There is something I must confess, blogger to blog…ites. Blogees? (Have I mentioned how much I dislike the word ‘blog’? It’s a stubby, clunky little word – so unromantic, as Anne Shirley might say.) In any case, I must tell whoever is reading that Tyson and I did not stay in Wales as previously mentioned. However the misconception came about, we left Devon believing that we were headed to a small Welsh town for our second Workaway, but as it turns out, Pembridge is not Welsh at all. Later, we did discover that its location was right next to an ancient site where the border between Wales and England used to be. Nevertheless, on the day of our departure from Nethergrove, the closest we came to experiencing Wales was to see and hear the Welsh notices aboard the train.
Once again we were passing through the countryside by rail, looking out on the lush landscape and watching it evolve in fractions – less verdant hills, more open spaces. We sat across from a group of Welsh gentlemen on their way to a football match, their distinctive accents rolling and lively as we made friendly conversation. I’m realizing that moments like these become something of a collection when you travel – small snapshots of a stranger’s life from which details eventually fade to smoky silhouettes – fleeting imprints on your journey made sweet by their semi-permanence.
Arriving in Hereford (well-known for locally produced cider and beef), we were greeted by our next workaway host, Andy. Getting acquainted over a grocery expedition, we soon warmed to his frank personality and quick-witted humour. He and Tyson bantered back and forth as we drove to the piece of land he owns in the middle of an apple orchard near Pembridge. The opportunity to stay with Andy was unique, as he lives on the orchard in gypsy-style caravans he builds and restores himself.
Not only that, but his companion of 16 years lives with him, too – a donkey named Archie, with a character nearly as colourful as his owner’s. After mowing the lawn and washing dishes, I hopped on Archie and the four of us went for a jaunt through the orchard across the road, laughing as he gave chase to both Andy and Tyson in the fading sunlight – and so began the ritual of my evening rides with Archie.
Throughout the week, we helped Andy complete three ‘timber runs’, which involved driving to a friend’s country home where Andy had felled many tonnes of trees over the winter to use as lumber in the building of his new workshop. Once there, we loaded the logs onto his trailer and hauled them back to his place where they then had to be unloaded. One morning we did so in the pouring rain, taking turns driving the forklift to maneuver the logs off the trailer where Andy would then mill them to size. I freely admit that I wasn’t of much use during the timber runs; on one occasion I opted to stay and spend the afternoon cleaning the showman’s wagon that serves as the main living area while Tyson and Andy went to do the heavy lifting.
The first time we were at Jan’s incredible country home, complete with tennis court and swimming pool, Andy explained that a journalist from the magazine Country Living had recently interviewed him about the composting loos he constructs on the side. The interviewer had been requesting photos of the loo he’d sold Jan, being that it was “a loo with a view” as you might well imagine on such a property. He’d not gotten around to it yet, so he asked if I might take a few shots. I was happy to do so, though somehow I got roped into being in some of the shots myself (here’s to hoping they don’t publish those – I believe I was looking particularly backpacker-ratty that day). Anyhow, here it is: the loo with a view.
Besides the timber runs, there were odd jobs to be done here and there around the wagon, such as weeding around the hedging plants, chopping wood, riding Archie, and giving the vehicles a clean sweep. It wasn’t all work and no play, though – as it turns out, Andy was preparing for the Hay Festival, where he was hoping to put on donkey cart rides during the ten-day event. Having also been enlisted by a friend to trailer in a yurt that had been hired out, Andy brought us along – first to Kinnersley Castle where said friend lived (a Norman structure with origins from 1066 A.C., boasting the many castle things you would expect, like spooky tales of previous owners and a priest hole hidden in a chimney) to load the yurt – and then on to Hay-on-Wye itself, allowing us a taste of Wales after all. Once the yurt had been dropped at the festival grounds, we got the chance to walk through the town, soon to be inundated with festival-goers, and found it quite charming. I especially liked stepping into Richard Booth’s Bookshop, a second-hand book store with shelves stacked endlessly in stories, the glorious musk of old paper in the air.
We did have the opportunity to explore other local areas throughout the week as well. We had a walk through Ludlow after helping Andy pick up a cement mixer he had purchased for the construction of his workshop, where the magical icebreaking properties of tea were once again revealed – for once tea was offered, we were soon conversing with the sellers for nigh on an hour. Tyson and I also spent a relaxed afternoon discovering Pembridge on foot, admiring the timber-frame houses that make the quaint town notable. It was there that we sampled the most scrumptious of ciders for which Herefordshire is quite rightly reputed.
Speaking of delicious drinks, a close friend of Andy’s had us over for supper one evening and served us Spanish hot chocolate for dessert – and as much as I wish I could describe how incomparable that was, there simply aren’t words. I have made it my secret mission to smuggle Spanish hot chocolate home with me.
It seems like there is so much more I should say about our stay with Andy. I could say how interesting and knowledgeable and well-traveled he is, how he’s done a little bit of everything from goldsmithing to reality television shows, how many small connections he has to famous personalities, how lovely his friends are or how stubborn his donkey is or how admirable it is that he lives simply in order to pursue his passions – but it’s past midnight, and I think I’ve said quite enough already. Stay tuned for the next adventure as we make our way through Scotland!
From my wandering heart to yours,