Results for category "Keasts House"

How Time Flies

Already it was the morning of our last day at Keasts, quite a short stay! We started the day enjoying a porridge breakfast with Anita and Dee, who seemed to share our feelings that our departure was all to soon.

It would be a light work day for us today, being our last day. Anita asked us to do only one outside job, to replace the sod from around the polytunnel that was removed when the new cover was installed a few months ago. However, because of the length of time that had passed and the rains that fall so regularly in this part of Devon, the clumps were none too easy to locate. K was almost convinced it would be easier to find a place to dig new clumps! Eventually, though, after much poking and prodding, enough of the clumps were recovered and extra dirt filled in around them for earth to again meet the bottom of the polytunnel cover, covering the stones that they placed on top of the edges to secure it.

Before we finished for the day, we wanted to do a little extra for our kind hosts, so we set about raking up more leaves around the polytunnel. We raked up and wheeled down over three full wheelbarrows before getting into the bin and jumping on top of the leaves to compact them as best we could. It had been nearly empty when we arrived and now it was certainly overfull with some decomposition to do before there would be room for too many more.

Just as we finished, Dee arrived home for lunch and we all sat down for our last meal together, chili con carne with Quorn and brown rice. It was a wonderfully warming dish for the day and helped get us through our packing of the early afternoon to be ready for departure at the close of Anita’s work day. She would be heading to Bristol that afternoon for a meeting there the following day and had offered to drop us at our next hosts’ home on her way, as she would be passing very close to Cullompton.

After about an hour’s journey, we arrived into the drive of Maddocks Farm and were greeted by Pickle and Lilly, Jack Russell terriers, followed by Stuart and Jan (their humans) . We said our goodbyes to Anita before Jan and Stuart led us into the “salad” annex where we would be staying for the next few weeks. After dropping our things, we promptly headed out for a wander around the garden and then a ways up the road and back within view of the lovely sunset of the evening.

Upon our return, we shared a cup of tea and lots of chatting with Jan. After a bit, Stuart returned with their son Ollie and so he stayed to chat for a bit too before Jan, Ollie and ourselves headed to Tesco for grocery supplies. With enough food for a few days of breakfasts and dinners, we returned to our new temporary home and started the settling in process.

A short time later, dinner was ready, a spinach salad and wonderful frittata full of veggies. With more conversation during and after dinner, including plans for our days at Maddocks, we felt comfortable we’d arrived at a place we could be happy and useful, and people we could learn from.

It was growing late now, so we retired to the annex to finish unpacking our things and continue settling in. Not long after we were tucked up warm in bed as the temperatures outside plummeted and a frost began creeping across the countryside.

Chickens and Churning

Tuesday morning we awoke looking forward to a new adventure. Today we would be heading to the nearby town of Hatherleigh for their Tuesday Market, including a poultry auction. Anita and Dee needed more hens that will actually lay eggs, as the three garden hens they have and four hens they took over from their friend that became ill don’t lay any eggs at all. So it was decided, we were to be Anita’s proxy at the auction for the morning to secure some fine hens and eggs for Keasts House.

We arrived in Hatherleigh only 20 minutes after our departure and Anita took us through a lap of the poultry cages already there for viewing. She pointed out age indicators, being the cone (red flesh on top of the head) being short and the legs being thin and not cracked. She also checked their body overall, passing on a couple of lots because of bent beaks that could mean a defect.

Another tip Anita relayed was to watch for any eggs in the cage that had been pecked, because if they would do so this morning, they would likely continue, as would any that are from the same chicken house/lot overall. So several cages were passed over for that reason, as well. In the end, there was a preferred cage of two brown hens and two back up cages of three hens each, all at point of lay.

Once we had the cage numbers recorded, Anita took off for her morning of work, to return at noon to pick up us and, hopefully, the new hens. The auction started promptly at 10 AM and we stuck around for the first 3 or 4 cages to get a feel for the auction and how quickly things would move along before we might get to our first cage, #89. We ventured out into the market to view all of the goodies at the stalls lining the lot and inside of the other barns and then made our way back to the poultry barn in time for the bidding on our preferred hens.

After only two other bids, Kevin gave the auctioneer the nod and secured the hens for only  £8 each. Victory ours, we headed back out to the market for another browse before stopping into the cafe for a large cup of coffee, as the day was definitely a chilly one. After picking up some very cost effective new gloves and extra batteries for our new torch, we started our way back to the poultry barn just as Anita rang us to announce her arrival there. She handled paying for the new hens and we placed them into a pet carrier she’d brought up from the van and soon enough we were whizzing back to the smallholding.

When we arrived there, we placed the carrier into the greenhouse, opened the carrier door so that they could come out when ready and partake in the water and food left there and then closed up the greenhouse so that they had a place all their own (not pestered by the garden chickens). Anita prepared a quick lunch of beans on toast and sped back out for her afternoon of work. We made our way back to the room at the end of the garage we had painted the day previous and now caulked all of the corners and where the walls met the ceiling.

Next, we relocated all of the potted plants at the front entry into the polytunnel for the winter and went to the side field to give the geese fresh water and straw. As we walked up to the gate to head back to the house, we saw a planned visitor stop and park across the road. The visitor was dropping off crab meat, a barter that Anita and Dee had arranged for two of their geese. We were pleased to see this first WWOOFing sight of bartering on a smallholding, even though animals were involved, specifically.

Once we’d placed the delivery into the freezer in the cold store room and had a brief chat with the visitors, we brought our work day to a close and set out for our walk along the edge of Dartmoor, surely something that will be greatly missed.

We returned just as dark was beginning to set in and Anita informed us that she had relocated the new hens to one of the chicken houses in the garden for the night, although they didn’t seem too pleased to be displaced from their safe and secluded greenhouse space. We sat down about an hour later for our last evening meal with Anita and Dee, sharing fried eggs, chips, peas and tomatoes with yummy coffee flavored cake for pudding.

After our meal and tea for everyone, we set about the fun task of making butter. Anita had purchased a container of double cream several days back and brought out the butter churn she had purchased online and they’d used previously.

K poured in the cream and began to churn away, basically just bashing the cream as much as possible. In only a matter of minutes, we had butter. Next, it went into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to drain out the majority of the buttermilk before being transferred to a work surface for the next stage. Here, we used Scotch Hands to continue to press the buttermilk out until scarcely any was visible.

Finally, we added salt and placed onto a piece of waxed paper and chilled for about an hour. Whilst we waited, we watched the January and February episodes of the Tales from the Green Valley series that we had viewed a couple of nights back with Anita and Dee and were quite interested in. In these months, they handled the maintenance of the sheep, prepared basic herbal medicines, rebuilt the lavatory, did some hedge laying and also coppicing of the woodlands. Officially hooked on the program now, we ended the evening by revisiting our butter for one last, very special effect.

The final step for the butter was to form it into a nice little cake with a stamp on top using another nifty butter gadget our hosts had in stock, leaving our creation with a happy little cow made of butter molded into the top surface.

As our last evening drew to a close, we looked back on a lovey day and wound our way up the stairs to our last night of sleep and dreams of tomorrow’s new home.

Nettles and Brambles and Leaves, Oh My!

Sunday began a bit later than usual, with the entire crew raising no objections to the Keasts Sunday ritual of enjoying some extra sleep. Soon enough, though, we heard the sounds of breakfast preparations and made our way downstairs to find a large traditional English breakfast waiting, us with the veg version, of course. After consuming large quantities of scrambled eggs, veggie sausage, beans, mushrooms, tomato and toast, we were almost ready for a nap!

Instead of more sleep, however, we headed out to the garden to clear brambles and nettles and also remove any plants that don’t survive into the winter. After a few hours, we’d wheeled several barrows full of dead plants to the compost pile, shifted a large pile of brambles to be chopped up into tiny pieces for mulching and bagged tons of nettles. Anita leaves the nettles bagged with brick weights for up to two years. In this time, the weeds decompose and become viable as fertilizer for plants.

We then moved on to start the never ending task of leaf clearing. K raked pile after pile and we wheeled full barrows down to the leaf bin, where leafmould is created with time and later used to mulch the planting beds.

As K raked and raked, R broke up the dead and dried out bamboo poles that had been cleared from the garden into wood burner-sized pieces that can be used as kindling for the fire. A small pile was also placed inside an old bee house for little critters to nest in through the winter.

With the daylight still lingering, we left for our daily walk, now on the cycle way just along Dartmoor, happy to be spending our days in a such a peaceful, sprawling green space.

After sharing our tea of roast veggies with Anita and Dee, we watched a program with them about people living on a farm in the ways of the 16th Century, with each episode following what the farm would be doing that month. We were able to see what life would have been like in November and December over 400 years ago, from building a cow shed to preparing the Christmas feast. It was a truly interesting experience to view and one we are likely to continue to be interested in understanding, as we search for the simplicity in our days.

With these thoughts and the tranquility of our Dartmoor walk still fresh in our mind, we retired to our room to rest for the week’s beginning.

Monday arrived and we started the day with a non-traditional breakfast found in the bread bin, cinnamon and raisin bagels toasted with butter, a yummy change for the day! We then made our way out to the workshop at one end of the garage where Dee had completed hanging the walls the afternoon prior, which were now ready for paint.

The assignment for our morning would be to paint the walls and ceiling so that the workshop can soon be used for Dee’s electrician tools and tasks. After three coats of paint, a beautiful white wall and ceiling were born and Dee seemed quite pleased to have had the help along with the new space.

The afternoon was spent clearing more nettles, brambles and leaves, this time from around the sides and to the front of the Summer House, which is down in the garden near the fire pit. We’d become seasoned professionals at bramble clearing during previous WWOOFing days and made quick work of clearing the weeds and the root systems, as well.

After we sat down to our late lunch of veggie mince with mashed potato and swede, we ventured out once more along the cycle way and the edge of Dartmoor, a few sheep staying just near the path this time…maybe considering us locals already because of our daily visit?

Later in the evening, we shared a home made pizza with Anita and Dee before settling down in our room, pleased to be warm inside on a freezing night.

Trip to Tavistock

In marked contrast to the changeable, but mostly dismal day preceding it, Saturday was bright and cheerful throughout. We awoke to find the sunlight streaming though our curtains and were soon downstairs enjoying a quick muesli (and cheese) breakfast. Today was a day off and we were going to be exploring the historic market town of Tavistock in West Devon.

Situated on the River Tavy from which it derives it’s name and near the secure high ground of Dartmoor, Tavistock was an ancient stannary (tin mining town) and traces its recorded history back to at least 961 AD when Tavistock Abbey was founded. It is actually thought to have been inhabited long before the historical record began as the surrounding area is littered with archaeological remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Its most famous son is Sir Francis Drake, one of the great champions of Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1105 a Royal Charter was granted by Henry I to the monks of Tavistock to run a weekly “Pannier Market” (so called after the baskets used to carry goods) on a Friday, which still takes place today. The market has been extended to run everyday now, and on this glorious sunny day, we along with many others were drawn to the historic market to look for Christmas gifts, treats and simply enjoy investigating the varied and wonderful wares of the current market store holders.

Our journey began with a beautiful walk along the nearby cycle way to Sourton, the path we had unwittingly almost completed on the two previous days. This time radiant sunshine and clear skies accompanied us as we made our way alongside Dartmoor National Park, the scenery even more exquisitely illuminated in the morning sunshine. We arrived at the small village just after noon, in plenty of time to catch the bus, and it was not long before we were whizzing through small country lanes towards Tavistock.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a bustling little town with Christmas decorations in full display on the high street, although not so attractive in the daylight, as people scurried form shop to shop. For some, no doubt, the frowning faces may have suggested a Saturday ritual, for others their demeanor indicated a special opportunity to look for objects to delight or excite their nearest and dearest. As we made our way through the crowds, lunch soon beckoned in the form of traditional (vegetarian) Cornish pasties and (slightly less traditional) Costa Coffee. Sitting by the river, we enjoyed a tasty lunch before continuing on an early afternoon stroll.

Upon concluding our short walk, we were soon browsing through various shops and exploring the sights, sounds and smells of the Pannier Market. Here we found an array of wonderful gifts for Christmas, or anytime, including some lovely jewelry, artwork and soaps, not to mention more practical things needed in any household. After all too short a time, we had to depart to catch the bus back to our temporary home, our journey filled with regret that we couldn’t carry more around with us on our WWOOFing adventures, as objects seemed to beckon to us from every corner of the market.

We returned to Keasts to find our supper being cooked outside beneath a beautiful blanket of stars. Anita, Dee, Catherine and Rich had done a marvelous job of preparing a fire, food and comfy seating. Supper included falafel, baked potatoes and coleslaw, with bread and butter pudding and whipped cream for dessert. As the stars grew brighter, our fire faded and the cold seeped into our bodies, prompting a return to the house , and hot drinks, before we were able to join R’s family via the modern miracle of an online video call, just after their Thanksgiving meal.

As the evening turned to night, we settled down to relax and reflect on our day of exploring and fine feasting. As we sat warm and cosy, it was not long before we again entered the land of dreams.

Back in the Flow

After departing from Ceridwen Monday morning and spending a few days in Bristol working through some important errands, we made our way Thursday afternoon to Okehampton and our next hosts at Keasts House. We exited the bus on West Street and were quickly approached by Anita, noticing all of our luggage, we’re sure. She was very friendly and started to ask questions and explain their background straight away as she drove through the country lanes out of Okehampton.

We arrived at Keasts just as dusk set in and met Dee and their three-legged cat Daisy on our arrival at their home. They would be off that evening for a night out in Exeter to visit the hair salon, dine and perhaps to do some shopping for the holiday. So, no sooner had we arrived, than our hosts set out, leaving us to acclimate. We settled into our room a bit before departing for our evening walk. Anita and Dee live just across the road from Dartmoor, but it certainly wasn’t the appropriate lighting to be exploring there. Instead, we managed to find an old railroad track turned cycle way, using our new torch as the cloud cover prevented any aid from the stars or moon.

When we returned, we warmed a tomato-based veggie sauce that was left for us which we enjoyed over some pasta before retiring for the evening to further settle in and rest for our return to WWOOFing in the morning.

The next day we awoke much warmer than we had in the little caravan at Ceridwen, realizing now for certain that it was too late in the year to be sleeping in a caravan. We partook in an easy breakfast of muesli before Dee gave us a tour of the property.

The main home was actually two cottages at one point, that previous owners had joined by opening up part of a shared wall. Anita and Dee have refurbished and modernized one cottage completely and are working now to complete the second. They use their Rayburn for heat in the evening and to heat the water for the kitchen tap, their shower/bath and radiators which are not currently in use. The main garden is home to three chickens, several building structures and veg beds with fruit trees and shrubs near the bottom.

They also have a field that is separated from the house and garden by another piece of property, but they have created a path along the top near to the road to travel from just behind their garage to the top of the field. Housed there are 15 geese and 5 chickens, the latter acquired from a friend that had fallen ill.

Our task for the first day would be to reclaim a stream sourced by groundwater from the hill which leads up to Dartmoor that their home is set into. The stream they’d created begins behind the garage and leads along the edge of their garden down much of their property to a small pond, just before the veg beds begin. We spent the morning and early afternoon clearing leaves, sticks and excess mud from the stream trench and removing nettles and brambles from the surrounding hedge line and earth to improve accessibility and visibility. It was quite rewarding to see the water start to move through the space, once again, with a small trickle as it fell across stones. The chickens were also pleased we’d recreated a favorite water source of theirs.

We finished a bit before our late lunch that marked the end of our workday and were able to provide some care for the geese, new straw for one of the houses and fresh water into their buckets. We then shared a warming lunch of leek and potato soup and bread with Dee before having the afternoon free.

We were able to revisit the cycle track path and walk along Dartmoor with light this day. Although quite cloudy, we could begin to appreciate the lovely moor, the grazing sheep and the peace and calm of the space we now found ourselves in.

We returned to a fuller house, with Dee’s daughter and husband visiting for the weekend to celebrate her birthday. Anita had prepared a lovely meal of sour chickpeas and brown rice and Dee had created a fondant birthday cake depicting the house that her daughter and husband are in the process of purchasing.

After enjoying cake and conversation, we returned to our room to rest looking forward to the rest of our brief stay at Keasts.

Loving Simplicity