The last few days have been pretty busy. (An excuse you’ll find elsewhere on this blog.)

What led to this busyness was that I had guests booked in Mustardseed (one of the 18-foot yurts in écovallée) on June 11th. Which was great. Except that, on June 10th, it was still full of the other 18-foot yurt (which is called Peaseblossom), plus all the deconstructed beds of both yurts and the new outdoor kitchen roof, recently made by The Former Her Outdoors.

Regular readers will not be surprised that there was also rain on the forecast.

Here’s why I felt the kitchen roof needed replacing (my mate Philippe’s the real star in this shot – thank <Deity Name> he was here to help – I couldn’t have done all this without him):

old kitchen roof

Here’s me sorting out the bracing on Peaseblossom’s roof wheel, which fell to pieces while it was being put away at the end of last season:

yurt roof wheel

The forecasted rain came early, so we put the frame up fast:

yurt frame

Then the cover:

yurt roof

Before we turned our attention back to the kitchen:

new kitchen roof

It doesn’t take long to put the cover on, but look how it transforms the space:

new roof

After that, I remembered to take a shot of the finished yurt, just for you:

completed yurt

Next, the floor needed scrubbing, mopping and leaving to dry, so the deconstructed beds could be moved in. Then the beds in Mustardseed had to be reconstructed and made. The pots, plates and everything else were washed up and put in place in the kitchen, the solar shower and compost toilet cleaned, plus countless other jobs.

The guests had only booked one night. (They did this through, which prompted me to look harder at the settings and change the minimum number of nights to three – there’s more to this business than construction, cleaning and looking nonchalant when people arrive.)

Today was relatively easy: Said goodbye to one set of guests, then did a quick changeover for Puck (the 12-foot yurt), after buying all the stuff for the Welcome Picnic – ‘cos they’re staying for the week.

So that’s almost it. Apart from a few more hours of setting up Peaseblossom, écovallée is ready for its last ever season as a campsite.

More on this soon.

Back in November, in this post, I promised “an achingly beautiful 12-foot yurt with wooden floor, double bed and optional Moses basket, plus a baby-safe canvas-covered outdoor kitchen, featuring an off-grid fridge and grey water treatment”.

Here was the patch of land I started with:

patch of ground

And here it is today:

12-foot yurt 1

A little bit of (our) history

This yurt was originally going to be our family bathroom, way back at the start of the Big Green Idea. It’s the only yurt frame I actually helped to make, on a yurt building course with Matt and Mark in Stanmer Park (mentioned in more detail here). The frame is made from coppiced ash, much of which grew while we were living in Kemp Town a few miles away. It’s “achingly beautiful” as you can see…

12-foot yurt 10

…which fulfils part of that promise to you.

The canvas cover for the kitchen has also been with us from the beginning of this project. It was our groundsheet when we moved to France to live in a yurt just over six years ago. Although it didn’t appear in écovallée until June 2008 (I’ve never shown this shot before):

yurt groundsheet

Since then, it has covered Pepito’s hay for several Winters, and has been dragged from one end of the field to the other (and back), for various reasons, numerous times. Her Outdoors squared it up and added an edge, using the last of our canvas, so we could put up the kitchen for only the cost of the string that goes round it.

12-foot yurt 6

As with other structures around here, the uprights for the kitchen and yurt platform are acacia from écovallée, sourced within a draggable distance.

12-foot yurt 5

The uprights for the kitchen side are oak from a few metres away. The sink was given to us a few years ago. The table came from a former hotel in Mauzac, as did the yurt door (which was a shutter originally) and bed frame. We did buy a new kitchen side and gas hob, and plumbing bits and pieces, but we’ve made every effort to keep the impact of this structure to a minimum.

Promise-wise, here’s the room for “an optional Moses basket”:

12-foot yurt 8

I was originally going to have the door facing down towards Pepito’s field, but I thought new parents might want to keep several eyes on the baby while they’ve having dinner, relaxing on the hammock, enjoying a bit of peace and quiet – and quite a lot of space.

12-foot yurt 15

One more shot before I go (it’s gone beer o’clock and it’s been fearsomely hot again today). There’s always something to be especially pleased with, even on quite a big project like this one. Here’s the bit of shaped shelving that makes me happy (cut with a seriously old coping saw that’s as blunt as a spoon):

12-foot yurt 4

There are a few more photos on an album on our facebook page. And I’ll take some proper shots for the website gallery when I’ve got a moment or few. But the only way to appreciate this little beauty properly is to come and see it for yourself.

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.

After a long period of mixed weather, we got back to work on the new 12-foot yurt yesterday. Me on the yurt floor and Her Outdoors on the kitchen wall.

12-foot yurt 1

I’m going with 14 cm wide flooring this time, which means… fewer nails (for about an extra €1 per square metre for the wood). Originally, I was going to have the door facing the woods over there (which is why the joists are laid out like that).

12-foot yurt platform

But seeing as this will be a yurt for couples and those with very small babies, I thought it would be better to have the door facing the kitchen. (You know what some guys are like, needing to have an eye on the baby at all times, jumping up every few minutes to make sure they’re OK.)

It’s officially our new favourite part of écovallée – and it isn’t even finished yet!

12-foot platform finished

Incidentally, you’ll never see this view again. Next time there will be a beautiful coppiced ash yurt in the way.

We haven’t been enjoying our usual Spring weather recently, so work on… the… new 12-foot yurt area has… been somewh…at int… er… rupt… ed.

Her Outdoors has nearly finished the wall on which the kitchen will be built, though, and only needs a few hours for the roof (look at how lush that grass shouldn’t be):

new yurt area

And I need some dry (non-strimming) hours to paint Death to All Wood-Boring Insects on the joists and a couple of days to lay the floor.

yurt platform


I’m pleased with the new joist layout (not that anyone will see it after the floor goes down). It’s satisfyingly close to the original design.

While Britain has been battered by what The Guardian online oddly called a “witch’s cauldron” of weather, we’ve been bathed in sunshine with temperatures in the low 20s – which means we’ve finished revamping the main Outdoor Kitchen (among other things). Here it was a few minutes ago.

outdoor kitchen

I re-used all the lashings, bungee cord, roof etc. from the previous kitchen. But I did need a new length of cord (about 60c worth) down the side nearest to the camera because the old cord was just too short. I also packed around €3 of limestone around the buried part of the acacia posts to make them last longer. The posts themselves came from our woods no more than 100 yards (100 metres) away.

The structure feels more solid than the last one and will stay buttery yellow during this first season, before mellowing to a silvery grey (US: gray) for many, many years. A couple of days ago, the commune chopped, chipped and dumped a whole load of wood just up the road here, so we’ve been out gathering free mulch for the floor. Which was a bonus.

The weather’s been seasonably wet, which is holding up work on two outdoor kitchens. The main kitchen looks a little bit further along than this at the moment:

main kitchen

And the new kitchen for the new 12-foot yurt looks like this:

second kitchen

Both can be finished in a matter of hours, but I’d like those hours to be dryish and warmish – which isn’t going to happen today.

In other news, Her Outdoors has been working on some yurt camp signage (we’re looking pretty dag-nammed professional this year I can tell you), altering a wedding dress for a client and writing a book I can’t tell you anything about. I’ve joined a good band that does an excellent set of motown covers and am putting myself Out There for ethical copywriting work, among other things. We’ve also been collecting wood for cooking, moving rocks for wall making and road building, thinking, planning, meeting new people and a whole lot more.

If variety is the spice of life, ours is a curry. Probably a thali. With a choice of rice.

A few people have told me that sweet chestnut lasts for years in the ground if you cut it green (which is why they say it’s good for fenceposts). But no one’s ever been able to tell me almost exactly how many years.

Instead, I had to find out for myself by conducting Quite A Long Experiment.

My experiment consisted of making this outdoor safari-style kitchen for écovallée, based on a drawing we saw in a book called “Living Wood” by Mike Abbott:

outdoor kitchen

I cut the chestnut green and stuck it in the ground within minutes, ramming our clay-rich soil around it. Then I waited. (To add a bit of random interest, one of the ‘uprights’ was hornbeam.) The experiment began in April 2010.

Last year, I replaced a couple of the smaller cross pieces – one because it snapped and another because it was sagging. This year, I was going to replace the whole structure with acacia – a decision confirmed when some of the thinner, now-brittle parts succumbed to the ravages of wind, snow and time during the Winter.

A couple of days ago, I took the kitchen down (it was all lashed together, which worked well but needed re-doing from time to time) and I can now reveal the results of my experiment. Here are the buried ends of two chestnut ‘uprights’:

sweet chestnut

The wood at the ends is soft but not all the way through. The thinnest chestnut ‘upright’  did rot through completely. And the buried part of the hornbeam vanished into the ground.

So there you have it: Conclusive proof that, in our soil, green chestnut of around 8 cm diameter will be good for around 35 months.

If you find yourself talking fenceposts with someone later this year (and that’s not as unlikely as it might sound), when they say: “It lasts for years in the ground if you cut it green”, and someone else says “Yes, but how many?”, you can say “Just less than three – it really depends on your soil”.

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.