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National Trust Holidays in the U.K.

Volunteer and Work with Locals for a Worthwhile Cause

They say a change can be as good as a rest. What better way to experience a refreshing change than to find work in a new country, live with locals, and share the locals' passion for a common cause? A working vacation in Great Britain is a low-cost way to do just that.

During a working "holiday," as the British call it, National Trust volunteers spend two to 10 days at one of Great Britain's spectacular historic mansions, gardens, stretches of coastline, or other natural attractions. Their holidays are typically sponsored by a charitable group, which underwrites the cost of feeding, housing, and equipping the volunteer team. Volunteers pay a small fee to help offset the cost of their accommodations. In exchange, they learn about the beautiful properties they are helping to restore, practice conservation or landscaping techniques, and experience the camaraderie of working as a team. Most of the work is physical: clearing scrub or woodlands, planting trees and bulbs, or repairing walks, footpaths, and fencing.

The Trust was created in 1895 to preserve places of natural beauty or historic interest in England and Wales for public enjoyment. It cares for hundred of thousands of countryside acres, almost 600 miles of coastline, and over 200 houses and gardens.

Currently there are 13 different categories of holidays. These include Short Break Holidays, which last over two or three days and cost �29 (approximately $45). Week-long holidays generally cost �66 for summer projects and �55 at other times of the year. The fee covers all food and accommodations.

The Trust's Acorn Holiday focuses on outdoor conservation. During college summer breaks, Acorn Holidays usually attract volunteers in the 17- to 28-year-old range, and the work can require a good level of fitness. Oak Holidays are geared toward those 35 and older. Oak Plus Holidays cater to people between 50 and 70 years old.

In addition, there are weeks with a particular focus: Construction Holidays to perform more intensive building work, Wildtrack Holidays to survey and map plant or animal species in the countryside, Archaeological Holidays to help with site preparation and excavation (no experience necessary). Trust Active Holidays (which require an additional cost) combine conservation with hill-walking, abseiling, mountain biking, or canoeing.

To encourage everyone to work as a team, the National Trust policy is that no more than two people can attend a holiday together. Mick Wilkes, Community Volunteer Advisor for the National Trust, says that one of the main goals of the holiday is "to bring people together who don't know each other, to bond people together." On a typical day volunteers prepare breakfast before settling in for the day's work. Tea breaks and lunch punctuate the day until work stops at around 5 p.m. In the evenings, the group works together to prepare dinner, family-style. Social activities usually follow, or volunteers might walk to a local pub.

Accommodations are in Trust "basecamps," which are dormitory-style (single sex) living quarters often adapted from farmhouses, cottages, converted railway stations, or other structures either on or near the Trust property. Some accommodations are more basic than others, but all are clean and warm.

During the week, you have evenings and a half day free to explore the local areas. The holiday leader for the week will have information and suggestions.

If you decide to tack on an additional stay to better explore the area, many National Trust tenants offer reasonable bed and breakfast accommodations in Trust-protected areas. In addition, the Trust itself offers accommodations on Trust properties. Among the almost 300 possibilities are the East Cottage, next to a lighthouse perched atop the white cliffs of Dover.

Once your reservation is confirmed, the Trust will send you a complete list of what to bring. If you don't drive yourself to the location, the Trust can pick you up from a local rail or bus station.

The unique locations, cheerful company, and the opportunity to help maintain a piece of history make these holidays popular, and many volunteers offer their time for projects year after year. So the earlier you book, the better your choice of holidays. The National Trust releases its new brochure in January and fills brochure requests at anytime.

For More Information

Working Holidays, The National Trust, OCDM, Sapphire House, Roundtree Way, Norwich NR7 8SQ, U.K.; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/volunteers. Bookings hotline: 011-44-870-429-2429 (for brochure requests and questions), 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time.

The National Trust website also has information on National Trust holiday cottages and tenant bed and breakfast accommodations.

Other volunteer holiday opportunities in the U.K.

The National Trust for Scotland; 011-44-131-243-9470; www.nts.org.uk.

British Trust for Conservation Volunteers; 011-44-1491-821-600; www.btcv.org.

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