Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TOMBRECK - Winter in the Highlands

Extra-special thanks to Sue and Tober for all their highland hospitality during my stay at Tombreck, the rundown hill farm they are bringing back to life. They make a great partnership; Sue is an eco-architect and has done the designs for the building work, including a straw bale house, while Tober has lots of different farming experience from fish farming to crofting. They both have a deep respect for the land and all things living on it and are rejuventing the farm using their hearts as well as their heads. More about their work at: Tombreck.
It was a bit chilly though...minus 7 degrees registering on the car thermometer there...

...but how good to have a bit of real winter for a change. Fellow WWOOFer Richard shared his caravan with me and we got it nice and cosy thanks to the wood-burning stove.

The arrow in the picture above shows where the cosy caravan nestles beneath mighty Ben Lawers.

Sue and Tober lost their ducks earlier this year, no doubt to foxes. I helped the duck project along by building this palatial duck shed - fox proof and no doubt earthquake proof too.

What next? My plan now is to move up to Scotland and start getting involved for the long term with projects like Tombreck and others in the area. The wild parts of Scotland and Wales must be amongst the best parts of the world to start building the resilient communities that will give us and our children the best possible future in the face of the problems that are stacking up for us: climate change, peak oil, loss of food and material resources, water shortages...not to mention the collapse of the financial castles of sand. The communities that survive into the future will have to live on the resources that they live amongst and manage them for the future, the core of these being water and trees. There's plenty of water up there! Loch Tay is about 15 miles long and up to 500ft deep. There's beautiful trees galore and Sue and Tober planted another 3000 this year to keep them company with plenty more on the way.

I'm really drawn to moving back to Scotland and to the Loch Tay area: it's beautiful, it's near my daughters, Amanda and Laura and there are great projects and people working there already. It will mean a bit of travelling up and down to be with Debi and the boys but it will be the best place to build the things we dream about. One day we'll have our eco home in the highlands and carry on developing our healing work as part of a resilient community.

Here's a few more photos from around Loch Tay...

...looking west to Ben More from Tombreck...

...looking north east down the loch...

...and looking west up the loch towards ben More again.

And a few more wintry shots from around Perthshire thrown in for good measure:

While I was in Scotland I had a walk up Ben Vrackie with my chum Brian, its the 46th time he's been up the speckled hill this year...

..and he's been up all the corbetts once and the munroes twice - is their a Hill Addicts Annonymous he can join?
Stunning views from the top of Vrackie:
And finally, a familiar view from the road north to Aberfeldy, Schiehallion, "The Fairy Mountain".

More soon and Happy Christmas and New Year to all blogees!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Continuing Saga of Ian's Yurt

Extra big thanks to Matt of Future Roots (and Yurtopia) for an amazing few days at Stanmer Park learning more about yurt making - and a whole lot of other stuff too. It felt like being in an Icelandic saga with tools and equipment from the Middle Ages everywhere (and also because my own yurt seems to be taking such a long time to make...)

Matt's yurt nestling in the glade.

Matt's woodland workshop MK II - sadly MK I was vandalised in July this year and burned to the ground.

I would have laughed at the idea of using one of these medieval shaving horses a few days ago but not anymore - they are so useful! They hold awkwardly shaped wood really tight and its quick and easy to turn your workpiece about. They are ideal for doing any shaping on the greenwood poles that Matt uses for his yurts and for loads of other jobs as well.

A selection of drawknives, they can be used to take off big chunks of wood or for fine shaving, simple and versatile.

This is a FROE, something I've never even heard of before, a sort of cross between an axe and a chisel. Again, these simple tools are all really versatile. We talked a lot about a general decline in skill with hand tools - maybe one day when power is not so cheap these things will come into their own again. Matt told a nice story about some yurt makers who had been brought over from Mongolia by one of the English manufactures. They needed a large fret saw so they just made one out of an old bicycle wheel. I guess they don't just pop down to B&Q when they need something in Ulan Bator. I love all that ingenuity and adaptability.

Once more, nice and simple, a forked tree holds a roof pole while it is de-knotted and de-barked. If you see one of Matt's yurts you will notice he gets a lovely finish on these wiggley poles; it's a different look altogether to my sawn timber style.

This is the jungle version of my suburban steamer, an old beer keg...

... sitting over a roaring fire inside an oil drum.

The steam goes from there into a section of gas mains pipe - lovely!

Once they have been thoroughly steamed, Matt bends the roof poles over a gas cylinder sitting in an old staircase...

...while the wall poles are bent between some scaffolding poles. It's all great, simple, ingenious stuff and making what you need out of what you have at hand.

This is my own wheel, third attempt now, built up from two half-inch layers of oak and glued up on a metal former. Next, we drilled it with holes for the roof poles.

But the roof poles have a square end ... time for the best bit of ingenuity of all, the sawn-off pick-axe head.

It gets heated red hot in the barbeque...

...then simply burns the round holes into squares ... Brilliant!

And here is my latest wheel homeward bound.

COMING SOON: the next volume of the Saga of Ian's Yurt, The Erection of the Frame, Part Two.

Thanks again Matt, it was great meeting you and having all those sorting-out-life-and-everything-else conversations. I found out lots about Yurt Making but also a whole lot I wasn't expecting about a simpler way of working with wood and working with greenwood too. Good luck with all your enterprises!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Anyone for fish? Oops! Sorry, too late...

(also in today's Guardian)

"...As we goggle at the fluttering financial figures, a different set of numbers passes us by. On Friday, Pavan Sukhdev, the Deutsche Bank economist leading a European study on ecosystems, reported that we are losing natural capital worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year, as a result of deforestation alone(1). The losses incurred so far by the financial sector amount to between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion. Sukhdev arrived at his figure by estimating the value of the services - such as locking up carbon and providing freshwater - that forests perform, and calculating the cost of either replacing them or living without them. The credit crunch is petty when compared to the nature crunch... "

See the whole article at Monbiot.com .....Tell it like it is George!

It's funny isn't it, the Icelanders are talking about doing a bit more fishing to sort out their economy...well, they'd better be quick. And they might have to steam a long, long way - we've already pretty much fished out everything around here.

Isn't it great that the Bank of England is lending money to Iceland to help them honour deposits made by UK councils etc? Then if the Bank of England collapses she can just get a wee bailout from Iceland no doubt....or some fish??

Monday, October 06, 2008

Some Permaculture courses coming up:

If you can get to one of these courses it will probably be some of the most useful time you will spend in your life! A chance to study with Steve: see my earlier posts about his work and link to Chickenshack, the co-operative small holding he set up. It's all part of a possible future.

!! ALSO !! ... if you can venture further afield, Steve and Caryn have a Permaculture course coming up at Quinta Cabe├ža do Mato in the beautiful backwoods of Portugal, another wonderful opportunity to live and learn.

Wales - Tir Penrhos Isaf

I'm not long back from a few days with Chris and Lyn Dixon on their permaculture holding at Tir Penrhos Isaf in the forests of the Snowdonia National Park - huge heartfelt thanks to them both for all their friendly hospitality and inspiration. The visit has given me lots to think about and helped me make some very unexpected connections.

I was hoping to help them with their barn conversion but the weather had other ideas - I think I can say I've experienced real Welsh rain now and its WET even by Scottish standards.

...we did get a wee bit done in between the torrents though...

During the torrents, we had fascinating chats about their work and how they have nurtured their 7.2 acre plot back from its grass covered, sheep-grazed desert state in 1985 to today's glorious fully-fledged permacultural diversity. It's a tale of patient observation and a gentle, Taoist approach to life and work.

The Healing Power of Horses
Horses? I never thought I'd write about horses!
We also talked a lot about Lyn's work which was a real eye-opener for me. Lyn describes her work as "Horse Listening". Riders come to her with horses with whom they are having problems. The fascinating thing is that it's almost never the horse that has the problem. For a start their saddles etc may be fitted badly or their diet may be wrong for them. Also, the horses will sometimes reflect their riders' own structural problems, eg back or hip restrictions, but above all it's the riders' attitude of having to be in control and using bits, spurs and whips to force their will on the horse that is self-defeating. Learning to meet the horses in their emotional/empathetic world can be a deeply healing experience for the riders.
Chris and Lyn's work with land and horses resonates deeply with my own experience of treating people: a gentle listening approach is the most effective. (Maybe the rider is a bit like your mind and the horse is a bit like your body?) If these ideas can help the land's regeneration as well as riders' problems what else might they achieve?

The Precipice Walk - just a few miles above Chris and Lyn's place.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"When it all started to go wrong", by Michelangeloan.

Here we see where it all started to Go Terribly Wrong. The Bank of God lends Adam a fiver to get himself a pair of sub-prime underpants. It goes rapidly downhill after that - As We All Know Only-Too-700-Billion-Dollars-Well.

By the way, it's an odd number isn't it? Why not 726.457 billion dollars? It's funny that the bailout should work out exactly at a round number...

"Money is not the solution, it's the problem."

Well that's the most sensible thing I've read anywhere recently! It's a comment on the present financial woes and the 700 billion dollar bailout. And the insight comes not from a banking guru but from an elevator maintenance man in Mississipi, Billy Stripling, quoted in the Independent.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

...and dont forget to BOOGIE !!

And here's a man who hasn't forgotten to boogie at all - Dave Arcari live at the Neptune in Hove. Fantastic to see my old blues chum from Perth giving it everything - demonic high energy steel guitar blues like you've never heard before - rock on Dave!
Just sad that this was the last time Debi and I may see Jezz and Tina in the flesh for a while as they are off to Oz - rock on you two as well! Good luck, we're missing you already.
I'll be keeping an eye on Jezz N Tina's Oz Adventures - (though it mainly seems to be just a load of drinking so far ...)


I've just read the first two of the Anastasia books - they're great! A real ray of sunshine in all the gloom.

The books are the story of an extraordinarily gifted girl living a simple life alone in the forests of Siberia and are full of her wisdom. She tells us about re-establishing our connection with the Earth, about how to grow plants so that they can help us, about freeing ourselves from all our techno-clutter and much much more...

It's wonderful to see ideas in print that have been drifting foggily around in my own head for a long time, for example, that there have been much more advanced civilisations on the Earth many thousands of years ago and we have an opportunity now to relearn some of their ancient knowledge through raising our consciousness - maybe just in the nick of time. Also, ideas about living in societies based on mutual help and co-operation rather than competition...

...and good to see Schumacher's words again:

"...We jolly well have to have the courage to dream if we want to survive and give our children a chance of survival..."

The Anastasia series is available from Cygnus books.

And another ray of sunshine!

My own feeling has long been to link the worlds of ecology and of healing, which is part of Anastasia's message. Other people are working on the same lines too. Earlier this month, I went to an inspiring evening, "Sustainability Through Earth Changes", with Ja'been and Barry at their Sanctuary in Newhaven. There were six of us there and we meditated and chatted together for a few hours while epic rainfall thundered down on the roof.

It feels so good that people are gathering in this way at all and a very positive message came through: that answers exist at a higher level for all our problems. I had fascinating visions of a three-dimensional symbol, "Clarity". Though I have had Reiki attunements I don't ever use the symbols so it was a bit strange that this should come up for me. Maybe the three-dimensional symbols link up with designs for structures we will be making soon which will not only shelter us but also cleanse and reinvigorate us.

You can see a bit about Ja'been and Barry's work at www.healingjourneys.co.uk.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Is that ICE or just another BANK ??

Everyday something else seems to collapse. What next? The Coral Reefs? The Health Service? The bee population?

The ice in the picture is part of the vanishing sheet on Greenland. Parts of it are melting three times faster than just five years ago.

I really doubt that we have the resolve or power to do anything effective to turn things around. In fact, quite the opposite: we're belching out smoke and chomping up resources faster than ever.

(Read climatologist James Hansen on the "tipping point".)

If climate change hasn't already gone past the point of no return it seems inevitable that it soon will - so here we go for six degrees plus with all that entails.

So what to do? Well for me it's time to head for the hills and woods, to start walking my talk and start to live a low impact way of life, even if it's a step at a time. For the best chance of survival for our children in the future I believe we will need to be as self-sufficient and resilient as possible. The more we can grow, make and do for ourselves the better. To me the best bet is WOODLAND to provide food, fuel and materials, ideally with plenty of water running through it on a south facing slope. So I'm starting to look for suitable places to live and work in some kind of co-operative woodland group.

There's stuff we can do in the cities too: check out Guerrilla Gardening. Let's plant trees and raspberrries and stuff in those bits of waste ground. There's also inspiration in how Cuba coped after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of their cheap oil supply: The Power of Community.

Long live the tree!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yurt Chapter 99

The first tentative attempt at assembling the frame. Everything seems a bit shakey...
A few days later ... so shakey, in fact, that I decided to give it all a rest until after the yurt-making course I'm doing next month with Matt of Yurtopia. Time for a little experienced input I think.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anyone for TUNA?

Well it looks like you'd better be quick ... some say that the tuna is facing commercial extinction. Here is part of a report from the Environmental Justice Foundation:

"Today, many stocks of the major commercial tuna species are fully or over-exploited. Of all the principle market species, bluefin have suffered the most from the ravages of overexploitation, for two main reasons: their slow reproductive rate, and their exceptionally high value in the sashimi market, where a single fish can be worth up to US$100,000. Most seriously overexploited is the southern bluefin, which is now listed by the IUCN (the world conservation union) as being Critically Endangered."

Whole report at: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page270.html

Whilst in the vein of ocean stuff, I remember reading an article a while ago about veteran yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. What a guy! (And I fancy a blast on that catamaran...) The man completed the Velux5Oceans 2006/7 solo round-the-world race, finishing in 4th position at the age of 68. He said that he didn't see a single whale during the whole voyage. "The seas have changed" he added chillingly.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Yurt Crown - plan C

Bending the wood into a 2'6" diameter circle for the crown was a total failure - twice - so I decided to make the crown out of sawn sections - including some shhhhhh! plywood...

... check out the fiendishly cunning radial arm marking out of the blocks thing going on here ...
... still going well ... maybe it's going to work this time ...
... another layer of ....shhhhhh! plywood .....
... and its happening!

YES YES YES !!!!!!

This is has surely got to be one of the most monumental monuments to human stubborn persistence of all time ... or something ...