Thirteen years ago when we completed on the purchase of a 121 acre site in Powys, the most underpopulated county in Wales, my conveyancing solicitor sent me a polite email which said, "Congratulations, you are now the owner of a lot of trees." This wasn't even strictly true as most of the private woodland we had acquired had been clear-felled, leaving ranks of elephantine tree stumps, puncturing undulating mud mountains and, in fact, very few trees. But the jewel in the crown for those prepared to climb every mountain and ford every stream, was a beautifully built, perfectly square, stone barn with tin roof, thigh deep in a hundred years of the finest, local, ozone intoxicated sheepshit.
Magical Mike Tustin (or Busty Crustacean as we like to call him) the forest surveyor had had the presence of mind, several years ago, to get full planning permission for a residential property which everyone promptly forgot about as the trees grew taller and taller Grimms-style and covered over the low stone building . As we now all now know from endless repeats of the episode featuring Ben Law, Grand Designs' own pet woodsman, consent for year round dwellings in the woods are rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth. So when the trees were felled, good old Busty had provided us with a really great project that no one else would touch with a bargepole. We knew it was for us when all our friends and colleagues said "That's a really great...er...project.”
“You know the Devoys,” as a good friend used to say, "they always take the least sensible course of action.” Hot from building our Grand Designs home in London, the Curved House, a somewhat younger David was despatched to the confines of a freezing cold caravan in a bleak, dark, autumn landscape.
In autumn 2018 free green woodland, backing on to to all the National Trust common land you could dream of, stretching all the way to Aberystwyth, should you desire to hike or quad bike that way, is über bang on the money. But in 2005 the zeitgeist was very different. The iPhone had not yet invaded each waking second; battery packs didn't exist; the euro hadn't crashed; water could still permeate clothing; and it wasn't cool to go to Wales unless you were very retro. No one cool EVER admitted they were going to Wales. “I have fond memories of summer holidays when I was a child," they say, firmly distancing themselves from mist-soaked skies and penetrating damp walks and placing their summer holidays at the Peligoni Beach Club. And absolutely no one except Bear Grylls and Ranulph Fiennes wanted to be off-grid.
How things have changed.
Now the fanciest people all LOVE wild Wales precisely because it offers a digital detox and opportunities for extreme sports. Red Kite Estate is a commercial forest but in last year's harvest we resisted the foresters' pleas to fell thirty more acres around the river and hung on to the woodland enjoyed by those staying at Red Kite Tree Tents, Ynys Affalon and Dragon's Egg. We don't regret the decision when we see people and the natural inhabitants literally lapping up the peace that it offers. After all, money can help you catch air but you can't breathe without trees. All those who come and stay use the words “so relaxing" and “switched off" in their reviews. They love chopping logs, making fires, toasting marshmallows, squiggling smores, watching the rushing river and listening to the dawn chorus. (I don't know of many kids who even know what the dawn chorus is. Proof: I've just asked mine and don't care to record the response.) Compared to Norway where they catch, shoot, cook and eat everything –subject of a blog to come – Britain is a country of packaged and ready-made food. However far we have come forward in selling focaccia in Sainsbury's we have slid abjectly with respect to ordinary everyday domestic science.
The challenge of capturing the spirit of the outdoors for those staying at Red Kite Barn is upon us. We Brits no longer only want to huddle up inside and watch films: we have had too many foreign holidays to content ourselves with sand in our 'wiches, or marsh in our mallows. Ironically as we hurtle towards Brexit we have become EuroBrits now preferring al fresco to picnics. We want loggias and hygge in addition to our own Welsh homebred cwtch – and why not... It might be said that whatever Anne of the Famous Five said about eating outdoor food on picnics could be enhanced with a warm shelter and blankets and morph into al fresco when weather is less than clement. So this challenge this is what David has set out to create this week with our intrepid Polish friends George and Martin, ably assisted by Powys' answer to Roger Federer, Martin Gwillum...with helpful touches from Kingston's answer to Richard Rogers, Marky Mark Hillier from H2 Architects.
So here’s the journey so far of the steps we have taken to build our sundowner yoga deck:
1. Powys' answer to Roger Federer excavated the space from the rock face in order to prevent damp rocks touching the back of the barn.
2. A large amount of telegraph poles were delivered to site.
3. Our own tame Poles, Martin and George were also delivered to site.
4. A lot of arm ache cutting niches into the rock face for all Poles concerned.
5. Telegraph poles are lifted into place having been carefully levelled.