After two months straight of being on the road, never unpacking or sleeping in the same bed for more than a week, Katie and I were looking forward to our next location: Gaunts House, where we would be staying to WWOOF for almost a whole month!
Gaunts House is first heard of around 1355 when it was left to John of Gaunt by his beloved wife Blanche, daughter and heiress of the old Duke of Lancaster. Beneath the present red-brick mansion is one of Portland stone, built around 1752 by Sir Richard Glyn, Lord Mayor of London.”
-A bit of info on the history of Gaunts House thanks to their website.
One of the biggest differences between the orchard
and Gaunts was the sheer size. The house and its grounds were MASSIVE. There was so much to explore! Along with more land came more people! It had been nearly four months since we had really done anything separately, having only each other to talk to for long stretches of time. Needless to say, we were extremely excited to have more than 20 other volunteers and staff around to spend time with. Our time at Gaunts House ended up being the first time we really got to know other travelers and the first time we really became good friends with people we met while traveling. Hostels are really fun, but it’s hard to get to know people over the course of a few days. At Gaunts we had a few weeks! Last but not least, as my German friend Martha would say, Gaunts was the perfect place for character studies. Everyone was utterly unique and extremely interesting in their own way.
Katie’s amazing birthday cake!-
Katie’s birthday was approaching quickly and I wanted to so something special for her, so I decided to make a chocolate cake! I looked up a recipe online, wrote it down and got to work. I like to think I’m a good cook, but I’m not the best baker. Despite this, I thought, it couldn’t be that hard, it’s just a chocolate cake, right? I was so wrong. Firstly, it was so hard to measure things out in grams when I couldn’t find a scale. Secondly, the recipe was strange–it was not at all the consistency of cake batter, much more like brownie batter. But it tasted alright, so I threw it in the commercial size oven. About 10 minutes later, I went back to check on it, and it was already done! It hadn’t risen at all! I was so disappointed, but still had faith that it would turn out alright.
I didn’t have time to made the frosting I wanted, so instead I grabbed some powdered sugar to sprinkle on the top. Somewhat proud of myself for saving the disaster of a cake, I tried a tiny sliver from the corner. At first it tasted pretty good, but then this overwhelming flavor crept in, a horrible horrible taste. I was thinking about why it would taste so horrid when Katie walked right in the kitchen! The surprise was completely ruined, just like her cake. I was so disappointed that the cake didn’t turn out, but Katie was a good sport and ate some without spitting it out. Then she said a sentence that made the light bulb switch on: “Did you put powdered sugar on this?”
I instantly realized that was where I went wrong. I grabbed a large container of what appeared to be powdered sugar and barely glanced at the label, reading what I thought was “powdered” but was in fact “powder”. There were only two letters missing but those missing letters made all the difference. Instead of “powdered” sugar, I had put baking powder all over the cake! That was what made my throat feel like it was burning. Katie and I spent the next 20 minutes scraping off the baking powder and replaced it with powder sugar. It didn’t turn out half bad, but my lesson was learned: ALWAYS always read the whole label.
Thanksgiving with a twist-
Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday and a day I hold near and dear to my heart. A whole entire day to relax, spend quality time with family and eat an amazing meal- what’s not to love?! Frankly, being across the pond in the U.K. (where they clearly don’t celebrate this American tradition) was having me a little bummed out. Thankfully, we had a grrrreat volunteer coordinator, Kat, who thought it would be fun to give Thanksgiving a try. Thanksgiving with a twist! With WWOOFers from 6 different countries, we decided that each country would team up and cook a dish from their country. The United States (baked macaroni and cheese) Israel (sabih), Sweden (pickled herring) and Germany (black forest cake) made lunch. We had the most DELICIOUS meal and we were all completely stuffed! But it wasn’t over yet, with Italy and England bringing it home with a killer dinner of parmigiana melanzane and chicken stew with dumplings! We all took a turn saying what we were thankful for, and just like that, my first Thanksgiving away from home was a success!
Working only 5 hours, 5 days a week meant that we had a lot of free time to ourselves. Much of that time was spent next to the fire in the Welcome Room, in the craft room, taking day trips, or going on walks around the beautiful grounds. There really was never a dull moment.
I couldn’t write a post about Gaunts and not talk about the hilarious animals that called Gaunts House home. Willow, the curious, adolescent white German Shepard; Briar, the spazzy spaniel; Frank the shy black lab; Raphie the Jack Russell pup; and Cat, the old and blind yet savvy 21-year old cat.
It’s being to look a lot like Christmas-
With the Christmas season upon us and a classical Christmas concert approaching, Katie and I had the task (and joy) of decorating the house Christmas tree. Not just any old Christmas tree, though–this massive house called for a massive tree, and it took a ladder to decorate that mountain of a tree. We put on some classic crooners Christmas music and got to work. The end result was a beautiful tree that made the house look quite festive for the holiday season!
Days before we departed, a classical Christmas concert was held at the house. “It reminded me of, like, an intimate party scene from a Jane Austin novel, complete with some fun, big personalities,” Katie said of the evening.
During the second half of the concert, we all sang Christmas carols together. This is when Katie and I lost it. Every Christmas Eve our family goes to church, where we sing many Christmas carols and hymns. All of them are in waaaay too high of a key, making it really hard to sing them. Every year we try our best, but end up giggling half the time as we try to hit the high notes. During the caroling at Gaunts we were trying to keep it together and hit those hit notes but we failed epically and giggled our way through the rest of the concert.
Gaunts House as seen from the lawn. That’s a redwood tree towering on the right.
The only warm spot was by the fire in the Welcome Room, so we spent a lot of time hanging out in there with our fellow wwoofers.
The house and grounds were particularly suited to foggy mornings
The formal dining room, where guests ate their meals. There were plenty of reading materials to choose from in the Drawing Room.
The staircase in the Great Hall.
Jasmine and Eyal, two of our fellow wwoofers, took advantage of a rare sunny day to play some music outside under the redwood tree.
Willow the German Shepherd. She was a puppy when we arrived and a gangly teenager by the time we left!
The stables are now used for extra guest rooms and wwoofer accommodation.
There was an art room in the stables, which Sarah and I took full advantage of.
The first frost made for a cold morning of wwoofing.
You’re about to see a lot of pictures of trees–get ready!
The Cedar Field by moonlight.
Some remnants from the Summer Gathering, a festival held at Gaunts every year.
Sarah and I spent a lot of time walking and exploring the estate
The inside of a kids playhouse on the lawn.
Wellies are a requirement.
The Cedar Field by day, one of my favorite spots on the estate.
A pretty day moon made an appearance.
Walking from the stables to the main house one foggy night.
Starhenge is a stone installation on the grounds that is in “geometric triangulation with the sacred sites of Glastonbury, Avebury, and Stonehenge” (gauntshouse.com/Gardens-Grounds)
Katie went to Honeybrook Farm, a family farm and park, for a blacksmithing lesson.
Katie and Martha (from Germany) made a German Chocolate/Black Forest cake for the Thanksgiving celebrations.
Not bad for Martha’s first attempt at cake baking!
Jasmine and Eyal (from San Fransisco and Tel Aviv) made sabih. It was delicious!
The aftermath of the chocolate cake.
The England team made chicken dumplings. We explained the meaning of Thanskgiving to everyone, and everyone shared what they were thankful for.
We took a day trip to Brighton one day, and were treated to the beach and a beautiful sunset.
Some punks on the beach.
Sarah and I decorated a HUGE Christmas tree that Kat, the volunteer coordinator, cut down on the grounds.
We were treated to an evening of classical music, Christmas carols, and poetry readings in the ballroom.
Sarah made a beautiful advent wreath from some holly, ivy, and branches from the grounds.