I sit in Belfast, on my 40th birthday.
I just completed my first real stint as a HelpXer, spending one month in Biggar, Scotland. Biggar is a small town (village?) about 26 miles southwest of Edinburgh. Well, actually, I was on a rare sheep farm about 4 miles out of Biggar.
I spent a peaceful and productive month building things mostly.
But first, Julie and Gordon Johnston have a lovely old farm where they raise rare breeds of sheep, in the hopes of keeping the breeds alive. Hebridean sheep are interesting, with their distinctive four horns. Sowes and Shetland sheep are the rest of their mix. I didn’t deal with them very often, other than some corralling and keeping an eye on them as I walk past, hoping they didn’t gore me in the ass.
Needless to say, farm life is far different than city life. There aren’t really days off, as the sheep and chickens and dogs need to be fed daily and eggs collected. I only really had 4 full days off over the month, but I don’t mind since I was still getting into the groove, improving my strength and endurance.
Second, we don’t have thistles, which are covered in very sharp barbs, or stinging nettles, which have much smaller, glassine needles that contain a stinging acid. Your skin is tingling mere seconds after sadly brushing against them.
And there are generally more bugs.
But it’s quiet, hilly and verdant and starling roosting in the barn. And I had a nice little apartment and good food and drink were provided.
I got started immediately, finishing up the shed at the top of the property, planking up the remaining walls. I guess the previous helpers (they had only started hosting in the spring) were overly adept with tools and they were visibly relieved to know that I could handle a hammer.
We started Posthenge, the giant 20’x50’x10′ wool shed I mentioned last time. Post hole digging is just hard work, esp. in the rocky soil, which required shattering rock with the heavy steel pole before taking it out. But it will get you into shape!
Sadly, we didn’t make much more progress beyond cementing in the poles and getting the first cross beam up.
I took on a couple little side projects, like redoing the mail box and repainting the Egg sign and post.
The final week or so was mostly spent on Sheephenge, the sheep shed I built. This was a fun and simple project but the lesson is here: Foundations that start out inaccurate bore inaccuracies throughout. For instance, when the posts are 12′ 1/4″ apart, 12′ beams don’t reach. That breeds a series of hacks that will ensure future projects will be more accurate.
Word to the wise: baling hay is hard work. After finally getting a window (hay needs 5 rain-free days to dry, and every delay reduces it’s nutritional value), we had 2 days to bale up the harvest. It’s a long day of hefting bales that weigh anywhere from 15-35lbs depending on water content. Pick them off the field and into the trailer. Then off to the barn where they are hefted again into stacks. Repeat a few hundred times.
It’s a great workout and a good days work when you have the right number of helpers. But, and I can’t say I wasn’t warned, if you don’t wear long sleeves and jeans, you suffer. the stiff ends of the hay make little welts in your skin and the next day they itch. My forearms and legs look like I am recovering from smallpox and are quite distracting.
I got to drive a tractor. I drove a right hand drive old Land Rover.
I saw the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
I ate good veggies straight out of the garden, fresh eggs most days and yummy home fries from homegrown potatoes.
Overall, a good, productive and learned month.
Now, I pass today in Belfast. Tomorrow, I search out the Book of Kells and then off to Dublin to partake that city, including the pilgrimage to Windmill Lanes, the studio where U2 recorded their first 3 albums.
Then it is off to a rare pig farm in Boyle, Ireland, where I will spend another month. Then the continent will have cooled a bit and it is off to France!
Nice to have you along for the ride.
I sit in Belfast, on my 40th birthday.