Wonderful WWOOF in Wales
To say we were excited about our first experience WWOOFing is a complete understatement. It would be a total jump from our normal travel routine of walking and sightseeing. We would be required to do daily manual labor, which we were happy to partake in, and help with daily chores to include cooking and cleaning.
I had wanted to do a WWOOF since I learned about it as we were planning our travels. I thought it sounded like such a fun way to travel, meet new people, and experience a different way to live with the added benefit of being easy on the travel budget. It was all of those things and more.
We coordinated our arrival with our hosts, Charlie and Ella, through WhatsApp (an essential app when traveling abroad since it’s easy to use over WiFi). They provided detailed instructions that only we could mix up. After a few turn-abouts and some frustrated silence, we began our nervous drive through the farm entrance. Their land is littered with various trees and wildflowers; birds and butterflies flitting everywhere. It felt like nature had been allowed to flourish, lightly manicured. As we pulled in to park, we noticed a family with young kids were loading up in a car. We didn’t know this upon our arrival but Charlie and Ella’s farm doubles as a camping site. More accurately, it is a glamping site. They provide yurts for vacationers to stay in, getting a taste of the outdoors with the comfort of a bed, stove, and showers.
We made our way to the main house, feeling completely giddy and a bit out of our element. It felt like something similar to when you are about to begin an important interview, or brave a competition: wanting to make a good impression, but also on edge and feeling a bit silly and slow. We were greeted by Charlie outside the home and were immediately put at ease. Charlie has a very gentle way about him, even while being a strong and industrious man. We made our introductions and then we were led inside to meet Ella. Ella has a zen-like presence that makes you feel that you are being truly listened to in a nonjudgmental way.
We were welcomed outside to a table where Ella fired up the grill and Charlie offered refreshments (read: pints of beer). These refreshments would be the first of many while staying with Charlie and Ella. Our type of people.
We talked and laughed and enjoyed food together. It was perfect. After a long and frustrating road trip from south Wales, we needed this. We were happy to be engaging new and interesting people in conversation. Up until this point, it had mostly just been us two, me and Ashley, talking together. We had stories to tell and were given open ears and hearts to receive them.
After filling our bellies, we discussed the plan for the next week. Charlie and Ella only asked for a few hours of work each day. We could rise when we woke, rest when we needed, and call it a day when we were tired. This type of liberty was nice to us, but we were ready to work, ready to earn our stay and not take advantage of their generosity.
We finished the fading sunlight with homemade fruit cobbler made by Ella and a tour of the farm and our accommodations.
On our tour, and throughout our stay, we learned Charlie had purchased the land 10-15 years ago. At the time it was purchased, there were few trees, no pond, the land was primarily used for animal grazing, and the home was a crumbling and weathered farmhouse. Over the course of many years, Charlie rebuilt the home (maintaining it’s historical style) with an additional few rooms and cultivated the land in such a way to attract birds, bees and other wildlife. Ella developed and manages the glamping business as a way to provide supplemental income for the farm. They have also added a greenhouse, a roundhouse, and are in the process of another garden/relaxing area behind their bedroom. Let’s just say they stay busy. And it all looks amazing!
We took a hot bath (our first in months) in the ocean-themed bathroom, talked about how lucky we were to be accepted by the hosts and enjoyed a restful night in our comfortable bed. If all WWOOFing is like this, count us in!
The next morning started with breakfast and a cup of coffee at the main dining table. Our task for the day was to clean up the yurts from the guests we saw leaving upon our arrival. It was rewarding work. Cleaning and organizing is one of our superpowers. We worked for a few hours alongside Charlie and Ella as they showed us the tricks they had learned along the way. The best part of this all was how much nature surrounded us. We had been in so many large cities, including London only a few days before, and now were surrounded by the songs of birds, the buzzing of honey bees, and the waves of the trees. It was beautiful. Working like this felt less like work and more like a cultural immersion of sorts. It had been a few months of heavy travels and to slow down at this point was needed.
Our routine fell in pretty quickly. We would wake around 9:00am to the sounds of Charlie working in the yard. Ella would be starting breakfast, tea and coffee. Everyone would sit at the table and talk about life, their family and past. We would begin working round 10:30, doing whatever was asked. Some days it would be laying mulch, picking weeds in various gardens, or chopping wood for the campers. One day Ashley painted a swing set blue! We would take many breaks throughout the work day, often prompted by Charlie’s insistence on a cup of tea. Neither Ashley nor I protested. We loved sitting down and chatting, sharing stories we’ve told many times and hearing stories for the first time. Meeting new people is my favorite. I am always so thrilled to learn about someone’s past, especially if it differs from mine.
Ella is from Poland and has a personal perspective of communist history, one that I have never heard before. She shared how it affected her life at a very young age, and how it has continued to do so. She has read many of the same books as I have, and we share a similar life philosophy. Charlie is from Britain and has a pacifist approach to life yet is quite intrigued with nature, craftsmanship and fellowship; “be and let be” seems to fit Charlie’s personality well.
Our days would finish in the early afternoon. We would read, explore the farm or just sit and chat a bit more. Ella always took the lead on dinner. We would help setting the table, preparing food and supporting Ella when she asked. Then we would all sit down and feast. It felt right… real and genuine. No one was pretending or trying to be something other than who they were. We stayed up late into the night talking and having a few drinks, including Charlie’s homemade sloe gin (in which we may have indulged too heavily).
I remember Charlie mentioning that we were airplane friends, people you could be completely honest and upfront with because you will only share a short time together. I think that is what made the conversations so engaging and interesting. It was honest and unpolluted conversation.
When you offer your labor for food and accommodations you walk a bit into unknown and unexplored terrain. There are questions as to how much work will be required, if the hosts are honest and ethical people, or if you will be given adequate time off to recover. It is all so uncertain in the beginning and is the same for every WWOOF you will do. There is no rule book for WWOOFing. The hosts set the rules and you as a volunteer can follow those rules or leave when ready. Luckily, we were with good people. Such sweet people they presented us with a special treat: on one of our days without work, Charlie and Ella asked if we would like to meet their friends who live on the coast of the large Welsh island we were WWOOFing on. Of course! We would love that!
We drove together into the city center, making a stop at a charity shop and the old city castle. It was nice to finally be a passenger in a car, able to take in the scenery and sights. The island of Anglesey is quite large in size but has a small city center; much of the island is countryside. This island would be our gateway to enter into Dublin, Ireland once we finished with the WWOOF where we would pick Ashley’s parents up from the airport. Anglesey is located on the Northwest coast of Wales where the ferry shuttles people to and from Dublin.
After we walked through the center, we carried on towards our destination. We were greeted by friendly smiles and warm hearts on a coastal plot with a wild tree farm and a homestead. We all sat together, chatting about politics (Brexit and such), slurping down mint tea, and setting up a small picnic. What I remember most about this time was the intrigue and curiousness everyone had for each other. Again, it felt genuine.
After our day with friends, we returned home to the WWOOF. Ashley and I decided to visit a small restaurant, wanting some time together alone. We popped into town and had some pub food and a beer.
That evening we packed up and organized ourselves for the ferry ride to Dublin. We woke early and Ella had prepared us a lovely parting breakfast with much needed coffee. Then we gave hugs for the last time and took to the road. “Steady on the road,” Charlie said. And we were off.
I’d do it again. Totally. It’s one of my favorite periods of the European trip and I find myself reflecting on it often. Man, what cool people we met there.
If you are interested in doing WWOOFing check out our breakdown on WTF is WWOOF.
Special thanks to Charlie and Ella to opening their home and making us feel completely welcome.