Hill Farming - A Day in the Life of a Van-Dweller
A Week in the Beautiful Peak District
We set off from the far south stretch of England, northbound to the rolling hills of the Peak District. We had a long drive ahead of us. We were leaving behind the rocky shoreline of Cornwall, to work and explore the beautiful landscape of Derbyshire.
As we drew nearer to our destination, the main roads fizzled out into quaint country lanes, winding through peaceful villages of stone cottages and cobbled streets. The landscape began to break up into hillsides and creeks, getting ever more dramatic as we drew nearer. The light began to dwindle, as we hit the dirt track at the bottom of the farm. Dust flew up behind us, wheels desperately spinning, as we attempted the steep incline to the house. Sheep quickly scattered at the sound of engine growling. I was doubtful that our van would make it up. Parts of the track seemed to fall away as we drove further. Even in the wildest parts of Croatia or Spain, we hadn’t come across a road quite like this. After a few attempts and a fair bit of struggle, we made it to the top. Our home for the next few days.
As we approached the farmhouse, we could see the warming orange glimmer from the fire within. The creaky wooden door swung open and we were warmly greeted by the residents. Walking into the old farmhouse was almost like walking back in time. Antique furniture filled the room. A grandfather clock stood in the corner, stuck at a quarter to two. There were no bathrooms, no kitchen. Every morning we would take a half mile trek up to a hillside spring to collect water. An open fire kept us warm and provided heat for cooking. There was something beautiful about the simple way of life. After telling stories of ghosts by the river, under candlelight, we walked back in the moonlight to our bed in the van.
The next morning we woke up to the most breathtaking view over the hills. A patchwork blanket of various shades of green, with the occasional cluster of newly emerging trees. Sheep and cattle played around in the fields across the valley. The fresh wild air filled the van as a gentle breeze carried it up from the creek. After a perfect cup of hot, fresh coffee we were ready for what the day had to throw at us! Unaware of the arduous tasks that would come our way.
The first job we were given, was to rebuild some of the ancient stone walls surrounding the farmhouse. I was quickly taught the basics and set straight to work. I spent the first hour collecting as much usable stone as I could find. I sprinted down the steep hill, only to carry heavy loads of rock back up to where I started. The summer heat, making it all the more tiring. Shaun and I took in turns to put the walls back together. It was almost like rebuilding a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. With the walls back in place, we started to wonder what our next task would be.
“Okay, back to work! Your next job is to round the sheep into the pen you’ve just built, so I can give them their vaccines.” ...What?!
We ran up, and down, and up the unforgiving hillside. We barely had a chance to catch our breath, as the sheep ran in every direction but the way they were meant to. It must have taken the best part of two hours, to get all the sheep safely into the pen. Lucky for us, this was the last task we had.
As we settled in for a relaxing evening, after the hard work of the day, dinner was cooking away on the fire, and a hot cup of tea was in our hands. I couldn't help but notice what looked like the outline of a small, mysterious door. It was almost hidden under the layers of dust and soot from the fire. It almost beckoned me from across the room, why wasn’t it being used? Was it hiding some deep, dark secrets? Eventually, I perked up the courage to ask about it. I didn’t get much of a reply, they didn’t seem to know anything about it themselves.
It baffles me how one could live in a house for so many years, and not be overcome by relentless curiosity to find out what's behind that door. It had been fused shut with decades of different colored paints and forgotten about. After a long conversation, we came to an agreement to find out its secrets. The door cracked open and It was like walking into a forgotten tomb. We swiped away the thick cobwebs, one after another and found ourselves thrown back in time. An old stone oven sat in the corner, decorated with scorch marks from a long forgotten time. Wood piled up at the side, as if it was abandoned in haste. An oil lamp on the sill in front of the hazy web covered window, that had burned out long ago. On an old slate shelf, to the side was a locked box.
In the morning, the time came to move on. I have to say this wonderful snippet of the past has definitely left an impression on me. We waved goodbye as we promised one day to return. Places like these and the people that live there always make the best memories for me. It’s time to look on, to the next adventure.