Back in 2008, I was overweight, not a little bored by my office job and allergic to traditional gyms. I had read an article in the Evening Standard about ‘green gyms’ and really fancied getting involved.
As soon as I got home, I went straight to the BTCV (as it was then) website but it wasn’t the green gyms that caught my eye – it was a one week conservation holiday harvesting an ancient olive grove at Villa Pianciani Delizia, an estate on a hill top above Spoleto in Umbria.
And so it was that only a few months later on a cold November afternoon, I arrived at a tiny rural railway station in Italy with a rag tag bunch of fellow volunteers. We had travelled from all over the UK and at that point didn’t know much about olives, let alone how to harvest them. But we soon learnt…
Each morning, we were out in the misty groves, laying nets below the trees and setting the rickety, wooden ladders. We’d then work steadily through till about 4pm – with a break for a huge, home-cooked lunch – combing the branches with these hand-like plastic ‘claws’ to remove the olives.
It wasn’t especially physically demanding but we were moving all the time and secretly enjoyed the ache in our arms and shoulders each evening. The gob-smacking views definitely helped.
The food we ate, the work itself and the two litres of vivid green, organic cold-pressed olive oil that we each took home (our own, of course!) amounted to one of the best holidays I’ve honestly ever had.
I still work in an office but this time in Umbria was a bit of a physical and mental epiphany for me. Feeling that delicious physical tiredness at the end of each day got me back into regular exercise and was a definite factor in my decision to take up mountain climbing.
Friends and colleagues at the time thought I was mad. ‘You mean you’re going on holiday to work!?’ was something I heard more than once but I’m so grateful to TCV for the experience. And for teaching me about olive oil and the immense satisfaction of working outside, with your hands, arms and whole body.
There’s really nothing better.