Titania at the HoBB
Just when I thought my days as a travelling farmer were behind me, I found myself embarking on a trip to Wales.
The Welsh countryside is lush with verdant vistas where nights are as silent as the beginning of Time and days were quiet enough to hear bumblebees suckling the nectar of a bloom.
By the border of England and Mid-Wales, tucked in a cosy nook behind a maze of single-track lanes, lay the HoBB. It was a place that became my refuge for a short moment in time, a sanctuary from the crowds, noise, and technology that afflict urbanites like myself. I came with no expectations save to do a bit of gardening, construction work, and the usual fare that comes with WWOOF-ing. And that I did.
Each day presented a new challenge for this city journalist who has barely swung a hammer in her life and who lacks the practicality to deal with any more tools than a pen and paper.
Home to Grant and Helen – never a warmer or more genuine couple will you find – the HoBB provided a space for an individual to find their creative self and discover ways they can etch their own contribution to the world.
These discoveries do not come by chance. Nor do they appear simply by showing up at the gates of the HoBB*. They were spurred on by my hosts, Grant and Helen. He, a constant energetic ball of sparks and popping champagne fizz, while she is of the effervescent laugh and homecooked delicacies. With their background as designers, they have a discerning eye, an unrivalled vocabulary of hues and whimsical natures, yet grounded by their strong connection with and respect for the earth.
[*You have to book your time at the HoBB in advance – They do not accept casual visitors.]
The HoBB is a place of creativity and collaboration between the hosts and their volunteers. Examples of both abound, from the rustic doggie gate I helped finish, that was started by a Spanish volunteer called Sergio, to the home-made bread that we devoured heartily for lunch, from the stone forge that was a feature of the HoBB gardens to the miniature elf houses created out of pebbles, twigs, and empty almond shells.
Grant did not waste a single minute. I was shown the best way to handle and use almost every tool in the garden shed. Learning new things was not always a lengthy procedure. There were tasting sessions, such as the 5 minutes spent learning how to use a lawnmower or the one chainsaw blade I sharpened.
Enlightenment was not reserved for the physical either. I discovered which shade of a Welsh sunset was pale puce and that the intention behind every thing we create as humans, even making something as commonplace as coffee or tea for another person, can make all the difference in the outcome and the product.
Each day, I awoke to new challenges, both physical and mental. Out in the field, I found my mind sluggish. After years of using the mental muscle, flexing the physical and understanding the practicalities of nature and physics did not come naturally to me. My attempts at carpentry and woodwork led to a broken gate hinge, a bent drill bit and many a nail hammered in the most unusual angles. But thanks to Grant’s watchful eye and guidance, I was left relatively unscathed by the end of my sojourn, save for a random wasp sting.
Evenings at the HoBB were a return to old-fashioned homeliness, reminiscent of the days where families still sat around the fireplace, put on their favourite raspy vinyl, and talked with each other. Supper was a home-cooked meal that Helen lovingly slaved over all afternoon in her sunlit kitchen. I recall one evening, after dining to the zestful strains of Bohemian Rhapsody, we supplied our own entertainment by bursting into song, belting out the hits from My Fair Lady. And another, playing a vinyl LP of The City Waites playing Medieval Pub songs – after hearing the band live in concert playing on Medieval instruments in Ludlow.
In the era of technology and television, it seemed other-worldly but there we were, connecting with each other as human beings and not as humans to a machine as is now the norm. What was the norm at the HoBB was laughter. It was akin to being a child again where days were carefree and cheeky giggles ubiquitous.
Time slowed down at the HoBB. But I did not perceive slowing down as a sin as I would have in the city. I allowed myself to slow down and to literally smell the roses. I could walk leisurely enough to spot a snail in my path and put it out of harm’s way or stick my head up in the highest branches of a tree and see the world from the perspective of a pigeon or dove or owl. I could laze and think about what lay in the thoughts of sheep as they bleated and grazed in the nearby field.
There was no pressure from anyone to quicken the pace. All I received from my hosts was patience and an openness and acceptance I find myself wishing every child can receive from their parents or mentors. If a child were a flower, they would bloom at the HoBB.
So as my train chugged back to London and I left my hosts on the platform, I did not feel sad. I felt grateful. Grateful to have met Grant and Helen, for them to have opened their heart and home to me, and imparted their nuggets of wisdom for me to pocket on the rest of my life’s journey.
My momentous moments at the HoBB …
* carved the “Butthope Bunny” totem out of Hawthorne wood for the sheep post (image above)
* uprooted and replanted “underdog” bulbs
* learnt Grant’s special “fisherman’s knot”
* fixed a sheep gate for farmer Colin and his sheep
* mixed cement
* laid down bricks and insulated a potting shed with re-cycled insulation board, staples, nails, hammer and chicken wire
* drew up a blueprint for a dog bod, complete with electricity points, doors and windows
* finished a rustic doggie gate started by another WWOOFer
* trawled the local pubs with Grant and Helen, chugging down Stowford Press Cider from Herefordshire
* stood inside the hollow of a 300-year-old yew tree and caressed one that was 2,700-years-old
* attended a storytelling session at Bishops Castle
* dined with archaeologists specializing in the Roman period
* went on a Sunday excursion to Acton Scott historic working farm and milked a fibre-glass cow
* learnt to sharpen the blade of a chainsaw, mow the garden, and how to use a pick axe properly
* explored the small market town of Knighton, Powys
* spotted a sheep-shaped measuring tape in Knighton’s one wool shop
* did a lightning tour of Ludlow led by rapid-fire guide, Grant
* had tea and cakes at an old-fashioned English tea house in Leominster
* learnt how to use a manual and machine jig saw, and how to drill a hole properly
* learnt when to use a nail and when to use a screw
* visited one of the oldest fortified manor house in England, Stokesay Castle
* assisted Jan Walmsley in creating a Facebook page of her 630 miles Round Wales Coast Walk to help raise funds and support for the Knucklas Castle Community Land Project
* tasted the most delectable and tender Black Welsh Mountain lamb.