Off-grid living in Le Shack – first impressions

Welcome to the 21st blog of the The Olivia Rose Diaries and 2nd blog on The Shack on October 3rd 2020.

Taking time out for a walk up the lane leading to our house

We make a habit of buying properties that are falling apart.

Our previous home, an old stone cottage in the hills in Snowdonia in Wales, was a fine example of this. Every small job turned into a big job once we started looking at it in detail. Many of the more quirky problems arose because the previous owner had a fondness for beach-combing and used odd, wonky bits of driftwood for propping up all manner of structures. The loo, in a bright purple bathroom (one of the first things to go), was balanced precariously on a bit of driftwood that the sea had bleached and moulded into a work of art that was wasted in such a mundane function. We even found a four-foot long piece of it used as a supporting beam for the stairs, which made going up to bed each night something of a wobbly journey.

Now we have had a few days getting to know our new home properly I can see that we shall continue this tradition with Le Shack. The roof of both the shed and the outside loo are leaking. The wooden slats on the side of both these buildings are spaced slightly apart so the water gets in sideways when the wind blows. We found bits of carpet nailed to the side in a bid to keep the rain out, as well as cardboard and even bubble wrap, a commendable make-do-and-mend mentality that unfortunately isn’t working. The greenhouse is also leaking.

The back wall of the cabin is all that remains of the old forge that used to be on this site and it is the reason that the property managed to get planning permission in the first place. It counts as proof that there had been a dwelling here in the past. It has been poorly renovated and there are some sizeable cracks in it, particularly around the woodburner. It is not a load-bearing wall so there is no immediate problem with it, but it will have to be addressed at some point in the future.

These problems haven’t come as too much of a surprise as we bought this plot of land and cabin at the sort of price that makes you wonder what they’re not telling you. No doubt we shall find out over the coming months.

We have renovated our previous two homes and so are not strangers to the DIY process, but this time I feel things are going to be different.

Instead of a conventional home with a sitting room, bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom all we have is one open-plan room, roughly 5 metres wide by 8 metres long, in which to cook, wash, sleep and relax, and it simply doesn’t allow for the traditional approach. No fitted kitchen. No big bath for soaking tired muscles after a long day – somehow I don’t think I’ll squeeze myself into the cauldron. Instead we plan to have one sink that will double up for the dishes and for cleaning teeth. One cupboard for food, one for our clothes. A decent- sized dining room table that will be the multi-purpose hub of our home, used for veg preparation and eating our meals, writing for me and drawing for Michael, jigsaw puzzles for the long winter evenings. It is so simple. So pared back. And so liberating.

So even though there will be plenty of things to improve upon, they shouldn’t be overpowering. Oh, how I hope I don’t look back and regret these words in three months time!

I’ve bought a stack of paint sample pots and I am going to indulge myself by painting what little furniture we do have. The cabin has a distinct lack of windows and is going to be a dark space so I am going to paint us some indoor sunshine.

Now a continuation of our tour. The photo below shows what is known as a ‘summer kitchen’. Calling it a kitchen is slightly misleading as it is just an outside sink with running water.

The summer kitchen

Michael had suggested that we could use it for our washing up in the winter too, thereby making his plumbing job inside the cabin much easier. My eyebrows rose through the roof at this proposal and luckily one evening of after-dinner rain soon persuaded him that washing-up was meant to be done indoors over the winter.

This next pic shows an old chair that had obviously been a favoured spot for enjoying the view by the previous owner.

A favoured seating spot. Spot the photographer.

It’s a bit rickety and designed for somebody about three feet tall, but I try to sit on it at least once a day, just for a few moments. There is a danger of getting completely taken over by all the things that we have to do and forgetting to simply stop and enjoy what we have right now. I close my eyes and feel the evening sun on my face. Listen to the crickets and the rumble of a tractor in the distance and try not to think about the next thing on my list. I have a love-hate relationship with lists. Once I write one, it thinks it owns me.

The weather so far has been kind to us. A bit of rain, but not too much and the temperatures are fine. We got down to 8 degrees one night and woke to find the Pyrenées coated in snow, a pure and pristine white even from this distance. It was unseasonably early and took everyone by surprise, but it had almost gone a day or two later. We have lived for years in the mountains of Wales, firstly the Brecon Beacons and then Snowdonia, but nothing compares to those towering heights on our far horizon.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of how we are spending our time. We’re still in the caravan at the moment but I hope we shall soon be able to sleep in the cabin. That first night will be a Prosecco night!

A field full of cobwebs
Michael building a house for the generator
Our firewood! Three cubic metres to get us started. Now we’ve got to stack it all away.

Take care and see you next week.

M-J

7 thoughts on “Off-grid living in Le Shack – first impressions

  1. Wow, you are both very courageous and we really do wish you well. Hopefully the weather will stay fine enough for you to be able to get your outdoor jobs done before bedding down for the winter, but at least you have a lot of lovely logs to burn now. Can see Michael looking very industrious with the woodwork! Good luck with sorting the inside work also. Cannot wait for the next blog. Our very best wishes.

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  2. Your first photograph somehow so reminds me of our years in France at Le Chalaret. It would be lovely if we could find a way of getting out there to help you, and enjoy the ambiance that you have created – except the rain and the composting loo, although we have got plenty of the former here at the moment. The Stour has already burst its banks and another whole day of heavy rain is on the radar. Keep warm, keep dry and above all keep safe.

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  3. We would love you to be out here too! It is a great sadness that we can’t share this with you, other than by photos etc. Not the same as in person… Don’t fall in the river! MJ

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  4. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your design. Thanks

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