February 2013

Gone are the days when I could walk into a room and ask a brilliant designer or artworker (aka Mac Monkey) to “just add that, will you?” Which is why I spent the first part of this morning wrestling with a couple of programmes I don’t know very well, in an effort to add a French flag to the écovallée homepage.


There are at least two things wrong with what I’ve done, which would take a competent person less than a minute to fix, but will take me well over an hour. So I’ll wait until it’s very cold again before having another go.

The flag links to the website in French, which I’ve built in yet another programme I don’t know how to use. If you’re interested in language, you might like to see how some phrases have had to be changed completely, either because they don’t translate or because French doesn’t have the same playful flexibility of English. (Neither, interestingly enough, does United Statesian.)

I’ve been doing Other Things recently, but here’s how work on the new kitchen stands at the moment:

outdoor kitchen

Only a few more wind braces and one upright to go, and I can start the 12-foot yurt platform. We’ve got guests booked here for April 2nd. No pressure.

This is how the new outdoor kitchen stands at the moment.

outdoor kitchen

You can see what I did there.

We’ve had some fantastic guests in écovallée, but up there among the all-time greats are Ed and Pip, who stayed with us at the end of our first year.

Before they went home, Ed insisted on collecting several tractor buckets of rocks from the hillside on the other side of the valley, where they’d been unearthed by the pigs, to a pile by the Play Yurt. I told him I’d post photos of what we did with his rocks, so he could see the physical mark he made on the landscape.

The years passed and Ed’s rocks sat there collecting leaves.

Eventually, some of the rocks were laid on the track at the bottom of the guest field, so the tractor didn’t tilt so alarmingly when ferrying stuff back and forth. (It’s an old tractor, without a rollbar, and one of the most terrifying tools known to man. One slip and it’s certain death. Which would be very inconvenient for Her Outdoors and fairly unsettling for the kids.) Here are those rocks:

eds rocks 1

Now, finally, the rest of Ed’s rocks have been moved by Her Outdoors to their final resting place in the écovallée parking area:

eds rocks 2

Thanks Ed. You can come back any time.

After the school run, I took advantage of the dry weather to turn some of the overstood coppice I cut a couple of years ago into heat for about ten days. (The sawdust goes onto the paths through the woods, which will become more and more National Trust-like over time. That’s my theory anyway.)

wood cutting

While I was cutting, I was thinking about this article that a friend posted on facebook last night. It tells the incredible story of a family who survived for 40 years in the Siberian wilderness. They didn’t have the tractor, axe, chainsaw, boots, thermals, ear defenders, gloves – or even the breakfast I had today. They had practically nothing. For decades.

I’ve said before how far we are from being self sufficient – now you can read what it’s really like.

Even with the rain we’ve been having (and yes, we’ve been having some), it’s possible to do a few things outside. Like cut and strip the acacia poles for the new outdoor kitchen.

Here it was this morning:

outdoor kitchen

The uprights are only in the ground about 30 cm and they survived 65 km winds without support, which I’m taking as a good sign. Those chunkier posts leaning against my makeshift vice are for the yurt platform supports. The shavings will be used as mulch on the willow trench.

I think I’ve just come up with an elegant new joist plan for the next 12-foot yurt platform. It looks like this:

12 foot yurt platform

This plan uses larger joists than I normally do, in a square on four posts, with smaller joists between, strengthened by noggins.

Four extra posts will complete the “circle”, allowing my normal 23mm thick pine flooring to be secured close to the edge, which will carry the weight of the coppiced ash frame.

(The post in the middle isn’t necessary but I might include it to stop any bounce.)

Interestingly (to me, anyway), I tried three joist layouts on paper and all required 33 metres of joist. The other two needed 12 and 17 posts, though, which is why they didn’t win.

When we had one yurt in 2010, we called it “The Guest Yurt”. In 2011, when we added a second, this became “Guest Yurt 1”. But now we’re adding a third (and probably final) yurt, we had to come up with something different.

First, we considered naming them after the wild orchids that turn up in the Spring. Then after some of our favourite trees – but in English or French? (That was the question.)

Eventually, we settled on something that feels entirely appropriate for a dreamy, other-worldy, vaguely medieval holiday in the woods. Her Outdoors has been working on the signs.

ecovallee signs

Mustardseed is the yurt you can see in the banner at the top of the homepage, to the left of the kitchen when viewed from the other side of the valley. For those of you who haven’t read the website, it’s an 18-foot coppiced chestnut yurt, with one double bed, two singles, a pine floor and a solid oak, lockable door. (Formerly known as Guest Yurt 1.) Last year, I took this photo of the inside:

mustardseed yurt

Peaseblossom is an almost identical 18-foot coppiced chestnut yurt on the other side of the kitchen. This also has the double and two singles, pine floor, lockable door etc (and was previously known as Guest Yurt 2). When we went on holiday here last year I discovered that, with the door open, the sun rises into your face as you’re lying in bed. (It was a magical moment.) Anyway, here’s the photo I took of it last year:

Peaseblossom yurt

Puck is a 12-foot coppiced ash yurt that has only been used once so far, as a honeymoon yurt. This will have a double bed and cot bed or Moses basket if necessary, and its own kitchen and eating area. It will also be cheaper, which means more people can come here. Which is what it’s always been about. This is the only photo I have of Puck at the moment:

Puck yurt

If you’ve just stumbled across this post while googlewhacking “Shakespearean yurt”, are now curious and want to know how little you need to stay here in 2013, here are the ecovallee prices.

The yurts are filling up faster than last year (which may have something to do with the weather in the UK). So if you want to book, don’t leave it too long.

ecovallee view

Many of our guests spend a lot of time sitting in the outdoor kitchen, staring across the valley.

I can’t say I blame them. It’s a lovely thing to do – we went on holiday at the end of the 2012 season – to our own yurt camp – so we could do exactly the same thing.

Last year someone suggested that it’s so lovely because modern eyes spend most of the day staring at a screen a foot or so away, like you’re doing now. Or a TV screen in the corner of the room. Or out of the window at the other side of the street. But historically, our eyes developed to look into the middle distance – hundreds of metres instead of a few or fewer – searching for prey. The other side of the valley, with its gently swaying oak and pine trees, a living landscape punctuated by deer, rabbits, woodpeckers and the like, is exactly what our eyes want to see.

It’s a good theory and I’m sticking with it.