Saturday, 19 October 2013

The volunteering life ... meet Les

growing veg in the walled garden
Les Reay definitely has a claim to being our fittest volunteer after just cycling 2,500 miles around France! Here he explains how his first foray into the world of vegetable growing is progressing, and how volunteering in Gibside's Walled Garden is just one of his many adventures.

When the day finally arrived last November where I could stop working and plan something completely different with my life, I knew it was an opportunity to start on something new. I'd always wanted to get to grips with gardening, and particularly with the small piece of jungle attached to my house. Until fairly recently, I'd worked in Germany for several years teaching English and my garden had been left largely to its own devices. In February this year, I joined the Thursday team in the walled garden to see how the experts do it and under Keith and Tam's guidance, as well as the encouragement of the other volunteers, I've entered a new world.

Les's tasty beetroot chutney
While weeding, planting, watering etc. form a large part of the work, I've also had the pleasure of growing my own vegetables on a small plot I share with some other volunteers. In May this year, I planted onions, beetroot and lettuce and it was a revelation to watch them grow then take them home to eat them! What's more, I recently cooked the onions and beetroot with apples and made 6 jars of tasty chutney, of which I'm very proud. The cooking process wasn't too complicated although my kitchen looked like the scene of a massacre when I'd finished, due to the beetroot.

Les & his bike at Col de Marie Blanque, 2013
The last few months have been about more than just gardening. In June, I set off on another project, to cycle around France. I loaded my bike with a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove and a ton of other stuff then took the train to Plymouth and the ferry to Roscoff in Brittany. Over eight weeks, I cycled along the Atlantic coast to Biarritz then over the Pyrenees to Perpignan. I'll never forget the sensation of cycling up famous mountain passes such as Col de Tourmalet, about 7000 feet up, and seeing the surrounding snow-covered peaks while skylarks sang overhead. My route took me into Spain then north through the Massif Central and along the Loire valley before following the Nantes to Brest canal to get back to the ferry.

After 2,500 miles of cycling and many adventures, I finally got back to the north-east and the first thing I did was to visit Gibside to see what was going on. It was incredible to see the progress that had been made in restoring the walled garden, and a reminder that however spectacular foreign lands can look, we have our own piece of paradise on our doorstep.

Les Reay

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