Friday, August 9, 2013

WWOOFing at Monkton Wyld

One ferry ride and 3 trains later we arrive at Axminster in the south of England.  We are supposed to be picked up here but we have no details about our ride.  The lady I thought might be from Monkton just greeted someone else and the car is pulling away when on a whim they stop and ask, if we are Monkton bound.  We breadth a sigh of relief – we almost missed our ride to Monkton but the Universe was on our side once again!

We drive through narrow winding country lanes lined with hedges.  We find it quite incredible that people navigate these roads at crazy speeds without any mishap!  We arrive at a beautiful Victorian Gothic house that reminds me of a church and learn that this was once the house of the local vicar, built for him by a rich benefactor!  Monkton Wyld Court is now owned by a charitable trust and is run by a small resident community as an education centre for sustainable living. 

The volunteers in the house, who were enjoying a late night snack after a hard days work, warmly welcomed us.  Being summer time, there is a large contingent of volunteers, mainly Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOFers) who travel the world moving from farm to farm undertaking tasks such as picking fruit, weeding, building fences,
cleaning animal shelters, maintenance, construction and other tasks in exchange for room and board with a couple of days of each week.  It is a great way to travel, learn about organic farming as well as the local culture and see the world on a shoestring budget.  For many young Europeans, it is also a chance to practice their English.   Many WWOOFers are themselves interested in alternate ways of living and experiences such as these gives them a real taste for what’s involved. 

We are introduced to the mostly young group of travellers from Spain, France, Germany, Australia, and England and I hope I can remember their names tomorrow!  Catherine, the lady who had given us a ride from the train station takes us up to our rooms.  We’ve struck it lucky once again.  The more basic volunteer house is full and we are being shown to a room in the main house, usually reserved for B&B guests! 

Our first day at Monkton Wyld is bright and sunny and we’ve been allocated garden duties.  Monkton try to grow as much of their own food as possible.  They have chooks, cows and pigs and in addition to providing their own milk, they also make their own cheeses and yogurt.  They bake their own bread occasionally and make jams depending on what fruit is in season.  The black current jam was so yummy, the residents had consumed about 35 jars in as many days!    

We completed a huge variety of tasks in the garden from processing garlic, to digging up potatoes and picking sugar peas for dinner.  It was fun to sit in the cool courtyard and shell the peas, occasionally popping one in our mouths!  There were also harder tasks such as scything and clearing weeds to digging up a big bush that was causing damage to the house.  Thankfully, we abandoned that project when a bee stung me! 

There is something completely magic about eating produce from your garden.  It tastes wholesome and fresh and the fact this is all organic and grown according to biodynamic methods makes it even more special.  Biodynamic gardening is based on astrology and dictates the dates on when you work on
certain types of foods.  Even if you don’t believe in these methods, it is still a good method to structure when certain areas of your garden will be worked on. 

The beauty of Monkton is that the volunteer activities are varied as much as possible to give you a taste for everything that goes on.  We work a day in the house giving the guest rooms a deep clean!  This involves rotating the mattresses and cleaning the room from head to toe!  Day 2 was made a little easier by the fact that the local church invited us to morning tea.  So, after working for an hour, we spent the rest of the day sipping tea – it was a very English affair and good fun. 

On Day 3, Steve worked in the kitchen and cleaned out the chicken coop while I did a variety of tasks with Simon the farmer.  While picking thistles from the grass fields wasn’t the most interesting of tasks, it was a bright sunny day again and I loved being outdoors.  The grass would be mown soon to make hay for the winter and having the prickly thistles makes it very uncomfortable to handle.  The work was slow going and the six of us only cleared out about a 1/3rd of an acre so this experiment may not be repeated! 

We visited a local farm on the way home as a treat which we all enjoyed.  We had fun cuddling the baby goats and enjoyed touring the barn. The barn is a cooperative, which means the farmers in the area share the space to make jams, cheeses, process their meat and store it.  The farmer whose land it sits was able to get EU funding to construct it and also hosted various barn-making courses at his property to get parts of the building constructed by students.  I am constantly amazed at the innovative ways that people are living and doing things in Europe.  There are certainly many lessons for us here!  My farm activities also included assembling scythes and shoveling cow-dung for the compost heap.  I was quite exhausted at the end of the day but felt exhilarated at learning new skills and being outdoors! 

Our last day of work is also spent in the garden.  We rake up grass for the compost heap and prepare another area for mulching later on.  Tomorrow will be a day off for us, so we are looking forward to sleeping in and going down to the beach.  Fingers crossed this weather lasts…

Dreams are today's answers to tomorrow's questions.  ~Edgar Cayce

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