In 2016 my husband and I spent a month in England and the first two weeks of our time there was practically free. How? Through WWOOFing.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms connects volunteers with farmers all over the world. You first pick your country, pay for a membership, and then you will receive a directory of farmers in that country to choose from. Once a farmer agrees to let you volunteer on their farm they also agree to provide you a place to stay and food to eat, at no cost to you. All you have to do is get yourself there.
We decided that we wanted to go to Wales after I graduated college so we got a membership to WWOOF UK and picked a few farms we were interested in volunteering at. Not too soon after contacting our first choice farm we were scheduled to help them for two weeks in the beginning of May.
It took us quite a few months to plan our trip and get all the logistics figured out. Next thing we knew I was graduating and then we were flying to London, England a few days later.
The first thing we did was drive up to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My mother and mother-in-law actually drove us up to the airport so we wouldn’t have to pay to keep our car on the lot for a month. It was about an 8-hour drive and a start to a long, long day.
We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It was our first time flying and Air Canada was really great. The whole reason we decided to fly out of Toronto rather than Columbus, OH is because it was going to cost us around $1,600 each at the time to fly to London whereas we paid $615 each to fly to London from Toronto.
Once we got to London we had to scurry (by that I mean we ran) through the airport to grab our luggage and catch the coach bus. Just a heads up, when you go WWOOFing in other countries just say you are there for vacation and not volunteering. You have to have a specific visa to technically be a volunteer. Trust me. The coach bus from London, England to Cardiff, Wales cost us $52 together.
We arrived in Cardiff after a 10-hour flight and a 3-hour bus ride. We barely slept. From there we had to get on a train that would take us to Whitland, Wales. This was a 2-hour train ride and cost us $57 round trip. Logistically, this all worked out perfectly. Physically and mentally….it was pretty awful. We were awake for well over 24 hours and we were traveling for at least 23 of it. On top of the lack of sleep, it was also raining as soon as we got to Cardiff. We came prepared with an umbrella and rain jackets but we still ended up soaked.
So we got off the train in Whitland and was greeted by a tall, older gentleman who had wellies on, a rain jacket, and a flat cap upon his head. This was our host, Peter, who came to pick us up from the train station. We introduced ourselves and dragged our luggage over to his tiny little red car and then we were off. When we arrived at his farm he took us to the caravan (in the U.S. we call these trailer homes) we were going to be staying in for the next two weeks. We unpacked and jumped into bed to prepare for the next day.
Our first full day on the farm we were introduced to the day to day operations and the normal routine. We started working on the farm at 9:00am, had a coffee/tea break around 11:00am, lunch was at 1:00pm which we always ended up having soup, and then we ended the day around 4:00pm.
Peter and his wife Marilyn had a decent size farm in the hills of western Wales. They had cows, one of which was pregnant and due soon but did not give birth while we were there. They also had some sheep, chickens, two dogs, three cats, and a pond stocked with trout. Most of the land that they had was meant to be pastures for the animals but they had a decent size garden as well as a polytunnel.
That first day it rained on and off so we helped out in the polytunnel weeding and planting plants with potting soil infested with biting ants. We took a ride on Peter’s tractor to go retrieve a telephone pole that he wanted to put in the ground to grow hops. We, for the most part, just stood by the cow pasture and watched him try to figure out how to pick up the telephone pole and transport it back to the garden. It took about an hour but he finally got it.
For lunch that day we had mushroom soup and herring pâté. I did not like the soup which led to them making me taste the soup we were having for lunch every day to make sure I liked it. The mushroom was the only one I didn’t like. We were also introduced to an herb called rocket which I absolutely did not like. Peter thought it was funny watching me spit the herb out after trying it. For dinner, they provided us food but we were responsible for making ourselves dinner. We had spaghetti and then watched American Pickers. They actually broadcasted a lot of American T.V.
It rained in the morning but was beautiful for the rest of the day. Reminded us a lot of Ohio’s weather but was honestly better. We fed the chickens and set the telephone pole in cement. We spent half the day pulling up roots and rocks from an area that had piping put in so that they didn’t have to divert a small stream. This was very labor intensive and wore us out. It was a good day though.
This was the first day we did not have rain. We spent the morning in one of the pasture pulling up roots from where a tree had once been. We were going to have to till the area by hand but Peter managed to borrow a tiller attachment for his tractor. We had “green soup” for lunch which consisted of broccoli and celery. After lunch, we mowed around their house, the caravan, and one of the barns. I used a push mower and my husband used a riding mower. It was my first time mowing a lawn. We took the grass clipping from my push mower and used it as mulch around some of the plants in the garden.
That night was the first night we went to the local pub. Our first taste of English alcohol, in the UK that is. Aidan had a beer and I had cider. We both fell in love with English drinks. Everyone was intrigued by us. We were the first American WWOOFers our hosts have ever had. They typically end up with French students. Everyone asked us about American politics and commented on how American beer is “rubbish.” Aidan agrees. We had to try to explain to everyone where Ohio was geographically in the U.S. and pretty much no one knew. My favorite thing was how everyone reacted to me having Welsh heritage. Go back 10+ generations and my family is all Welsh. They were so excited to search my family’s Welsh surname and tell me about all the people they knew who could be related to me. They also kept asking if it was our first time back to the “homeland.” They welcomed us like family.
Our fourth day on the farm was Saturday. The weekends we did not work and could relax on the farm or go out and do something. We spent the morning watching Star Trek in the caravan and explored the farm. Later that day we went on a two-hour walk exploring the farming neighborhood.
The rolling hills of Wales are beyond beautiful. Most of the farms in the area raised livestock. We saw cows, a lot of sheep, and even ponies!
A lot of the roads in Wales are very small and can honestly only fit one car on the road. The roads in the farmlands are surrounded by thick hedges because that’s what they use instead of fencing. They have little divets cut out where cars can pull aside to let another pass. However, everyone seems to fly by on these roads.
When we went on our walk the combines and tractors were going from farm to farm to harvest grass for animal feed as well as large trucks transporting the harvest. There was one instance where a truck was barreling down the road and there wasn’t a place for us to step aside so we had to practically run for our lives to get to the next farm’s drive way before we got hit! Later that night we returned to the pub with Peter for some drinks.
Peter asked us what we wanted to do while we were in Wales. I said I wanted to go see the coast. Sunday morning we went on a hike through part of the Wales Coastal Path. We woke up a bit late but were ready to go with our lunches packed in about 10 minutes. What we ended up doing is driving out to where we were going to end and then take a bus to where we were going to start. Peter has been working on completing the 870-mile trail so he was more than happy to go on a hike with us.
We did about a 12.5-mile section of the trail. We started in Little Haven and ended at a pub in Solva. We could actually look across the water and see the village we were going to end at.
It was sunny all day. There was a wonderful breeze almost the entire time which actually made you cold if you weren’t moving. Even though we slathered ourselves with sunscreen we still got burnt.
Most of the trail was either uphill or downhill. The path itself was a dirt path with about enough room for one person. You had grass and fields all around you but there were some spots where you were pretty close to the edge of a cliff with no guardrail or anything. There were a couple spots where the ground had just collapsed into the ocean and there was a random hole in the path that was fenced off.
One of my favorite parts was walking across a beach that was about 2 miles long. It was exciting because we’ve now been on both sides of the Atlantic. Our host didn’t really understand why we were so excited to touch the water. He just wanted to keep walking and complete our hike. We were too enamored by everything so he was often ahead of us.
There were quite a few towns that you pass through on the trail. We stopped at one to get ice cream that was excellent. We ended up sitting down along the path and ate lunch while looking out at the ocean.
The entire 12.5 miles took us about 6-7 hours to complete. We walked about 33,800 steps and did the equivalent of 240 flights of stairs. When we got back from our hike we had some homemade cider and roast beef with our hosts, Peter and Marilyn.
We mostly did little tasks throughout the day which we were thankful for. After the hike the day before we were burnt and exhausted. We weren’t sure if our legs were going to work!
We helped clean out the chicken coop as well as chasing the chicken that kept escaping from the chicken yard. Our hosts have a cabin on their property that they rent out to people on vacation. A new couple arrived while we were working. The gentleman who came with his wife likes to search for fossils and has a dinosaur he found in the Cardiff History museum.
For lunch, we had tomato and celery soup with roast beef sandwiches. They found it strange that my husband wanted mayonnaise on his sandwich. We actually had to try to explain some of the food differences that they didn’t understand. It was pretty funny trying to explain biscuits and gravy, peanut butter and jelly, and what relish is in the U.S.
Our afternoon project was getting the crossbeam up on the telephone pole and planting the hops. This was actually kind of terrifying because Peter raised the tractor’s shovel as high as it would go and then climbed up a latter and into the shovel to work on it. After planting the hops we were back at the pub. It wasn’t very busy but still enjoyable.
The morning was nice enough that we were able to get some weeding done in the main garden. As soon as it started raining we ended up running around trying to get wood and tools into the barn before it got soaked. While it rained Peter and Aidan worked on cutting some wood with a chainsaw and I dismantled an old chicken coop. Lunch was lettuce soup and roast beef sandwiches again. After lunch, we worked on cleaning out the cattle’s winter barn. We kept blowing the fuse in the power washer so we had to keep changing it. No matter how many times Peter showed us how to change it we couldn’t get it.
We were at the farm for almost two weeks so the adventure is not over! You can read more about our experience WWOOFing in Wales in my next post.