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Explore the U.K. as an Insider: Conservation Holidays Avoid the Tourist Hotspots
National Trust Holidays: Work with U.K. Locals for a Worthwhile Cause

Working Holidays in the U.K.

The Working Holiday program encourages volunteers to help conserve and protect Britain’s wildlife by working a weekend, a week, or two weeks on one or more of the National Trust’s properties in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The costs are minimal, ranging from £22 for a short break weekend to £57 for high season events and holidays during the summer. Volunteers from outside Britain also pay a £5 fee to cover the extra costs of postage and banking.

For these modest fees, volunteers typically are housed in cottages, farmhouses, or stables converted into dormitories and enjoy simple but plentiful food.

Because the Working Holidays program was new to me, I decided to test the waters by selecting a short-term weekend project. I worked alongside seven other volunteers at the Trust’s Nature Reserve at Malham Tarn in the dales of North Yorkshire in England.

As advised, I came equipped with sturdy work clothes and boots, a sun hat, a slicker for rain, a sweater, a knapsack with a water bottle, and a sleeping bag. I was prepared to discover a part of the world that was new to me, to meet people who spoke the same yet a different language, and to have some fun.

A seasoned volunteer advised me to bring along a sense of humor, and laughter certainly got me through the unaccustomed communal living arrangements, the ear-bending Yorkshire accents, and my feeble attempts to wield a hammer and saw--tools my hands had previously known only from passing them along to my handyman husband.

Our conservation project was to repair the boardwalk that wound through the marsh, or “fen.” We carried a load of oak 2 by 6s and 2 by 4s into the fen and sawed, hammered, and replaced 33 meters of rotted boardwalk. We each took turns at hammering and sawing, taking well-earned tea breaks and stopping for a picnic lunch. While we worked, we tried to identify the wildflowers growing in the fen. We saw carnivorous sundews, wavy hair grass, valerian, and field scabiosa.

Throughout the weekend we were responsible for cooking breakfast and dinner for the group, for preparing our own picnic lunches, and for cleaning up. While most of the food easily crossed cultures, I found some of the names mystifying. We ate fairy cakes and talked of “mucky fat sandwiches,” barm cakes, fly cemeteries, and ice cream lollies.

During the weekend, I worked hard, lived simply, and learned a lot about this ruggedly beautiful part of the world from people I would never have met on a packaged tour or car trip.

For a Working Holidays brochure, write The National Trust Working Holidays, www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

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