Holidays that Restore You -- and the Past
by Louise Simmons
We love visiting places with interesting histories. Standing in the same spot as England's ancient kings and queens, experiencing what life was like for Victorian factory workers, or visiting ancient ruins and monuments: maintaining a link with the past is an important part of our present.
But as time passes, many of these places of historical value erode, due to natural aging, climatic damage, and the very act of our visiting them. So how about spending some time restoring these irreplaceable treasures? You'll learn more about the history, meet interesting people, and get your fill of fresh air and exercise if you go on one of the many restoration-based holidays available throughout the UK. And with 2005 being the UK Year of the Volunteer (an initiative started by Chancellor Gordon Brown), there's no better time.
The Waterway Recovery Group, for example, is always on the lookout for people to take up their week-long 'canal camps', where you can spend a week rebuilding the canals and riverbanks that formed part of Britain's industrial heritage. You'll spend a week clearing out locks, demolishing or rebuilding walls (someone will be there to show you how if you're not overly familiar with the art of cementing), cutting down vegetation, and repairing footpaths. Accommodation is basic -- often in a village hall or sports club, and you'll probably need to bring your own sleeping bag -- and you'll have to help with the cooking. But it's an ideal opportunity to do some worthwhile work. And where else can you get an all-inclusive week's holiday for under £50?
The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers offers all sorts of holidays in the UK (and abroad) that will let you spend anything from a couple of days to a fortnight in the outdoors helping to rebuild various parts of Britain's natural heritage. There's something to suit every interest -- and fitness level -- from rebuilding dry stone walls in the fells, to helping to re-lay hedging along Shropshire canals (accommodation in this case is particularly attractive, since you live on a narrowboat on the canal for a week), or restoring the historic gardens of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. Accommodation is always provided, but can be pretty basic, and will be self catering. Be prepared for a lot of manual but very fulfilling labour! BTCV differentiates between Natural Breaks and Active Breaks -- the Active option means that the work will be harder and/or you'll be off in some fairly remote location, so if you want to break yourself in gradually, best to start with a Natural Break offering, though don't expect to have a lazy time of it. But what better for a complete change from your office-bound life? Think how fit you'll be at the end of a week! Prices vary, but about £50 for a long weekend or £100 for a full week is typical.
BTCV also runs lots of one-day projects, if you don't want to use up all your valuable holiday time in hard work -- the local BTCV office where you'll be can tell you what's on, and all you need to do is turn up on the day, with wellies and gloves.
How about a week in Dartmoor surveying ancient monuments, or recording 17th century kilns and brickworks in Dorset? These are just two of the holidays on offer this year by the National Trust, which breaks its working holidays down into categories, letting you choose what type of work you want to do, or the age group you'd prefer to work with. There's a rather lovely series of holiday options, titled Acorn, Oak and Oak Plus, aimed at 18 to 28 year-olds, over 35s and over 50s, so if you don't fancy competing with a bunch of strapping youths to see who can lay the longest stretch of path, you can pick a holiday with work colleagues nearer to your own age and musical taste. There's also a Premium Holiday option, where, rather than the usual self-catering accommodation, you can opt to stay in a former Victorian gentleman's residence in Snowdonia, and have your meals prepared for you, if you prefer a little more luxury at the end of a hard day. Don't expect to get out of the dry-stone walling, though! As an added bonus, you'll also get free admission into all National Trust properties for a year, so you can spend your other holidays looking at other people's hard work.
For most of these holidays, because the work is pretty physical, it's unfortunately not possible to take children along. You'll be expected to work from 9am till about 5pm, though it's all very much at your own pace, and evenings and usually one day a week are your own -- in some cases, you'll have the offer of a guide to show you round the area that day, although you may prefer to have one day of relaxation. There's no question that it's hard work, but you don't have to be a keep-fit fanatic to attend: a reasonable level of fitness is fine, and you can choose one of the less strenuous holiday options if you want to take things relatively easy. There will always be someone there to show you what to do, and it's quite likely you'll come back with a new skill, such as bricklaying or dumper-truck driving, as well as a good tan (hopefully!). You'll be able to chat to heritage experts, meet archaeologists, and pick the brains of professional and amateur conservationists, so you'll definitely not be bored. Best of all is the thought that you've done something useful with your holiday -- and not spent a fortune doing it!
- British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BCTV)
- National Trust
- Waterway Recovery Group
- Spend Your Holiday "Mending Fences"! by Liz Hearn
- Conservation Holidays in the UK, by Tracy Kramer
- Conserve Your Cash and Preserve the Past: English Heritage and the National Trust,
by Dawn Copeman
Louise Simmons is a Scottish freelance writer who lives in a 19th century farmhouse on the top of a hill in the middle of a sheep-farming area of central Scotland. An engineer by profession, after spending many years working in the IT industry in such unusual places as Nigeria, Russia and various oil rigs in the middle of the North Sea, she decided to take up her favourite occupation, writing, on a full-time basis, and currently writes for several on-line and print magazines. She particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history and culture of British people and places. Louise's website is at http://www.grayrigg.com.
Article © 2005 Louise Simmons
Photo #1 courtesy of BCTV (© Rob Bowker); Photos #2 & #3 courtesy of BritainOnView.com