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Notes from a northern hearth

Observing and interacting on this site in recent days confirmed my suspicion we’d get superb posts during permaculture week. Now it’s my turn to wrap up and, unlike Rachel Savage, I haven’t even ever laid a finger on Bill Mollison’s magical manual.  Yikes!

I do have the good fortune to have some rather splendid permaculture pals, so am racking my brains to recall some pearls of wisdom they've shared over the years.

“In many ways permaculture is applied common sense,”  Iain Findlay, Natural Step practitioner, bagpiper and whirligro inventor once told me.  “For example, if your woodshed is miles away from your house, with  big hill between you and  it, you’re not going to feel too keen to fight to your way up there for a basket of logs on a snowy winter’s night.  When you're making a plan it's best to take your time, observe and think things through.”

Aha.  That conversation came back to mind several months later when my mum, always a top class purveyor of common sense, hit the selfsame nail on the head.  “Why don’t you build a lean-to shelter on the back of the house to store firewood in?” she mused, over one of her endless cups of tea.  “It would be handy for the back door and stop the path to the garage getting all snowy and icy as well.”  Genius!  Job now done, it’s eight steps from the wood pile to the Rayburn and you don’t even need to change out of your baffies to get there.

Firewood’s the most fantastic fuel you can get.  I’ve a lifelong love of burning wood and think I grasp the essence of the catch and store energy principle reasonably well.  As the temperature plummets I’m slightly nervous that we still won’t have enough logs to last the winter, despite now having full three log stores as well as the lean-to.  This will be the first winter we’ve depended entirely on wood.  

After checking out a range of wood fuelled heating systems for a series of factsheets, I came to the conclusion that  high tech computerised woodfuel boilers, despite impressive efficiency, seemed a bit fancy for my non tecchy brain.  Having your main heat source outside in the shed doesn’t seem right somehow, and I feel the need for flames.  Who ever spun a rip roaring yarn round a radiator?  

The good old tried and tested technology of the Rayburn suits us fine; it supplies heating and domestic hot water as well as being a great cooker. Solar thermal panels feed into the hot water cylinder, making the most of the south facing roof.  There are woodburning stoves in the living room and office and we’re now totally off the kerosene.  Anyone want to buy a 900 litre oil tank?

Transition Black Isle is in the throes of organising the Black Isle Festival of Firewood, Forests and Film, in partnership with Highland Birchwoods.  It seems more than a bit daft that in a place like the Black Isle, with loads of woodlands, most people burn coal and oil.  You can hear me, Amanda Calvert, Jess Christman of Black Isle Firewood talking about local logs, fuel poverty, resilience and the festival, on this morning's Out of Doors radio show on BBC Scotland, 19 minutes into the programme.

Scotland has a visionary and radical woodland movement, currently regaining vigour through campaigns such as Reforesting Scotland’s A Thousand Huts.  Social networking is helping to connect people keen to live sustainably and spend time on the land - the thousand huts Facebook group already has more than 500 members.  The woodland drums are beating with exciting talk of a Transition Crofting Township on the Kintyre peninsula.

Two great friends who opened my eyes to incredible possibilities are Michaela Hunter and David Blair of the Dunbeag woodland project in Argyll.  David has pioneered a beautifully inspiring model for woodland crofting, with gardens, buildings and orchards all designed around permaculture principles. Their place is off grid, with electricity generated from a micro hydro system and photo voltaic panels.  

The Permaculture Scotland network has a lively and active forum and more and more courses are being run.  The past week has brought me renewed curiosity and appreciation of how useful some training in permaculture could be.

Although I’ve not yet studied or consciously practised it, permaculture seem to have permeated many aspects of my life.  No surprise maybe, given the experiences, groups, family and friends that have helped shape my thinking and interests.  Now momentum is building, links are being forged and it feels like permaculture's time has come.

 Pictures: Iain Findlay, ranter, inventor and cross green man; cosy by the fireside; Michaela Hunter; David Blair, Brook the dog and visitors at the Dunbeag roundhouse; Whirligro TM; Lean to log store