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Somerset, England

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I signed off last time by saying you’d be hearing from us in England. Truth is, I was WAY too busy having a blast to keep up on the blog. We stayed with the loveliest family in Somerset and were kept occupied with our multiple odd-jobs and everyday tasks. During our stay we visited the elegant, historic city of Bath, hitch-hiked to and from Stonehenge, frequented the nearby village of Bruton and explored the ethereal Stourhead Gardens. Our time on the farm itself was such a treat: feeding the heritage-breed chickens and Shetland sheep each morning, helping with painting a neighbor friend’s house, burning bonfires of wood scraps, participating in Three King’s Day (a biodynamic thing), house-sitting with a brand new puppy and her auntie for a week, and teasing and carding mountains of wool. Our last day of work was a 26-ton, 10 hour job of moving freshly cut wood into a pile in the farm shed. But it was a thing of beauty when finished.
Samantha and Guy, our hard-working hosts, had three exceedingly sweet daughters—the younger two (8 and 6 years old) we spent lots of time with and it was such a treat to be with young children and in a family environment: we were suffering from an acute bout of homesickness. The skies dumped a good two feet of snow while we were there, completely transforming the landscape into a silent, motionless backdrop to the daily routine. Loran showed the girls the basics of building an igloo, and it turned out fantastic once the whole family joined in. Well, truth be told it looked rather like an awfully perky breast (chimney on top!) but it was a job very well done. We fell in love with their two Spanish waterdogs, Moro and baby Luna, whom we took care of for a week. Samantha and Guy had a healthy abhorrence of modern-day pet grub and fed their lucky dogs an amazing diet close to what dogs would have had in the wild. Much closer than kibbles, anyway.

little Luna

little Luna

The farm was situated on the border of Stourhead Forest. One crisp, foggy afternoon we walked towards the back of the farm, headed for the woods. Forty-five beautiful minutes later we discovered Stourhead Gardens, our purpose for the trip. We had entered a dreamscape. The fog kept the gardens hidden, so every 100 yards was an unfolding of colors, of architectural wonders, of 18th century grandeur.

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the grotto~

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reflections.

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Apollo’s Temple

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so lovely~

One weekday we were able to make a trip (by train) out to Bath. It was an architectural fantasy. You could easily spend all day admiring the buildings, wandering the streets. It was especially beautiful at the time we went—snow had recently fallen and the city was blanketed in white, more peaceful than usual. We did the touristy thing, visited the Roman Bathhouse, the Royal Crescent, the Circus. All wondrous constructions. We only had a few hours, and we spent our remaining time wandering the streets, soaking up the city experience before heading back to the countryside.

Bath~

Bath~

Our mutual first experience hitching was to none other than the iconic Stonehenge. It went so smoothly! Of course I pictured some serious weirdos picking us up and chatting us to death, but then I remembered: all the scary ax-murderers are back home in the States. So after about 12 cars passed us by, or 25 minutes waiting, we only slightly nervously slid into the seats of a nice Englishman’s car. It wasn’t awkward at all—we swapped travel stories, explained what exactly we were doing, inquired into his career. Twenty minutes later we were dropped at the Stonehenge parking lot.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Like most famous travel destinations (the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Colosseum), Stonehenge was smaller than I expected. BUT, as with our visit to Bath, snow covered the surrounding field and the scenery was breathtaking: a beautiful, cloudy day with just enough sun peeking through for an appearance in our photographs. We spent about an hour with the automated tour guide glued to our heads, ooh-ing and aah-ing over interesting facts we’ve already forgotten.

Our hitch home took two trips. A really lovely artsy couple picked us up just outside of Stonehenge (they had been drawing the site and had seen our hitching sign) and dropped us off at a busier street. There we were picked up about five minutes later by a really friendly guy named Triss. Five minutes into our ride, we discovered he was actually friends with our hosts and we were dropped at the door. Serendipity? YES.

All in all, England treated us incredibly well. The true countryside of England is heavily romanticized about, and for good reason. It is breathtaking, tranquil, unadulterated. I know I’ve said this countless times, but we cannot wait to go back.

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Our final day at Blaeneinion has snuck up on me; tomorrow will be our last day of work, of breathing the fresh air of Wales, of (hopefully) putting up with not seeing the sun for weeks on end.

Blaeneinion will have kept us for 34 days. It has felt rather cyclical, as our final task will be planting trees; it was also our first. We didn’t get everything accomplished on the ‘December’ list, but at least three BIG projects were tackled: covering the polytunnel, fixing up the sad mess a disgruntled tenant left our host, and helping to design the next planting compartment. Loran and I spent a day getting the measurements for the compartment, walking the length of it multiple times to develop an accurate idea of the area. The next day I was knocked out with an irritating 24-hr cold, but Loran succeeded in transferring our measurements to grid-paper for a to-scale outline of the compartment, complete with sketches of bracken and rocky outcrops.

With the map to scale, Sharon marked out where she wants the paths and the clearings. Armed with hot-pink wool and bamboo stakes, Loran and I hammered the pathways into reality, connecting each stake to its neighbor with wool so as to get an idea of a space. We had a nice, leisurely weekend and spent an hour on Sunday ‘lifting’ oak trees. Sharon has a small tree nursery near the house where she has grown saplings for the past few years. Over the past two days we succeeded in lifting all of the oak, a total of about 180–this meant that today we were able to plant!! It was utterly, despicably miserable: sideways rain (again!) and icicle fingers…but we finished a bundle before lunch. Tomorrow, our final day (!) will be dedicated to busting out as much planting as we can.

Next time you hear from us, it will be from England!

Here’s a photo of one of the beavers:

 

lovely beaver ~ after munching away on breakfast

lovely beaver ~ after munching away on breakfast

 

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Blaeneinion, Wales

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Well, obviously I abandoned my post last month. My “picture a day” sputtered into a heap of nothing, which is perfectly acceptable—Loran and I were frantic. Keeping ourselves busy and yet procrastinating at the same time…anything to keep our minds off of leaving Ireland and the wonderful people we already miss like crazy. We kept busy with last-minute projects (like basket weaving & mass postcard-writing), but failed to post our two HUGE boxes of old stuff & souvenirs home to Washington State until the day before we left. And then it hit us: day of departure. We made Ireland our home for a full three months!!—a quarter of the entire length of our year-long expedition. And Ireland truly embraced us—leaving felt like saying goodbye to our families all over again, but on a higher level: we know when we’ll be returning for home, but no idea when we’ll be able to visit the Hook Peninsula again.

 

Waiting for the bus~

Waiting for the bus~

 

We boarded the ferry in Rosslare just after eight Friday morning, and proceeded to have the smoothest journey yet towards our current living quarters in Mid-Wales. The ferry was effortless, the busses efficient. Our hostess, Sharon, picked us up and we bumbled along in her four-wheel drive Shogun up to the last stop in the Artist’s Valley. It was pitch-black and so we were entirely unable to see the beauty surrounding us. When we woke the next morning and pulled back the curtains we were ecstatic. That Saturday and Sunday we spent hiking around little bits of the valley, soaking up the colors, the scenery. It’s difficult to decide where on our travels we have found to be the most beautiful…but Mid-Wales has certainly been the most stunning. The color scheme is just different. The deep purples and reds nestled in emerald hills, dotted with fluffy cotton-ball sheep makes me giddy whenever I get a particularly good view.

 

 

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

 

 

I'm smitten with the colors here!

I’m smitten with the colors here!

 

 

sheepies!!

sheepies!!

 

 

Loran and I have been here over a week now, during which we helped to plant over 500 trees of several varieties: goat’s willow, wych elm, ash, aspen and oak. It is hard to imagine all of these tiny trees poking out of their protective plastic tubes as a mature forest, but that thought of someday is really rewarding. I also don’t think I’ve ever slept so well in my life! Our only other task during the week was keeping the geese/hens/ducks alive and well-fed. Actually a more difficult chore than it sounds but entertaining all the same. The ducks, we are told, flew over from a neighboring valley where Sharon guessed they were being semi-domestically raised for hunting. Five geese and three chickens versus ~20 ducks means Loran and I must stand guard over the other birds and fend off the ducks with a big ol’ stick until everyone’s fed.

 

 

tree-planting!!

tree-planting!!

 

 

Yesterday Sharon, Hywel & Heather (another WWOOFing couple, from Australia), Loran and I tackled the ‘hot taping’ of the polytunnel—protecting the plastic from the heat of the metal frame once everything is in place. This was a great opportunity: I have developed a relatively new dream for my future that includes a gigantic garden, complete with polytunnel. Having this opportunity on the farm, then, is really educational for us. It’ll be especially great to witness the more creative side of the tunnel: bed design, irrigation system, rainwater funneling, etc. Tomorrow we’re going to attempt to get the gigantic roll of plastic up and over the frame, tucking it in all snug & taut.

 

 

everyone getting started with the taping

everyone getting started with the taping

 

 

taping~

taping~

 

 

Check back soon! (But not too soon! We’re busy…and we like it.)

~s

 

 

double rainbow~

double rainbow (barely!)~

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Woodworking

 

Class tonight went really well–we both finally feel that we’re getting the hang of the different tools we’ve had to use the past 4 weeks. Loran loves it; he’s looking to order a chisel & gouge set to start whittling away during the cold winter evenings.

 

Before Picture of my 3 pieces~

 

Loran concentrating SO hard

 

Shaving away on my spatula~

 

Finished spatula (!), nearly finished spoon, and 2nd spoon started. Wheee!!

 

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We had another field trip day today: the Irish National Heritage Park. Loran and I opted for the free 1 1/2 hour tour around the park and (besides frozen toes) it was well worth the time. Our guide escorted us around to the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Neolithic Age, etc. etc. with replicas of thatched houses (nomadic & permanent), burial sites, and even a horizontal water mill.

 

Replicas of early nomadic structures~

 

 

Replica of what is called a “Ring Fort” – Farmers had to protect their livestock from thievery, resorting to a wall and trench!

 

 

Settlement meant bigger houses~

 

 

This wooden statue was standing in the park’s bogland~ He represented the wooden figurines that would be tossed in as sort of an offering, preserving the objects for use in the next world, next life.

 

Next week we have a fieldtrip to Kilkenny!! We’re sooo excited–check back!

 

Smashin’ Day

 

Irene has what she calls the “WWOOFer’s Walk”–she has each WWOOFer make a cement tile with an image made from tiles, broken ceramics, rocks, etc. She’ll have these tiles be the stepping stones from her backyard patio to the vegetable garden. We started ours today, smashing plates and a vase and organizing the material into piles by color (:

 

 

Plates!! Gorgeous Colors~

 

 

Having WAY too much fun with this ;)

 

 

Nice lil’ piles!

 

 

Hopefully next week we’ll have a completed tile to show you! We have a really nice design in mind…we’ll see if we can effectively accomplish it.

 

 

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Day 15

We are halfway through the month. It’s hard to believe that we’ll be leaving in just over 2 weeks. A sobering thought, as we’ve fallen in love with the Hook of Ireland.

Leaving Ireland, and moving on, was on our minds during our morning walk. The foggy daybreak mirrored our cloudy thoughts, but the beauty of the morning dissipated any scrooginess and took us into a highly productive, exhilarating day.

 

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misty layers

 

Dewey webs~

 

We accomplished a lot. Finished Kate & Ray’s stawberry bed, worked on more steps in the garden, finished organizing the polytunnel, relocated 5 loganberry bushes and, finally, made a mushroom tart supplemented with wild blewits we foraged before sunset.

 

After~

 

Before — Update coming soon…

 

Before! So disorganized!

 

After we swooped in & saved the day~

 

An unbelievably gorgeous mushroom tart.

 

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