mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Cold comfort farm

'Mum, the woman sitting next to you has dyed her eyelashes bright blue,' said Zena in a penetrating whisper audible from the other end of the train carriage.

I tried, I really honestly did. I looked out the window and stared hard at the fens, I started counting backwards from 100 – but in the end I had to look round, which was, of course, the point where blue-lashed lady was looking at me.

We were returning from a warm and fuzzy time with friends in Cambridge – warm, not just because of the welcome, but because their happy house is maintained at a lovely and toasty temperature.

This came to an abrupt end when we emerged onto Tiverton Parkway platform to find it was snowing.

I am not, generally speaking, a lover of snow. I can appreciate the fun to be had and its beauty but hate the inconvenience it brings. I was really hoping that this year, it might not come – wondering how we would cope if winter really hit – as it did.

We did cope – just about, but it was an interesting week that gave me cause to be thankful for the windy and rainy variety of winter we have so far experienced. The trailer was pretty habitable, the padded-cell style of insulation bearing up well, all things considered. It would have been better but the bloody cats kept leaving the door open during their nocturnal movements and if we locked them out they scratched and mewed in fury until we had to get up and let them back in.

The caravan, however, became an ice box. The first really cold morning I entered it, having lost the 'no, you, put the kettle on' argument, I discovered a plate had stuck to the draining board – a centimetre of ice around its rim, the olive oil had emulsified and worst of all, the Nutella had become a solid unworkable clump.

Then the wheels really started to come off. We have been using a 15kg Calor gas bottle for the caravan cooker and freezer, which is kept outside. It turns out that butane gas does not work in low temperatures – so just when you really need a hot drink and a bowl of soup the cooker packs up. The flame on the hob became so low it was about as effective as trying to heat water with a candle. Since the cooker is also our heating in the van, we formed a Dickensian huddle around the pathetic flame clad in hats and scarves and fingerless gloves. Occasionally, an adult would reluctantly go outside and shake the bottle vigorously, which did little to perk up the heat but was in its own small way vaguely cathartic. Thus we learnt to accept that the kettle would take an hour to boil and that tea, as of days of yore, had once again become a highly precious commodity.

But there has been some compensations. The view of snow-clad fields is wonderful and the days have been sunny and crisp. But the best thing is that the ground beneath our feet, which has been saturated since summer, has become firm and easy to negotiate. It is even possible to walk across it in shoes.


  1. I love your spirit, the view is beautiful, and once you are up and running you will look back with fond memeories of this time x

  2. Hello Karen, I thought of you when the snow came down in one lump. You are hardy people, most unlike myself, I'm a wimp, I can't even bear the thought of camping. The Spring is going to be lovely, something to look forward to.

  3. Hi Karen - I don't know about hardy - foolhardy perhaps? Definitely looking forward to spring!