A couple of days after I decided this would be the last season for the yurt camp, I went down to feed the chickens. (Philippe’s been sharing this very easy job with me this year, as he’s experimenting with growing veggies in the nearby poly tunnel. I haven’t been starving them.)

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement in the orchard until I was at the gate and saw the first body. There’s been an attack in there before, when we lost three chickens to a pine marten. This time, every chicken had been killed. I found the hole over by the old rabbit hutch, where a very determined fox or dog had made its way through two layers of chicken wire (one layer of which may have been damaged by a strimmer a while ago) and run riot.

The goose was fine, though a bit shaken by being in there on her own – and having survived the attack.

This kind of thing does happen in smallholding – despite fencing that cost over €400 and that took weeks or more to complete (it was 2 metres high, dug into the ground 12 inches and at a right angle outwards for another 12 inches, in a trench back-filled with clay-heavy mud). That’s a lot of investment that needs paying back in eggs. Add the feed (at about €10) a week, for far too many eggs (I eat about six a week and they were producing up to eight a day), and the cost of the hens (although a few were given to us and others were born here), the accommodation and whatever, and you will see that buying organic, free-range eggs from your farmer’s market is not such a big deal.

What this means for guests is that écovallée eggs are off the menu in 2016. The goose has now gone to another home, where she will be in the company of other geese, and écovallée is (non wild) animal free for the first time since 2007. What this will also mean for guests is no more 5.00 am wake-up call from the cockerels. I was a bit worried that two of them would be a bit much for some people.

As promised, here’s the first almost-live blog on getting the yurt camp ready for opening on Thursday.

This year, Philippe came along and helped me put up Mustardseed – one of the two 18-foot yurts in the camp. It all went smoothly. Which was a good thing, as there was some kind of fierce storm due at 5 pm.

If you’re going to try this at home, you will need:

Yurt 1

A platform set into the corner of a few acres of mixed woodland. In this case, there’s quite a bit of false acacia (perfect for yurt platform uprights, fence posts, firewood – and lasts in water for 100 years), hornbeam (a personal favourite), hawthorn (which provides the welcome first bit of green in spring), oak (mainly spindly – I need to do some thinning out – but half a dozen beauties), sweet chestnut (which produces a very labour-intensive breakfast toast topping, and isn’t great for firewood; but it got us through a few winters), wild service trees and a whole bunch of other green stuff.

You will also need to carry the frame of your 18-foot, coppiced-chestnut, Kyrgyz-style yurt, by hand, from way over there.

yurt 2

Clean off the edging strips that go round the platform. These ones are 1 cm plywood – it doesn’t need to be marine ply, although that would probably last longer.

yurt 3

That unfeasibly heavy oak door spent the winter leaning against the sink in the outdoor kitchen a few metres away. It must have been carried for miles in the last 10 years. That’s the shower in the background.

yurt 4

Screw in the platform edges, with an unnecessarily intense look of effort. It’s not actually that hard with a machine. (A few years ago, I put some up with a socket set – don’t ask.)

yurt 5

Stand the walls up and try to remember how they fit together. Wonder why you didn’t take a moment to mark them in some helpful way at the end of last year. Or the year before that – even more sensible.

yurt 6

Pause, while Philippe takes a caught-on-CCTreeV shot.

yurt 7

Unwind the tension band.

yurt 8

Raise the roof.

yurt 9

Here’s further proof that marking poles when it matters is worth considering. Although, it does mean the yurts are different every year.

yurt 10

Here’s what Mustardseed looks like for 2016.

yurt 11

If there’s a storm coming, you need to carry the cover over, heave it on and rope up the wall.

yurt 12

Like this.

(The storm didn’t come.)

As I type this, the cranes are migrating north again. It seems like they’ve only just gone south – and there wasn’t really a winter while they were wherever it was they went.

It’s the third year in a row here without snow. Good news for heating costs. Confusing for all animals who don’t have access to the Internet, and can’t come to their own conclusions about whether it’s too warm, why it might be, and what (if anything) they can do about it.

But that’s beside the point.

The point of this post is to reveal one of the works in progress here at écovallée reception. This structure was created a few years ago, to provide shade during the many months when you can sit outside for all three meals a day.

bamboo roof on free gazebo

Following my usual practice, the uprights are acacia from just over there, placed in posts holes that are back-filled with whatever came out of the holes in the first place. Originally, we bought some rolls of that split bamboo you find in DIY shops. They were hugely expensive (€70 for the roof, I think), badly made, and messily fell apart quite quickly. In an effort to tidy the place up a bit, they went to scrap.

Past guests will be familiar with a clump of bamboo next to the entrance to reception. This has been getting increasingly dense, partly because this is where I usually throw the washing-up water. (I know, I should have a forest garden up here. Give it time.) In a moment of clarity, I realised that I could replace the split-bamboo with real bamboo – cut to the right length – and reduce the amount of bamboo taking over that corner of the driveway. In fact, I may end up using the lot.

It’s already looking pretty good. Many thanks to Ben from Quinta do Figo Verde, who helped me get the project started and convinced me to put those cross pieces in. I’m just plodding away, processing and putting up six pieces a day. If the weather’s with me, it should be finished before I need it.

Here’s this year’s Peaseblossom frame up on the platform, before the cover went back on.

For new readers, it’s an 18-foot Kyrgyz-style coppiced chestnut yurt. Sleeps four very comfortably. The floor is locally sourced pine. Very comfortable on the foot. It gets furnished with comfy beds, duvets and all that stuff you don’t want to carry with you on holiday.

yurt up

It sits in mixed woodland of sweet chestnut, hawthorne, wild service, oak and hornbeam, and overlooks a grassy valley onto more woodland that has, for some reason, a fair amount of pine.

Just down the hill (as you can see in the previous posts) is the solar shower and compost toilet. Out of shot, to the right, is a canvas-covered kitchen and eating area shared with an identical yurt. There’s one other yurt way away to the left, with its own kitchen. That one’s a 12-footer perfect for two, or two and a bit. There’s also another 12-foot yurt off to the right and down the hill, but that’s just for playing in. Hence the sand pit and play area behind.

First guests of the season arrive tomorrow. And the écovallée summer begins…

We didn’t get the yurt onto the platform tonight. This is how far I got with the platform by about 8.30pm.

yurt platform 2

Trimming the boards took longer than I thought, but that edge is 18 metres in a straight line and quite a bit of it’s down the grain. Still can’t work out how it ended up too large, but it’s finally the right size.

By this time tomorrow, everything should be in place – including a new Lovely Thing in the compost toilet I’ve told you nothing about. It’s all coming together.

Here’s the platform at 13h45 the way I wanted it to be at 11h00.

yurt platform 1

Still on schedule but a few things to do before the yurt can go on it. Like trim the whole circle,’cos it’s too big, sand and seal the front door, mop the floor (no small job, that), add the edge, and fetch the yurt from the tractor shed.

But first, some coffee.

The forecast took a turn for the better today, so I got to spend most of it cleaning and fixing the Peaseblossom floorboards onto the joists I set up the other day. Was it yesterday? I have no idea.

Here’s how I left it a little while ago, before covering it up for the showers due for the next 24 hours. Pretty confident there’ll be a yurt sitting on this by Thursday evening, with guests due on Monday. Those lighter coloured boards are new this morning, from a place over near Castelnaud, to replace the ones I robbed out to finish the other platform a few days ago. Or whenever it was. It’s like a living Time Team around here. Only with metal hammers and cordless screwdrivers.

yurt platform

For anyone who wants a superbly accurate forecast that seems to be right most of the time, especially for the coming three days, check out accuweather. I’ve lived by this for years.