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

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Out through the indoor

Our awning blew away, you may recall, earlier this year – leaving us without a sizeable chunk of our accommodation and the dog traumatised for life.

The awning had come with the caravan and had, to put it mildly, seen better days. Bits of it were held together with duct tape and the roof leaked. But it was by and large functional and home to items as varied as mallets, scooters and Barbie dolls, the latter of which went mouldy – so that was a bit of a result.

In fact, just about everything went mouldy in that awning. It was dark and damp and therefore conducive to mould. I didn't realise how much I hated it until the day in May when it blew away. Once it had gone, I felt a lightening of my soul and a connection with the great outdoors that I was lacking.

Without it in place, I could throw open the doors of the caravan and feel at one with the world around; and without it, I could experience the elements in a visceral fashion as I stumbled blearily in the morning from trailer to caravan. This may sound slightly miserable, and no doubt would have been in the depths of December, but was not at all unpleasant in the spring – not even in the rain.

However, such alfresco pleasures could not go on for ever. We are a family of five trying to build a permaculture farm from scratch, and for both of those we need room to put things and keep them dry.

We reviewed our options at some length and in the end decided to veto another canvas awning. The last one had blown down and not been particularly effective, so we decided we would construct a wooden one instead. Well, I say 'we' – by which clearly I mean Gully, I merely functioned as the functionary.

As the walls started to go up, I felt a sense of being imprisoned. I had been glorifying in the close proximity of nature and now nature was beginning to recede. But I hadn't reckoned on the delights of our roof.

Every facet of our project has been thought through very carefully, particularly the use of materials. We had hoped to avoid using plastic – but sometimes plastic is the best material to use and enables other aspects of our plans to work. We needed a corrugated roof as the most effective surface from which to harvest rainwater while making use of as much natural light as possible. And so we reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that PVC sheets would be the best thing for a roof.

But the resulting effect is fabulous. The space is filled with natural light and feels very much as though it is part of the outdoors. Underfoot there is mud and in places grass and, er, weeds, all of which heighten the effect. I can plant my tomatoes and peppers direct into the ground where they get full sun through the roof creating an indoor garden effect. And the rain harvesting capacity is amazing – we filled up a large-capacity container in a single afternoon of intermittent showers.

So I am very happy with our new space – as are the cats, who, when they are not filling it with dead things, bask in the sunlight that pores through the roof. And it will be great in the winter when a little insipid sunshine should warm it up nicely.

It all just goes to show that good things can come of bad – although I'm not sure the dog would agree.

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