I’m always a little tentative going into each new experience on the road. I mean – I’m excited and look forward to every single new adventure - but something inside me wonders if I’ll be comfortable in my new surroundings before each workaway or housesit. We spent the last 10 days in Ambleside, England, and as our train took us into the Lake District I questioned whether or not we would enjoy it as much as some of the other places we’ve been.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. Our hosts could not have been more kind, generous and interesting. He is a professional street performer with a 30 year old business that he developed himself. She is a fantastic photographer. The task they have bitten off is enormous. They are renovating a house that was built in 1840. They are also working on the accompanying garden that was lovingly designed but now will benefit from some shaping and some additional care. It is a magical place, which we discovered when we ate lunch in the “summer house”, heated by a little wood stove. The last occupant of this home lived there for over 50 years and I’m not sure that any changes had been made in that time. But the new owners (our lovely hosts) are updating their home while respecting its past and it is pretty remarkable to see what they have accomplished – and what they still have left to do!
We think we helped them make some progress. Greg worked with Jem to build cabinets in the kitchen. I painted in the dining room and spent many days scraping paint off a cast iron fireplace while Flo painted and organized and cooked and made decisions. They are hosting Christmas this year and are trying to get the kitchen and dining room ready for their festive feast. We had fun working side by side to move forward toward this goal. I found that scraping the fireplace was a little like picking grapes – except I had to wear rubber gloves, goggles and a mask to protect myself from toxic chemicals. But the process was very meditative and you could really see what you were accomplishing. I like that a lot.
It’s fun and interesting to get to stay with people in their own home. We love diving into the differences in habits and culture that are evident in different parts of Europe. We didn’t anticipate quite so many disparities in a place that is our heritage and where we speak the same language – but there were lots! It is constantly surprising to see how many differences there really are! We had fun exploring them with our hosts. We learned lots of new vocabulary --words like “tarn” and “pike” and “glen” and “crag.” We came to understand that flapjacks are not always pancakes – sometimes they are delicious little bars of goodness that are perfect fuel for hiking. We also experienced the joy of sticky toffee pudding and the sheer pleasure of taking a break for tea mid-morning and mid-afternoon. We talked about politics and customs and perceptions and experiences. There were revelations at every turn, even among the many similarities.
When we weren’t helping with the house and I wasn’t grading my classes, we hiked. We had great weather for our explorations of the fells (which are bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain). We hiked up over the crags of the Loughrigg Fell and into the beautiful town of Grasmere, a much-loved village of William Wordsworth. We hiked up the side of a beautiful icy waterfall to Easedale Tarn, a mountain lake with snowy fells all around. Just walking from our workaway home we hiked up to Sweden Bridge, a beautiful classic stone bridge where you could follow the sight line of the dry stone walls up higher than we were able to hike in the time we had. We loved every minute of it.
We are enjoying our workaway experiences. We really do get to know the people of a place on a new level when we help them with whatever they may need that we can provide. I also think workaway is a little like what I hear about grandchildren – you get to play with them and have fun – and then hand them back to their parents! We get to participate in the renovation and enjoy the process without having any of the final responsibility. It’s different working on someone else’s projects. We still take great ownership in the improvements, even though they are not ours to keep.
And so we had to leave our temporary home in the Lake District but we plan to return. There is much more to see and do there. We were just getting started. Next time we will write from Blandford in the southern part of England and we’ll explore Christmas preparations in a lovely home where we are house, dog and cat sitting. We’re on to our next adventure. Thanks for following along with us!
Are you planning a trip somewhere in Europe? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, England and all of Europe. We also still have spots available on our small group trip to Tuscany and our small group trip to Piedmont! We'd love for you to join us! You can always reach Betsy at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!