July 2013

If you’ve ever learnt any French, you’ll know that some words are male (before which you say “le”) and some are female (before which you say “la”). If you’re like me, you will have looked for some logic to help you decide which is which – and you will have failed.

For words I’m not sure of, I have resorted to guesswork (with a 50:50 chance of being correct), and occasionally an in-betweeny word that sounds a bit like “lar”.


Because the other night I learnt something that will help me get it right nine times out of 10. I’ve run it past a few people and it works well enough to call it “a rule”. Now I give it to you to do with as you wish.


If the words ends in an “e”, nine times out of 10, it is female.

Before the weather got too hot, we (or more accurately, Her Outdoors) got to play with the clay oven. Not just the usual bread making…

clay oven bread

But a whole roast chicken for the first time…

clay oven chicken

If you’re a meat eater – and have a clay oven handy – I can’t recommend this strongly enough. The wood-smoked flavour was incredible (although The Boy One wasn’t too keen) and final leftovers resulted in the best risotto I’ve ever made.

Here’s the book we used for the chicken instructions.

clay oven cookbook

Looking forward to many more experiments, as soon as the weather cools down.

Last year, I picked up half a dozen of these chairs for not a huge amount of money. Today, I took almost all the paint and rust off the one on the left – which took almost all day.


By the end of the week, they’ll sit in the new finished, furnished 12-foot yurt kitchen – which just needs to be finished and… um… furnished.

Watch this cyberspace.

It is with some sadness that I write of the death of my work boots on July 11th 2013, around noon:


They came to me some years ago from English mafia Mandy. Not quite my size, very well worn and missing a hook and half a lace, but they still had plenty of life in them.

They accompanied me almost daily in the woods and fields ever since, occasionally eating through another piece of cord that I used instead of laces – largely because I had 30 metres or so sitting in the lean-to. But I didn’t begrudge this negligible running cost. That was those boots. They were as hard working and hard wearing in Winter as every other season and – given the choice between steel-toe wellies and those boots, I went for the boots almost every time. I began to think they’d go on forever.

But yesterday, while I was strimming on a particularly steep incline, I felt a pinching under my right foot. When I stopped, I looked and found this:

boots 1

Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s an equipment failure and I should send the boots back to the manufacturer with a strongly worded letter. The evidence that it is a design flaw is all-too obvious from the other boot, which has failed in exactly the same place:

boots 2

But complaining about a second-hand pair of boots that have served me so well would seem, well, churlish. So I have decided to retire the boots and have spent actual money on a new pair. These boots will be unceremonially dumped when I get round to it. It’s just what they would have expected.

May they rest in pieces.

Here was the new 12-foot yurt (for couples and those with a new-ish baby) after we put the frame up the other day.

12-foot yurt

I’m a little behind with the blog posts. Come back soon for more…

A few days ago, I wrote this post about the similarities between me and world-famous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and wondered what effect it might have on my blog stats. This is what happened:

stats 2

On the day the Edward Snowden post was published, this blog received 34 visitors and 45 views. Not quite the huge numbers I was expecting, but I didn’t go out of my way to promote the post, as I didn’t want to skew the results. The average number of pages viewed per visitor was 1.32, which doesn’t surprise me – people interested in Edward Snowden aren’t necessarily going to be interested in a yurt camp and smallholding in rural France. One other thing worth noting about the exercise is that the blog won two new followers, who are both very fit, young American men with short hair who express an interest in making lots of money. Hello to them – and welcome to a blog about making as little money as possible.

Compare this low-page-view stat with that block to the right of July 2, when I published this post about the new wind-powered fridge for guests. Here, 28 people viewed the blog and read a total of 155 pages, or 5.54 posts per visitor. Obviously, this is my real target audience and so will stick with the eco-oriented posts from now on. Any SEO-oriented stuff will now appear on my other blog.

Coming soon, the 12-foot yurt frame is up…

We have gone to great lengths to make écovallée the most perfect environmentally and family friendly yurt camp not just in the Dordogne, or France, but Western Europe – perhaps The World!

Our 18-foot Kyrgyz-style guest yurts are handcrafted coppiced chestnut, because we feel the natural lines are far more beautiful than sawn timber (the walls are also higher than Mongolian yurts, which is an added bonus). The yurts sit on locally sourced wood floors, and have comfy beds with good pillows and duvets, because we wouldn’t want anything less for ourselves. This is also why the safari-style outdoor kitchen has all the pots, pans, utensils and appliances you could want, including a large gas barbecue. And why there’s a stunning solar shower and beautiful tree bog compost toilet just a few metres down the field. Because we have young children, we included a special toy and game-filled Play Yurt just for kids. And we provide a Welcome Picnic for guests staying one week or more so parents can start relaxing as soon as they arrive.

Add Pepito the retired working horse, fresh eggs from the free-range chickens, rabbits, geese, acres of space, a trampoline, woodland play area, wildlife, peace and quiet, countless tourist attractions nearby, and a thriving 13th-Century market town a few hundred metres away, and you’d think we had thought of everything.

But you’d be wrong.

Last year, the cool boxes in the outdoor kitchen couldn’t cope with the heat of Summer, and it was clear we’d need to provide more reliable refrigeration. That refrigeration has now arrived and looks like this:

fridge freezer

It’s rated A++ and has enough space for all three yurts, but obviously from an environmental point of view it still uses electricity we weren’t consuming before. To make this OK, with ourselves, our guests and the planet at large, we’ve signed up to France’s 100% renewable electricity provider – enercoop. Something we’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Now, we’re pretty sure we’ve thought of everything…