Before I started my travel adventures for this year I signed up with the U.K. chapter of an organization called WWOOF — Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The opportunity available to me is to volunteer my time and skills at a host farm and they provide room and board. So, I sent out some inquiries and got a response from a farm on Papa Stour — an Island off the west coast of Shetland.
Papa Stour can only be reached by private aircraft or by water craft. It just so happens that a ferry sails there every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, my arrival at North Croft House was based on the ferry schedule. My host met me at the ferry on a Wednesday and gave me a ride to their home.
North Croft House
The owners, Andy and Sabina, are a lovely couple. They have lived on Papa Stour for nearly 40 years. In that time they raised three sons, then ran a drug rehab residence on the premises, and finally accepting assistance from volunteers to help keep their farm operating. On their farm they have a collie dog, Lily, plus they raise sheep for wool and meat. They also raise chickens for eggs. Additionally, they grow a variety of crops, including strawberries and cabbage.
Since daylight last more than 18 hours during the summer, instead of working from dawn to dusk we followed a fairly simple schedule:
9 – 12 work
2 – 5 work
The chores assigned to me included feeding a pair of orphaned lambs. The lambs were so sweet, but not cuddly. They are always ready to drink their milk, but don’t try to hug them. They like to keep their distance.
I was also responsible for letting the chickens out of their coop and shut them back in at the end of the day. That took just a few minutes. But then I also needed to feed them in the evening. Their dinner often consisted of a soup that was cook all day in the kitchen, made with vegetable scraps from our meal prep. That soup was stirred into the chicken food stored in the barn. They loved it. Clean water was also very important, so I would rinse out their containers and refill with fresh water.
Another fun chicken chore was collecting eggs twice a day. When I let the hens out in the morning I would check the nests for eggs. Occasionally there would be a hen still on the nest. I would leave her alone and collect her eggs at the end of the day. On a good day they laid 11 eggs, but on the average they laid 7 eggs a day.
The chicken and lamb chores were the only predictable ones for me. Sabina would delegate other chores according to their priority. Because this is an organic farm, chemical treatments for weeding and feeding are not an option. This leaves manual weeding the primary way of clearing the beds. And so, I spent some time in the strawberry patches pulling weeds.
As for feeding the plants, we used organic treatments. I mixed some plant food in a watering can and manually poured the food over the plants, then followed up with a hose, sprinkling the plants to wash the food off the leaves and also to soak the soil.
Around the House
Some of the household duties I had was to wash the dishes after meals and organize the empty containers in the old cupboard. Sabina prepared fresh bread almost daily in a bread making machine. Sometimes I would retrieve the loaf as soon as it was done. Little things mean a lot.
I noticed that stuffing the freshly baked loaf in a plastic bag was challenging as the bag utilized was not quite large enough. I had a remedy. Inside my backpack I happened to have a stash of 2-gallon ziplock bags. I gave Sabina 4 large bags. Problem solved.
I was staying just one week with Andy & Sabina, but I was not expected to work all 7 days. I had Saturday and Sunday free to explore the island. During my walk around Papa Stour I saw lots of ruins of homes that were abandoned after the fishing industry on Papa Stour collapsed. I walked to the high point Island — 285 feet above sea level. The whole landscape of the island was spectacular. I talked about that on another post.
On my last day of volunteering Andy treated me to a ride in his boat. It was great. We cruised through some caves and around the stacks close to their farm. Once back on land I headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Andy had purchased some groceries for me when he went into Lerwick over the weekend. I prepared chicken with mushroom sauce and it turned out nice.
WWOOFing is a great experience. I’m hoping to do more of it in my travels as my first one was such a positive experience. I would say that I am a better person for having met and lived with Andy and Sabina.