Sunday, 25 April 2010

Our last few days at Smiling Tree Farm were as great as the first few – it would be wonderful to think that all the places we will stay will be as good as this… WWOOF hosts after this will have a lot to live up to; we’ve been very lucky to have had such a friendly, knowledgeable host, and to have eaten such delicious food all week while staying in some really beautiful countryside for our first experience!

The sun has continued to shine, in fact it seems that hardly a drop of rain has fallen since we left work. Can this be a co-incidence? Since the last blog we have done more of the same; finished digging in the vegetable patch and clearing cow muck from the yard. We helped move the cows to a new field and have also tried our hand at milking Lollipop. We spent a morning doing some weeding at the neighbouring farm and finding out a bit more about commercial farming, followed by feeding some lambs whose mothers are unable to feed them.

On Thursday Christine took us to the Wormlas Rare Breeds centre to look at all the weird and wonderful varieties of chickens there are. On Friday we met my Mum and Dad for lunch in Clun then they came back to the farm with us to have a look round. And on Saturday we spent a few hours having another lovely walk along Offa’s Dyke.

Back on Smiling Tree Farm two lambs have met a sticky end. One became very weak and for some reason stopped feeding - an injection of antibiotics did nothing to strengthen him. We helped Christine to shepherd the lamb and its mother into the barn on Friday night, which involved a lot of patient waiting while the ewe ran up and down the hill in panic as we carried her lamb. Eventually the ewe was captured and led to the barn where we tried to encourage the lamb to suckle. In the morning he was weaker still and by the afternoon he had died. And the very very tiny lamb 'Tiny' (born from a one year old mother) has simply disappeared without trace in the night.

Today we left the farm and drove down to Bristol for a very quick visit to the allotment, its good to see how things are growing already. Even the first spear of asparagus has poked its head through the ground! After a well deserved cup of tea on North Street we will be carrying on down to Laura’s aunt’s near Tiverton before we head to North Devon for two weeks - we start at the next Farm tomorrow.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Back to work

Well we have arrived at our first WWOOFing placement, Smiling Tree farm, and what a beautiful place it is. The house is a 500 year old thatched farm house currently being restored in a very sympathetic way and set in the very rural South Shropshire hills. Our host Christine is a fountain of knowledge about all aspects of smallholdings – livestock, land management, renewable energy, finances, and more! I feel like we’ve learnt so much already. And we’ve had delicious food: home reared lamb, bacon, sausages and pork; nettle soup; apple tarts; home baked bread; and fresh eggs from the chickens.

That brings me on to the animals. We arrived on Sunday evening and almost straight away got whisked off to meet some of them. We shut the mother hens and their chicks up to prevent the foxes and badgers getting a quick snack. Then we went down to see Dolly (a Berkshire pig) and her 9 two day old piglets – they are so sweet. We made sure all of them were suckling and checked each of their bellies to make sure they were full. They were and they’re growing fast! Then we went to see the Shetland sheep – a pretty small breed. All bar one of them have very recently lambed and the new mothers (those only a year old) seem to have produced extra small lambs, they’re tiny!

Our first day started off with the morning rounds – feeding all the animals and meeting the remaining ones – the larger and more fluffy Dartmoor sheep, two more pigs (Dotty and the boar Little Bear) and 4 cows (the Jerseys are Marmalade, Lollipop and Ginger and the Jersey crossed with Aberdeen Angus is Daisy). They are very placid and Ginger the calf is gorgeous with his big dark eyes. Our first job entailed catching lambs, holding on to them and then tagging their ears with their ID tag. Matt was a bit dismayed when the lamb he was holding wriggled free with only 1 tag attached. But he redeemed his self by catching a wanted lamb!

On Monday and Tuesday we spent most of our 4 hours a day of work mulching two belts of newly planted trees as it’s been so dry lately and this should help them survive the summer too. This involved watering each tree, putting a good load of manure around each one, then we put old fleece over each one for some further moisture retention. It was satisfying to start and complete a task and Christine said she’d refer to the tree belts as Laura and Matt’s! Today we’ve fed the animals; done a bit of weeding on the veg plot; a bit of putting muck on the muck heap; penning the cows up to worm them; observing the vet who came out to check on Dolly (she’s become very stiff and couldn’t get up to eat this morning, much better by this evening though).

Other than the work we have been going on lots of walks in the beautiful sunshine (I think it’s hardly rained since we left work) and chilling out. Feeling quite sleepy now.

Now that we’ve started WWOOFing there seems to be much more to say!


Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Somehow a week has passed since our last blog, and we’ve been doing lots of exciting things. I’m currently sat typing this with Squeak the cat curled up on my lap!

We left Bristol on Tuesday evening and travelled to Shropshire to spend a few days house and animal sitting. We dug over the vegetable patch and fenced in the front lawn to stop Poppy escaping – since she’s quite deaf now (and her eyesight is dubious) it seems that her nose has become super-powerful and she likes nothing better than to follow it wherever it takes her in the wood and fields…. Then Mum and Dad have the challenge of trying to find her! No longer can she escape.

Then on Friday we went to stay with Greg, Kath and Tilly for the weekend. Tilly has grown lots since we last saw her and can now nearly wave! We had a great weekend; after walking the dogs we set about helping Greg and Kath with their garden, together we all worked very hard in the sunshine setting up their vegetable patch for the summer. They can now look forward to bumper crops of peas, lettuce, runner beans, radishes, spring onions, spinach, courgettes, strawberries and blueberries – make sure you keep watering them all Greg… In the evening we had the first bbq of the year followed by some gaming and on Sunday Greg and I slaved away in the garden again laying a path while everyone else watched and criticised our 10 point action plan!

Then after dinner back home, we finished cramming the car with all the ‘essential’ things we will need and finally set off on the first WWOOFing leg of our trip. First stop Smiling Tree Farm!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Well, we’ve emptied our flat and done the cleaning. It must be time to leave. It’s been a little bit odd spending the last two days ‘camping’ in an empty flat, but it's gone a long way to showing us how little we do actually need. A few saucepans instead of just the pots from our trangia to cook with would’ve been nice though…

The allotment is now three quarters covered in black plastic mulch, which should hopefully go a long way towards stopping the weeds from taking control while we’re away. We’ll be planting quite a few things too. We’ve sown a few seeds, mainly brassicas (purple sprouting, sprouts, kale) and squashes which we will be planting out when we come back at the beginning of May, so rain permitting we should have some good crops next autumn and even next spring. Alex and Stu are very kindly looking after the brassica seedlings for us, and the squashes will be travelling with us for a while!

Tonight we will leave Bristol and head to Shropshire for pretty much the next two weeks before returning to the South West for two weeks in North Devon. We’re house-sitting for my Mum and Dad for the first few days, then staying with Greg, Kath and Tilly over the weekend before we have our first proper week of WWOOFing at Smiling Tree Farm in South Shropshire, starting on Sunday.

In some ways its a real shame to be leaving Bristol, we've been lucky to have met some great people here and also lucky to live in such a lovely flat in a great part of Bristol, but I think its good to be sticking our necks out and making such a radical change. (We'll probably be back anyway!) Who knows what we'll experience over the next 12 months? It’s really rather exciting!


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


So I feel like this is the first actual day of our year off as the Easter hols are now over…how does it feel? Hmm, pretty much the same as yesterday! I did notice how long the 4 day break seemed to be (M said it was because I was with him 24 hours a day and how would I feel after a year?!) but I’m sure it’s because there was no Sunday night / “ tomorrow” feeling.

I realise that now I'm writing this and people are actually viewing it, which makes me feel more self-conscious! Does this really interest you?

Like Matt, I left work last Thursday. It seems peculiar that I’ve been there longer than my time at university. What feels really odd leaving after that amount of time is all that knowledge you’ve accrued. Unless I return to that area of work again (well obviously Higher Education administration was my calling in life), then all that learning, knowledge, information is redundant. At least this year I’ll be learning skills for life. Well I hope so anyway, perhaps we’ll just spend our days weeding potato patches…

Anyway, the last day at work was an unusual one – most of my department was out at an away day which meant that there were no “grown-ups” in the office. It made for quite a relaxing environment for my final day. Then I was truly touched by the number of people who came out after work to the Thekla for my leaving drinks. It's sad to have left everyone behind and I'll miss you all! But I also feel a huge sense of relief to have got out before the move to Swindon. Here’s a picture of Dylan kissing his muscular man arm for no reason I can remember.

Since then we have been mostly: packing; allotmenting; eating up food from the cupboards/fridge/freezer (still feeling the effect of those 1 ½ year old borlotti beans!); eating chocolate; catching up on sleep; playing with Charlie, and painting her.


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Countdown is set to zero

Finished. Been a crazy week, it's probably not completely over but good to be looking forward to a new way of life, not looking back... Sad to be leaving so many great people behind at work, but the timing could not have been more pertinent. See you soon I should think!

A period of quiet reflection and frantic last minute preparation in Bristol will be followed by some exciting times. In the last week our first few months has taken shape, we now have a definite itinerary taking us to the end of July. It became apparent to us last weekend that leaving the arrangement of wwoofing placements to the last minute would have been a recipe for disaster, or at least a recipe for homelessness… Now I feel a bit too organised – better than the alternative though!

Scotland is now entirely sorted (barring any last minute changes). A rough map of our plans (click on the picture to enlarge):

Now, after a long sleep, we need to start thinking about Ireland...