We’re now in to our 3rd week on the first stop on our journey…and it’s starting to feel a little strange to be so stationary!
Our trip up to the Cambrian Mountains was truly amazing. We did the vast majority of our traveling along the waterways, utilizing the wonderful canal towpaths and riverside footpaths and revelling in the abundant and diverse nature of the wildlife and scenery. We could certainly have taken a more direct (and less challenging!) route, but we’re glad we chose the path less traveled. We’ve seen herons and goosander, woodpeckers and kingfisher; and the scenery passing by has been nothing short of idilyc.
We’ve met some really incredible people along the way too – some who have encouraged and inspired us, and others who we were fortunate enough to have encouraged to look a little closer at the beauty surrounding them, and to reconsider their view of what’s possible to do with life. We’ve been welcomed by many landowners and had deliveries of water from locals – not to mention tmosts for the children (and a bottle of wine for me!). There is of course the flip-side; hauling heavy trailers up seemingly never ending hills and over styles, less than ideal camps and the not-so-nice people. The people – the good and bad – have been the real surprise for us though. It’s certainly made us reevaluate our opinions on folk. The most prejudice we have faced has been from those we least expected, most surprisingly a rather unpleasant Nature Reserve volunteer who was far more concerned by our strange little convoy’s use of a bird hide to bird watch than the group of drunk and high teenagers setting fires in the adjacent hide. This was obviously a regular occurance – both hides were in a sorry state; The windows had literraly been smeared with feaces, the entire area was littered and fires had been set inside the wooden hides; yet we were the people made to feel unwelcome while sitting quietly with binoculars and bird books. Local police even attended and praised our attempt at cleaning up, refusing to ‘move us along’ as requested and instead escorting the young group back to their parents. What saddened me most though was this woman’s total lack of knowledge of the plants on the reserve – who doesn’t know that Dock leaves soothe Nettle stings?! Anyway, needless to say we didn’t stay long – even if she hadn’t arrived being a massive pain in the arse the poor state of the reserve wasn’t particularly appealing, not to mention hazardous to health. It left me somewhat forlorn and concerned for the viability and longetivity of Nature Reserves in general. I really hope this was just one poor choice of caretaker, but I have a feeling there are plenty of others like her elsewhere.
Arriving at our first stop was a breath of fresh air; a beautiful plot, lovely yurt and warm welcome were waiting for us all – and it was immediately clear that these people were genuinely caring for their land. Though we still have no flushing toilet or mains water and remain pretty wild, we now have beds and actual illuminated light bulbs – which is a novelty for sure! The host family seemed great – Mum, Daughter, Dad and Grandma were immediately close to our hearts; and our fellow Workawayer, Guillem, was just great to be around. Now, 3 weeks in, we’ve had a great time with brilliant people, and will miss them all when we go. It’s been bumpy at times – communal living isn’t always easy – and we do sometimes miss the freedom and variety of life on the road, but overal it’s turning out to be a really positive experience. That’s not to say it didn’t nearly end in tears and an early departure…
The nature of this stop is a work exchange; Pete is here to complete a variety of construction tasks while I generally help out where needed. While I’ve been lucky enough to be left to do my jobs unhindered, Pete didn’t have quite the same level of good fortune initially. His first task, with 16 years construction experience, was to complete a shack conversion. Now, this is a job he could do in his sleep. He’s done countless conversions and renovations, built houses and x-ray bays and even part of the Chanel Tunnel; however the highly educated but certainly not a builder Dad was project managing on the verge of micro managing his work, which Pete found rather challenging at times. While I was happily sewing seeds, tending to the chickens or preparing meals, poor Pete was cleaning concrete dust off concrete blocks with a toothbrush while trying not to laugh (or scream) when Dad declared “one thinks one should be able to weigh out one’s materials with these baking scales…they go up to 500g!”. Madness, I tell you. As you can imagine, the first week of this was wearing a little thin on poor Pete; add to that the 1hr jobs taking 3 days (yes…3 whole days to fill a hole) and it began to equal a rather naggy Pete. After a stern talking to (which was done in ‘builders terms’ – “I did it your way and now it’s f**ked mate, pack it in or do it yourself…”) Dad has calmed down somewhat, and Pete is now happily working unhindered. This situation, as well as causing a horrible amount of stress, taught us two very valuable lessons:
1) Always confirm that the host doesn’t intend to interfere in any skilled work unless they have the skills to do so. It seems obvious, but we made an assumption, and the old ‘makes an ass out of u and me’ was really ringing true for us. Our bad, lesson learned.
2) Don’t let an issue stagnate. As soon as the conversation was had and some boundaries drawn the situation improved dramatically. It could have been handled with more diplomacy (by anyone other than Pete!) but it was managed, and had it been managed sooner it would have been even better.
So, Pete had a rough first week. I on the other hand was having a grand old time getting to know Mum and Grandma, looking after the adorable daughter, cutting firewood and tending the garden and 96 chickens. In the second week we did a few days small holding sitting, which was a lovely break for us all and gave us the chance to have some quality family time together, and generally regroup. While it’s been great to share meals and work with others, it was a bit of a shock to the system at first to be missing family meals with just our family – that’s something we’ve always made time for and enjoyed. After a little time to ourselves though, we were feeling refreshed and ready for a return to the communal nature of Workaways, and our Host family.
After that, things have really been great – the work has been good and the company even better – and we’ve all developed a strong bond with our Host family. We’ll be genuinely sad to leave them next week and will definitely be back to visit. We’ve been introduced to another home educating family and spent many happy days with them also, forming friendships that I’m sure will be long lasting; plans are already being made for meet-ups once we move on, and they’re doing their best to come up with a plot nearby to tempt us away from France! Between spending our days off with this wonderful family we have been enjoying the local area, exploring the mountain and playing in the stream that runs through the plot – bliss!
The children have been keeping up with their home ed with ease – most of the time they don’t even realise they’re learning! Our daily lives are filled with opportunities for discovery and they’re soaking it all up like sponges; learning about water filtration when working on the rainwater tank, Catalan from Guillem, maths when helping their dad to cut and measure for studwork, keeping journals and writng letters, reading at any given opportunity, and absolutely everything in between.
Somewhere amongst all of this we’ve also been introduced to the owners of a local off-grid cider farm, and have changed our plans so that we can spend some time with them in July – meaning we’ll be staying in this beautiful area a little longer. Happy, happy days!
If anyone reading knows the area (Newtown, Llanidloes, and beyond) and can recommend any must-see places or wild camping spots, please do get in touch – and be sure to follow us on Instagram for more regular posts!