Tony & Cynthea explore the 'Old Country' travel blog

Burghley House, Stamford

Burghley House, Stamford

St Leonards' Priory, Stamford



On one of the farms doing a boundary check

Hay, we're just taking a break for lunch

That is Tony in the tractor

Leaving Rutland - sunrise

9th - 22nd Nov.

(Birmingham, Wednesday). Check out is not until noon, so we decide to sleep in and skip breakfast. Cynthea’s train is at 1.20pm and Tony’s is not until 3.20, so Tony’s pack is put into storage and we walk the short distance to the shopping centre to pick up Cynthea’s glasses. We grab a bite to eat and head to the train station where we have a short wait for the train to Banbury. Tony looks around town a bit longer and heads back to the hotel to pick up his backpack before catching a bus to the train station.

It is dark by the time Tony gets to Oakham, about 90 minutes train ride away in the smallest county, Rutland (apparently you can walk around it in 24 hours!). He is met at the station by Bill Noakes who takes him to the village of Uppingham, (pop around 4,500), where there is a house (“The Quad”) for HelpX folks to stay in. The town centre is very old looking, no modern style buildings at all. The main streets are also quite narrow, barely enough for two way traffic. Tony’s stay here will be about two weeks, and then Catherine wants him back in Devon to help out with the Christmas markets. The time here is flexible, Tony wants to see how things go for a few days before committing to anything.

There is no one home yet, and Bill doesn’t have the combination number for the key lock box. It isn’t cold, so we just wait and chat in the car. Eileen is due back any moment as an Australian HelpXer is arriving at 6pm, so we won’t have long to wait. The house is close to shops (The Co-op is just around the corner, very handy), and the two pubs are close by as well.

There are three of us, all from HelpX, staying in the four bedroom house. Tony takes the large room downstairs. Most rooms have two beds in them, and spare mattresses, so it is clear that you are expected to share if there are more people staying. We wont be living with the host family, but will have food supplied and a small food kitty to use. We are expected to cook for ourselves and to keep the place tidy. The others staying here are Steve, about Tony’s age, from the south coast area and has been here a couple of weeks, and Jess, 19, from Tasmania. We all got on really well.

Security is a high priority, and at times seems over the top. The carport is enclosed, and kept locked. There is a shed inside the carport, that also has a lock on it (the fridge freezers inside the shed don’t have locks, yet). From the carport there is a door into the back part of the house (laundry, toilet & shower/wet room), and that door is also kept locked, as is the door from the back into the garden. There is also a door from the kitchen into the laundry, that too is locked. The front doors have only one set of keys, and the last one out leaves the keys in a lock box by the door. There are three locks on the two front doors. We are not allowed to open windows, and are to keep doors locked all the time, even when home. Makes it sound a dreadful area, and there are a few dodgy characters around, but the main problem is with the Gypsies (also referred to as Gippos or Pikies).

The family has six farm properties, between three and eight miles away, and we could be working on any one of them during the course of the day. The main house is currently at Brooke, the farm where they have rare breed sheep -Castlemilk Moorits (brown, ugly and downright nasty), they also have Ryelands and Suffolks. Adam, an agricultural student, and Jack, another HelpXer, live there with the family.

Another farm, Kinnachan, is a few miles in the opposite direction, more sheep here, a few geese and chickens, two pigs and a cow. A third farm has sheep, and a couple of hundred guinea pigs, (not for sale, just to look at and breed more, apparently). Two other family farms are used only for hay to supply the others. They also have rental homes that needed maintenance work done, so there was plenty of variety with different places to work and work to be done there.

We looked after ourselves for breakfast and evening meals, and lunch was supplied. We were told it would be a cooked meal, but most days it turned out to be a “meal deal” from the Co-op. For those that don’t know, a meal deal is usually a sandwich, snack and drink, that is fine for a couple of lunch times, but it was wearing a bit thin by the time Tony left. We never went hungry, but we did not get tea beaks during the day, and some days lunch wasn’t until around 2pm. Most days we worked until dark, often past 5pm, so that made it a bit of a long day. That was just the way things worked out, we worked away from the main houses, so the meal deal option was convenient for them, rather than bring everyone back to the house for lunch, as usually there would be some distance involved.

Because of the number of properties involved work tended to be a bit disorganised at best, downright chaotic at times, often the day’s duties were changed at short notice. We were told to be ready for pick up by 9.30, but depending on who picked us up it could be as late as 11am, so a few times we were kept hanging around waiting. It also meant the work we needed to do that day didn’t get finished until late. We always came back in the dark, and too late to explore the town. If we were working away from the immediate area then pick up was early, 7.30am, and we were late getting back.

Most of the work was maintenance, Tony had very little to do with the animals. We did a lot of working clearing paddocks (taking away old equipment, some of it requiring an archaeological dig), relocating animal shelters, and setting up fencing for chicken runs. One morning we walked around the boundary of one of the farms, it took about 2 hours. This farm is being used for hay at the moment, and the plan is to clear the hawthorn from the fencing and re-fence the property so sheep can also be grazed. Some of the hawthorn has encroached a couple of metres into the paddock, so it is a big job. The water supply also needs sorting out, there is a “drought” here, the water courses have dried up, but the grass is still green. Rainfall has been very low in the area for a few seasons now.

While Tony was there the farm took delivery of a fence post machine. It was very easy to use, and a darn sight better than using the manual “weight lifter” post driver. We got some 60 posts knocked in, in a bit over two hours. We shifted a lot of hay, and started to replace the fence at the “Quad”. Eileen had bought a concrete shed and we travelled to Banbury to collect it, but the shed was too much for us to handle. The roof was concrete slabs, far too heavy to lift safely. The walls were concrete too, and while we could remove some sections, others were trenched into the ground and impossible to shift. After a couple of hours hard effort we called it off as unsafe and headed back, taking the long way home via a few stops for food and building supplies.

We had an afternoon at a health and safety workshop, 12.30 start, so Eileen assumed lunch was included. Eileen assumed wrong, oops. We were bloody hungry by 4pm when it finished, and we went to a local pub for “late lunch”. It was a good workshop for the most part, although they did assume that everyone attending knew what the instructors were talking about. A couple of times a few of us were looking blankly wondering what they were talking about, but the topic was not something we would use as helpers so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Weekends we all had free to explore, there was a good bus service on Saturdays, but none at all on a Sunday. The first weekend Tony was there he went with Jess and Steve to Stamford, a town about 8 miles away. The bus took the scenic route, about 45 minutes to get there. It is a lovely old town, and like Uppingham there were no modern style buildings in the main centre. We took an historic walk around the town centre, then walked along the river for a while. When the information centre opened we got a proper map, no wonder we were confused.. This place has TWO High Streets, well one is High Street-St Mary’s or something like that, the other is just plain old High St.

We took a walk to Burghley House where the horse trials are held. Burghley Park is huge, they have a lot of deer and sheep here. The house is closed for the season, so we can only look around part of park area and some of the lake, but the gardens at the back of the house are closed off (private). We spent quite a few hours in the town. Steve needed to use the library, so after we grab some groceries (cheaper here than Uppingham) and Jess and Tony caught the bus back without him.

Sunday was wet and miserable, so we didn’t do a lot. No bus service, so we couldn’t go anywhere. A good time to catch up with sorting photos, the internet connection here is really good, so hopefully some photos can be uploaded while here.

The following weekend was Jack’s last, he had been here two weeks and was staying at Brooke, half way between Uppingham and Oakham. We took a taxi to Oakham and met up with him and Adam, they walked 45 minutes from Brooke to meet us. We visited a bar where Adam D.J.s, but left before the band started as the only seats were right under the speakers and we couldn’t hear ourselves talk, the band’s play list looked good though. The next pub was great, but they closed at midnight, so it was back to the first pub. There the band had finished, and they didn’t stay open that much longer. The next option was a “nightclub”, so described in a very loose way! Jack had an early start to head home, and Adam was also working the next day, so we ordered taxis home. We had a couple of drinks at home and it was near 3am we finally headed to our beds. The weather wasn’t that flash again on Saturday, in fact it wasn’t flash the whole time Tony stayed there. Lots of low cloud and fog, probably only three really bright sunny days in two weeks, but no rain to speak of.

Saturday, and Sunday morning, were spent making use of the good internet connection, loading photos on Facebook, lots of albums were created for the different trips we have done. Late hours Monday night and Tuesday too, and by the time he finished (very early hours of Wednesday morning) some 1500 new photos had been uploaded, covering the last eight months. Yeah, we have taken a few pictures, haha.

Cynthea came for a visit on Sunday, she brought Michael with her for a drive. We caught up on a few things and tried to sort where would go in December. Lapland is still on the agenda, though it is expensive. It is, however, probably the ONLY chance we will get to be north of the Arctic circle on the shortest day of the year, and also at a time when there is a new moon, perfect for the Northern Lights, should they decide to appear. A trip to Egypt is looking less likely as we have received travel advisories saying don’t go.

Tony has been in touch with Catherine, and is pleased she still needs him in Devon. He has had enough of the disorganised set up here, and is quite happy to trade it for the madness of West Kidland Farm (better the devil you know!). He tells Cynthea he is heading to Devon on Wednesday, and that as we are working in Banbury that week, Eileen has offered to drop him off in Brackley on Wednesday morning. Tony can then take the train to Devon from Banbury.

Cynthea heads back to Brackley, and we cook up another roast. We call Adam at Brooke and invite him over for tea, it is a great night. Adam makes a cuppa in old thermal mugs he found in one of the cupboards, but it tastes foul. After a couple of sips Tony tips the rest down the sink. There are cracks in the cup, and a look at the underside of the cup reveals there are green bits floating around, urk.

Tony had a rough day on Monday, we had to travel to Banbury and he wasn’t feeling the best, that bloody cuppa poisoned him and frequent toilet stops are required (please note, NOTHING at all to do with any alcohol that may have been consumed). We didn’t get near Brackley, so he couldn’t call and see Cynthea.

Eileen took Steve and Tony to Banbury to dismantle an old WWI vintage concrete shed, but the job was beyond our capabilities and we called it off as unsafe. We had lunch at a garden centre, called in to get some fencing supplies for the “Quad”, the HelpX house, and got home very late that afternoon.

Tony’s last day was spent with Steve at the Quad working on the new fence.

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