I came to the Isle of Wight through helpx.net, a website dedicated to bringing volunteers with skills who want to travel together with host families in need of said skills with space enough to accommodate said volunteers. The deal you strike is simple, for bed and board you work five hours a day, five days a week. I’ve used sister sites before that work on a similar premise but this was my first time staying with a host from HelpX. My experience was absolutely superb, to the point that I felt quite uncomfortable with how much I was being fed and the number of lifts I was being given! Amongst other things, during my brief eight day stay, I was given a tour of the island by car and taken out to dinner at the local sailing club!
I’ve always wanted to visit the Isle of Wight, and Cowes especially because of all of the stories I’ve grown up with surrounding the infamous Cowes Week. Therefore, when I saw an advert from a couple wanting a website for their campsite just outside of Cowes, it seemed like an opportunity that was tailor made for me. I figured that if I came just before the start of Cowes Week I might be able to find some way of becoming involved, not merely stay on the island and experience the festivities as a spectator.
Prior to arrival, I spent the best part of a week with my maternal grandmother, sorting books and other possessions before returning home briefly to celebrate the mothers’ birthday in the middle of July. Shortly thereafter I jetted off to see my paternal grandfather in Lincolnshire. It has been an extraordinarily busy couple of months for me, and as such I have been largely without a laptop to get my thoughts down on here, for which I am sorry! A lot of these posts have been written in retrospect and lack much of the detail that I would have liked to have included.
I arrived on the Isle of Wight via Southampton and walked with my rucksack from Cowes to Gurnard. The heat of the sun was intense, although it was not yet midday, and I arrived at my destination in a lovely state of sweatiness. My hosts were incredibly charming and their house and garden was something out of a dream; it was instantly apparent that they would make great hosts for holidaymakers, not just nomadic volunteers such as myself. After a cup of tea I got settled in and introduced them to the bivvy bag that I meant to stay in. They offered me a caravan, which I resorted to sleeping in once or twice due to incredibly inclement weather but for the most part I stayed in said bivvy bag. Breakfast was a largely DIY affair but sometimes I was offered a cooked breakfast when they themselves fancied one! I tend to prefer bog standard breakfast fare though, so felt quite ungracious at times!
The work consisted of constructing a website for their fledgeling micro-campsite business, the end result of which you can see here: Kingsclere. I took photographs and used a website building site that would enable Julia to update the project herself because the interface bears quite a strong resemblance to traditional word processing packages. I was quite hampered in terms of the design as a result of this decision but overall I am not too displeased with the result. It doesn’t immediately look like it was created on a simple website builder and the adverts for the host aren’t a tremendous eyesore. Progress on the site was slow going due to sluggish internet connection and a machine that didn’t have an awful lot of processing power but we managed to get there.
For the duration of the week I struggled with a suspected sore ligament in the outside of my right knee which gave rise to concerns that I might have to delay my trip to Spain, but it seems to have cleared up or strengthened up with use. I walked a lot and often in my heavy boots with my rucksack on, so fingers’ crossed it was just a niggle and not symptomatic of a bigger problem! As I mentioned previously, we went on a tour of the Isle one day when the rain was such that there wasn’t anything else to do. It was a really nice gesture and I felt like I was genuinely part of the family. The rest of my spare time was given over to walking and trying to sort out some means of getting involved in Cowes week. I also secured a weekend sailing with somebody on Crewbay, which you can read about in full detail here, if you should so please.
When it became apparent that I would need to find somewhere else to stay between the end of my volunteering stint and the start of Cowes Week, I turned to couchsurfing but wasn’t tremendously successful in finding a space to lay my head. Several of the people I approached on the island bailed on me, although I did have one evening meet up with a guy who would be racing on a friends’ boat who was particularly good conversation! I offered my services as flyer-giver, pot-washer and odd-jobber to a range of shops, cafes and pubs but to no avail. At one point I walked down to the Medina and saw the newly opened office of Girls for Sail, a company that I was familiar with because I’d seen them advertising an admin role only a couple of weeks previously.
Having had little joy finding in-ways on shore for involvement with Cowes Week I bit the bullet and decided to pay to race for a couple of days. This was extortionately expensive, but proved very worth while. I’ve written a full review of my time sailing with Girls for Sail here. Suddenly I found myself with eight days on the water lined up over the course of the upcoming fortnight! I eventually finished the website and made my way to Portsmouth to meet up with the skipper whom I would be sailing with courtesy of Crewbay, promising to return to visit before Cowes Week proper.
The last few days in Gurnard were spent baking cakes with my hosts’ wonderful grandchildren and getting to know the newcomers, a Czech couple who helped paint the sheds and tidy up the work Rich had recently undertaken around the pool in readiness for a cover that was due to be installed the following week. All things told I’ve had a lovely couple of weeks on the island thus far, but am currently incredibly excited to get off the shore and start learning how to sail something a little larger than a Laser! May Kingsclere have every success in the future, and prove as popular as it deserves to be with holidaymakers.