Chrissie Bell

I love the Chiltern Hills and the woods

“I was born on a farm in South Africa, and when I was 13, I went to boarding school in Bethlehem, 50 miles away from home. After school, I worked in a bank, got married, had two children, got divorced and life changed! I had a friend, and she and her husband came to England. They were teachers. Life was very hard for me at that time and one day my friend said, “Just come to England”. So, I gave up everything in South Africa. My children were married, and my daughter had a one month old baby when I left.

It was my first flight ever, I was 49 years old. I only had £200 in my pocket. I stayed with my friends to start with and got a job as a cleaner. I walked to work as I didn’t have 70p for a bus ticket. When I arrived in the UK the Lord gave me a promise (Psalm 68 verse 6) that he will put the lonely in a family. And I said “Thank you, Lord” every day.

I tried to get work as an au pair or a carer, but no one wanted to employ me. I called and called but it was just “no, no, no”. Then one evening, this friendly man answered the phone. That was Roderick and Julia Orr from Dame Alice Farm. I came for an interview. It was September, and so beautiful. I wanted to live here straight away, it was like Psalm 23 for me where the Lord says, “I lie you down in green pastures and restore your soul”.

The night before, I dreamt about a little girl who was coming to me. When we arrived, the family were all at the swimming pool. I was playing with the little girl, Rowena, and my friend was doing the talking! I started the following Monday. I had wonderful opportunities travelling with them and looking after their children. I have asked the Orr family why I got the job, and they said because Rowena accepted me and that was the most important thing.

While I was working there, I started going to the Methodist chapel in Watlington as I was lonely on the farm. The pastor, Wendy Preston, invited me to her service in Cuddington church and when I arrived, she introduced me to Jeremy who was also from South Africa. So, I became friends with him and his late wife Honor.

I went back to South Africa in 2002, but I kept in touch with Jeremy and Honor. Honor died in 2007.  Then in February 2008, Jeremy came to South Africa to see his sister, Lucy Austin, who was being ordained. We met up and went out for supper. After he went back we carried on texting each other and in March 2008 I went out to join him skiing in Switzerland. We were engaged on the top of Allalinhorn, one of the highest peaks. We were married in South Africa by Lucy, who has since moved to Stokenchurch and takes church services in Watlington and throughout the Parish.

It was so wonderful to come back here, to a place that I know with people I know. I love the Chiltern Hills and the woods. Running in the woods – I just love it. I love the countryside. Watlington is just a lovely, friendly place, and peaceful. People are helpful. I love every season – the bluebell woods are so beautiful. Even if it is grey it doesn’t bother me. I love the crisp frosty mornings when I am running with the frost crackling under my feet. The other thing I love is I know all the fruit and things in the hedges – when the elderflower is out I’m making elderflower cordial. Then in Autumn there are blackberries and wild apples. I cook lots of chutneys and jams. I also love having my allotment. This year I have grown so many South African pumpkins!

Where we live on the Marlebrook Estate is lovely because of all the families that come past walking to school. Our god family live up the road and the children knock on the door to say hello, and that is so lovely.

Church is important to me. We support the 4 o’clock service at St Leonards and help with events such as the barn dances. One year we helped put on “Watlington’s Got Talent” which raised £700 and was a lot of fun.

I work with Jeremy at JBKS architects in Aston Rowant. Most of our work is on churches. It is lovely to put new lighting and underfloor heating to make churches more welcoming. We just love it. I do the book keeping and Lucy works with us one day a week.

I would like to say that whatever difficult circumstances people find themselves in, trust in the Lord and He will carry you through. Jeremiah chapter 29 vs 11 – 12 says “I know the plans that I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future”. I feel I have found that here.”


Watlington Folk is a documentary project by photographer Nicola Schafer. Watlington is blessed with pretty buildings and beautiful countryside, however it is the people who live here that truly make the place. This project aims to capture that through a series of portraits of the people who live here together with their “Watlington Story”. For more information, please contact Nicola through her website


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