Off-grid living at St Dogs

Two storey strawbale houseIt turned out to be a brilliant weekend. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The thing was, the invitation had all happened on Craig’s facebook page and I hadn’t really been involved, I didn’t know what the weekend was all about or of anyone that was likely to be there (or so I thought). Craig did his masters in Environmental Architecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) and knows so much more than me about solar energy, passive houses, hydro and wind power. I didn’t feel that I had anything to contribute to the discussions and that everything would be just too technical. Plus the idea of being “off-grid” reminds me of the impending possible crises; nightmare scenarios of what might happen when peak oil really kicks in slamming straight into global warming extreme weather events, so I’d avoided making a decision until the morning of the first day.

I am so glad that I went. The two days were filled with fantastic people, optimism and stories of empowerment.

I’d half forgotten that the event was going to be held at a two storey load-bearing straw bale house (which basically means the straw walls are taking all of the weight of the roof , floors and everyone in it – no timber-framed supports here!). As we walked further along the steep muddy public footpath above the abbey ruins I began to wonder if we were on the right track. As the path narrowed, signs of footfall disappeared all together. Then just as we were wondering if we’d gone the right way and whether we should turn back we saw it, a deeply pink round house cradled against the wooded valley. Rachel, our fantastic host, was tying balloons to the garden archway. She said something to the effect of “these should help people find it”, which made me smile, and warmly welcomed us in.

The house is amazing, so big inside. So much creativity has gone into every detail, it was really no wonder that it had won Grand Design’s Best Eco-House in 2008 (I was later to find out).

Brigit Strawbrige, Rachel and Tony Wrench

Brigit Strawbrige, Rachel and Tony Wrench

The kettle was on, time for a cup of tea while everyone arrived. I was thrilled to see that Brigit Strawbridge was there. I quickly introduced myself – after all we are facebook friends even though we hadn’t met (curious how that happens) – and thanked her for replying to my request for links to the best bee identification websites. She is wonderfully passionate about the plight of our bees (and rightly so). Turns out we have a rare Carder Bee in this part of Wales, so you can bet I’ll be going through all the photos I took of bees this summer to see if I’ve captured one digitally.

There have been a number of blog posts about the weekend by others. Salena sums up each of the talks perfectly. So rather than drone on here, I’ll let you read her blog to find out more.

For me the best part of the two days was meeting inspiring people who have followed their hearts and achieved, or are set on a course to achieve, some truly amazing things (I also learnt that I know more than I thought and that here is a lot more to be understood!). I can’t wait to find out more about everyone’s projects – good luck everyone. The stage is set for more events like this, the next one at Rachel’s in May 2012 – and Tony Wrench did say that he’d forgotten to bring his home made wine to this one – next time …

Thank you Rachel and team for a lovely weekend.

Oh I can’t believe I got to the end and didn’t mention the food. It was AMAZING. Thank you lovechefs for the lunchtime savouries and Rachel’s mum for the mid-afternoon sweets.

Acorn of Old Knobbley

Young Knobbley

Young Knobbley (acorn of Old Knobbley) planted in the Party Field

When we were deciding on the things to pack in the back of our small car to move here, we wanted to include all of our trees. We’d been carting our fruit, acer and other trees about for years. It seemed only fair to let them put their roots down in some welsh soil as soon as we could. Try as we might though, what with all of our “essentials” for those first few weeks here, we couldn’t find the space for them all in the back of our car. There was just one small gap behind the passenger seat. Just about (if I moved the seat forward to a very cramped leg position) enough space to squeeze our very treasured “Young Knobbley” – sapling of Old Knobbley.

So Young Knobbley journeyed with us and lived in its pot under the mobile home for the first two months. I don’t know why we didn’t plant our little oak tree straight away… looking back, I suppose it took us some time to fully feel like we belonged to the land, and then a little longer to make sure it really was “home” – that and we didn’t quite know where to plant such an important tree, and we didn’t want it to be accidentally mown over during the hay-making.

On the 30th of September 2011 the time seemed right. It was a wonderfully sunny day. We set about planting in the middle of the Party Field. What with finding the absolute centre of the triangular field and making sure the hole was filled with the right kind of mycorrhiza and compost, it took us most of the morning! (I hope the other trees we plant don’t take as long) and as you can see we have totally over protected the tree from rabbits (not that we’d seen any) and the southerly wind. This tree WILL survive!

We celebrated the planting of the first tree in the Forest Garden by adding this photo to Apparatjik’s call for 1000 trees to be planted to agreeneryouniverse (and have since received some tracks from another universe for our trouble – incidentally I’m listening to .,,. now )

Young Knobbley as an acorn

Young Knobbley as an acorn

Old Knobbley (2007)

Old Knobbley (2007)

Young Knobbley (as far as we know) is the youngest surviving tree of my favourite old Oak Tree – Old Knobbley. We collected four seeds from this ancient tree on the 13th of October 2007, gathering the acorns from the branches rather than the woodland floor, to ensure that they are the direct prodigy of the knobbly old tree (rather than the many other English Oaks around). Young Knobbley is the only one that germinated.

Where to start?

It’s difficult to know where to start with this blog/news section of the website as we’ve been on the land for just over three months and there is already so much to tell. Too much really for one news item, but start I must!

I think I will begin with a list of things that have already happened, then fill in the details with posts at a later date (when there are less newsworthy things to talk about). Tantalising cryptic glimpses into future content? Well perhaps, one can but hope 😉 So in almost chronological order:

  • Deciding on this land,
  • Unexpectedly off-grid,
  • Luckily wonderful communities,
  • Swallowy swifty, buzzardy kites,
  • River hunting,
  • Our tree Ent,
  • Cheeky Mr Fox,
  • Sky watching,
  • Wildflowers galore, bee spotting,
  • Making hay while the Sun … oh,
  • Acorn of Old Knobbley,
  • Stuck! Plant tree seeds,
  • RAD: RegenAg at Cowdray Hall,
  • It’s oh so quiet,
  • Off-grid living at St Dogs,

That will do for now. If you are desperate for the details on any particular event please let me know in the comments below! Until then please enjoy the rest of the site.