All too soon our three weeks in Mears Ashby has come to a close. It was a wrench, as always, to pack up and leave the new friends, both two and four legged varieties, we have made but find there is usually another adventure just around the corner. Despite the jet lag, Tim kindly took us to the nearest station to make the trip back to Kent and Surrey for a catch up with family and friends.
Within the course of 5 days we squeezed in doctor’s appointments, collecting a van and moving some rogue boxes into storage, meeting up with friends for long overdue catch-ups, tea at Jon’s Mum, 2 days with our youngest son Ryan and his girlfriend Ella in Redhill, Surrey then back to Kent for 2 days with our middle son Sam and our daughter-in-law Tabitha. Not to be left out we even managed 3 minutes with our eldest son Shaun and his fiance Katie in a car park near Gatwick airport before they flew out on a short break. Quite a feat but it was all a much needed friends and family fix. Thank you one and all for making our flash mob style visits so great but someone please remind me next time to take a few photos to prove that we really do have family and friends. Sorry to all those we couldn’t fit in at this visit – you are top of the list for the next one!
What is this? Well essentially it is a website that Jon came across a long time ago when we were looking at ways to travel around the world. It is a site where people list details of volunteer help required with all manor of things. It ranges from childcare, to fruit picking, organic farming to helping out at a B&B, gardening, decorating – anything that may require an extra pair of hands for either a short while or more long term basis. This help is given in exchange for food and accommodation. On a wider basis it is a cultural exchange so that you can get the opportunity to visit parts of the UK and further afield that you hadn’t intended to and also gain practical and, in some cases, language experience. The criteria for each HelpX listing differ. Sometimes there can be a whole group of workers and with others just one or two. Equally the accommodation can be a room in a house, a caravan or even a hostel type of arrangement. We thought the concept sounded interesting so joined the site and contacted a few listings that looked like they were our type of thing. Avoiding mucking out alpacas in Aberystwyth and snake breeding in Snape to name a few.
Help Needed in Thelnetham, Suffolk
After a few emails each way back in September last year, we felt quite pleased with ourselves that someone wanted our skills to help them out at a property at more or less the furthest point north in Suffolk, Thelnetham. I say skills but really what was required was an extra pair of hands for a variety of jobs required following a fair amount of renovation work. Regular readers of the blog will know that I am all about “things that are meant to be” and after the first few emails we established that the couple had previously lived in Bearsted near Maidstone so straight away we had things in common.
Sarah and Andrew collected us from the nearest station and then we met Betty, the rescue dog from Romania. She had a sad history but was obviously very happy in her new home.
For this HelpX mission, our accommodation is a self contained cottage which is adjacent to the main house. We feel so spoilt having such lovely accommodation in the extensive grounds of their home. Around each corner there is another little garden or seating area. We can see why they fell in love with it despite the tlc required in both house and gardens.
So what is each day like? Well we have a very civilised agreed start time of 9am. So after breakfast, which is made ourselves in the cottage with items provided by Sarah and Andrew, we meet up in the garden and see what they would like us to do that morning. Since we have been here the weather has been exceptional so we have managed to work outside the whole time. Weeding, adding top soil and membrane, painting newly rendered walls, moving deliveries, low border fencing are a few of the easily manageable tasks this week. We have a coffee break then lunch at around 1pm (provided once again) which leaves us the rest of the day to explore and follow some of the bridleways and footpaths in the local area. We join up again at about 7pm for an evening meal together which usually ends up reflecting on the days progress and having a very social time comparing both couples “former lives”. Here is a selection of photos to give you a flavour of our HelpX experience so far.
Sarah and Andrew had recommended trying to see the village windmill which is on the edge of Thelnetham Fen. We had enjoyed a fruit slice that Sarah had made with the local flour from the mill on arrival so wanted to know more. Unless there are events or open days there it is usually kept locked up but on Tuesdays some volunteers have a bit of a tidy up of the grounds and do any maintenance that is required. Luckily we caught the very interesting windmill guru, Chris Mills, (yes, Mills is his real surname). He gave us a tour from top to bottom of the brick tower mill which dates back to 1819. It was such an interesting half an hour and the dedication that it takes to keep the mill operational and to fund raise for it’s upkeep is a credit to the volunteer team.
We are now at the end of our working week and what a great first HelpX location we have. There is something quite simplistic, rewarding and refreshing about giving your time and efforts for the basics of food and shelter. Although, I must say, there is nothing basic about our wonderful cottage and hearty meals. Hopefully this is the first of many happy mutually rewarding HelpXing adventures. Watch this space for an update of week 2 and the pressing questions. Did we manage to convince Sarah and Andrew to rename the Secret Garden the Beer Garden? Is Jon keeping count of wheelbarrow trips for one of his statistical blog posts? Did we learn any Romanian words to converse with Betty?
16/3 – 31/3/2017