On the train to Axminster I saw: hundreds of sheep, beef cattle, cows, chickens, a few pigs, fat wood pigeons, 3 deer, 4 swans, domestic geese, llamas, 7 pheasants, otherwise numerous and varied birds, and a rabbit in the blackberry brambles by the train tracks, a ruined castle, gorgeous churches, and an old man burning something in his back garden. I love Merry England!
I was on my way to Old Park Hall on a workaway. Workaway is a wonderful website, where travelers, like me, can find places around the world to trade help for free room and board. I had the privilege of working twice at Fattoria l’Aurora, a little farm in the mountains of northern Italy (check it out on Facebook). I was trying it again, this time in the south west of England.
Heathrow was as bustling as ever. The immigration fellow was friendly, and delighted to hear that I was going to the south west, and that I had been to his hometown of Bournemouth before. The young man who sold me a power adapter hit on me in numerous obvious ways. I made it out of the airport alive, and on to the train which led me through the country.
It brought me to Axminster and Old Park Hall, a gorgeous old place! After it’s heyday as a manor house, it served as an orphanage during the War, and then it was subdivided into flats. The old house is still in the process of regaining its former glory, and Daisy and James are up to the task. They run an upscale boutique B&B which is charming and warm, and at the same time very cutting edge. The rooms are clean, bright, and luxurious, and breakfast is a pretty splendid affair. (check out what people are saying and posting about OPH on Facebook!)
When I met Daisy and James I was caught in a whirlwind of commotion. Being from Alaska meant that the fast pace of these successful city types left me quite overwhelmed. I move, speak, and respond more slowly than do they, but that’s okay. Even if you speak most of the same language, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a culture shock!
The place is bustling, and even on slow days there are many things to accomplish. So, we scurry up and down the stairs, fetching towels, poaching eggs, dusting old wooden tables, lighting fires, and dishes. Oh the dishes! And, as I’m here to help out, it’s lucky for me that I enjoy them. I’m living the downstairs half of the Upstairs/Downstairs life. It’s pretty nice down in the old servants’ quarters. The fire rumbles, the dogs lounge around, there is always a kettle on, and there is no need to be on your best behavior.
It’s not uncommon for a neighbor or friend to drop by, coming in through the kitchen entrance. A lovely local character came by to discuss the trees in the front garden. He came to the back door, a scruffy wild looking fellow, and as we had tea, I learned that he was a vegetarian animal lover, who feeds stray cats, rides his bike everywhere, and values nature and privacy. It seemed to me that he belonged here, in a timeless sort of way.
We had a visit from the lady who teaches yoga in the summer house. She brought a beautiful galvanized steel bucket overflowing with trimmings of bitter greens from her garden. I brought them into the kitchen and had a good amount of work cleaning and preparing them. They were delicious, but very very strong!
The esthetician, who runs a little spa out of the B&B, came by with her baby daughter to say hello, and when I first arrived, a Workawayer called Julie was here. She is from up north, and is living the Workaway life. She’s now on a new adventure living and helping out on a river boat.
We even had a visit from Daisy’s parents, who came up from London, the other day. We played a game called Articulate!, ate burgers that her mother made, discussed world politics, and had some pretty delish grappa! We finished up the meal with one of my little apple tarts and some homemade custard.
Still, no matter how busy we are at Old Park Hall, everyone slows down for a minute to see the beautiful sunsets. The sunsets here are quick, but vibrant, and everyone clamors to the front entrance to see time suspended for an eternal moment.
This is where I’ll be spending my next few weeks. I’ll be cooking, cleaning, painting, gardening, and exploring this lovely corner of the world. And, if you can’t find me, check down by the fire. I’ll probably be working on my blog and drinking some tea.