Homestay Visit – Shap, England
A chocolate factory, a castle, and alpacas – oh my! This sums up my homestay weekend in Shap, Cumbria, England. On Friday afternoon a group of students loaded our things onto a bus and rode 2.5 hours to Penrith, England, where we were met by our host families for the weekend. Due to illness in my original homestay family, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with another family, the Chalmers. There were six girls in total who stayed with this lovely family.
Upon arrival the Chalmers were waiting for us and without even introducing ourselves, Mrs. Chalmers recited each of our names by memory and learned who was who. We drove about 30 minutes to their home, a cozy farmhouse originally built in the 1700s. The barn had undergone renovations several years ago and was equipped with four bunk beds, a kitchen, bathrooms, and a room used for teaching when their Learning Farm is in use. We had dinner and chatted and were off to bed for our busy day ahead.
We woke up and went to the Kennedy Chocolate Factory, where we were treated to the richest hot chocolate I have ever tasted. Peering through the windows of the shop we could see chocolates being made and later watched a video telling us more about the process. I had no idea the level of intricacy involved in making chocolates but after my observation I learned that there is a real art in how the delicious chocolates are made.
Next we took a tour through the countryside. It was an extremely foggy day so visibility was limited but we did manage to see many cows and sheep (which outnumber the people here 4:1). We had lunch at a local café, where I had steak pie. On the way home we drove by Pendragon Castle, which was the castle of King Arthur’s father. It is privately owned so we could not go inside, but the fog and the castle created an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
The afternoon consisted of squealing girls, sheep, and alpacas. We were sad to learn that the male sheep are soon going to be sent off to be slaughtered, but before they go, must be given medicine to kill the parasites that might be in their bodies. Each of us got to give the sheep their medicine, by holding down their tongues and inserting a syringe into their mouths. We then fed them all and (unsuccessfully) attempted to chase them around and pet them. The alpacas are fed apple slices daily. The Chalmers have a handful of apple trees and they picked apples for us to give to the alpacas. These were shy animals and while we wanted them to feed out of our hands, our patience ran thin and we resorted to tossing the apple slices on the ground for the hungry alpacas.
After this we went on a walk around the area and built up an appetite for dinner. We took their dog, Ginny, on the walk through a nearby wooded area where the leaves were begging to change colors. We went to a local pub for drinks and came back to the farm, where Mrs. Chalmers prepared chicken curry for us. The home cooked meal was very much appreciated by the starving college girls and three servings later we were all very content. We said goodnight and went to bed.
The next morning we were given a PowerPoint presentation on the Learning Farms, the Chalmers’ business, which aims to provide a safe place for anyone, ranging from children to those with special needs, to come and learn about farm life and participate in therapeutic activities. We then walked around their acres, including One Oak Wood, their miniature forest. This forest had a walking path and even had a tree house, built by volunteers from the Army. Our afternoon was completed by a drive through the Lake District where we glimpsed a view of one of the lakes made famous by the area. The lake had pretty scenery and its calm blue waters stunned me. We arrived back at the bus and said our goodbyes to the Chalmers.
The homestay weekend is one of my favorite parts about studying abroad so far. Getting to remove myself from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city life and learn about the farming life of the Chalmers was a treat. Getting to meet such a kind and special family is something that I will remember long after I leave Edinburgh. Learning about how they live and gaining insight into the local area was an enjoyable part of the visit. I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to experience this homestay and encourage others to participate in a homestay visit, should they ever get the chance.