(Well, I did promise :-)
You never really know what to expect. You can Google map things, read up as best you can about where you're going, communicate forthrightly with your hosts, but until you step out of the vehicle or walk up to the yard or wherever you intended to end up, you never really know.
Actually, we couldn't map this piece of paradise beforehand. It was on a small laneway that the Google car must have thought too insignificant to bother with. I'm rather glad it didn't.
What I remember is Peggy's kindness in picking us four up from the country train station, tired from our early London departure but excited, and she very hospitably worrying about where to put the knapsacks, maybe because of a dog blanket? That part is vague. I remember harrowing hedged narrow streets (we later discovered that all British country roads are harrowing, hedged and narrow), and a warm welcome with a scrumptious lunch set out on long tables under an umbrella and a blue sky. Smiling, friendly faces. A quiet and friendly dog. Tow-headed children. Delectable handmade cheese (!) and Zinadine trying miner's lettuce salad willingly, out of the blue, for the first time. And declaring it delicious. Easy banter and interested, interesting people.
There was an ease about this place that immediately put us at ease.
Peggy and Marcus showed us the ropes, made a thorough tour (including our very comfortable bedrooms, which were separate from the main house: it was kind of like two houses smushed together), let us know again what they expected, and then they were gone! Off to visit family and leaving us, trusting us, to take care of the farm for eleven days (under the guidance of the other WWOOFer, Mohamed, thank goodness).
What an adventure. Almost
I want to communicate how receiving trust opens up vast resources of willingness. Because Peggy and Marcus entrusted their place to us, the natural and logical response on our part was to work harder than was required. They were happy to have us cook for ourselves and Mohamed, do some groceries, and take care of a couple of holiday cottage change-overs. We tried to do more to repay their kindness. It was the least we could do, and it enabled us to learn a lot in the process.
To wake up to mornings like this:
To end the days with this:
To have access to fresh food like this (more greens and eggs than we could possibly eat!):
What is that worth? How do you say thank-you?
The children grew. They became more elastic, shedding their urban limitations, their self-imposed checks and balances, and instead roamed, climbed, sketched, followed chickens, collected eggs, fed the animals, worked in the orchard, harvested greens, disappeared, and sank into pastures of buttercups and mountains of hay.
The husband grew. Full days of digging a drainage trench, splitting wood, working with a neighbour farmer and Mohamed putting in fence posts and cow-proof guards for precious newly planted trees, playing with the kids, cooking, and the special task of brining and turning Marcus' handcrafted cheese.
And me? Quiet coffee at 4:30am, quiet walks around the farmyard before everyone else awoke, first light, first breath of day....I was in heaven. Flour on my hands, sunshine yellow yolks and sunshine early through the kitchen windows. Green walls, red checked tablecloth, benches and chairs in a happy mingle.
A kitchen door open to the yard, welcome, with piles of boots at the side, curious chicks at the sill, comings and goings and "Mama look at this!" Learning how to chop wood. Making the holiday house spic and span and welcoming with wildflowers. Whittling some handles for the bedroom doors upstairs, just because it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. Heavy achey limbs at the end of the day and sinking into the kind of tired that rewards you with deep sleep and no dreams.
And the walks, oh the walks. The walks deserve their own post, which is
Things we discovered: we love chickens. We have an intense dislike for roosters. The raised beds of greens on the driveway are a brilliant use of space. Running a holiday cottage is something we would enjoy. There are always other people who have been doing this longer than you. Listening to them can save so much time and IF we have a small farm someday, we would very much like to model it on Peggy and Marcus'.
And then they all came back. There was a whirlwind reunion, some photos and an hour or so where Peggy and Marcus graciously answered all of our "Please tell us what's it like to move from London to a small-holding? How did you get here? How are you making it work? Why? What? How?"
Then we had to say good-bye. It's a good thing our next couple of days were going to be something unusual. It helped the good-bye be bittersweet rather than heartache.
Thank you, Peggy and Marcus and Mohamed, for making our days at Feltham's Farm some of our family's sweetest.