A House Springs Up

We are staying in beautiful Welsh woodlands, in Radnorshire. We’ve been here for the last 6 weeks. We’re under canvas, with hazel, oak and ash above, preparing for the full onslaught of winter.

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Autumn

Busy we’ve been, with a home to build, as well as a working camp to house us meantime.

We’ve seen through the end of Autumn, and the leaves fell around us as though they’d never stop. Now, all is down, the sap lowered, vitality all drowsed. Everyone has worked finger to bone, and we’ve come close to exhausted.

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Tired boys

Thankfully, we’ve found good allies in these Welsh hills, such as Annie and Simon, Eddie of Mellowcroft, and Anne of Rhyader. The warmth and dry air of a conventional building can be incredibly restorative, but only for a short while, as all that enclosed space gets stuffy. People in houses seem to get colds, we have noticed, while we outside just get damp and chilly. It’s a trade off, of sorts.

Rest will soon be known, when we’ve gotten all our systems and selves properly aligned for this winter sure to set in deeply soon.

If you’d like to see and hear more, including our first arrival, the growth of camp, our findings with cob, straw-bale insulation, herbal first aid, songs, coppicing, and west Wales, click on reader…

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Rainbow at Mellowcroft

This winter, we are a gang of 4. Rose and Ayla join us for the building of home and the dream of hibernation. Rose is from Arkansas, a farmer’s daughter and travelling wwwoofer with beautiful global ambitions.

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Rose scraping Silver Birch Bark

Ayla is a nomadic singer from all around Britain.

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no arguments

Ed is still here, and Will too. Hello.

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Rose, Will and Ed

We are living out in the woods this winter to try and learn what living outside really means, and what it requires. It is one set of skills to walk on for a winter, singing your way to a full cookpot each night. Staying put, in a damp woodlands, where the wind and rain are free to fall hard upon us, well that’s something else.

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Ed atop the dome

Motivation is needed from new sources, as we are without the constant inspiration of new horizons that a long walk provides. We’re struggling gently, trying to remember lost skills, and certain that we are continuing a very long tradition, but with all the advantages of modern knowledge and technology to support us.

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Night time a-frame

We’ve been working hard on building our first home, so that we can be warm and dry and comfortable. It has been a chilly damp slog to make it so, and we’ve been surprised how heavy 4 people’s daily water is to collect. We have a tributary of the river Severn from which to gather water, as well as often copious rainfall that runs off our canvas, which is can be collected into a copper urn.

But to tell this short tale, we should begin with our call for land, which was answered by many many good people, with invitations or suggestions aplenty. We finally followed a lead to a place called Mellowcroft, in Radorshire (Powys) in mid West Wales.

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Eddie working hard

This is a natural holistic retreat, a piece of land in the custodianship of Eddie, who offers the space for eco development and experimentation.

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Rose helping out

Eddie is a prodigious recycler, collecting unwanted off-cut building materials from his local area, to make marvellous tree-houses and low impact structures. He pointed us in the way of the right woodlands for our winter, but not before Ayla fell in love with his welsh mountain pony, called Fudge, which Eddie bought and rescued from the meat auctions 4 years earlier. We learned that most ‘wild’ welsh ponies are left on the moors and commons, to look after themselves, before being herded together and finally turned into dog-food and glue. Our romantic idealism had not realized this mercantile truth, that the horses are not just wild and free, but are in fact a part of some farmer’s medium-term economic ambitions.

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first snow brushing the hills behind

So wood-ward went we, dragging our gear on carts and barrows down the mud-tracks, through the woods and up the hills, to find our new patch. Where we are now is an old coppice woodland, with mature oak and ash throughout.

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good ash to burn

Ivy, rowan, clematis as ever, mistletoe, saxifrage, and of course bramble, all do well in this wet land. We are atop a series of gullies, all feeding the main rivulet, which runs into the Severn. We are on the highest bit we can find, but the floor seems to turn to mud by merely looking at it. We’ve combated this underfoot tendency to mire, with broken hazel boughs, scattered about and strewn with straw. This works for a while, but needs constant reapplication. The woods are muddy, and that it that. Our boots are doing well. Even Rose’s low-cut superlight Brashers are holding tight, so far. We recommend thick leather, high-ankle goretex-lined sturdy boots, made by Zamberlan, Meindl, or le Chameau. Italian, German and French boots seem fit to the Welsh winter.

The cold and rain falling down are another thing. Wales is not as wet as the English are typically promised. Truthfully, it can rain at any time, when the sky is clear blue, but it generally doesn’t. And the cold is not so far deeper than Kent’s famous balmy winter climes. We are all full clad in wool, puffed and scarved with merino and pure wool anything. We’ve been scouring the local charity shops for tweed jackets, which are perfect for most small rain, and cut the wind effectively and dashingly. For night-time warmth, we’ve wool blankies, straw mattresses, each other, and donated duvets. The lady who gave the duvets said she couldn’t stand the idea of our getting hypothermia, not in Wales.

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Ayla and Will breakfasting

Exploring the local area has been jolly, as we have bicycles for this winter, as well a small trailer to run to the tip or the market. We’ve explored the Elan Valley, Llandrindod Wells, Llandegley Rock, and around. We’ve yet to visit the famous ‘water-breaks-its-neck’ waterfalls. This is a most beautiful land, as any short walk with open-eyes attests. The hills north and east are challenging, a dangerous land to be caught idling, and promise us severely beautiful walking. We are in a fine part of this good earth. Locals have told us that Wales is the oldest bit of the world, the first rock above lava they say, which we think sounds perfectly reasonable.

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this reservoir feeds Birmingham, gravity fed all the way

The local town to us, Llandrindod Wells, has been the stage for our only busk so far. We sang for 2 hours to drunks and naughty school-children, in an underpass beside a supermarket. They liked it, and it felt good to remember that singing is a service to the community, not a commercial transaction. You can hear some of this here:

[audio:http://www.awalkaroundbritain.com/upload/files/busking-llan-dod-country-life]

So in the woods we’ve been mostly stuck, focussed on making our life warmer and drier. We straightaway knocked up an A-Frame structure, and dragged a canvas over it. With shelves and tables made of pegged and bound hazel, we filled it, and moved all our tat in, so it was at least mainly dry.

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candles are the best of our light

Then we built a woodshed, and a cooking lean-to, both basic hazel structures, woven and covered with old green canvas.

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wonky and storm-proof

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the tech of weave

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all is woven

A compost toilet followed soon after. Stools, a saw-horse, spoons, window-frames, steps and hooks, as well various other bits and bobs, have been crafted from the woods so far. Coppicing is underfoot, and we’ve been helping Woz, the local expert, with the fence-posts and woven rods he needs for his present commission.

Our main challenge so far, our most constant goal, has been the main structure, our home to be. We all agreed to temporarily sacrifice comfort in our present set-up, in order to strive for the future’s fuller result. This tired us all, and we had a few days of cold hands and feet, and getting out of bed is always difficult, but we’re almost there.

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the grid falls

Today our CD is being finally delivered, and a pleasing celebratory conjunction will see us tomorrow moving into the house. We’re laying the flooring, sealing the last few holes, and getting the burner alight today. From hereon, it’s happy days.

This home is built beneath great oaks, as this was the drest ground available. So we had to clear the dead branches from above us, as Oak falls like spears when its dead branches come down, and the strong winds and snows might cuase such downfall at any time. So we threw a block of wood on a string, after many attempts, over the dead boughs above. We then attached and dragged up a thicker rope, and then a thicker one, till we had space and strength to shake them down.

And then we built a platform, to keep the rising damp and cold away. Water and chill emerge from the ground, as the Oaks’ moss jackets shows. A level platform was made using pendulums and triangles, pillars were cut and dug in deeply, and we gridded it all with pegged hazel.

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something masonic

Onto this were set 8 giant hazel wattles, as a safe (& bouncy) floor. We had met an old boy called Hopper, who taught us hurdle-making, and when we explained our platform idea, he scoffed. “Let’s just say, I wouldn’t take that job on, and I’ve been making wattles for 30 years.” But the girls twisted and cut and wove those wattles, and a week later, with tears and bloody hands, the platform was made and bound.

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the girls wattling

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binding hold us

Next came a dome, all interwoven from hazel.

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domed above

Then we fitted windows, one taken from the tip, and two made from pegged hazel and donated Perspex. These were sealed with cob, straw mud clay and water, which only just set hard in the cold damp.

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now light comes in

Over all this came the green canvas, which has proven to be a mix of ‘really’ to ‘not that’ waterproof.

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sea of green

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it comes along

But like everything we are doing, the mantra of ‘it’s only got to last the winter’ has been prevalent. We’ve found it hard to build something temporary, that will be taken down in a season. The best instinct is always to make it stronger, tighter, and longer-lasting. But some corners we have to let go, to get cut.

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we are ground nesting primates

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its their castle

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interior in development

We got straw bales delivered, as local farmers are mostly sheep orientated. These had to be carried, one by one, the quarter mile to our lair. For Ed and Will, it was just like walking, back in the day before we learned to carry less.

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turtlish edward gazes

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aylita struggles

For the longer-term inhabitants of this woods, the mice, thia is the winter of their contentment, for the gravy-boat has landed. The crumbs we don’t notice dropping are their best dream. We’ve been kept awake in the night by a tiny mouse chewing on some bag which was not highly enough hidden. So our battle with the mice, Apodemus Sylaticus, those sweet big-eared bulgy-eyed wood mice, has been declared. They poo everywhere, and chew anything.

But, we won’t kill them. They were here first, and they barely eat any food, just chew holes in everything. We figure that even their poo is pretty clean, just woodland floor basically. But new methods are being devised to keep them away from our sourdough mixes, and oats. A great net hammock tied up in the ceiling seems to work best, as does an old steel milk churn. It makes us wonder – how old is the dance between humans and mice? It must be an ancient thing. We don’t really mind them, as long as there are no rats get wind of us. Anyway, there’s plemty of tawny owls screetching at night, so the mice number will only drop until spring…

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toady also says no to rats

Pests aside, life in the woods is going well. We had a small scare when Ed’s newly sharpened axe bit into his left-hand index finger, just above the knuckle. It went pretty deep, and he went white awhile. A sage dressing, made from hot water and pounded leaf of sage, as well a St Johns Wort dressing, were found to be particularly beneficial. More details will follow for the medically minded…

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Rose nursing Edward's cut finger

There’s much more we could tell you, like how we built our home almost entirely without nails or wire…until the chimney flue was installed, which required a sturdier kind of support.

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Ed burns out a bowl

And we could chatter away about new songs being learned, such as the Jolly Bold Robber.

[audio:http://www.awalkaroundbritain.com/upload/files/saucy-robber.mp3]

It has been a good journey so far, a path walked in depth rather than distance. The emotional position of finding yourself in the woods, with no-one to help provide the basic amenities, and knowing that you are there (by choice) for the next few months…well, it’s been, as others describe, ‘character-building’. But don’t worry, we are eating well and keeping the damp at bay with sturdy porridge, wholesome quinoa and local eggs. All goes well.

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belly filling goodness - elderberry syrup to sweeten

And there is plenty more such mettle to be forged. The snows have yet to fall, we’ve got a book to write, and our CDs to finally distribute. And then, one of these days, we’re going to get a little rest, ready for spring time and walking on northwards.

Our thanks to you for all the support offered so far, for not ridiculing this experiment, and for allowing two young men and their friends to do something quite ordinary and simple. Please write to us here if you’d like to pop out and say hello this winter. We’ve had surprise visits from a few people, such as Rob and Patricia McCurrach, who donated us a Serbian Kotlich, and enamelled pan and tripod perfect for stews over a fire.

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will surviving

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Ayla uprising

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edwarding

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Rose supporting

A merry Yule, a wholesome Solstice, a familial Christmas, a mad new year, good hearth and health and comradeship, to you this season.

Cheerio for now.

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Thor-kissed - lightning struck - oak

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here we are

8 Responses to “A House Springs Up”

  1. Ric Booth says:

    Great work! You lot are an inspirational mix of music and craft.

    I’m a village boy, musician, and green woodwork fan so reading your log, mid morning in London, just sets me dreaming…

    Thanks

    Ric

  2. Tommy C says:

    Hi ed, will and rose and all your merry band!.. and a very belated happy Birthday to young Will!

    Looks like you guys have yo’ st**ks well-and-truly together! Any luck making a sledge? Me and Hannah very much hope you can come and join us in the bluebells for our nuptuals, back in homesville. I would like you to take a moment, if you will, and picture a desk with a screen, on a floor full of other identical desks with screens, in a building with many identical floors, in a town with many identical buildings, in a city, conurbated out of hundreds of identical towns… That desk is where I spend my days… and where I am right now.

    I hope we can bring our little posse to come and visit as the weather warms. We are looking for a mazda bongo bus for the family Wharf, and once we find “the one”, we will come a-camping at your gaff in the woods!

    As always, much love,
    Tom (and probably Hannah and Jim as well, but they are not actually here to confirm it) ;-)

  3. Olivia Cliff says:

    Me heart cockles are right thoroughly warmed to read of thy wonderous woodland nesting, inspirational winter ‘resting’.
    I for one and all wood like to come visit thee soon into the new year….

    Blessings of warm hands and feet and heads and hearts to ye all.

    Kushti Bok

    Love, Light and Laughter,
    Livs

  4. Thelma says:

    Hi Will

    Your Dad would be proud of your achievements! We are watching your website with interest. Many of my childhood holidays were spent in Radnorshire and I loved it (although then it rained every day, in my memory, except for my birthday which always came whilst we were away).

    Thanks for speedy posting of CDs. Will advertise further!

    Thelma

  5. Linda Hall says:

    Brilliant. It all sounds wonderful and so …..right. I envy you the freedom from clutter and the vast mounds of paper that accumulate when you’re not looking. So much for the paper-free society! We’re doing our tiny little bits in the same direction – expanding the veg plots, with a good compost heap in a stackable bin made by our son-in-law, and a composting loo installed in the old privy. Though I must admit I haven’t used that much since it turned cold. I should be braver ……. Look forward to getting the CD whenever you get to the post – I’ve told my husband he can give it to me for my birthday next month!
    Hope your canvas stays more waterproof than not. Have a brilliant Christmas.
    Linda (from the wet Gwent levels!)

  6. Maggy and Shaun Small says:

    Keep going boys and girls! Glad you have managed to build a cosy nest. We think you are mad but very brave!!It’s very cold here in Milan at the moment but we are warm inside. Just using up too much energy and it is thought provoking to see how you are keeping warm. Will get a CD but not tonight as must go to bed now.
    Happy Christmas to you all.
    Maggy and Shaun

  7. kim guy says:

    what a continued source of joy and inspiration you guys are – just ordered your CD! you are (as you probably know) becoming legends!
    huzzah! wishing you a spectacular solstice and beyond.
    Go well, with mirth and music
    love from Lostwithiel Kim (Not Dominingo Kim, t’other one!)

  8. angela plowman says:

    Wow! you guys have being doing some awsome work in the woods! Hope your bivouac keeps out the wintry elements and you stay warm, dry and toasty! With many good wishes for a joyful Yuletide and for many exciting & enriching adventures in 2010.

    Angela

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