On the Edge - Yurt Living
No longer involved in a transition group but still in touch, I suppose, puts me on the edge of Transition. However on a personal level I’m in a more central place. Yurt living is a choice, it serves as a preparation for off grid living and a base whilst me and partner Rob, WWOOF.
We don’t have another home. This is it for now. We move on in October. We’ve been blessed with the best summer for many a year so we’ve had it very easy and the experience is leaving us light in spirit and ever hopeful that even in the longer term a simpler way of living is richer. All of this is made possible by generous, supportive friendship of those willing to share not just their land with us but also their experience of conjuring resources from imagination, skips and car boot sales.
Here’s the how to of our experience:
Solid and level base: Rob built a base from an arrangement of palettes and shuttering timber. It’s worth the effort to get it level… and it was an effort.
Strong ropes: keep the whole thing solid in strong winds. At some point in April when we were away we got a call to announce that the yurt was leaning. 23 mile an hour winds had got the better of it so we added stability by additional ropes from the crown down to the ground. It’s working.
Water: The land we are on has mains water and electricity. We carry water from an outside tap two fields away. We use two 20 litre carriers that held laundry liquid in their first life and a shopping trolley carrier. A further two 10 litre squashable type water carriers means we can carry water inside the yurt. We use 30 or 40 litres a day. Carrying water is a pain – I recall the women I have seen on overseas journeys carrying water on their heads.
Energy: Rob has rigged up two 80 Watt PV panels and a 110 amp hour battery. This gives us two lights inside the yurt and as much phone and laptop charging as we need. He adapted a radio and ipod docking station which also plugs into the charging system. How it will be when the nights draw in who knows! But for now it’s fantastic.
Toilet: We dug a latrine and a built a temporary cubicle. We went for squatting at first but it was only a matter of time before Rob built a base and a toilet seat was sourced. We have already been around longer than expected so we have filled in hole number one, dug another and shifted the cubicle. It all seems to have worked fine.
Shower: We’re using a “porta shower” and mostly heating the water by gas but we have covered the water holder in black sileage sheet and trying to heat with the sun. A temporary cubicle hangs from a pulley in a tree. Four hazel sticks tied together to make a frame and a tarp gives us privacy. We use five litres of water for each shower (One litre of heated water works fine.)
Woodburning stove: We bought ours from someone that makes them from gas bottles.
Furniture: is second hand or salvaged from a skip or borrowed. Wardrobe is a rope strung between roof poles. (Car booting is a compulsory excursion from time to time for very inexpensive, useful things. It’s a great joy to find it… whatever it is!)
Cooking: We use bottled gas and a two ring camping stove. When the wood burner is on it can heat water and a stew can cook gently. I can’t get over how cheap and easy gas is for cooking. I totally get why we’ve built our worlds on it- stupid and short term but an easy and catastrophic mistake. Hey ho- the folly of being human!
The summer has been so good and we have brash a plenty donated to us, the Kelly Kettle has saved us loads of gas. It heats two litres of water very quickly. The gas takes ages by comparison.
- Insulate the yurt properly.
- Experiment with hay cooker, solar cookers.
- Improve cooling system- the milk keeps going off.
- Make a wood store.
- Build a porch.
Learning that you can adjust is a big lesson. It took me about three weeks to sleep deeply. Every noise seems louder here. We are close to a main road so traffic, the dawn chorus and the weather were equally disruptive but given a little time neither wakes me.
There is a sense of being part of nature’s network. There are mole hills here and there, no doubt lots under us. Birds; especially a robin and black birds are regular visitors for our crumbs. An array of insects hangs out with us and rabbits seem largely uncautious of us. Initially it’s all very romantic until the robin got into the habit of coming into the yurt , getting very dizzy and very stuck. The wasps find you and no matter how clean you try to be they just seem ecstatic to be on the food shelf and buzzing furiously around us. Joss sticks stop being effective as a deterrent when you eat and once in a while they win. You find your equilibrium all of ‘a to do’ and you find yourself all aggression from the mouth outwards!
Essentially though, this is a very easy experience. We comment on how lucky we are frequently. A yurt is great space! I go to bed and look up at the crown and its spokes. Night time pees involve views of bright moony skies full of stars. I wake up and look through the window in the door to the outside and I step onto a palette doorstep and see brambles, a young orchard and woodland- it all feels great. At times I feel like I am perhaps ‘glamping’- we have been so blessed with great weather it feels like a long holiday. When techy things go wrong, it is Rob who gets on and sorts it out. Maybe the sense of being a fraud or a lightweight is always how I’ll feel about things. There are always those who have pioneered alternative ways of life in way more radical circumstances. But gently we are transitioning. … and what’s wrong with some things just being straightforward, simple and easy?!
Gwen Sanderson is a former member of the Education Group at Transition City Lancaster. A teacher by trade she believes strongly in learning by doing. Currently resident with her partner in their yurt in an undisclosed part of deepest Wales.