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A WOODLAND ESCAPE – FOR THE COST OF A SECONDHAND CAR

A WOODLAND ESCAPE – FOR THE COST OF A SECONDHAND CAR

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THERE’S LOT OF us who nurture the building-a-retreat-in-the-country-someday fantasy. We’re the ones staring wistfully out of the bus or train window on the way to work with thoughts of exposed beams, dry stone walls and kitchen gardens.

Or – at the crisp, clean-lined and contemporary end of the same daydream – we’re thinking clean white box in the countryside. Either way the driving principle’s the same – an escape hatch from the urban – and the imagineers of both visions, rustic and minimalist, share something else too: the idea’s likely to remain  in the realm of fantasy.

Not the Dale family of Wales, who set to building the simplest of natural and affordable homes armed with little more than a chainsaw, a hammer, a chisel and a woodland next door for the raw materials.

“I was not a builder or carpenter,” says Simon Dale, “my experience was only having had a go at one similar house two years before and a bit of mucking around inbetween.”

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“This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and [the help of ] a mate or two.”

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A Hobbity grass-roofed nest built from the limbs of trees and with straw-bale internal walls mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea  – but you can’t argue with the purity of the notion and the romance of fashioning your own home from the natural, unimproved bounty of what you find around you on a piece of land.

“This kind of building is accessible to anyone,” says Simon. “My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.”

It took four months to build, cost around £3000 in materials and took 1000-1500 man hours.

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The house is dug into the hillside for low visual impact and shelter. Stone and mud from diggings was used for retaining walls and foundations etcera. The frame is oak thinnings (spare wood) from the surrounding woodland and the floor, walls and roof are made from straw bales (the walls were then lime-plastered).

Most of the windows, burner, plumbing and wiring were salvaged. Solar panels provide the power for “lighting, music and computing”. says Simon. Water is fed by gravity from a nearby spring and it has a composting toilet.

Simon, wife Jasmine and their two children lived in the house while they worked in the surrounding woodland doing ecological woodland managment and setting up a forest garden.

The Dale’s have since left the house for the use of woodland workers passing through and bought a piece of land as part of the Lammas eco village in West Wales.

You can read more of the Dale’s work at their website — where they offer advice to “inspire and assist anyone who is interested in similar ideas”. 

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simondale.net

The images and information (edited) in the Dale’s story has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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GUY ALLENBY

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Guy is a past design editor of Belle Magazine and was a feature writer and section editor at the Sydney Morning Herald for a number of years. His work has also been published in The Australian newspaper plus a host of magazines internationally. He is the author of a couple of architecture books and a best-selling biography of mind-body medical pioneer Ian Gawler entitled "The Dragon's Blessing". He is the editor of the generalist.

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