We no longer live as simply as we did when we started out on this community, as we had to make several diversions from this simple life to try out alternatives to living here. One was to rent an ecohouse in Matavenero. Defending the roundhouse also took up much time. We do, however, live here full time.
A good recent account, with pictures, of how we lived circa 2005/6 is on the BBC Online website here.
Life in the roundhouse is nearer life in an ordinary house than in, say a yurt or a bender. We have hot water, electricity, a bath, a kitchen, a bed on a raised platform, and space for tools, musical instruments, word processor, recording gear, and lots of wood. The layout is a central circular space formed by the inner circle of supports maybe 20ft/6.5 metres across, which has a wooden floor. The rest of the functions are in the outer circle which retains its original packed earth floor. We have a compost toilet (also with turf roof) approx. 20 metres from the back door. This is a twin chamber aerobic system which turns shit with sawdust and paper into good quality fertiliser after about two years.
Here is a video made in 2009 of us emptying it:
We had by 2005 established several vegetable beds and many fruit bushes and trees.
I make my living from work as a musician and from turning bowls and plates from wood that we coppice on the farm. Favourite woods are alder, silver birch, sycamore and ash.
We have no mains electricity and our water is piped from a mountain source. ( For more details of the community lifestyle visit the website).
Here is a 2009 account I gave in reponse to questions about our kitchen from www.chow.com:
Our kitchen is almost entirely improvised, since we had no money to buy anything ready-made or new, and as it is on a curve, so nothing ready made would fit, anyway. I used what wood we had left over from building operations, including a pile of sawmill slabs - the curved pieces of wood and bark on the outside of the wood - that you can buy locally by the ton for firewood. These slabs sometimes come as 1" planks with wavey edges, so the shelves are made from these, and are either fixed to uprights of unaltered round wood of Douglas Fir, which is what the house is made of, or are suspended from the uprights by pieces of rope. We have two sinks - one for washing dishes and the other for washing ourselves, vegetables and clothes. The sinks were second hand from a scrap yard for £10 each. The waste pipes were new plastic - an exception to the rule - and go out through the cobwood wall and into a reed bed which takes all the grey water from the house. (For human pee and poo we have an outdoor compost toilet which decomposes our humanure over two years to produce compost for the fruit trees and bushes.) I mention all this because in an autonomous house the experience of liberation is not when you connect the taps for the first time - it's when you can pull the plug out from a sink and it flows away to the right place by itself!
We don't have dishwasher or washing machine, so the sinks are good and deep stainless steel and have served us well. Our water comes from a Victorian era well spring half way up Carningli, the small mountain near us. This water comes by pipe to the community above us, then down a quater mile to us. We are therefore blessed with top quality mountain spring water on tap. I have fitted a header tank up the bank outside our house to reduce the water pressure and to feed a hot water tank which is heated from a back boiler in our 'Villager' wood stove. The stove cost about £420, so was the most expensive element in our house after the pondliner roof membrane, which cost £650. The hot water tank is an old oak brandy barrel which holds over 100 gallons. Oak is easy to plumb new plastic or copper piping into, by means of brass tank fittings, so long as you don't weigh down or knock the pipes, so we are careful not to lean on them. The barrel serves well as a hot tank and looks good. 1" oak is not bad insulation, but it still lets some heat back into the room, so acts as a kind of slow radiator. It also receives warm water from the outside home-made solar water heater, so the sun's warmth is transferred to the house slowly at night via this tank. Our bath is in the next space to the kitchen, close to the barrel, so we can have a good hot spring water bath anytime after the fire has been on well during the day. The fire also acts as the only space heater in the house - it has clear glass doors, so we can watch the fire inside. The hot water is also piped to the two sinks.
We are very happy with this system. Our entire plumbing system is efficient and completely silent. All it needs to maintain it is to make sure that we have enough seasoned, dry wood to heat the house and the water. I estimate that we use about 4 tons of wood per year, so spend quite a time coppicing or thinning trees from our small bit of woodland, cutting them by manual two-handled saw, splitting the logs and storing them in piles for two years to season, bringing them in for a final drying, then keeping the fire in with them. We also gather sacks of twigs for kindling and use sacks of my hardwood turning shavings to start the fire in the morning. (I make a living from wood turning). These shavings also make a good soak for the compost toilest so that surplus carbon goes around a cycle. The ash we return to the garden to renew the mineral content of the soil, so we have several nutrient cycles going there. Other nutrients for the vegetable garden come from horse manure from the working horses in the adjacent field, and seeweed that we gather after winter storms and add to the compost.
Electricity comes from three photovoltaic panels on the roof and a small (200w) wind turbine situated about 70 yards away in the field. For most of the year this provides enough electricity for two or three 12v volt lights on at once, and for the radio for an hour or two per day, or the laptop on which I write to be on for an hour or two. Only in the high summer could we be said to have a surplus of electricity, and often in the deep winter of December or January we are plunged into darkness if I use the laptop too much. So often we eat and read in the winter by candle-light.
For cooking we have an old caravan cooker that woorks on calor gas. The oven and grill on this are no longer serviceable, and we use the top of the woodstove for preheating water for tea and coffee, for soups, for roasting in a cast-iron pot called a dutch oven, and for extra heating/boiling some laundry. We make toast on the stove top, too.
What do we hate about all this? Not much - sometimes I am at someone's house and see how fast they can boil water in an electric kettle, or make toast in a toaster, or cook in a big oven or a microwave. But we have no bills, so can take our time getting the wood together or earning the small amount of money we need to keep going. Our water is better quality than utility water, and our electricity is free and off grid. Sometimes I yearn to have more electricity, for example to record music or to write stuff on this laptop, or to edit videos I've taken, and I haven't solved that one yet. This is a very beautiful area, and I wouldn't be allowed to instal a big tall wind turbine, even if I wanted to. Faith gets annoyed sometimes at all the kitchen shelves being open and therefore collecting so much dust. I get annoyed that I tried so little to accomodate a curved wall to straight sinks that I am forever dropping my toothbrush or a fishslice down the back. But hey, I could sort it in a day if I put it high on my do list.
Loves? Well, the quiet, the peace, the simplicity, the view through the big windows of nature all around us, the clean air and water, the freedom to grow as much as we can, the joy of sawing wood in the oak woods, the birdsong.
If you want more detail on the design and building of this house, please check out 'Building a Low Impact Roundhouse' by Tony Wrench, available from Amazon.
Tony Wrench. March 2009
The roundhouse has attracted hundreds of visitors - on average at least two groups per week at its height of public profile in 2003. Here is a group of people from Plouguin in Brittany, our local twinned town, on a visit.
Through living and working here Jane and I are able to live very cheaply, with no bills to speak of. Most of our food is grown locally. I make wine and wool rugs. Here are some pics of life around the roundhouse. It looks idyllic and mostly it is. Sometimes it's hard on the muscles dealing with heavy wood - we spend as much as a day per week coppicing or cutting, gathering,cutting and storing firewood; sometimes the need to wheelbarrow all consumables 400 metres down to the roundhouse is a little wearing; sometimes the rather wet Welsh climate makes me hanker for weather that other voluntary peasant friends enjoy who have left this country for Portugal, Spain or Greece. The most serious problem for us was that we were considered such an undesirable phenomenon by the planners that this house was condemned to be pulled down and this site be wiped clean as if we never had been here (See History). Now we have a year's grace from this hassle, we are again happy to show that it is possible to live a very low impact life in the countryside, without damaging the environment, maintaining healthy biodiversity around us and managing woodland in the old way in a dynamic community.
We were visited in Jan 2003 by Stuart Bond, one of the team from WWF who were commissioned by the Welsh Assembly, reporting in April 2002, to calculate the ecological footprint for Wales and the average footprint for an inhabitant of Wales. The latter is 5.25 hectares per person; below the 6 of England, but well in excess of the average sustainable earthshare of 1.9 hectares per person. We manage, just, to achieve this figure.