A quick update that’s too long for a tweet but too short for a blog post: The brasse of firewood from this post has nearly all been converted into heat and we just had another brasse delivered this morning. The wood would (ahem) have gone sooner, but the weather has been incredibly mild. So mild, spring flowers are beginning to appear. It’s also been annoyingly wet, so I haven’t been able to cut the dead-standing chestnut I’ve relied on in years gone by.

Yes, I feel like a failure. Yes, we’re €250 poorer. But we looked hard at the situation and decided being warm is a fundamental human need. And on a positive note, I can finally answer the question: “How long will a brasse of oak last if I live in a yurt in the southwest of France through a mild winter?”

Eight weeks.

While I’m here, I’d like to share a piece of news that will make some readers smile knowingly and others feel a bit weird. In this post, I said you’d be hearing a lot more about Transition from me this year. Two days ago (just 24 days after that post was written), Rob Hopkins – yes, the Rob Hopkins, who co-founded the Transition Movement – emailed me (!) to ask if I could write something for the Transition Network.

Very. Exciting.


We actually had a break over the mid-winter festival season which, as any athlete will tell you, means it takes a while to get back into shape. So we’re back on half days of manual and womanual labour for a few weeks.

While the weather is unusually cold in the US (future ref: Polar Vortex 2014), unusually wet and windy in the UK (future ref: Breezy in Blighty 2014), and unusually hot in Australia (future ref: Bloody Hot Here, Mate – You Probably Want to Get Yourself a Beer and Hide 2014), it’s been unusually mild here. Daytime weather this week is about 15C and sun, which is perfect for working outdoors.

Her Outdoors is moving manure and repairing raised veggie beds. I’m strimming and felling trees. More on all of this soon.

Lots going on at the moment.

Her Outdoors is doing Christmas markets most weekends. There are more stallholders than punters, which isn’t great. But the owls and moose are selling well.

I’m taking a break from working on the website (which is hard ‘cos it’s nearly finished) to learn 40-something mainly rock covers for the band I just joined. The first gig’s on Friday in Sarlat and I’m erring on the side of being over prepared, which should take care of the stage fright I used to suffer in my 20s.

The mayor dropped by the other day to talk about a few things, and invited me to join her team for next year’s elections. Which is an interesting turn of events. In exchange, she’s going to help raise the profile of écovallée. I’m making connections with various local tourist attractions anyway and it feels right to become more recognised in France as well as the UK.

The weather’s turning cold, which means thoughts turn to firewood.

Because I’ve been working this year, I haven’t had time to cut what we need. So I’m buying in some wood from the outside – €240 for four cubic metres of seasoned oak cut to 40cm. It’s our first winter fuel cost since 2008, so I can justify it using man maths. But I don’t know how long the wood will last and I’ll still need to find some dead standing for this year. They say this winter will be the coldest for 100 years, but they got the summer forecast completely wrong (thankfully – after a rainy start it was glorious and warm until November). With all the poison our atmosphere’s trying to deal with, I think it’s anyone’s guess.

Mushrooms didn’t really happen this year, which was a shame to put it mildly. I saw two parasol mushrooms and only a few field mushrooms, although I discovered a harmful-but-not-poisonous field-mushroom lookalike. (I didn’t eat it, but learnt to recognise it.) A friend found a lot of “Trompette de la mort” which we’ll have to look out for next year.

Sticking with nature, there are still plenty of leaves on the trees. The chestnut are almost bare, but the oak are grimly hanging onto theirs.

That’s all there’s time for now. More on all of this later…

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.

One thing I haven’t mentioned was how perfect the weather was in écovallée last year. Temperatures in July and August were typically in the high 20s to high 30s with very little rain. The view from the Play Yurt, for example, looked like this most of the time (shot on August 11th, just after lunch):

play yurt view

I mention it now, because yesterday felt like the first day of Spring. (Someone said it was 19C.) Certainly too hot for thermals and a perfect temperature for working on the new outdoor kitchen (the first four uprights are in – photo to follow). But it’s February and, naturally, the warm weather can’t last. Next week’s forecast is promising single figures with overnight lows of minus 4. But at least it won’t be raining all the time.

Which, apparently, is not something that can be said about the weather in the UK.

When we were over there at Christmas, the rain came up a lot in conversation and down a lot outside. One of the people I spoke to was a Producer/Director for the BBC (someone I met on my old commute – I’m not that well connected). He had been talking to someone who was doing a show about the weather. They were interviewing an expert and asked if the near-constant rain that has plagued the country during the last few years is ever going to end. The expert said, according to all the information they have available, it won’t. He said, as the crew looked at him in horror, that there may be a few days of dry weather in a row from time to time, but the future for the UK looks wet. With parts of the country permanently under water from flooding.

Hopefully, the expert’s wrong. Who’s to say the jet stream won’t do something interesting and bask Northern Europe in balmy 26-degree days for all time? But it might be worth hedging your bets and booking a holiday further South. Hey – maybe even here. I can’t promise it won’t be raining, but if it is there’s still plenty to see and do.

Weather-wise, I can never again say that April is one of the best months to come here. Other Aprils have been, but 2012’s has not.

It has rained, I think, every day. Sometimes very hard, sometimes quite gently, occasionally what they call “mizzle” in Cumbria – a cross between mist and drizzle. We’ve seen the sun only occasionally and briefly – just enough to be reminded of the warmth to come – and temperatures have seldom touched the high teens. With almost constantly cloudy skies it’s all been a bit English, to be honest – a huge contrast to last year’s mid 20s to mid 30s and blistering sunshine.

On the plus side, our water butts are in great shape, the ground is saturated and with the addition of mulch will need very little watering for a while, the hay will be awesome this year and the woods are a startlingly bright green. Our wild flowers arrived on time, and Early Purples and Burnt orchids litter the meadow. The birds have also returned, and Golden Orioles have been exotically touting for their mates outside our yurts for a couple of weeks.

Although all of these things are exciting and wonderful, perhaps the hay is most reassuring. This time last year I was looking at the sky and wondering if it was ever going to rain. It didn’t, and the hay was terrible. People were getting half their normal yield and this precious food was scarce from October. Trucks were bringing in hay from all over Europe which, from a sustainability point of view, was insanity.

When you have a big animal, like Pepito, you become painfully aware of how much everything depends on the rain. It’s a simple equation: No rain = No big animals. To give you a clearer idea, he eats one small bale of hay every day for about six months, with some rolled oats and re-hydrated beet for good measure. I don’t know anything about cows, but they probably consume even more. Two or more years in a row like that and these animals would no longer populate the landscape in such numbers.

Which is why, even after a month of rain, I’m a happy bunny. I just wish I had one pair of boots without holes in them.

A bit of everything last week, with two days of 38C and sun, some perfect days in the mid-20s, a few thunderstorms, a bit of rain, and daytime temperatures as low as 15C (one of this week’s lovely guests had a thermometer). No snow though.

Packing suggestion: A bag for all seasons. Just leave the gloves. Unless you’re coming to do some work.