Hearing your stories about the adventures you get up to with our stoves is one of favourite parts of what we do. Talking to the first ever Traveller Stove customers, who've been heating their converted bus with a Traveller since we first designed them, or the people wild camping in snowy Norway with their Frontier and a tipi - that's what makes it all worthwhile for us.
We thought you'd love to hear their stories too, so we're planning a series of interviews with the interesting people we talk to every day.
If you've got a great story and you'd like to get involved, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject 'My stove story'.
This week we're talking to Tamsyn, who's recently fitted a Fintan Stove in the incredible yurt she lives in.
How long have you been living in your yurt?
We moved here in April 2015.
What made you decide to go off-grid?
Tamsyn: Back then, I was working really long hours and doing quite a stressful job and had lost perspective I guess. Even though we’re both very low maintenance and didn’t waste money on a lavish lifestyle, we were just renting a little flat but still struggling to keep afloat. It was a treadmill and it was wearing me down. The only time I felt really happy was when I was camping – any kind of camping. We’d been glamping in a yurt a couple of times but mostly I loved wild camping - with no tent, just a hammock or a tarp.
Paul: Originally we were just going to get a yurt as weekend retreat. We figured if we could buy a cheap one and set it up on the little bit of land that my folks owned, we could go there for weekends and have some cheap holidays. In early 2014, I started preparing the land, researching ideas and watching eBay for cheap second hand yurts! The idea started evolving. If we actually lived there, we could escape the financial pressures we were under.
Tamsyn: In the end it was a no-brainer for us. I’d always said that when my daughter was ready to leave home I’d break out of the rut I’d been in. In Autumn 2014, she moved out and so we just decided to go for it. We found a bargain yurt from Ebay, I quit my job, we gave up the flat and went to work in a ski resort for the winter with a view to setting the yurt up when we got back in the Spring.
Was it a difficult process? What were some challenges you faced?
Paul: Yeah it was REALLY difficult. Practically and physically – the land we’re on is the side of a steep hill - inaccessible and overgrown with brambles taller than me. To put the inaccessibility into perspective, I’ve had to built 87 big steep steps from pallets and backfilled tyres just to get up to the yurt. Everything has had to be carried up by hand.
Apart from the physical side of building we’ve had to figure out how to get all the essentials in place - water, heat, light. Stuff we’d never had to think about before.
Tams: The thing I find the most difficult is that we still have a foot in both worlds. Given a chance we’d both quite happily be recluses up here, wandering around in our pants...but we both still have to work and it can be hard to do that whilst living like this. It’s not an easy way to live. Everything takes longer and is more complicated – cooking, getting heat & light, trying to keep things clean (including ourselves!) The shower and bath are outside so in the winter you have to be REALLY determined! The bath takes hours to fills as we heat water over the open fire, and the shower is kind of unreliable – so often it’s a kettle and a bucket instead. Most of the time, we look like we’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards – which isn’t far from the truth. It doesn’t usually matter though as not many people see us. I don’t look in a mirror for days which is refreshing! But sometimes I have to face the world and then I have to try not to have twigs in my hair or mud in caked in my ears. It’s a real treat to go somewhere with electric once in a while so I can use an indoor shower, a hairdryer and maybe wear girl clothes.
Luckily I have a job where I can work from home on a laptop most of the time – but as we don’t have electric or wifi that’s not as easy as it sounds. I have to go to a friend or relative’s house which isn’t ideal but it’s manageable.
Another challenge which might bother other folks more than us is existing so close to nature. Our kitchen is really just a bit of a lean-to (sorry, Paul!) so we spend a fair bit of time cleaning up animal and bird activity! Sometimes in the morning there are so many little footprints and droppings on the worktop that you could make a pretty interesting documentary on tracking. There was a particularly cheeky squirrel that used to get into the yurt when we were out too. He’d bugger off when he heard us coming back and would just leave a slightly warm, greasy indent on the duvet where he’d been chilling. Started taking the mick and burying nuts in the bed in the end though so we had to take action!
And it’s no place to live if you’re scared of spiders either. They’re everywhere but we leave them alone to deal with the other insects. But there was big one that made a funnel web in a pair of my jeans (I wasn’t wearing them at the time). I couldn’t deal with that one. I carried the jeans outside with some BBQ tongs and left if for Paul. He’s not phased by them.
Your home is amazing! Did you build everything yourself?
Tams: Yup, Paul built everything. Every. Single. Thing. By hand. By himself. Putting up the yurt was the easy bit. We did it together in a day. Everything else has been Paul, single-handed. He has a seasonal business where he works every day from Easter until November. He has 4 months off so he can dedicate his time to the yurt in the winter. During the summer we can get stuff done in the lighter evenings too.
Paul: I started in January 2014. I had to clear about an acre using a strimmer and a handsaw and then flatten a big enough section to put up a yurt. I must’ve dug out and moved tons of earth by hand. I worked there every spare minute of every day until it got too dark to carry on. Then once the plot was prepared, I had to start bringing up the materials to start building which was really hard work too.
We didn’t have much money so almost everything is scavenged. Old tyres for the yurt base and the steps were free from local garages, we’ve got loads of wood from skips. Local builders were useful too as we relieved them of quite a lot of stuff that was bound for the tip. We got an old bath and kitchen units from a builder renovating a house. One day I was out in the woods gathering kindling and found an old Belfast sink, half buried. It was bloody heavy to get it back to the yurt, mind.
Any tips for someone thinking about doing something similar?
Paul: Planning is really important...having said that I’m more of a do-er than a planner so a lot of what I’ve made has been the result of trial and error. I could’ve saved myself quite a bit of time and effort if I’d planned more, to be honest.
When it comes to a yurt, never underestimate the importance of waterproofing and weatherproofing. Water will get in ANYWHERE. Again, that’s the voice of experience talking. However waterproof you think you are... you’re probably not.
Tams: There are loads of good Facebook pages and groups created by folks living off-grid or alternative lifestyles. It’s an incredible resource for solving your problems or sharing experiences. Pinterest is great for clever ideas too.
If you don't mind, tell us a bit about your daily routine - chopping wood, lighting the fire etc.
Tams: A lot depends on what time of year it is and how much light we have. It’s winter now so one of us will get up early, maybe 6, to get the stove going until it’s warm and light enough to get out of bed! Then coffee and breakfast cooked on the stove.
I usually have to go to work so I’m out of the picture pretty quickly. If I’m not working then I’ll do yurt chores while it’s light – it’s hard to keep it clean...we live in the woods after all. Maybe I’ll take the dog to the beach or sometimes have a cooking day when I’ll make big batches of food which we can stick in an obliging freezer. Sometimes I’ll tart up a bit of furniture for the yurt or the land – just for a bit of extra colour. I’m in a band, so evenings can be busy, but if I’m not gigging or rehearsing, then winter evenings are for hibernating. Fire on, dinner and then we can watch a DVD (if the batteries are charged!) or play cards or a board game. Just the usual stuff really.
Once the Winter is out of the way, we’ll be outdoors most of the time while it’s light. We’ll cook on the open fire and eat outside and just generally potter about when we’re not working. We have loads of bird feeders around so we’ll sit and watch them for ages. We have a pair of woodpeckers who will turn up if we’re quiet and still enough. A robin who will fly right into the yurt and chirp until we get him some food. Across the valley we can watch the buzzards and crows having their daily aerial battles. We used to have a pheasant who’d come for breakfast every day. He’d eat from our hands or even nick food from our plates, but since we got the dog, he keeps his distance.
Paul: Well, my routine has changed recently as both my parents are now bed-bound so I see to them a couple of times a day and do their shopping and stuff. Their cottage is close by so it’s quite symbiotic as I can charge our leisure batteries, use the washing machine and keep supplies in their freezer, while looking after them. I can also run a (really really long) hose from their garden to top up our water butts and containers which I have to do every week or so. Apart from that I’ll be chopping wood, doing maintenance and whatever projects I’ve got on the go. This winter I redid the kitchen floor, built a new shed and moved the compost loo. It’s all very physical work and I’m sometimes up and down the steps 40 times in a day.
From Easter, I’ll be back at work every day (I’ve got a little shop in the village) so I’ll have to fit everything in around that. Most of my yurt-time will be spent gardening. I inherited my Dad’s love for flowers and I’ll be looking after his garden now that he can’t manage it, as well as working on our little patch of land. I think that’s what gives me the most sense of achievement and pride – sitting in the garden surrounded by flowers and the things that I’ve built and just surveying our little bit of paradise
What do you find are the benefits of having a stove?
Oh blimey, it’s essential. We absolutely couldn’t manage without it. We needed something light and compact because of space in the yurt and the access so the Traveller was perfect. Even on the coldest of days, we can have the yurt warm and toasty in about 15 minutes. Apart from heat, it helps to keep damp at bay – which can be a huge problem. It’s ideal for cooking too as you can lift up the lid and get direct heat or with the lid down you can cook more slowly. The side plates are great for keeping stuff warm. Mostly we cook outside in the kitchen area to stop the fabric inside smelling of food, but if it’s cold out, then cooking on the stove is the perfect option. Nothing nicely on a winter morning than doing coffee, porridge and croissants all on the stove without having to venture outside.
Actually this week it’s been especially cold. Minus 3 outside and only a few degrees above zero in the yurt – not much fun, tbh. But in 10 minutes the stove makes it bearable – no, not bearable...bloomin lovely and cosy and like you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
And finally - what's the best part of living in a yurt?
Oh so many things!
But I guess the overriding thing is being connected to nature. Being a part of it all – the weather, the wildlife. There’s nothing like it. Just to be able to step outside, day or night and be surrounded in every direction. Immersed. Watching the constant changes of the seasons. Falling asleep to the sound of owls and foxes, waking up to the sound of pheasants and the dawn chorus. At night being struck dumb by the beauty of the constellations or the Milky Way or a particularly spectacular moon.
Having a bath, under the stars with a glass of wine, listening to the sounds of the woods and the river in the distance. Or a nice quiet summer’s day doing chores around the place. Wandering around the garden just in my pants or doing yoga on the lawn. It’s heaven
Then by contrast, being all warm and cosy inside, listening to a storm raging outside. The wind in the trees sounds like a roaring ocean and the rain lashing the yurt can be deafening. You don’t get the effect when you’re in a house – you barely notice it. But in the yurt, it’s really exciting – and a bit nail-biting as you’re never quite sure what damage you’re going to have to fix the next day!
You know what else. I love the change that it makes in us and the people who come to visit us. For some of them it’s like stepping out of reality. There’s a simplicity that’s hard to find in normal life.
You just can't be stressed here. Don't get me wrong... you can get annoyed! Like when the water freezes and you can't have a wash or when the mice get into the cupboards and chew their way into yer porridge... but you deal with it and then move on. The stresses of the world get left at the bottom of the slope.
After the interview, as snow was sweeping across the UK, we had this message from Tamsyn:
'Minus 5 here today and we can’t get out of the lane. Safe to say we’re in love with our stove at the minute!'.
Tamsyn, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It sounds like you and Paul are living the off-grid dream and you made it happen with your own two hands! We hope this story inspires more people who've been dreaming of getting off-grid to make it happen.
If you're reading this and you'd like to share your story, please do email us at email@example.com with the subject line 'My stove story'. We'll send you one of our amazing 7-day Eco Fuel Boxes to say thank you!
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