February Visitors Farm Reflections
The girl’s ages ranged from 11-13 years. Three had been before, but for the others it was a fresh adventure.
We call this the girl’s transition group. They are part of a group of girls at Providence either soon to leave primary school or just having got going at secondary school.
Day One: Saturday 14th February 2015
Excitement as girls gathered at Providence. Mums also to see their children off. Once again it turns out that a parent of a club member used to attend Providence themselves; this time it was K’s mum. Thus once again it has illustrated: ‘Providence – a Part of our Lives’.
Good journey. Saturday morning is a good time to travel. At last a journey to the farm in daylight! Doesn’t stop it being long though: ‘How much further to go?’
Shallowford around 2pm. Cup of tea. House rules, country code, positive expectations.
Boots on. Coats on. Waterproof trousers. Followed the river doing a ‘stop and search’. A country style ‘stop and search’. We walked and then we stopped and then Debbie set us on a search. Maybe for evidence of something living, something precious, something crumbly.
We found frog spawn, and picked it up and felt it cold and wobbly. We found fresh mole hills and knocked off the soft earth mound and saw the tiny hole where the mole had disappeared into.
Now it was time to feed the animals before it got dark. Two families of pigs, one sow with fourteen piglets and one with four. This weekend they will be weaned, in readiness for the next mating season. The boar has already arrived. Three geese, three ducks, but only one chicken – the fox has been at it again. Two ponies and one horse.
The fireside. All the girls sat round and talking. Some of the objects that had been collected were laid out on a white cloth, and the girls talked about them. It was stunning discussion, and the girls made some fascinating comments.
It is also Valentine’s Day. Stacey led a discussion on love ….
Dinner. Cottage pie with swedes and cabbage freshly picked. Game in a circle – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 1,2,3,etc – a raucous game played to a clapping rhythm.
Night walk. Bellever Youth Hostel. What time were the girls well and truly silent? 1pm. It could be worse.
Day Two: Sunday 15th March 2015
I am staying at the farm, the girls all at the Youth Hostel.
8 am. It is another grey day, but as ever the moor is never the same. A rabbit hurries out of the way. Grey and brown ponies are grazing near the Walla Brook.
The girls are all ready – sort of, but with a kind of a grey start, like the sky. But soon they are full of beans as we arrive at the farm and it is the morning feeding time for the farm animals; soon followed by our own hearty breakfast.
This morning we are going to see and smell and touch and hear and maybe taste the natural world. We head to the marsh and then the woodland by the river. First, finding colours to match a sticky colour chart. Then looking for plants that might smell, and A. fell flat in the mud! We touched trees, clambered past roots, lay under the woody canopy, stood in the water, and finished with lines of description that formed into poems.
It was a good getting to grips with natural things.
(And don’t forget more frogspawn).
Lunch. Full works Sunday Roast and trifle. Church. It was all about all having a part to play, no-one left out, all being a key ingredient. Biblically, the reading and thinking came from 1 Corinthians 12. The girls understood it enough, sang well and read their poems in front of the small congregation.
To the top of the hill, get some mobile signal and phone home.
A walk, feeding the animals, and soon it will be dark. There is the settled sound of pigs munching in their stall.
An owl hoots softly in the dusk, but the girls are too noisy to hear.
Indoors and some pampering – nails, face packs, hair plaiting. Time to reflect. Each girl wrote their idea of love on a scrap of paper.
The love however may have been misplaced on the night walk, because something happened, something was said and by the end of the evening there was a danger of cliques. Esther and Stacey might have their hands full tonight.
Day Three: Monday 16th February 2015.
This morning is a farming morning. First feed the animals, then feed ourselves.
Paul the farmer is here, and we are his team.
The job: move the boar from one shed to another. We make a kind of alley with steel hurdles and seek to entice him out. He is a hug fellah, bristly chin, bristly forehead, hug snout. He will come when he wants, in his own time. Eventually he does, and he is locked away.
Next, to move the sow with the four piglets. The sow and three of her piglets are tempted out of the field with a trail of nuts and the rattle of a feed bucket. But one little piggie is unsure. I guess he sees a crowd of two legged creatures, and definitely hears their chatter. Eventually the only thing that works is standing way back and complete silence. There must be a lesson there!
Slowly we move them out of the field, into the yard, and into the shed, the boar has vacated. Now we separate the sow from her young. She has completed her mothering, and weaning will begin.
The next stage in the cycle. Meet Mr. Pig. They are let out into the yard. They meet, they snort, they sniff, and slowly – not quite hand in hand – their wobble their way into the pig field. Mr. Pig is very interested. He wants to check everything out. He sniffs around the living quarters, the troughs, the grass …. we leave them to get acquainted.
Now we will be shepherds. Paul with Tim, the sheep dog, brings the flock of Lleyn sheep into the yard and into a pen. They are only a few weeks from lambing. It is time for some pre-natal vitamins. This year Paul is giving it orally by means of a sort of gun into their mouths, rather than a salt lick in the field. A team of 4 girls help: one to hold the box of vitamins and refill the gun, one to help steady the ewes, one to spray a colour on the back to show who has been done, and one to mark a tally.
Meanwhile the other team are loading swedes into the trailer.
Next it is the other flock, the Rough Fells. They need a medicine. Same process of each girl helping with something. Several of these sheep are a bit lame, so they are put out into the front field. They will need looking at.
Charlotte from a neighbouring farm comes to talk about Dartmoor ponies and show the girls a thing or two about caring for them.
It is cold, and the blazing fire, as night falls, is welcome. As is dinner, sumptuous as ever.
The skies are ablaze with stars tonight. And a night walk beckons. It is longer than last night’s. It is cold in the northwest wind, as the girls ascend the hill from Babeny to Riddon Ridge. Bellever Youth Hostel and bed is welcome. It has been a long day.
Day Four: Tuesday 17th February.
Early morning frost. Last time for feeding. Last time for breakfast.
Debbie finishes with a brief talk and reflection. The girls participate well as usual.
Farewells to Debbie and Al, to Serena, to Paul, to the pigs and the dogs.
Till next time……
What is your overall impression of the Trip?
K: ‘It was a really amazing experience and I really enjoyed it.’
A: ‘I loved it. I want to stay.’
What were the best memories?
C: ‘Walking on the ‘mountains’ and eating around a table as a group and seeing the view.’
C M: ‘The food was buff!’
D: Feeding the pig, and his wife and kids.’
What new things did you learn?
L: ‘I learned to stroke Timber and ask him to sit. Next time I want to see Timmy the dog.’
C M: ‘How to move the sheep with a dog.’
What was the most difficult thing?
A: ‘Night walks’
What would you like to see next time?
A, D, K, A, etc: ‘Horse riding!!’
A: ‘Everything except climbing mountains!’
K: ‘Feeding the animals, gong to church and playing with the dog timber. I love him to bits.’
CC: ‘I want to move to the farm.’
Stacey: ‘It was an eye opening experience, and I learned a great deal about the young people and their individual growth and development needs.’
Esther: ‘The most difficult things for the girls was coping with living together, and getting on. At the same time the social thing is one of most important reasons to go away.’
Robert: ‘I am always amazed at how rich and varied experience is given to these urban young people, so close and active and tactile.’
Report written by Robert Musgrave,
24th February 2015.