We are Bob & Diane Kirkwood, we live in France, have done so for about six years, and over the last two we have become accidentally involved in the world of off-grid living and holiday lets.
About three years ago we managed to get hold of a small parcel of woodland, two and half hectares, just down the lane from our house. Its a lovely spot, a heavily wooded valley with a small, source-fed lake. Set back from the edge of the lake is our holiday rental cabin. It is small, only 5 meters by 4 meters, but it contains all you need to live.
At the beginning, the cabin, such as it was, was a singularly uninspiring building. It had been built some years ago by the previous owner and was essentially a reinforced concrete box with a single, steel door to the front. I considered knocking it down at one point, but decided against it when taking into account all the work involved, not to mention getting rid of the rubble. We decided it would be easier to alter the “box” than to remove it, so I set to, adding a second floor and knocking openings through for the windows & doors. A roof was added, the main timbers being chestnut poles cut directly from the woodland, the tiles were salvaged from a nearby barn conversion. We’ve spent very little money on the building, our main cost saving comes from having a mobile sawmill. I bought the mill a few years ago when I was converting a barn on our land. I already have a fully equipped joinery shop, so to be able to cut my own timber seemed a good idea. I’ve no need to cut healthy trees, there’s always stuff being blown down or damaged to keep me going.
I converted chestnut logs into waney edge boarding to clad the outside of the cabin. The doors, windows and stairs I made from oak, along with the kitchen units and some of the furniture. We tacked a small wet-showerroom on the side, added an oak deck and that is essentially it. We left the boarding bare as we wanted it to go silver and blend in with its surroundings.
The flushing wc goes into a 3000 litre tank that has to be emptied when full, my intention is to install some kind of natural filtering system to deal with this. Our water is drawn from the lake using a wind-operated, belt-driven, pump and stored in a 1000 litre tank, fitted with filters, behind the cabin. The pump works well, has few moving parts and pushes the water around 8 metres up and around 50 metres along. I made the windmill from oak and various parts salvaged from an old woodworking planer. The pump itself is just off-the- shelf plastic plumbing parts and an o-ring.
The hot water for the shower is heated by the woodstove, a 10mm copper pipe coiled around the flue pipe acts as a heat exchanger and works really efficiently, heating around 25 litres in an hour and storing it in a small, lagged tank. We managed to find a chain-pull showerhead and with this fitted, we have the perfect delivery system. The showers it produces are hot, economic and unexpectedly pleasurable!
For lighting we use mainly candles, they’re always reliable. We have a rise & fall candelabra on a counterweight for the main lights, with various other fittings mounted on the walls. We’ve used fittings that are safe to be left unattended and use mirrors to reflect as much of the light as possible. There is a collection of wind-up things kept at the cabin; torches, radio, fully working gramophone, mobile phone charger. We also have a wind-up reading lamp on the wall, over the bed.
The cabin is never finished, we are always doing some improvement or the other, me doing the woody stuff and Di taking care of decorating, furnishing, running the website and everything else! It has a cosy, cluttered feel. Anything that goes in must have a useful purpose, there’s no room for ornaments.
We decided last winter to see if we could rent out the cabin, not so much for the income, more to see if there were anymore people out there who would appreciate it. We thought of a name, covertcabin.com, built a very simple website and naively sat back, expecting the enquiries to roll in! Of course, that didn’t happen, so we started to think about how to advertise it. We would email two or three worthy organisations a week, people we thought might find it interesting. We got lucky almost immediately when The Guardian newspaper responded and ended up doing a small thing about us in their travel section. Our hits went from about 50 a week, to over 1500 a day. Its settled now to around 500 a week, which we’re very pleased with. I did at one time email MI5 suggesting covertcabin as being the perfect holiday retreat for spies. As yet, we’ve had no response, or maybe we have and we don’t realise it!
I’ve already begun work on another cabin, of a different style, more of a pioneer/frontiersmans cabin. That should be done by next summer. Im already thinking of other more ambitious cabins and would like to build a burrow type dwelling, hobbit-like, using the local granite and of course, plenty of oak!
We’ve had a good response, so far, from the people who’ve been. Its good when that happens, we must be on the right lines. If you fancy a look, go to www.covertcabin.com, all the info and prices are on there and Di is always on hand to deal with any enquiries.
Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site
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