The last 2 months have been full of rolling green hills, rough oceans, crisp winter mornings, woodland hikes, muddy wellingtons (aka rain boots…who knew?), freezing toes, frosty fingers, fresh air and all the beauty that makes up the English Countryside. Devon and Cornwall, to be exact.
Not only have we literally been taking in the fresh air, but so far our time in England has been a breath of fresh air. We are about 5 months into our year of travel and to relax, refresh and hit the restart button has been very much needed. And to top it off, we have been able to speak English! But let me honest, their English is still very very different than our English…we found ourselves saying “Huh?” and “What does that mean?” more often than I think we would have expected!
After our 3 weeks at the South Farm, we headed to the seaside city of Plymouth. There, we would spend another 3 weeks housesitting, dog walking, and holiday celebrating. When we knew we were going to be away from our friends and family for the holidays, we decided that we wanted a “home-base” during Christmas and New Years so we felt as if housesitting for a decent amount of time would be our best option. Through www.mindmyhouse.com, we met Ben and Nix who were trusting enough to let us come and take care of not only their home, but their beloved pets as they vacationed in Australia. The moment we walked into their home, we felt a warm wave of “home” and “family” as they greeted us with open arms and wet kisses (the dogs, obviously!) and a few welcoming meows. We quickly got acquainted with Louie and Ivy, their incredibly sweet and lovely pups, Ernie and Bundles, their independent but playful kitties and the 2 chickens! Our first 2 days there was all about learning the ropes and the dogs schedules, while also spending quality time with Ben, Nix and their son Jack. Nix made us an amazing cottage pie and we all sat around the table chatting and learning about all the different accents that encompass the whole of England as Jack so wonderfully portrayed all of them! And then we did our best to portray the different accents of the states and lets just say that I think I can pull off a pretty convincing Georgia Bell accent! Hey Ya’ll!
They said their goodbyes and farewells to England and onward to Australia as we said hello to Plymouth! We felt as if there was something quite special about being in the city where the Mayflower launched from and our first settles set sail to find the “new world.” Conveniently enough, the landscape of Plymouth, Massachusetts looks very similar to Plymouth, England so my thinking is that when they finally saw land in the distance, they put down their rock (Plymouth rock), took a look around, and said to one another…”Hmm, what should we call this place?” “I don’t know, I kinda miss home….lets call it Plymouth!” and there ya go. We actually got to stand on the steps where the pilgrims stood, with their families and all their belongings before setting off into the open ocean. I felt a sense of pride and longing for home and a deep respect for our country. But then it faded when I smelled the fish and chips and our focus clearly shifted.
First order of business in our home away from home was…well, what else but a CHRISTMAS TREE! This Christmas tree experience was much different than heading to the Home Depot off El Toro. We drove about 30 minutes into the countryside and ended at a hill that was covered in growing Christmas trees…all different shapes and sizes. Now, the reason we chose that specific Christmas tree farm was because they said they had potted trees which we thought would be the best option since we didn’t have a tree stand, potted trees last longer and are usually pretty small. So, with that thinking in mind, we headed to this place and asked for a potted tree and low and behold, they were out. So what do they do? They handed us a shovel and some gloves and advised us that we could go dig up our own tree and they would give us a pot! Worked for us! I have always wanted to cut down our own tree, but I guess digging one up was the next best thing! But, what is a tree without ornaments? Just a beautiful green tree which is still great, but come on, it’s Christmas! So we filled the house with lovely smells of baked and dried orange slices and gingerbread cookies that we turned into ornaments. I’d like to say that they looked cute, but lets be honest…we are no artists so they just looked plain creepy.
Our days leading up to Christmas looked a bit like they would back home. Within 5 minutes of waking up, I began playing Christmas music. Then, we would have coffee, breakfast and take the pups on a lovely long (and usually very damp and muddy) walk, have lunch, listen to more Christmas music, go into town and do something christmasy like take a walk where there were Christmas lights, go visit a Christmas market and then come home and make dinner while listening to Christmas music (of course), and then end the night cozied up to the fire and watching a Christmas movie. I said Christmas 8 times in that paragraph so that should make my point here! And it makes the word Christmas sound really weird. Christmas.
We cooked and we cooked and we cooked up a freaking storm the days we were there. We just loved having a big kitchen to try out recipes that we have learned within in the last 5 months and enjoying each others company in the kitchen. Speaking of cooking…our Christmas dinner was ON POINT. Beef Wellington anyone? How about some bacon brussel sprouts? Maybe a homemade meatball or 2? With our paper crowns on, we feasted on all things English and it was amazing. There is something so wonderful about cooking all day, the lovely smells that come out of the oven, Christmas music blasting in the background and then the satisfaction of a delicious meal at the end of the it all. But then those stupid, awful dishes. Can Santa please send one of his elves to help out with that?
This New Years was especially wonderful. Not because of the sparklers, the confetti, the sequence dresses, and all the expectations of a new year. But because this was the first New Years Sean and I have been able to spend together in 3 years since he has worked every year. So needless to say, my new years kiss was an extra special one and going into 2016 with him by my side while we are on this adventure already made the new year amazing. And, the folk bands we saw in concert that night who helped us ring in the new year were definitely the cherries on-top to a wonderful evening!
Plymouth was the perfect place to spend 3 weeks because the city itself was stunning. It had everything we wanted and needed such as beautiful parks, a lovely coastline, downtown areas that we could walk around and grab dinner, pubs that were friendly and warm and on top of that, we were only about 30 minutes from amazing small towns and expansive woodlands. Everyday was a new adventure and a new place to explore. Some days were spent in little coastal towns in Cornwall with winding cobble stone streets and cups of tea…while others were spent in our hiking shoes with a picnic lunch as we hiked to the top of a hill to admire endless views of the English countryside. Needless to say, we definitely made ourselves at home.
When Ben and Nix returned home, we reminded ourselves that the little home on Alexandra Road and all the pets were not actually ours, and we gave them their life back. But being the lovely, wonderful people that they are…they let us stay for a few extra days and we continued to feel apart of their family. We enjoyed a DELICIOUS Sunday Roast, board games, glasses of wine, and awesome conversation before bidding our farewells to Plymouth. We are forever thankful for them and we now feel like apart of our family is in this lovely part of England!
Not exactly ready to say goodbye to the countryside, we decided to explore the county of Devon a little bit more by signing up for a Workaway in Axminster with a great English family! We had the pleasure of staying in their caravan in the beautiful garden where we cozied up and kept warm as the world outside froze. Some people might not think you can make a caravan a home but I would have gladly taken that beauty home with me to make it our abode! I mean, the moment sean and I were able to make a full Sunday roast dinner with brisket and all the fixins’, I knew I could make 200 sq ft work out just fine.
While we were there, we did our best to work in their garden but at a certain point, we felt like our toes were going to fall off and the California kids just couldn’t hang anymore. On days like that, we worked in their shed helping to restore old furniture to sell or made our way inside the house to make Debbie and her family hearty meals and lovely baked goods. They were all so warm and welcoming and we loved being apart of their family for 10 days! One night, we made a huge…and I mean MASSIVE batch of curry and we all sat around their giants table passing rice, naan, and spiced yogurt as we enjoyed a good dinner with even better company.
At the end of our workdays, we would take their 2 dogs on a walk through the field right next to our house and during those walks, we would stop in our tracks and admire God’s beautiful creations. The sun would join us on our walk, and set over the trees and the hills just as we were ready to take our muddy boots off and retire for the evening. We felt free…relaxed and completely overwhelmed and thankful for the things we were experiencing and the wonderful people we have been able to meet and call friends.
As we venture off to Scotland, we are a bit sad to say goodbye to beautiful England. I never thought I would get to spend 2 months in this part of the world but we can both agree that England is one of those places that just takes your breath away. Whether it be the rolling hills, the beautiful coastline, the lovely people, the pints of ale, the warm fires in pubs, or the steak and ale pies…this place will always have a special part of our hearts. Now, pass me a Scottish ale and lets raise a glass to the next chapter…Scotland & Ireland!