Monday, 11 April 2016

Getting even further back to basics than caravan living

We are both feeling pretty tired today after not one, but
Wrens are nestbuilding in the woodshed 
two late nights out in succession. Two! The reason is our having visited our friends Chris and Marta at their new-to-them rural idyll nearby. I mentioned a couple of days ago that I would write about their lifestyle so here's the gist.

Chris and Marta have also essentially been caravan dwellers for the past year or so, but last summer they splashed out a ridiculously small amount of money on three-quarters of an acre of amenity land in the Haute-Vienne region of France. They have a secluded field with a well, a small wooden cabin and some trees. Amenity land isn't intended for full-time inhabitation so this is ideal as a stopping-point where they can spend a few weeks between journeys to pastures new.

The cabin was in surprisingly good condition as the land
The shower 
hadn't been used for much more than sheep for a decade, and Chris especially is a dab hand at constructing all kinds of things out of wood and gleaned materials. This rocket is actually a shower cubicle and Chris plans to use a similar triangle method for a lean-to storage area. He has already built a composting toilet having discussed the method when we all visited their yurt-dwelling friends in Devon last year. Units that were already in the cabin have been moved to its porch area to create a remarkably spacious outdoor kitchen and the cabin itself now contains bunk beds and a surprisingly efficient little wood-burning stove. You can't move for woodland in this part of France so collecting enough to fuel the stove, a great steampunky water heater (which is pictured below) and a small chiminea is easy, if time-consuming.

The well was dry as it had been neglected for so long, but is now working again by way of a 12v pump, just like we have into our aquaroll, which currently fills small containers but will eventually be piped directly to two huge water butts. These butts collect rainwater too and provide enough water for washing people and clothing - everything except drinking water.

All their electrical power comes from a solar panel that
The water heater 
charges up leisure batteries to power LED lights and similar mod cons, plus they have a gas camping stove for additional cooking. Marta has found fabulous things at a nearby Brocante including a vintage manually operated food blender. It works just as well as, if not better than, my mains powered handblender, but again takes considerably longer to do the job. Chris and Marta don't mind the time aspects though as this is simply a part of their lifestyle and, having stepped well and truly away from the standard UK ratrace, they enjoy the daily challenges.

I love their quirky decor touches such as a hand-painted umbrella stand and a found Monark chain guard on the wall. It's lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings at this time of year watching blue and great tits darting to the bird feeders. Marta and I were even lucky enough to observe the wren harvesting moss to line its nest. Of course, it vanished as soon as Marta went for her camera! Last night there was a thunderstorm with torrential rain at times and huge lightning bolts, and previously the sky was so clear (with almost no light pollution) that we saw more stars at one time than we could remember seeing in years.

We are so impressed with everything Chris and Marta have achieved in the short time they have been on their land. Despite owning it for nearly a year, they have only stayed there in bursts of a few weeks at a time, yet it has a cosy, homely vibe. Dave and I have talked, vaguely, about a similar setup for ourselves, but both know that we probably aren't tough enough to cope as happily. We might have been sitting outside until gone midnight for the past couple of evenings, but we like our switch-off-and-on-able caravan heating overnight. And we wouldn't want to have to go wood-gathering in the rain!

Dave and Chris in the cabin porch 

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