Celebrating 50 years of working holidays

Working holidays at 50: Bob shifts barrow loads of gravel

As we celebrate 50 years of our working holiday programme, here are the stories from some of the people who have volunteered with us, while learning skills from our experts and meeting new people.

Katy goes back to where it all began

Katy Blanchard, assistant editor of the National Trust magazine, rolled up her sleeves and joined people who'd never met to repair a towpath at the Stratford Canal in Warwickshire – the site of our very first working holiday in 1967.  

'The accommodation has improved since then, and more attention is paid to health and safety (we’re wearing hi-vis vests to prove it), but our work, and our group’s motivation, echoes that holiday of 50 years ago.

'Our aim is to clear overgrown vegetation on the path, level the ground and lay gravel for a new path. It’s back-breaking work, but that’s deterring no one. The sense of common purpose has brought our group together, with people swapping jobs when tired and passing refreshments down the line.'

Katy (middle), Annie and Peter take a well-earned lunch break
Katy (middle), Annie and Peter take a well-earned lunch break
Katy (middle), Annie and Peter take a well-earned lunch break

David's youth discovery holiday

David Spiller went to Ysbyty Ifan Estate in Conwy on a youth discovery holiday for 16–17 year olds.

He says: 'We spent three days clearing foliage to stop it smothering oak saplings, and uprooting invasive rhododendrons using mattocks, which are hand tools similar to pickaxes. We were allowed to go at our own pace, though I still woke up with aches in muscles I never knew I had.

'In the middle of the week we had a rest day, and on the last day we went caving, climbing and zip-lining in an abandoned mine. A youth discovery holiday develops your social confidence, and the fact that most people are doing it for the first time makes it less intimidating.'

Reuben and William's 'helping hands' holiday

Reuben Dunne and his father William went on their first ‘helping hands’ holiday, for adults with learning disabilities and their carers, at Wharfedale and Malham Tarn in Yorkshire. Reuben says: ‘Doing this holiday was even better than I expected. We did a lot of different activities including planting trees up on the moors in Wharfedale, pond-dipping and surveying, and helping out in the walled garden at Malham Tarn.

'Planting the trees was my highlight because of the sense of achievement. We had beautiful weather up on the moors.'


Dianne Lang has led more than 120 working holidays as a volunteer, repairing paths in remote High Wray, Cumbria, running family Halloween activities at Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, and plenty more besides.  

'My first working holiday, in the Cotswolds, made great use of my drystone-walling skills. I didn’t travel too far from home in case I didn’t like it – but I stayed the whole week. Later, I was asked to be a working holiday leader, and have since led holidays all over the country.

'Recently, I led the first ‘Tracks and Trail’ working holiday on Exmoor, repairing footpaths on Baggy Point and doing 10–20km runs along the river valley and on coastal paths.'

This is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in the Autumn 2017 National Trust magazine.