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Wild Wales

Wales has been wild in many ways so far.

Yesterday was our last "day off" for the next two weeks at our Workaway, as on Tuesday our host family goes out of town until the 6th of June and we will be the sole keepers of this little farmhouse--oh, and the 21 animals who call this place home. We took a walk up the street to the outskirts of the already-miniscule village of Garndolbenmaen (don't ask me how to pronounce it, because I don't know), in between the stone walls separating each parcel of land/sheep pasture, helping ourselves through the livestock gates because that's how "walking paths" are done here. We made it to the top of what we think is Craig-y-Garn, the highest peak you can see from our Workaway house. From up there we had a panoramic view of our area of Northern Wales. We're right on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, but also in sight of the Irish Sea.

The wilderness here looks a bit different than what we're used to in the Pacific Northwest. There are hardly any trees at all, mostly rugged rocks, grass, and shrubbery. Sheep roam around the parks, and yesterday we were able to follow the little trails they made to and from the top. The hills are both rough and rolling at the same time.

When we hiked Mount Snowdon a few days ago, whose summit is 3,560 feet above sea level, we took the Pyg Track route up from Pen-y-Pass. This is one of the most popular trails up the mountain, that passed beautiful lakes and overlooked fantastic ridges. It was crowded, especially as it reached midday. The summit itself was even more packed. There are 6 main walking routes to the top, as well as a little train if you aren't a hiker. There's also a cafe. On our way down, however, we chose a less-populated path, called Rhyd Ddu. (It's pronounced "rhyd-thee," if you can believe it.) This was a completely different experience; we passed maybe four people the whole way, and we ended in front of a pub where we could catch a bus back to town.

Rhyd Ddu trail on the way back down Snowdon.

We weren't exactly alone at the summit!

Snowdon is the most crowded hiking area, we've been told, so when our host family returns from their trip, we're hoping to check out the natural attractions in some of the other valleys nearby. Meanwhile, we were also able to enjoy a bit of the sea on Friday, taking a bus to the little town of Criccieth and walking the 5 or 6 miles along the water--the tide was out--to Porthmadog. In Porthmadog, we got a couple of Purple Moose beers and caught the bus back. The walk itself was easier than expected, and we even happened upon some awesome caves that definitely fill entirely with sea water when the tide comes in.

Wales is home to truly fantastic natural beauty. Even with all the stone walls and sheep marked by farmers with spray paint, it is constantly feeling like we are right on the edge of the wilderness.

One of the several caves we found on our walk from Criccieth to Porthmadog.

The wooden ladders over the stone walls for walkers. This definitely isn't America!

Just on the other side of the hill from town.

Our daily life at this Workaway is full of adventures, too. We're working about 6 hours a day on average, but spread out across 4 sessions. Our host family, a married couple and their two-year-old daughter, have taken in a lot of rescue and foster dogs in addition to their family pets. Five of the dogs live in a separate kennel room attached to the house. One has his own little room in the enclosed porch. Four live in the kitchen in the house. Nobody is fixed, as far as I know. There are social dynamics we have to be careful of, and many of the dogs don't get along with each other, so when it's time for everybody to go outside, they are taken out in 5 separate groups.

This family hosts Workawayers year-round, and with almost no gaps between stays. We arrived just a couple of hours after the previous girl left, Tereza from Brazil. We will head out just 3 days before the next folks, an Australian couple, will get here. The dogs and their daughter are quite used to new people, and trust is developed fairly easily, but of course there is always a break-in period. With 10 dogs, the break-in period so far has looked like a lot of jumping, even more barking, and even more peeing in kennels. (So much peeing.) We keep track of everybody's poo in an app called Dog Log, which at first introduction seemed like overkill, but has already proven to be quite handy. At the 10pm session, when we're huddled in our sweatshirts with headlamps on, trying to keep track of Jack, Louis, and Nook in the dark (two spaniels and a border collie), we ask each other, "How many times has Louis pooped today? Do we need to wait for him to go, or is it just a quick pee?"

The log also helps us know when we may need to take Scrumpy out. He's the smallest and the youngest, a one-year-old wire-haired Jack Russell, and his name is fitting. He is trying his darnedest not to be potty trained. He's one of the four that lives in the kitchen, and while he can be quite pleasant in the evening while he chews on a bone in the corner or sleeps peacefully on your lap after dinner, his yap, his attitude, and his liking for pooping in his kennel immediately after spending half an hour outside makes him a bit of a problem child.

Scrumpy just looks like trouble, doesn't he?

Each dog has their own story, of course, and has their own needs. It's a lot to learn. We have hope that some of the barking and the peeing (please, God, stop the peeing) mellows out after the family leaves on vacation and the house quiets down. In contrast, the cats have been fairly easy--they live in a beautiful "cattery," or "cat chalet" in the backyard, complete with fans, heaters, big windows, and an enclosed outdoor run. Every single one of them is friendly.

Aside from all the crazy, we're hoping our 4 1/2 weeks in Northern Wales will be restful. Especially while our hosts are off in the Seychelles, we'll be required to be on the property every day to care for the animals, with a few hours' break in between each shift, and not a whole lot else is going on here. Reading, journaling, cooking, and napping are in the schedule, I think. We'll take full advantage of the luxury of a full kitchen--we're talking a 5-burner gas range and two ovens--and a washer AND DRYER. (We haven't had use of a dryer since Switzerland, because for some reason Europe doesn't use them.) This will probably be our last stop in which we need heavy waterproof boots and wooly sweaters, so we're getting ready to ditch those and only carry our summer clothes... I seriously can't wait for a smaller pack. Meanwhile, if you don't already follow us on Facebook, we'll be taking care of your animal photo fix for a few weeks!

- J

Zen has a run around the yard with his prize.

Quinto is the biggest cat I think I've ever seen!

Andrew's on another buttermilk biscuit kick...


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