Twelve strangers sat around a coastal bunkhouse on wooden benches in Exmoor, Somerset. Faces of many ages and backgrounds held back stories they would soon share whilst taking down weathered fencing in a field, swimming against the tide or collecting kindling for toasting marshmallows.
I spent four nights away living and working on the National Trust Holnicote Estate with a team of expert rangers. On the first morning we headed out to the work site, fuelled by a generous breakfast. The rangers explained how to use the tools to dismantle the fence in need of replacing. In between the hard work, we soaked up the sea view, drinking tea and coffee from a Kelly camping kettle.
As part of the active short break, we had the opportunity to go coasteering with Exmoor Adventures. Coasteering is a combination of swimming, scrambling across rocks and leaping off the edge of cliff coves. After the instructor guides you to a safe area to jump, an adrenaline rush consumes you as you step out, feet first, and your body is submerged into the depths of salty water. Coming up for air, there’s a round of applause from your teammates standing on the rocks above.
Our days were jam-packed with learning bushcraft skills, crab fishing and walking 16km along the coastline. Evenings, on the other hand, were a time to relax with the group, whether that was with a pint in the pub, a game of pool or wandering to the streams from our bunkhouse.
By the end of the week I came away with a real insight into the extent of work that goes on behind-the-scenes at the National Trust. The rangers shared their knowledge about the wildlife along the moors and the conservation techniques used to maintain the landscape. They knew the routes as well as a ‘regular commute home’.
There are a wide range of different working holidays available across the UK. They combine fascinating conservation work with activities such as diving, surfing and cycling. The short break costs from £85, which covers accommodation, all meals, minibus travel and activity expenses. At the end of the break, volunteers are also issued a six-month free entry card to all National Trust properties.
For more information visit the National Trust’s website.
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