Tir Y Gafel is a self-sufficient community found in West Wales that is home to nine families. Four of the houses are in a terrace and the others are individual plots. The houses are built and ran with very low ecological impact and the people who live there impressively produce the majority of their food, power and resources from, practically, nothing.
On Wednesday the 7th of October, I met Cassie and Nigel, 2 of the original habitants of Tir Y Gafel, who talked me through the eco-lifestyle, kindly allowed me photograph their roundhouse and answered some questions.
Did you make everything on your plot from scratch? Cassie: Everything that you see on this plot of land, apart from the great big spruce trees behind us and the hedgerows all around us, (because they were here first), we put here. We planted everything by hand. We did build the houses; I will say that there was a digger briefly involved to do the platforms, but everything else, by hand.
What is the hardest thing about living this lifestyle? Nigel: It’s really quite physical, but also, for me personally, it’s that I should have done it when I was younger. That’s really the hardest thing for me. Being 20 years younger, I would have blasted through this; I had a lot of energy.
Cassie: Not having hot running water. I have to be honest; I think that is the hardest thing. I can’t run a bath when I want one; I have to boil water on the gas.
Do you think that hot running water is an everyday luxury that we take for granted?Cassie: ABSOLUTELY! It’s just SUCH a luxury. It’s just beyond! We have the cob bath in the extension, which means you fill up the bath with a hose, you light up the fire underneath it, and it heats up the water. It takes about an hour/ an hour and a half, of messing around to have a bath. Which is great, but you know it’s not the same thing. We do also have a bucket shower in the barn, (yes so we do wash by the way,) so basically for that we heat up water on a little gas cooker and fill the bucket with it, put it above your head and there’s a little tap. It’s kind of modern in a way, it feels like a normal shower but you’ve only got a bucket’s worth of water, and you have to do stuff. It’s not like you can go in, flick a switch, turn on the tap and WOOHOO hot water, so it’s a big thing!
Do you think that you therefore appreciate it more? Nigel: There’s no doubt really. But coming here is a bit of a normalising thing, you realise what really matters, what really is the difference between luxury and not.
Cassie: Oh yeah! Oh god yeah! I mean the thing is, human beings can get used to anything! I think if everybody had hot water taken away from them and they had to do it my way, ok they might regret it, resent it, but they could do it! Please CAN do it! People can use compost toilets, why use all that fresh water to flush things down the loo? I don’t get it! I actually don’t get it! My kids don’t get it. But then it’s how you’re brought up, what you’re used to.
Would you ever go back to the conventional lifestyle? Cassie: No, no. I don’t think I could even… we’ve thought about it, because you can never say, ‘oh, I’ll never do that’, because you never know what you’re going to do in the future. At some point maybe we will need to move away from this lifestyle because we’re too old or out kids don’t want to do it or something, but I don’t think I could ever go back to living in a little house and not being responsible for my own electricity, my own toilet, my own water. There is such a direct connection here for me, being able to create something beautiful, it’s an internal spiritual thing for me with the direct connection to the Earth.
Nigel: I think I’ve blown it for that, I think it’s too late now. I wouldn’t be able to. I do think about it sometimes. The idea of a hot shower, those things really are… but a hotel room does that for you for a night. Do you know what I mean? You switch it on, you get hot water… but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. We get away with it. Our bucket shower works so well! There’s no bill attached to it either so it’s really, so easy! Sometimes you miss the little luxuries, because you’ve been brought up with them.
What 3 words best describe this lifestyle? Nigel: Bloody, hard, work.
What’s the best thing about living this lifestyle? Nigel: I think it is the freedom. I go up and meet my brothers and see, they’re owned, and they are held by people, with no kind of freedom at all. We do have bizarre freedom here. It’s hard work, as I said, but we are very free.
Cassie: The highlight is being able to create beautiful things. When I say things, I mean everything, I mean the buildings, I mean the plants, I mean, making willow sculptures, just being able to create beautiful things off your own little piece of this earth. It’s just such a wonderful thing.
What advice would you give to someone who was interested in living in a more eco wayCassie: For someone without land, I’d say get a window box and grow some of your own food. Get involved with an allotment. Start growing something. Fresh food is so completely different! Your own food, the satisfaction, the connection, I can’t help but push that. The connection to the earth with what you’re doing, we’re losing it so much today, through the Internet, and it’s the dissociation with other people. I do Facebook don’t get me wrong, but I try to balance that with actually seeing people as well. There’s such a tendency with this society to disconnect. So yes you’re disconnecting from other people, but in doing that you’re disconnecting from nature, and where on earth do they think these things are going to come from! If bees don’t pollinate stuff, they’re thinking of artificial pollination. If they do that before everything collapses, well they’re doing very well. Things will collapse first. The whole eco-system will collapse before they manage to do things in a technological way, and so, fostering that connection is what I’m on about. But I know you can’t preach to people, so, really it’s about the taste of the food, the cheapness of the food. You grow your own food, it’s cheap! Ok, you’ve had to work a bit at digging or something, but it’s cheap, and that ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people! It tastes better! It gets you outside; it counts for exercise so it’s good for your health! There’s three things there so, even if you don’t have access to your own land, you can go and rent a bit, borrow a bit, get involved in a community box scheme. If you do have access to land, plant something, plant some fruit trees, nut trees, the reward is almost immediate, it’s amazing! How quickly things will respond! This year: 50 kilos of strawberries. I don’t have that many strawberry plants, but 50 bloody kilos! And the thing is they’re all fresh, all organic, not certified, but I haven’t sprayed anything, I wouldn’t do that, so the benefit to your health, but the amount of jam that I have made, it’s ridiculous! And it’s actually with very little effort. People think it’s this huge effort, but it’s really not.