A Weekend WWOOF is the latest blog by The Dorset Farm Student aka Liz Hawkins who describes herself as a townie taking her first steps into the world of farming.
Having WWOOFed in Scotland back in 2017, Liz is not exactly a newbie and this experience has also been documented in an earlier blog Lambing 2017. Here we read the incredible account of four weeks learning all about the reality of lambing – hands-on – as Liz describes the scenes vividly and with humour.
A weekend WWOOF
It’s always nerve-wracking when you arrive at your arranged destination to be met by someone you’ve never seen before in your life, let alone talked to. Your only anchor in this kind of situation are the most recent emails ‘to and fro’ and what you can remember of the hosts profile on the website, which more often than not, is quite old, or forgotten about. Or you can’t remember it. Anyway, it can be awkward.
This is my third stint WWOOFing now. And as much as I like to think of myself as a bohemian, Judy jet-set type. I always end up with the biggest suitcase in the whole world. This vision of me, with my massive suitcase, a tattooed forehead and fingers full of rings, always seems to inspire a perplexed and slightly shocked look from my hosts. I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Nevertheless Helen, my host for the weekend, and I soldier on, steadily getting to know each other in the car.It’s 5pm now, in the middle of winter. So, as we wind through the hills, I can only imagine how beautiful the view is. The farm sits on the edge of a Lake. So, to say I’m excited to get up and see the view tomorrow morning is an understatement
We arrive at the farm to be greeted by two friendly and very excited dogs. I’m shown my room and try to lug the suitcase up the stairs as deftly as possible – I fail miserably. After some time sat by the fire, a couple of beers and a lovely dinner, I feel quite at home. I go to bed happy and excited for tomorrow.
The alarm goes of at 7:30am. I’m always slow to start in the morning, so I give myself at least an hour to get myself together. I can hear Geese outside and, as I pull the white curtains back, I’m met with the most beautiful view, a vast lake surrounded by hills, twinkling lights in the distance. The sun hasn’t risen fully and the whole place is bathed in a cool blue light. I don’t know why, but looking out onto an immense landscape, makes me feel emotional. The first time I saw Ben Nevis, my eyes welled up and I was completely entranced. I felt at home, and I’d never been there before.
I get dressed whilst listening to the sounds of the house. Helen isn’t up yet. Very aware that I’m staying in someone’s home, I always try to work out the host’s routines, to be as helpful as I can without getting in their face or under their feet. I make my way downstairs, put the kettle on and make a start on last nights dishes. Shortly after, I’m joined by Helen and we have breakfast. I still feel a little nervous but I’m excited to get into the swing of things.
By 9am the weather has turned. We’re out in the lashing wind and rain to let the animals out after their night indoors. There are Geese, Ducks, Chickens and about 30 sheep – all of which are in lamb and due mid-March.
Today, the ducks need mucking out, which will take about an hour. The shed is washed down and supplied with fresh bedding. As per, I am out of breath pretty quickly and Helen, who’s twice my age is not. Reminds me of the time I went chasing after a swarm of bees with a host. He, in his 70’s tearing across a field and me, in my 30’s stumbling and panting behind him.
One thing that always seems to happen, wherever I am, while volunteering. Is the arrival of a mid-morning visitor. As the kettle goes on, the snacks come out and I take the opportunity to make a fuss of the dogs while conversations about the latest goings on, projects etc take place. It’s one of my favourite things. So often at home, people are caught up, busy with the daily grind. There doesn’t seem to be the time to stop, for a catch up and a coffee and sometimes you don’t want to. It’s certainly not something I do. I’ve always had jobs with the general public, and it’s safe to say, I’ve reached the point where I don’t consider myself a people person. So, when I have a day off, I prefer not to encounter anyone for at least 24 hours to give myself a break from other humans, at all costs.
Here though, in this case, it’s different. You feel different. You’ve been out in the elements all morning, working the land. Watching, observing, noticing the changes in weather, paying attention to the animals’ behaviour and the farmers’ routine. You step indoors, soaked and knackered, your body tingles with exertion and it’s the most brilliant feeling. You’ve earnt that cup of coffee and now you’ve a few minutes to sit down and get to know someone a little better – I absolutely love it!
The following day, after our morning routine. Helen and I replant Holly bushes which were growing naturally in the wood, around the large water tank, which Helen wanted to hide from view of the road. We walked the dogs around the farm. It had been raining all day yesterday, and finally the sun had come out. The hills beckoned me, much like they did for Julie Andrews.
The dogs tore off and Helen walked up the steep hill at a brisk pace while I tried not to get left behind, slip, fall over or have a heart attack! Helen spoke of her plans for the future. An opportunity to do some dry-stone walling would definitely be on the cards in the summer. She wanted to acquire a small herd of Galloways to graze the pasture on the hill and had various other ideas which were to be put in place over the next few years.
As we approached the lip of a large and rather steep hill, she paused… For some reason, don’t ask me why, I thought she was about to proclaim ownership of her kingdom, in some sort of grand gesture as she surveyed the farm. I braced myself for a moving moment and stopped beside her, looking out over the field. Suddenly, she turned, looked at me, and with a wry smile said, “Your coat’s probably too good for sliding” with that, promptly sat down and shot down the hill, followed in hot pursuit, by the dogs. Now as much as I’ll admit that at the moment, I’m not the fittest of humans, I’m prepared to give anything a go. This, however, completely threw me. I looked around, all other routes to get down the hill would take ages, and by this point Helen had already reached the bottom. Thankfully she wasn’t looking in my direction, because, without a shadow of a doubt, I was about to make a right tit of myself. I attempted to walk down the hill, but it was so wet I fell on my arse. The only thing for it was to slide and hope for the best. My coat wasn’t long enough to cover my bum, so I just had to make do with the jogging bottoms and hope they didn’t fall apart in the process. As I slid down, my trousers rode up and by the time I reached the bottom I had the wedgiest of all wedgies and a wet bum. At this point I decided a new, longer coat would be vital in this neck of the woods.
The following day, my weekend at Helens’ farm sadly, came to a close. After the morning’s chores, I washed my boots in a trough supplied by a small, and very pretty waterfall. I gathered my belongings, packed the enormous suitcase and made my way downstairs. The weekend had been and gone in a flash and I was sad to go, but at the same time excited. My efforts had clearly made a good impression as Helen spoke about future visits.
On the train home I thought about the experiences of the past weekend and the year ahead. In April I pack up my life in Bournemouth and head to Scotland to begin my year of WWOOFing. God knows what kind of trouble I’m going to get myself into. You’ll have to tune in to find out.
See you in April…
Liz Hawkins – January 2020
You can read more blogs by The Dorset Farm Student and follow her next steps into the world of farming here.