When we heard about Tim and Bryony’s yurt on the Welsh Border we just had to get in touch to bring you a Q and A about their inspiration for creating their beautiful place to stay.
Tim was born in Zimbabwe but spent most of his adult life in Botswana where he was an entrepreneur, and spent all of his spare time in the bush. Bryony went to Botswana on her Gap year, met Tim, threw Biochemistry and University to the four winds, and took to the bush with great ease and enthusiasm. They had many adventures, some very close run encounters, and four children, who grew up on their ostrich farm on the edge of the Okavango Delta.
As a family, we have had the enormous privilege of experiencing wilderness particularly from living in Botswana, and of some extraordinarily inventive and playful architecture in the little exclusive tourist camps. Originally they used local materials and features, for instance a shower hung out of a tree, with a soap dish fashioned out of a fork in the branches, masked partly from the bush by being strategically positioned in relation to bushes, and a reed screen. Subsequently things have become a little too smart and glitzy for our taste.
Tim and I moved the family to the UK when our eldest daughter needed to go to secondary school. We found with great serendipity an old longhouse in Herefordshire, right on the border with Wales, with an amazing position: 18 acres high up on a south facing valley side, with spectacular views both in the middle distance and far. We floundered around finding living in Britain so much more expensive and challenging than rural Africa. After scraping the barrel till it was almost empty, we found ourselves renting out what had been my mother’s creative barn conversion as a holiday let with Blaentrothy Cottages.
To our surprise within six weeks we had an 85% occupancy rate, with mainly childless couples (or couples spending a weekend without their children). Clearly there was a market for romance! Surely people would find something in the way of an African lodge – adapted of course to the climate – an interesting and alluring place to stay? Also we could parade our twin interests of challenging concepts of inside/outside living, and greenness, whilst showcasing some real craftsmanship.
When we decided on a yurt as our first dwelling, we wanted to buy one, but rapidly decided that the imported mass-produced Mongolian yurts lacked something – what? Love, interest, shape? And investigations led to finding a handful of British yurt makers who have adapted the Turkoman yurt (which has a curved roof line) to our British coppiced wood. Toby Fairlove, when approached, encouraged us to make our own on one of his biannual courses. All the family had some input, even if they could not stay the full 10 days due to school or work. It took us 6 months to complete our 18’ diameter yurt and many trips to Dorset to benefit from Toby’s expertise and yurt making set up. So there is big pride in our asymmetric, characterful beauty!
However the ‘Chestnut Cabin’ to which the yurt is attached is just as much a labour of love. A friend with boat building and timber framing experience and, it turns out a host of other useful skills, was just the man to convert the back of an envelope design to something much more interesting with questions such as the rather rude, “Do you want this to look like a garden shed on stilts or shall we do the roof like this?” Friends tell us that it feels very African, and we have managed to incorporate an outside shower, with a hawthorn hedge as protection on two sides.
There is a wood burning stove, and we supply extra wood if needed. We have a 12v battery system charged by a solar panel, that runs mainly led lights and a mobile phone charger. It is on mains water.
I wanted to have the water warmed if possible by the sun, but obviously needed a back up system, and then things started to get complicated, as the water would need to be stored warm, and health regulations kick in. So I had to compromise and go with an instant gas boiler as building a fire to heat the bath water having arrived from London late in the evening is not a practical solution.
We were determined to have a composting toilet, and having read ‘Humanure‘ it was clear that one of the simplest and most effective methods is to use sawdust to accelerate decomposition and prevent smells, thus getting around the problem of using chemicals or needing to have a septic tank. It works well and we haven’t experienced any squeamish reactions.
We have gone for a simple gadget free experience but have not stinted on luxury, so the mattress is a Vi-Spring, the linen and duvet are made from bamboo, the bath is made of beaten copper, the kitchen is equipped with a double gas ring burner and good pots, pans and a kettle. We provide the essentials: liquid soaps, washing up liquid, condiments, tea and coffee, and loo rolls. All you need to bring are your clothes, and food.
Although there is an excellent traditional pub within easy walking distance. Each dwelling is widely separated from its brethren, to the extent that the others are barely visible. (We are working on the third of four intended dwellings). Each is independent of the others, so no shared bathroom facilities.
As the UK weather is renowned for not being the most reliable, what do people do if the weather is bad?
This was something we were a little worried about initially, as there are no TVs, and only a 12v charging facility (we do provide books, cards, and some word games) but the overwhelming response is that whatever the weather, people love to relax in front of the fire, or have a bath, watch the birds and gently absorb peace.
We close from mid November to mid March, but this year the snow was still playing havoc when we opened, and really it was too cold for all but the very hardiest. If that happens again, we will just offer to move the booking. It is quite easy in even quite cold weather to make the yurt cosy and warm, but the kitchen and loo get a bit chilly.
Why was it important to you to create an eco friendly place to stay?
We both feel very strongly that generally in our Western society we have lost connection with our natural environment, from the cycles of the moon, to taking time to observe and listen and smell. If we can make a few people smile, and think differently, we will be very happy.
Does your business support any other local businesses in the area?
The Carpenter’s Arms (our local, nicknamed ‘The Gluepot’ as it’s so hard to leave) and many of the wonderful places to eat in the area benefit, as well as the village shop in Longtown, Shepherd’s ice cream makers up the road, and the many tourist attractions within reach.
What do you think is so important about holidaying in the UK?
We have areas of such natural beauty and of such variety within easy reach. Surely it’s not about trotting around the Globe, ticking boxes of been there, done that, but that in our own backyard we can have a more fundamental experience that maybe shifts our viewpoint, challenging consumerism and materialism, and giving an appreciation and awareness of our planet. Our favourite feedback from a guest has been ‘ you have shown us how to have less.’
We built the yurts thinking of how we’d like to live. They have small details from each of us: a large window with sweeping view across the Welsh valleys for when you’re washing up, a hot outdoor shower in the bracing British weather, a bath by the fire-side and being able to look up at the stars from the warmth of your bed. If you need a hair-dryer daily it may not be for you, but for us it’s luxury.
If you’re interested in booking Mimi’s Tree Yurt for a romantic, relaxing break in beautiful scenery, you can check availability and make reservations on their website.