Tuesday 31 May 2011

A few days off

We've been at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, and the folk there are brilliant. We got there by accident though, I was just looking for a campsite to break our journey at, and this was the one that stood out. Of course, when I looked into it, its just our kind of place. I was a bit concerned about the cost though- it sounded a bit steep for what sounded a very basic set up.
However, the facilities are great. The showers are nearly instant hot water, good pressure (important considerations for us) and the disabled access shower was great for putting the kids bath in, so they have had a bath this month. The hot water went to the washing up sink, which is also under cover and the building is on rammed earth tire piles- something I bet Gill would be interested in. The water was heated by solar power- and I now have a new respect for it. When I read solar heated showers on the website, I was thinking luke-warm showers but cold in the morning, but this was a 'proper job'- what I could easily imagine living with in a house, nice and hot all the time.
What really made it a great place was the family we met who live there. The mum writes for The Mother magazine, and our children all had a whale of a time playing together, from pond dipping to bike riding to playing baking....I don't think us adults saw that much of them when playing! Big One was so sad the day we left, wanting to play with their Big One for another day.
It was also a holiday for us, because of our accomodation. We intended to camp, but it was really windy when we got there, and swirling around the camping field. I just couldn't face another windy stay- after all this is holiday time, right? So, we inspected the tipis and yurt and stayed in Henry's spare yurt for the 4 days. The extra head room- even though the floor space was actually smaller- has made our tent feel small now! We had loads of room, and things hung up on the walls, what a novelty... it was great.
The downside was a mouse trying to share our home for 2 hours in the night- we eventually encouraged it out the door, and kept the gap under the door stuffed shut. We didn't notice the windy weather at all in the yurt- happy us. We did like the tipis, but the Big One ( absolutely huge) was in use the first night, and the smaller one didn't quite suit our sleeping arrangements.
Our last night was really great as my cousin Sally came to visit- she lives nearby and we've not met up for about 20 years, we figured out.
We were glad of the positive for our last night, becuase we were having a hard time with the MOT for the van. DH carefully worked out (with the van limited to 70 mph and we rarely get that fast in it) our load weight and what tires were suitable when we got our nice chunky tires, but the garage said we had to have commercial tires on it to pass. So another £220 on tires we don't want, put on the van on moving day when we're going to the one place that warned us about access with a big van, was a bit of bad news and a bit stressful. Thankfully we've got the van in here- I'm not quite sure how we'll turn it around and get it out again but that is definately DHs department.

We're at a Woods somewhere near Charing, with some amazing folk- and 3G mobile internet reception- yippee! We didn't expect them to have any running water but they had the tap fitted a couple of weeks ago- so yay we can wash up, but boo we have a huge length of pipe in the wood to dig in 18 inches down. DH is in his element with chainsaw work, we've even got some carving wood- sweet chestnut seems lovely to work with. Little One is having a nap so I'm getting time to catch up with the blog. I had to leave putting up the shelter though- with more folk expected more space under cover is needed for meals and breaks.

We seem to be falling into a work pattern where we both try to work the morning, and I take Little One for her nap, which seems to be about 1 pm.  I stay with her, and then hopefully work a little more after her nap, but it does vary. The girls are staying up later, about 9 pm, as we've been chatting around the campfire the last couple of nights- but this is a little late for Big One. The woodland is beautiful, and Tinka and her boyfriend are just getting started with helping out her parents with woodland work. It sounds like they have more WWOOFers lined up for the coming weeks.
 We're getting to cook over the fire- the air is so still here in the wood that breezes hardly get us. Normally its the breeze that makes sitting around in the evening too chilly, and cooking take too much wood, but this is great.
We did start the huge water pipe trench yesterday, but it was so difficult the hosts are now considering a digger to at least do the accessible bits ( some of the trees are a bit close together!) otherwise it could take years, and it need burying before winter frosts!

Sunday 29 May 2011

Learning Stuff

Maturity is doing the right thing even if it's what your mother tells you to do.

Homeopathy is about energy. Electricity is energy you can't see and not easy to understand- you don't need to measure it, its still there.

When things go wrong we learn much more than when they go smoothly (I'm thinking of moving the sheep at Stroud here!)

4C at 2 am is very cold
7C at 7 am is quite warm
10 C at 10 pm is cold!

Walk behind the bull in the field- then you don't spoil his view.

A cow calving- if no further on after an hour or 2 might need some help.

When immunising lambs need to draw up 2 mls of vaccine very quickly.

Ordinary pegs are rubbish at putting up a tent in a stony field ( we had to use a crowbar to get a hole in the ground, which wasn't the same shape as our pegs)

A tent that normally takes 20 mins to put up  can take hours in a stony field.

Rock pegs seem to be worth while ( in a stony, windy field).

We like the look of a caravan with bunk beds.....

Not cooking tea daily is really lovely for us as a family.

Stones used as a path mulch either need a membrane under or tending frequently. Digging up deep roots through a path is a pain.

Polytunnels are fab, and lovely for gardening in windy weather.

A hillside is good for walking up and down for fitness, but might need knee replacements after 20 years.

Washing up in a sink is lovely. So is running hot water.
But washing up without either means I use a lot less water.

Laundrettes are expensive.

Fresh veggies are lovely, as is home made bread.

Independant food shops can be so hard to find, and local and/or organic vegetables are even harder to find.

The first step in a forest garden is establishing windbreaks, and 10 years is good for getting them established.

For DH to learn forestry we'll have to WWOOF in winter somewhere.

Compost loos and tree bogs are great.We've been 6 different places, none the same and each has advantages and disadvantages!

Sheep are daft animals.

We like cows.

I work better with a siesta.

DH really enjoys hard physical work.

I'm good at getting mucky.

Its quiet when the rain stops.

Our children are more fun with other people to talk to.

Our wood stove is lovely.

We still have no time for hobbies or reading, but the internet still happens.


We had a wonderful week in Stroud with Sarah, Paul and Becky- home of the Stroud Pasty ( delicious- we had both beef and lamb hot from the oven and delivered to our tent!), and the most sheep we've met at once!
The downside- well, only the wind and the rocks under the tent pitch. We spent the weekend before getting there telling everyone how we love the belltent for being so easy to pitch- but not on rocks. We now have a selection of rock pegs, but we spent hours- literally- that first afternoon trying to get the tent to stay up. A tent in windy weather is ok, but we found the constant wind noise very tiring. We wouldn't have known it without trying it, but we're really thinking about a caravan for winter.
What we enjoyed at this farm: the sheep- we helped to immunise them and DH learned how strong they can be. How daft sheep can be- attempts to move them from one field to two fields over must have been hilarious to see, but ultimately not successful for us- we only got them into the next field, as half the lambs stayed put and could not be convinced to move to find their mothers, so we had to bring the flock back a field!
The beef cattle- we helped move one field of youngsters to get a couple of lame ones in the barn, so the girls ( safely behind a fence) and I had the exilarating job helping stop the cattle heading off into Stroud, while DH was part of the team herding them our way.
In another field on another day we were just in time to see a calf born- amazing stuff.
We helped with weeding in the market garden- 5 or 6 polytunnels of food growing- an amazing sight and we were glad to help with it, and eat the salads.
Which gets me onto the food- WOW. Sarah's ( and Becky's) cooking was fabulous. It was lovely not having to cook, and we all enjoyed the delicious food, and lots of it. Happy Us!
There was another WWOOFer who the girls adopted, calling her 'Koala'- quite close to her name, but not quite, who was really great to be around.
The girls discovered fossils while helping with the market garden, and that was a great project, with Little One also collecting snails or slugs in a more fatal way- her investigating tended to be quite squishy!
Big One loved watching the horses- she has yet to try riding and I imagine we'll have to get her to some stables when we get back if she doesn't get to try before.
We even managed to bump into a familiar face in the Market Garden- someone we met at Lower Shaw Farm also is involved there. It was lovely to see her, and be reminded again we want to revisit there.
Our journey South after Stroud even took us right past Swindon....
Our work days were long, and some of it quite tiring, especially when the girls really wanted to do the rounds of the fields but Little One not quite having the stamina. I was really grateful we had the sling, especially when immunising the lambs so she was on my back while I did the drawing up of the meds ( another new skill, I don't have anything to do with drugs at work!), and as well for trying to chase the sheep around the fields.
We all enjoyed the work, the food, the company and what we could learn- we know we like the cattle, and sheep seem to be a lot more hard work. We have so much to learn, but its been great learning a little about the animals.

Sunday 15 May 2011


We've had a break from WWOOFing, and had just over a week 'off'. Last weekend was the Bodgers Ball, and our friend Richard is much more efficient with pictures, so have a look at his blog  where we had a lovely level pitch ( really appreciate these things after a couple of weeks on a slope!) and a peaceful place. We were at the Brockhampton Estate which was a lovely setting. DH and the girls spent 10 minutes going around the house, and said that was enough- I didn't get to have a look, but I'm glad we were members so a quick look was fine. The Ball is an annual gathering, and the APT has been going for 21 years, so this was the largest gathering in celebration. Lots of folk with lathes in the orchard, an amazing collection of items entered into the various competitions, from spoons to chairs, to sculpture and a very impressive Juniors section. I'm sorry to say we missed seeing what won for most sections, it was too crowded and hot in the marquee for us to stay through the awards. Both DH and I are keen to get on and carve more, but making time is the hard part. We came away inspired, weighed down by willow wands ( one made by Big One!) and a willow basket I enjoyed making. DH managed to have a go on a pole lathe, and we put on weight with the wonderful food that was arranged. We were impressed with both how it was organised ( children first at the hot evening meal) and the quality of food for the prices. We'd go there again! (however, the Bodgers Ball is in a different place organised by local teams each time, so I gather the food can vary).

After Brockhampton we had a little detour over to Wales to go to the Centre for Alternative Technology. I say little detour, as DH was arranging this part of the trip as was sure it was less than a couple of hours drive away.... It wasn't. Our journey also included a thunderstorm and hailstorm, prompting me to announce 'no matter how good experience it is, I AM NOT setting up camp in weather like this!'. It was sunny when we got there, but also a lot later than usual for us. Most of us went up the hill to CAT three days running- the girls liked the ride up, and enjoyed going back day after day- the last day was at their request! The shop was also visited daily, and the meal we had in the restaurant was fabulous- we only went in for a drink but it smelled too good.
Finally, we've been at the Natural Mamas forum Camp near Banbury. Its been a bit chilly in the evenings, which I think may have been a bit hard for first time campers- we were glad of the fire at bedtime. We bought food at this camp as well, and the lunches were amazing- the evening meal was absolutely fine, but a little dissapointing compared to the other food. Apparently the (volunteer) organisers envisaged a camp of about 30 or so, and instead there were a few hundred of us- they did a fab job, and I hope there'll be another next year! We managed to spend the weekend with friends from home, and meet a few new people. DH did a grand job doing 'guided tours' of our tent ( only bell tent this year, but I wonder how many next?lol) I think we were fair on the positives and negatives of camping in a big canvas tent. The magic for us was for the children. Most of the time they preferred to be with other folk, children or adults (especially Jill- thank you!) and Big One and I got to have a sewing and gluing time so she could make a picture for her friends. She did want it to be a purse, but I'm not up to that in 2 hours with limited materials....

We've had a non-motorway drive today Stroud, in a hotel for the night and then to our hosts tomorrow. They have an 85th birthday to celebrate today, and we don't want to interfere with their plans. We think we even have a rough idea where we're going- I think we drove passed a useful sign on our way here.
Right, better get back to enjoying family life and go find the family- they've gone to find the ducks.

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 reception...so 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!

Sunday 1 May 2011

just too busy doing

 A page of pics....
Dolly pegs at Bletchley ( the place with the enigma machines and code breaking in the second world war)..

 Lower Shaw Farm

entertainment at break time- yes that is a harp!

Including the polytunnel bare
poly tunnel new plastic

giant conga around from the front lawn..
Matt in his element with a team to organise
putting it up

the girls play barn (just for them, of course!)

at work in the sunshine


Little One insisted on a yoga practice after lunch!

Moving onto South Devon to John's place:

 Our pitch- a field to ourselves, apart from when the sheep visited.
the 'facilities' built by previous WWOOFers

First days work- sent to the beach!
 The view from the forest garden- the polytunnel ( the girls and I did some weeding there) and the huuge glass house. Fabulous.
A quiet spell in the journey!