

Our arrival co-incided with caravan moving, to nearer the cabin so its easier to work on ( although the cabin is only a short term temporary eco build, until they hopefully get permission to rebuild the heaps of walls that used to be a farmhouse). DH helped with building a shelf for the outside sink area, and this week we’ve built a wall for the hay storage area ( which doubles as cowshed, milking parlour and stables as needed). DH is working on a chicken coop- I should be helping but Little One needed a nap.

Doris gets milked daily, which was very interesting for Big One- she was leaping out of bed to get there to see it all, and even had a go a couple of days, but she’s pretty worn out these last few days and not quite as interested. Doris’s ‘baby’, George, is 2 yrs old , and as he still has milk that means if Dave goes away for a few days (like he did a few weeks ago), George means milking doesn’t need covering. Best of both worlds, and lots of unprocessed milk for us all.

The sheep here have lambs, and Big One knows exactly how many there are. I know there is one less lamb than when we arrived- it died a couple of days after we got here, and had been ill a couple of days longer. Death doesn’t seem such a big deal, though 5 days afterwards Little One has started talking about ‘ the poorly dead baby lamb’ again, so a bit of processing going on. Big One is taking comfort that there are other lambs left, at the moment, so we’ll see how things go. The girls have always been told exactly where meat, eggs and milk come from, but seeing it all happening all the time is still a bit more of an education. I hope we can be involved in meat for eating ( when not with vegetarian hosts, of course!).

There are horses as well- they’re a bit futher away so we haven’t had much to do with them, though Big One wants to ride ( now she knows the little boy here gets to ride!) but I’m not sure that’ll fit in the short time we have left.

One of my first jobs was cleaning the drinking troughs in the fields, so I met cows (I lived with cows in the next field as I grew up, so not too bothered by that) which licked me a bit. The sheep kept their distance, but when I did the horses they all came to inspect my work! I’ve not spent much time around horses, and one of them here is a work horse so a good size. I had my buckets kicked over several times ( not food, so not too interesting) my hat removed and a lot of licking going on. I didn’t quite feel as confident to push the nosiest horse away- all the others would move when I talked and told them to move, but in the end I had to give him a shove- he was probably the foal and known to be nosy!

We’ve not been here quite two weeks, but ( apart from missing an easy shower- though there is a solar shower in the polytunnel, I missed that off my list of facilities) this is one place I wish we could stay longer. I feel I’ve not quite got into the swing of the work, with being distracted by children and some days being really quite unproductive, and if we had more time I think I’d settle into it better. They normally ask for a 2 week commitment as a minimum, but when I explained about the Bodgers Ball they were ok about us coming for a little less. Two weeks would be better, but already we’ve been some places that 2 weeks would really be a bit hard going for us all- we just can’t tell until we get to meet the people. I just reckon we’ll need another few summers off work to come back to all the wonderful places we’ve found for a few months each, and really do this properly .

We’ve had some smelly jobs- clearing the troughs was quite smelly in places, and shifting a lot of muck around. We’ve mostly been doing cow muck, making a few compost heaps, and shifting ex-muck ( ie compost) up to the polytunnel. Its hard work, its outdoors in the weather, be it hot or cold- and its really, really enjoyable.

Its Beltane (or was it yesterday?)anyway, so tonight they’re having a fire, a bit of a BBQ (first one this trip, we’ve not really thought of it!) and we’ll take a drink to share. Happy Days.

We're at the Bodgers Ball, which has mobile you get the update sooner than I hoped. Though everyone has appeared now so I can't really say much about the Bodgers Ball- but its good fun. I've woven a little basket ( hat for Big One apparently) and the breakfast butties really hit the spot. A muddle with directions means we (and many others) were directed into the 'Late arrivals' field- downsides is distance from everything especially toilets- but its good as last night it was quiet and no nettles or thistles underfoot where we've camped. Oh, and its LEVEL- wonderful! Someone packed the rain though- I think we've had our wettest day and night of our trip so far.
 Must go, Big One has a very big sharp knife out, and DH has just got a new spoon knife off Robin ( Wood, of course! are there other Robins, lol?). Happy Days!

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