Monday 26 September 2011

State of Play

Roof trusses for the Winter Palace
I last posted here about my life and the state of the farm in May; it's time to post again. It's autumn, and I have now spent five months living in my simple tree house. And actually, that's mostly been good. I've been, over all, much more comfortable than I expected, and the cats have certainly liked it. But the tree house - my 'Summer Palace' - was always only intended to be a temporary structure. I was going to live here until I'd got planning permission to build the house I wanted. Well, I haven't got planning permission - not because it's been refused but because it's all taken much longer than expected.

The summer has been, as you'll know, both wet and cold, but for me it's been a mostly contented time. My home - not just my little shelter, but my wood and my whole croft - is exceptionally beautiful. It's also a very calm and quiet place, except for the one weekend of the year they hold a rock concert just beyond my wall. I've had a good hay harvest, and still have barley standing which I hope to harvest soon.

But summer is ending, and the Summer Palace will not be a pleasant place to spend the winter. So I'm now working on a Winter Palace, a much more comfortable but still temporary dwelling. Because I don't have planning permission, I'm going to build it in my wood where it can't be seen from anyone else's land. As a house it will be small - six metres by four metres inside, with a sleeping loft at one end. But of course the house isn't the whole of my home, because I have so much space outside.

It will have luxuries: things I've missed, this summer. It will have running water. It will have hot running water. It will have - luxury of luxuries - a bath, with hot running water! Being built of straw bales it will be extremely well insulated. And at the centre of it will be a stove which will warm the house and heat the water. Also, having a watertight, weathertight home means I will be able to bring my books - and many other treasures - out of storage. It probably won't have electricity, but I don't miss it much.

I've already completed much of the main joinery for the Winter Palace. The bales are here in the barn. I have two weeks to complete the foundations and gather the last of the materials, and then, on Saturday 8th October, I'm going to hold a party and all my friends will gather to put the house together. I expect we'll get it up in one day, and that I will sleep in it as early as the 9th.

There are things about the Summer Palace I'll miss. I'll miss the airiness and the simplicity; I'll miss the birds in the branches around and the gentle swaying of the trees. I do plan to take the Summer Palace down - partly because it will suffer from winter weather, and partly because I intend to reuse some of the timber. But I think I shall rebuild it next summer, partly as a spare room but also partly as a place to spend summer nights, especially if I have someone special to enjoy those nights with.

Monday 12 September 2011


My summer residence is supported on seven spruce trees. In the time I've been here - since early May - the BBC have twice forecast hurricane force winds. The first time, I abandoned ship - but they exaggerated, it was only storm force. This time, I haven't abandoned, and it's now too late to do so. The wind on the hilltop is too high to safely evacuate the cats. I suspect, and hope, that the BBC are exaggerating again, but earlier this morning I described the wind as the second strongest I'd ever experienced. That's no longer true.

It literally is not possible for a grown man to stand upright in the gusts on our hilltop now. I know that, because I've just been there. So I'm going to have to stay put. On the plus side, my wood shows no evidence at all of windfall trees. So far as I can see, no tree of the present generation has ever blown down. And although I have thinned a little, I've been careful to preserve the green edge of the wood - I really think it's wind-firm.

However, the seven trees that support the summer palace are - like all the other trees in the wood - swaying with alarming amplitude, but, of course, with different frequencies. That gives the platform an uncomfortably sharp, unpredictable motion, like a hovercraft in a short chop. I think it's safe enough. The ropes aren't going to break. As I said I don't think the trees will fall; in fact the trees supporting the platform are less likely to go than others, since they are coupled together and thus none of them can sway to the amplitude they would alone.

I've taken down one of the side-walls the summer palace had, to allow the wind to blow through unobstructed. Having less of a sail, I hope, will reduce the risk of damage. I'm still a little concerned about the roof going.

I've pitched my tent a little bit away in the wood so that, if the summer palace becomes uninhabitable, I have somewhere to retreat to... but actually I think the worst I'm risking is seasickness. The worst of the wind is expected to be through by nightfall. I think I'm all right. The cats clearly don't like the conditions and Ivan in particular is clingy, but I think they're OK.

Creative Commons Licence
The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License