Living in a yurt, in the countryside, rent free? Nothing more than a daydream surely, writes Dan Grace in an article first published in the Idler magazine www.idler.co.uk.
Its the kind of thought that surfaces in those little periods of inaction that constitutes the majority of the working day. An easily dismissed Walter Mitty-esque fantasy of a life far removed from my own, working in London, still living with my dad, on the other side of the country from my girlfriend, Ruth, and thoroughly fed up with it all. Or so I thought
Everything changed when Ruth got a new job. Ordinarily I’m not one to celebrate such an occasion, but this was one of those rare jobs that would actually allow more freedom. She was starting work on a market garden, and the project managers agreed that we could live on the land, in a yurt, for free.
A yurt, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a large wooden framed circular tent. The frame is covered by canvas and there’s room to insert insulation between the structure and outer layer. With wooden doors and the possibility of solid wooden floors, plus a couple of wood burning stoves, they are closer to small cabins than tents. Traditionally the home of nomadic families of the steppes of Central Asia, they are becoming increasingly popular in the UK as a cheap and environmentally sustainable way of living.
This wasn’t a snap decision. Both of us have a strong interest in green issues and had always wanted to experiment with some form of sustainable, low-impact living, but we knew that in moving into a yurt we’d be giving up a lot of our creature comforts.
Once we’d found the yurt we wanted to buy (actually two joined together to make two distinct rooms, very important when living together in confined space) we sat down and listed the pros and cons.
There were so many reasons to go for it:
1. Economics. We would own our house in the countryside for around 4,000! How many people in their mid-twenties can say that! We wouldn’t be paying rent, and with no bills to speak of anything we earn could be spent on more exciting things.
2. Environment. Structures such as yurts leave no footprint; they have a low-impact on the environment that they are situated within. Our energy needs would be greatly reduced, and by living in such proximity to the natural world we could hopefully live a more environmentally sound lifestyle.
3. Personal. Although we’ll be sacrificing many of modern life’s little luxuries, with no high overheads for our way of living we won’t have to work as much, meaning we have more time for things that really matter; friends, family and just generally enjoying life.
4. Social. Well wouldn’t you want to go stay in your friends yurt?
5. Ruth’s other reasons. It would be like living in a kid’s story book! and I’ve always wanted to live in a round house Fair enough.
On the down side there’s always a chance that the planners will come a-knocking. Yurts occupy a grey area in planning law and a protracted court battle could be on the cards if were spotted by someone who doesn’t take kindly to our way of life. Both Ruth and I agreed that we were happy to fight for our right to live the way we chose to. Plus there’s support out there, should it come to that, in the form of organizations like Chapter 7 (www.tlio.org.uk/chapter7).
After this there still remained some nagging doubts over the level of DIY that would be necessary for such an undertaking (no running water, no electricity, nothing to cook on until we had sorted it out), and the inverse relationship our skills had to the size of such tasks. We decided we could turn this problem into a solution and a learning experience. We knew we’d get help with the initial stages of setting the yurt up, and then we’d have plenty of time to develop and practice the skills we need.
We decided to go for it.
As I write it’s been a little over a month since we moved in and I’m beginning to settle into a pattern. Life is relatively easy. I divide my day between reading on the sofa, writing on my typewriter (fun but ultimately useless), and occasional gardening whilst listening to my wind-up radio (which always winds down on the punch line of a joke).
Whilst we currently rely on camping style gas hobs to cook, a dilapidated wood burning Rayburn is sitting in the nearby barn awaiting some loving restoration and installation into the larger living room/kitchen yurt. We also have a smaller wood burner (acquired for free from the freecycle.org website!) which we hope to install in the bedroom/bathroom yurt in time for winter, along with a bath that is currently full of tools and junk. There are also plans for solar generated electricity and hot water sometime in the future.
Communication with the outside world is a little tricky at times, though this is not always a bad thing. I check my e-mail at the local public library (a fifteen minute bus ride away), post gets delivered to the main house by the garden, and should we ever need to get away from it all there’s a work van that we can use to take trips deeper into the countryside.
Sleep features heavily in yurt living. Our lack of light source, other than three small candle lamps, has made us truly diurnal creatures. So when night descends we may sit and watch the stars, but most likely we will head to the land of nod. And the next day we wake to the dawn chorus and the gentle morning light pouring in the through the roof wheel.
With only a canvas wall and some sheep’s wool insulation between us and the world, the boundaries between indoor and outdoor, between us and nature are constantly blurred. Small creatures of all sorts find their way inside, causing all sorts of problems. Worms and mice are the two most frequent visitors and neither cause significant trouble now that we have mouse-proofed our food boxes (we learnt the hard way after one little fellow chewed his way through an inferior plastic pot and pissed and shat in my cereal). Applying my limited knowledge of permaculture principles (the problem is the solution!) to this problem I wonder if it might be possible to train the mice to eat the worms, but Ruth assures me this is a stupid idea. There is a feral cat wandering about, but it sees more profit in attacking Ruth for her peanut butter sandwiches than attempting to catch a mouse.
Living as we do now is like stepping out of the world, vegetables grow on our doorstep, wild food abounds in the hedgerows and we are never short of things to do when people visit. Summer is on its way and I don’t miss my old life one little bit except maybe the baths and electricity, and I’m working on that.
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