Van Life…

Leo Tolstoy scribed a novella in 1859 entitled Family Happiness, which is, in short, a story of a polarised married couple, polarised in that the older man likes to be still and quiet, longing for a peaceful existence in the country, and his younger wife who seeks the hustle and bustle of city living and a want to explore and discover more and more about life.

I have not yet read the book as it is still on its way here from a second hand bookshop, but it’s existence was revealed to me a few weeks back whilst rewatching my favourite film “Into The Wild”, an amazing dramatisation of the adventure segment of the life of Christopher McCandless.

I have been thinking far too much of late on the potentiality of an early retirement from the corporate treadmill, even going to the lengths of installing a countdown clock on my iPhone, which reads out how many seconds I have left in one of the worlds biggest companies.

So after dusting off several dusty tomes from the philosophy shelf on my even dustier bookcase, it was the sage advice of Alan Watts who convinced to live more in the moment, the present, the now.

After fully contemplating this for a few days, I decided to stop thinking about my end of days scenario in work and focus on the here and now. I stopped projecting my financial position in the long term future. I stopped counting down the years, weeks, months, days and hours until my release date (sounds like a prison sentence, and some days it feels like one). Almost instantly I felt better, I felt like I wasn’t wishing the next few years away so I could get to the end quicker and enjoy the last and final chapter of my life.

I have always enjoyed travelling and after reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig several decades ago, I had it in mind that I’d do Route 66 upon retirement, albeit in an open-caged Jeep rather than a motorbike. Although I may still do that one day, future plans have been put in mothballs, as what happens in the present has immediate importance, significance and attention.

So it was the older man in me from the Tolstoy novella wanting a “peaceful rural existence” and the “live in the now” wiser man in me from the many Watts postulates that encouraged me to buy a van, a caravan to be more precise, and to buy one in the present moment and not in the future.

Last year I sold the boat that I lived on in London for a while, and with the proceeds I paid off a sizeable chunk of the mortgage on the family home, leaving behind a rainy day fund I would purposely drain every August going forward to pay off an extra ten percent of the mortgage each year, until at the ripe old age of fifty five, I was debt free, free from the bondage of the banking system.

So with my new found wanting to live more in the moment, I decided that paying off a multi-national financial institution early was perhaps neither the best fiscal nor most satisfying decision to make.

Instead, I would start looking around for a touring caravan, one small enough for me and the wife to travel and explore the length and breadth of the UK and Northern Europe / Scandinavia, all without the company of our three children, who are all pretty much grown up now and have their own ideas about life, the universe and vacations.

The looking lasted all of thirty six minutes. We went to a local caravan dealership near to our home and saw a fifteen year old, two berth caravan with full bathroom in mint condition. The fund I had in my account was the exact amount the dealer was asking for, so after a brief moment to think (during which time I received a posthumous and rather esoteric nudge from Messrs Tolstoy and Watts), I told the dealer that he had a deal. So thirty seven minutes into our hunt for a home on wheels, we were the proud owners of a Swift Challenger 480.

I have never towed anything in my life so the first weekend away was a little scary. Thankfully the site we went to was just a few miles up the road and I only had to navigate my way around four roundabouts which I did with relative ease (beads of sweat a plenty though), and settle down for the weekend we did.

We tested everything, everything worked a treat at the first time of asking. We invited the kids over for a barbecue which was also nice, and perhaps even nicer were the words “this ain’t for us, Dad”, confirming the right choice we made in getting a two berth and not something bigger.

It didn’t feel like a holiday though and we never expected it to be, just a planned user acceptance test for the weekends cutover and go-live, using work parlance.

This weekend saw our second trip out, this time with our bricks-and-mortar neighbours back home, a beautiful site in Wales just outside of Wrexham, and a mere stones throw from the picturesque town of Llangollen, where we spent most of Saturday.

Sadly, it turned out that our neighbours saw this opportunity to carry on their alcohol-fuelled urban living on a quiet campsite, ignoring rules and etiquette by partying until the early hours, completely missing the point of a weekend on a rural retreat.

Needless to say it made me re-evaluate the reason why I bought the van in the first place, the type of trips I wanted to do and who I wanted to share them with.

Corporate life is chaotic, energetic, loud, urban and surrounding by technology.

Van life should, and has to be for me at least, the polar opposite of that, for if it is more of the same, then one may as well just stay at home.

And it is for that exact reason that I booked a solo trip in a few weeks to a secluded rural idyll in the Welsh Clwydian hills, with only books, an Aeropress and a fly fishing rod for company.

There is a passage from Tolstoy’s Family Happiness which goes:

“I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness.

A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour, such is my idea of happiness.

What more can the heart of man desire?”

I have felt that these words were (and perhaps are) the prologue for the final chapter of my life, but I’m also mindful of the last written words of McCandless too:

“Happiness is only real when shared”.

If I have another twenty to thirty years left after I retire, I can’t do it in total isolation, as not sharing wisdom, experiences and laughter with my family and friends during those twilight years would be a missed opportunity…

The Wainwrights (Part 1)…

Either I’m going slightly senile or I’m not well read (probably both), but in good faith I believed that it was Wainwright who wrote “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, a poem penned centuries ago amongst the rolling fells of the Lake District in Cumbria, arguably the most majestic of all landscapes in England.

It was during a review of Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” last time out that revealed that it was in fact Wordsworth and not (Alfred) Wainwright that surfed the stratosphere between Coniston and Keswick.

Then the recall kicked in, one of my friends had turned sixty in July and informed me (in our semi-inebriated state), that a friend of his had bought him a set of seven Wainwright books, and gentleman who I had never heard of before, so clearly my ageing brain had mixed up the two.

To the uninitiated, myself included, Alfred Wainwright was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven volume “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells” was published between 1955 and 1966 and consisted entirely of reproductions from his manuscript and associated etchings, an output that went on to become the bible on how to navigate and bimble over the not-so insignificant amount of two hundred and fourteen fells of Cumbria’s Lake District.

At sixty and having no walking experience, my friend’s mid-life crisis (sixty is the new forty!) was to attempt to cross off all Wainwrights by the time he meets our maker.

He started that journey in June with just a few chalked off, and as part of his birthday celebrations (he had six different events!), he suggested that I accompany him and his friends on a mission to bag several more this weekend.

Never willing to let a friend down or refuse a physical challenge, I willingly accepted his invitation to join his bimbling ensemble (after securing the mandatory pass out from the significant other) and subsequently did the needful by booking a small cottage in Witherslack, not too far from our challenging walk known as The Greater Kentmere Horseshoe, a hike that would attempt to reduce his remaining tally by nine.

We safely arrived at the old and rustic cottage, decanted the car and packed in the twenty bottles of real ale at the epicentre and coldest part of the fridge. I was delighted to see a secluded garden with a natural seating area where I would take my morning yoga and Wim Hof practices whilst we were there.

As is customary, once everything was in it’s right place (to quote Thom Yorke), we took to the tracks and found the local pub, The Derby Arms, and loaded up on carbs, fats and a little beer to ready us for our journey into Wainwright County.

Leaving early so that we could guarantee a car parking space due to the limited availability in the hamlet of Kentmere, we took a light breakfast and arrived at seven, loading up our backpacks with sandwiches, coffee, jelly snakes and blister patches and headed for the hills.

The last serious walk I had taken was the Wirral Way, a thirteen mile hike up an old disused railway line several years ago, and I went into the weekend with no training as such, just a dogged British spirit of stubbornness and arrogance.

It was clear from the outset that the arrogance was going to dissipate quicker than a fart in a jacuzzi as we started our first incline, with most if not all of the group struggling for a steady pace, with weak legs and a puffing chest, but we made it to the top of the first ridge successfully and then started for the first of the nine peaks.

As we did, a few things happened. Firstly, I realised that the Wim Hof breathing techniques I have semi-mastered over the last twelve months have more benefits, out on the hills inclines are easier if the mind is set to calm and the belly, chest and head are synchronised with leg movement.

Secondly, I realised that the significant effort I had put in over the last three weeks in mind, body and soul control had paid off, as I found the walk relatively easy.

Lastly, it was clear why Alfred Wainwright was compelled to travel from Leeds to the Lake District every weekend to document and catalog each crag, nook and vale, and why Wordsworth felt compelled to scribe poetry and palatable prose.

With the exception of Scafell Pike which I climbed in the twilight, fog and drizzle back in 2010, I had only ever seen the Lake District from terra firma, mostly around the tourist honey pots of Bowness and Windermere. Whilst I knew it was an area of outstanding natural beauty, the view of Cumbria from the ridge and the horseshoe of fells around Kentmere gave me an insight to inside the heads of Messrs Wainwright and Wordsworth. Here we had vivid vistas and luscious landscapes, inspiring writers and artists alike to put pen and pencil to paper to share with those less fortunate to not experience the sights first hand, and what sights they were.

We took the route in our stride and no one fell behind or took ill, quite remarkable really with no real preparation and two hundred and sixteen years of age spread across just four ageing/aged bodies.

We took our lunch and I was glad to fire up my trust Coleman stove which had not been used for several years, it’s beauty personified in the roar of its flame in abject silence atop peak number four.

What was more disappointing was the fact that I had left the freshly ground coffee beans in the cottage, so the inaugural cup of “Aeropress at Altitude” would have to wait another twenty four hours.

With lunch safely tucked away inside of us rather than outside of us, we headed over the connecting ridge to bag peaks five to nine, a tremendous achievement for our new rambling posse, clocking up thirty seven thousand steps over twenty five kilometres and spinning the Apple health circles faster than a Catherine Wheel on bonfire night.

It is, apparently, customary to document evidence of the successful bagging of a Wainwright, so we decided to do that via the medium of selfies and fingers:

W1: Yoke
W2: Ill Bell
W3: Froswick
W4: Thornethwaite Crag
W5: High Street
W6: Mardale Ill Bell
W7: Harter Fell
W8: Kentmere Pike
W9: Shipman Knotts

Technology does have a tendency to kick you in the nuts from time to time and it did that at the end of day one. The OS map decided to give up the ghost and there were no markers to get us through what is now known as “Bracken Jungle”, chest high foliage at the end of a nine-hour hike. We found the exit point (eventually) and the sight of a Mazda CX-5 never was so good as we collapsed and drifted back to the cottage and the Derby Arms for beers and a well earned pizza.

Needless to say the gang started to flag around eight thirty so we took ourselves back to the cottage, finished off the remaining ale and took in a late showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Day two started off with a bang(ers), with me knocking out the mother of all Full English breakfasts for the gang, and after packing up and waving a fond farewell to the cottage, we took to the road and Troutbeck for a quick three hour trek, to bag our final Wainwright of the weekend, Wansfell.

W10: Wansfell

With the disappointment on the lack of Aeropress Altitude weighing heavily on my mind still from the previous day, I quickly set up my tropospheric barista to try and regain some respect from party members and I did not disappoint, the Smoking Hot Java coffee oozing through the press with an air of aristocracy about it, with the end product fit for kings and queens.

And with that, our journey was over, a whirlwind tour of the Far Eastern Fells was done and we had bagged ten Wainwrights in the first weekend.

So there we have it, first weekend, which roughly translates as “I’m going to bag all two hundred and fourteen Wainwrights, only two hundred and three to go”…

Seedling Sanctuary…

Alas, the “Cabin in the Yard” project was cancelled before the virtual ink was dry on the graph paper (excel). The Dragons Den pitch to the wife was a solid one I thought, but the to-be space and light constraints were all too much for her and our rather tiny patio garden.

The decision was made after I had already ordered and paid for some new power tools that very morning, much to my disappointment, frustration and decreased account balance.

I guess on reflection it was the right decision, so the eco-lodge prototype for the eco-retreat will have to be built elsewhere, most likely the new allotment (so not the worst result).

So with a day off yesterday and unboxed tools screaming from their cupboard under the stairs to be used, I took it upon myself to test them out by building a seedling sanctuary / mini greenhouse, which will also get me some Brownie points with the “er indoors” as our internal living space will free from propagation units which will now be housed outdoors.

I have a new best friend, let me introduce you to the Dewalt Cordless Circular Saw (this is neither product placement nor marketing campaign – just an honest critique of an excellent tool). Why has my life been without one of these beauties for so long!

Dewalt 18v Cordless Circular Saw

I had already alerted my neighbour to a “period of intense swearing / cursing” as is customary when I do DIY. But after a full day of working, not a single expletive was uttered, except those targeted at B&Q for only providing lengths of 2.39m 2×2 and not the regulation 2.4m, which threw my measurements off (only realising this after I had cut a lot of the wood already).

The circular saw was so fast, easy and accurate, and very quickly the frame was up, with the other bits soon to follow:

Ready, set, go…
Frame up in record time…
Slats in…
Doors on, poly carbonate on…
Voila!

As I’ve stated, my joy comes from different things these days. The sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle has been replaced with calmer and more sedate activities of late, yet I get the same dopamine highs from gardening and building things as I would have thrashing out to death metal, drinking myself stupid and getting laid (with the added bonus of not having a hangover, tinnitus spikes, black outs and possibly / probably upsetting people).

“The times they are a changing”…

The Plot Thickens…

Our communal and agricultural experiment has got off to a good start. When a collective forms of six individuals (and of course family members and to-be active players), it brings together people from all walks of life, each with their own backstory and points of view.

I can honestly say that it’s been a joy to converse with people on the exact same frequency as I am, all of us thus far intent on finding out successful methods of growing ones own healthy and organic food, keeping those pesky processed sugars at bay.

The 2D Plot…

One of our group had already sketched a plan for our plot before I jumped on board, so with my new found love of Minecraft (hey it’s not just a kids game right?), I took it upon myself to “3D-ise” the blueprints he had put down on graph paper so that we could all visualise what the plot could look like and where each component would be best placed for optimal use of the land.

I was very happy with the final output, which I’ve uploaded below.

The Plot Thickens…

We will meet up at the weekend to agree the final plan and start to order the poly tunnels and greenhouse, now that all of the compost has now landed and the temporary raised beds are under construction.

Looking forward to the next steps…

Spring Equinox…

If I’m not mistaken (we can’t Google everything can we), today marks the astrological start of Spring, and as such I was up early to get a few hours in at the allotment as the sun rose boldly in the West.

Before the hard graft of relocating a couple of tonnes of compost to our “landing strip”, I took it upon myself to have a wander through the two main plots on the site, each thirty foot wide and two hundred and forty foot long, with various sized sub-plots in each.

I recorded a video walkthrough of both plots (including our “landing strip”) to see so what our green-fingered comrades have added to their sites, and what seems to work well for them so that we could take some good ideas to use for our own.

Plot A – Our Neighbours…
Plot B – Our “Landing Strip”

I also took some overhead drone footage of our plot, sadly I’m still a novice and didn’t calibrate the settings properly so it’s a bit grainy and the colour transitions aren’t great, but at least it gives us a good idea of what it looks like from above, and the Herculean task we have over the next few weeks to get the land primed quickly and ready for planting our seedlings.

Drone footage of our “Landing Strip”

I was the sole human on site for a good two hours on this new Spring morning, and I found myself transported into a different world, one devoid of stress, commitment and consumerism, just me and my thoughts as I shovelled my way to happiness. It gave me the first real glimpse of what retirement will be in five or so years, that day can’t come soon enough.

Until then, I will learn new skills, experiment with nature and bond with more people in tune with my own frequencies.

Those frequencies and conversations are already paying off, and I’m paying it forward in the shape of positive planting, the smart garden has worked wonders on the broad beans I planted just one week ago.

With a two day break from work this week, I’ll be spending both days at the allotment to give us a real kick-start, hopefully more mindfulness and ideas will flow, I’m certain it will.

The Barrow Boys…

When I first saw the fifteen tonnes of compost, the first thing that sprang to mind was the Jeff Goldblum line in Jurassic Park “That’s one big pile of shit”…

That’s one big pile of shit…

Never a truer word spoken…

We, sow the seed…

As soon as the affirmation was received that I had acquired my “in” for the communal allotment last week, my initial thoughts amusingly turned to the 1980’s sit-com, The Young Ones.

Vegetable rights and peace!

There is an episode called Sick, and part way through the anarchistic character Ryk (played by the wonderful and gone-too-soon Rik Mayall) kills Neil the Hippy (Nigel Planer) because Neil keeps repeating the phrase “We sow the seed, nature grows the seed, and then we eat the seed”, and after several minutes Ryk whacks him with the spade. He then buries the body under a load of horse manure which had been recently dumped in their back garden, only to find that ironically he has cultivated three Neils, who return in the middle of the night to taunt and haunt him. Classic.

My sister is also keen to get involved in the venture and armed with gloves, hat and wellingtons, she joined me and my wife to visit the plot today. The weather this week had been been awful, and the rain and howling winds have wrecked a lot of the hard work in laying down the cardboard “runway” prior to the dumping of the compost next week to get our no-dig operation off the ground.

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing, and we agreed that the cardboard matting and composting needs to go hand-in-hand and not in isolation.

We started work on collecting “free timber” in the form of disused pallets and will, over the course of the next few weeks, create borders and raised beds, recycled and upcycled, costing us just a few pence in nails.

After we had stockpiled around twenty pallets, the weather turned gnarly so we headed to the garden centre next door to buy some multi-purpose compost, small seeding trays and pots (the latter which we got for free).

So today I started off with broad beans, sowing eighteen pots, and under the advice of the nice lady at the garden centre, wrapped them in a plastic bag and put them by the window to germinate.

We, sow the seed…
Nature grows the seed…
Pre-fill…
Post-fill…
Multi-sowing in action, double the fun…
All potted and watered…
It’s in the bag…

Tomorrow I’ll experiment with peas in my smart garden, no idea if it will work but it will be fun finding out.

The days of stage diving and crowd surfing at Obituary/ Napalm Death gigs seems like a lifetime ago, but in the immortal words of both John Tardy and James Hetfield (of Metallica), “the memory remains”.

On reflection, I think that is life is like a car ride, get in, learn how to drive, start slow, speed up, go fast, slow down, reach your destination and eventually stop. Looking back at my life to date, I’ve certainly done that, and even though I’m starting the slow down phase which will inevitably lead to the stop phase, I’m still far away from my final destination and I’m enjoying the ride…

Allotment: Meant a lot…

The age-old adage of it’s not what you know it’s who you know never rang so true this week.

As I’m rotating around different circles of friends these days, opportunity seems to knock more frequently now. I had put myself on the local authority register for allotments to grow my own produce a few months back, but the waiting lists post-COVID are now ridiculously long, with the average wait a staggering ten years, now that a great many people are now wanting to do the same.

One of my new eco-retreat comrades alerted me to an opening in his new venture, which is a strip of land behind one of the market gardens close by to where we live, thus expediting my off-grid journey towards the Good Life by a mere decade.

Much to do…

Excited to see the land, it took a quick “recky” to assess the current status and envisioned future state at the weekend, meeting some of my would-be farmers friends at the same time. The land is approximately eight metres by eighty metres and is totally barren.

Some work has already been done, the visqueen weed-blocking layer has been stripped from the land and the goodly folks of the cooperative (nine others in total) have just completed the laying of flattened cardboard boxes, making it look like an alien landing strip from above, welcomed too by a fire pit already installed at the foot of the land, to warm their cockles after their sub-zero temperature interstellar space travel (should they have cockles to warm of course).

The Landing Strip…

The plan for the site will be to follow the no-dig methods of Charles Dowding, laying down strips of cardboard to block out the weeds, on top of which sits several tonnes of compost, creating narrow lanes of cultivatable land with minimal back-breaking work. The plans are to grow pretty much everything one can grow, with the additions of a poly tunnel and green house making this all possible.

The Communal Shack…

The inclusion of a communal shack will be a place of solace in the summer once built, allowing us all to click back and whittle some, after a hard days graft,

Needless to say, me and the extended family (sister) are super excited to get started, and the to-be seedlings will be seated in their respective pots and growing cells over the coming days, prior to the virgin planting once the compost has been successfully splayed across the allotment.

I’ll also experiment with my smart garden to cultivate the seedlings, nine at any one time all year round, a constant conveyor belt of cultivation…

Off-Grid On-Grid…

As Rabbie Burns famously once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”

It’s fair to say that as the dawn rose this morning, another day of being both completely healthy and totally locked in left me with feelings of melancholy.

In need of cheering up, I took it upon myself to make my wife a Valentine’s Day breakfast, her favourite of poached eggs on toast with sea salt and cracked pepper. With two small gifts and a hug or two exchanged, my mind quickly returned to the great outdoors. As the snowflakes fell again upon the cold ground, I could not help but feeling that this year was another one that is going to pass most of us by, certainly in the UK.

Mrofa Nefyn, home of Ty Coch, tenth best beach bar in the world…

The extra-currlcular project that I am working to invent and create an eco-retreat in North Wales couldn’t seem further away than it actually is geographically (i.e. anything beyond the Boris Johnson invisible line of seven miles is out of bounds according to the latest “guidelines”). Here we will have something that when deployed, will bring so much personal achievement for me and my comrades, as well an avenue for many others to enjoy nature, commune with others and return to an acceptable level of mind-body-spiritual balance, all of which are out of kilter for the vast majority of the populace.

I am resigned to the fact that it’s not going to happen this year. With so much uncertainty and blockers, my proposed project plan is already slipping to the right with no actions yet completed.

Someone said to me recently to only concern oneself with the things one can control and let go of the things one cannot. Wise words.

With those sage words of advice keeping my tinnitus company this morning, I took to YouTube for inspiration, and man was I inspired!

Dave and Brooke, inspiring couple

After several attempts to find the right viewings on creating ecolodges, I came across two wonderful individuals, known in cyberspace as Bushradical and the Girl in the Woods (move over Sarah Beeny and George Clarke).

Very recently, they have created what I had been dreaming of for the eco-retreat, an off-grid cabin/lodge erected simply and quickly from standard materials one can find at the reclamation/builders yards and hardware supply stores.

So impressed am I with the simplicity, speed and quality of the build, I simply have to share the videos below, in a hope to inspire myself to build a copy of their creation as a prototype in my own compact and bijou back yard, and if successful use the same design and materials as a template for our retreat.

Bushradical

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Girl In The Woods

Part 1
Part 2

After being totally consumed by these videos today, I started to put pen to paper to see how I can use Dave and Brooke’s template to create my “Cabin in the Yard”.

With the temperatures at zero outside, there is plenty of time now to draw up my plans on what the dimensions of the cabin will look like, and what materials I need to procure over the coming weeks. The planned build is to commence on the Spring Equinox (21st March).

Cabin in the Yard, initial plan on a page

Hope springs eternal, the eternal springs hope…

Mushroom boleh!

Today marks the official harvesting day from my first crop of white button mushrooms.

Whilst the yield is less than expected, small is beautiful, the most perfect little mushrooms have appeared.

First crop…
Raise the roof…
The mushroom is more beautiful than the rose…
Fungi family, just add love…

Looking forward to my first homegrown mushroom omelette (locally sourced eggs and smart garden sweet chilli).

Micro-self-sufficiency at its finest…

Days of Futures Past…

Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.

Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.

This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.

As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.

This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.

As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).

Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.

I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.

But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.

We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.

One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).

With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.

It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.

We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.

The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.

After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.

Many hands make light work…

Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.

And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.

The beating heart of Maes Melangell…
The Owl Sanctuary…
The composting toilets…
The Solar Kiln…
The Eco-Retreat…
The Eco-Shower…
The Innovative Waterproofing…
The Renewable Energy Supply…
The Earth Centre…
The Interstellar Roof…
The Barn…
The Kids…

After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.

Bird’s Eye view of Maes Melangell (Lammas Eco-Village)

We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.

It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.

We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.

I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).

As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.

Like my Robin Williams blog from a few years ago stated (Life Is Experience Not Knowledge – https://infinitybeckons.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/life-is-experience-not-knowledge) there is nothing quite like experiencing things first hand as opposed to reading them in a book.

We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.

After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.

That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…