A year working in the Lake District

2011-02-07 00:00

WE responded to the ad, had a telephonic interview, exchanged a few e-mails and accepted the job offer all within a couple of days. A few weeks later we got off the train with our enormous suitcases at Penrith Station in Cumbria and our working holiday adventure in the United Kingdom began.

It all started because we had heard of other couples of our age who had gone to the UK and had worked together as housekeeper/cook/nanny/carer and gardener/handyman/driver or the like. As is the way of these things we gradually learnt the rules of the game.

The first rule is that you need a visa that entitles you to work in the UK. For us the best option was the ancestral visa. We duly obtained all the documentation and information needed, and submitted ourselves to the rather intimidating but efficient visa-application process, although it did involve several trips to Durban.

The second rule is that the best source of adverts for these kinds of jobs is a weekly magazine called The Lady which, fortunately, can be accessed online for free. For several months, while our visa applications were being processed and after we had received them, we trolled the job ads and submitted our CVs, which weren’t terribly relevant as we were both retired professionals.

All the jobs we applied for were of the couple variety and most were in private homes. There were a few nibbles to keep us motivated but no job offers. There was one ad that I crossed off as not appropriate as it was for a “cook and management assistant” in a small, family-run hotel in the Lake District. It wasn’t even clear whether the cook and the management assistant was one or two people. B said let’s apply anyway and the rest, as they say, is history. It turned out it was a job for one person, but it came with a three-bedroom apartment and meals, and we figured I could always find employment locally.

Our objective was to have a gap year with a difference, living and working in the UK, and travelling and experiencing as much as possible in the time available. That was another plus about the job. B would work long hours but she would get six days off in each two-week period, as well as nearly six weeks’ leave per annum. Even better, the hotel closes for most of December and January, so we could use the leave to come home for Christmas. The way it panned out was that she was off every Thursday and Friday, so this became our weekend, and every second week she was also off on Saturday and Sunday, so these became our long weekends.

The hotel is situated in Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale Valley, 10 kilometres south of Keswick, in the northern Lake District. For those who don’t know it, this is in the heart of the Lake District National Park, and Keswick is the walking and outdoor adventure Mecca of the UK. We were a few kilometres as the crow flies from Scafell Pike, which, at a mere 1 000-odd metres, is the highest point in England. The setting is stunning. To get an idea of the landscape, think Berg and midlands with a number of Midmars thrown in.

It is a very old-fashioned and quaint hotel (the building dates back to the 1700s) and is very popular with people who come to walk in the fells. Let me tell you, the English are great walkers and the fells (hills) and dales (valleys) are crawling with them, whatever the weather. Most have their dogs with them and most accommodation establishments are dog-friendly. Many guests have been coming to the hotel for many years.

Rosthwaite also happens to be situated at the crossroads of two major walking routes, the Coast-to-Coast, which runs from west to east, and the Cumbrian Way, which runs from north to south, and so the hotel, which accommodates a maximum of 32 people, is full most of the time.

We soon got into the routine of using our short weekends for washing and ironing, and for longish walks and bike rides. On long weekends, we would either have friends or family come to stay and show them around our world, or we would travel by train or car to other parts of the UK. In this way we were able to see many places and sights (including very many castles, abbeys, priories, cathedrals and other things of historical interest) and visited Scotland three times. We travelled along Hadrian’s wall, did a canal boat trip on the River Lea, cycled around the Isle of Man (not literally), spent time on the Yorkshire coast, in the North Yorkshire Moors and in the Yorkshire Dales, saw parts of Norfolk, Essex, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and Herefordshire, as well as a couple of visits to London. We even managed to squeeze in a two-week visit to the United States.

There are many places we didn’t get to and things we didn’t see, including Ireland and the Scottish highlands, and that’s why we’re going back for another helping. We leave in a few days time.

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