The owners, Katherine and Andy crept over the border from England and into Wales nearly 20 years ago when they moved to Rhayader. They live about a mile from the town on the side of a hill about 1000ft up in a converted stone barn that hunkers down into the hill. The property is “off grid” and they lead a very self sufficient life style with home grown food and home made electricity being major factors in their lifestyle.
Andy and Katherine are of the Joni Mitchell generation and the song Big Yellow Taxi (see bottom of page) could be an anthem for their lives. But they take great delight in living to a surprisingly high standard whilst being off grid. No hair shirt life style here with underfloor heating in their home and many modern electric appliances. 90% of the year they run an electric energy surplus all made on site from PV and wind turbine.
They love good food and relish having some home grown vegetables almost all the year round, even on a high hill in winter with wild winds blowing. They have learnt some oddball gardening techniques like growing carrots in tubs rather than direct in the soil, thus giving a crop in the polytunnel where otherwise the weather would defeat the efforts.
As a young man Andy learnt cabinet making when no one was making cabinets anymore; he then worked “on the oil”, in England, Europe and Shetland. Along the way he picked up many hands on skills and now could build a house from scratch including all wet and dry trades. If called upon he could sew the curtains and lay the carpets to boot.
Katherine worked with animals from an early age both on farms and stables. Her home menagerie varies with the years. At present 2 portly black Shetland ponies fertilise the fields but in the past there have been many a family of goats and pigs, chickens and geese, plus the odd lamb or two.
Before arriving in Rhayader Andy & Katherine had bought, renovated and moved on from a variety of houses and cottages. But when they moved to Rhayader it was announced by Katherine that this was the last move they’d make. Since then they have worked hard to create a little bit of luxury sustainable off grid living. The house is insulated to a high degree and has under floor heating that can be warmed either by a wood burning stove or oil boiler. An air source heat pump is shortly to be added to eliminate the oil burner with new solar panels to provide further hot water for the summer months.
We all want quiet.
We all want beauty.
We all need space.
One of Andy’s proudest achievements is the wind turbine which he has built. A number of versions have been trialled before the working unit that powers the home in winter. The tower is factory made but was collected for free from a site in Cornwall. The tower is based on a concrete slab which is fixed to the local bedrock with a special resin.
Virtually everything else was created on site. The first set of turbine blades were hand carved from wood although the current set are factory made from fibre glass that Andy repurposed. The alternator that creates the electricity has 12 coils of copper wire which were all wound here on a jig on the kitchen table. 32 high power magnets are bonded to two steel disc which are attached to the wheel hub from a small truck. To create the frame to carry all this Andy had to learn to weld.
At 300 metres above sea level the wind that powers the turbine in winter can make gardening a challenge. When they first moved here, they brought a polytunnel and erected it in the field to use as temporary storage. This lasted until the first winter storm which ripped the cover to shreds and exposed them to the realities of a Welsh winter. At the time Katherine’s mother was living here and she created our first garden planting many shrubs and hedging plants to create sheltered beds that could survive. Two Birch trees that were early plantings in 2004 show a distinct kink where they first grew in the winter winds. They are now over 20 ft tall and growing well.
With all the shelter belt flourishing a polytunnel now sits here happily and gives us an extended season for vegetables that include sweet and chilli peppers, tomatoes aubergines etc. Outside raised beds give space for more mundane stuff like tatties and onions, leeks and peas, beans and brassicas.
Raspberries thrive here and a recent addition is a large fruit cage that Andy has built. Also in the cage are blueberries and blackcurrants as well as strawberries and a step over apple tree.
We have had many failures over the years but this is what you learn from. The year of the slugs was memorable. Shortly after we started the garden a large area of old grass land was disturbed to create the beds. The new crops acted like a beacon for every slug inside 2 miles and at night you could imagine the hills were alive with the sound of chomping and we lost lots of plantings. But nature soon established a balance and the birds the next year levelled of the slug numbers and since then the slugs have never been the same menace.
Both Andy and Katherine’s parents lived through the second world war and were brought up in a “make do and mend” philosophy. We keep “stuff” and reuse it as a matter of course and apart from house hold waste, recycle only as a last resort. Andy recently (2020) created some garden furniture and one piece of timber has been in our possession for 30 years before “coming in useful”.
Unlike the man on the telly we find it “easy to be green”; it is basically an attitude of mind.
If whilst you are here at Redwood Retreat you would like to see or know more of our lifestyle please come and ask. We love to share our experience and any produce from the garden if it’s spare.
Otherwise just sit back and chill, the fresh air and vibes are good for the soul.
Thanks to Joni Mitchell 1970 and why haven’t we learnt anything yet?
Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
They’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.