Making yurts is something that happened out of necessity for me, not a love at first sight, as I held them in second place to tipis, lacking a central fire.
Years ago I lived in a community in South Wales, called Tipi Valley,
or simply the “Valley”, as it is called by its own people, a green valley in Carmarthenshire, covered in big oaks, with a small stream running in its centre, separated into three main areas, “the bottom”, “the top”, and “middle earth”. In the years I have lived there it was undergoing some fundamental changes. For years before, the people that lived down the bottom, who were also the people living closest to the earth, only lived in tipis, moving up the hill each summer, they each lived in a field of their own for the duration of summer, usually next to a small garden, in which they grew their food. Each tipi was in a small green ocean of bracken and almost hidden from the rest by hedgerow and oaks, the trees have grown wild and big through the 25 years the community have lived there.
They would move back down into the valley for winter, into two communal fields, The village field and the triangle field, situated at the valley floor between a bog and the small stream that run down from “the top”.
The “Big lodge”, a 25ft tipi was pitched in the middle, a communal space, allowing visitors in, it was where parties were held if the weather was bad, it also served as a sort of screening place for new people, because most people wanting to come and join in and move to the valley, had to spend a period in the big lodge, and through a long period of being harassed by the kids, and interacting with the community their character could be ascertained.
I have always loved tipis, they are alive, having an open fire in the middle, and the constant flow of air coming from under the canvas, makes life in a tipi unique, now days, I find it hard to go into one, because they hold too many memories of another life, I find myself overcome by emotions sitting by their fire, its like visiting a past which still lies too strong inside me.
Tipi valley was going through a period of change, people were slowly moving away from some fundamental laws that kept the community dynamic. For 20 years no field belonged to any one person, although obviously people kind “vibed” a certain place, it was where they built a garden or a workshop, so it was unspoken rule that they had the first dibs on that specific spot, if they chose not to go there in the summer, when everyone moved back up he hill, it was open to anyone else.
In the winter the sunnier spots by the river were held back for people with kids, and the older generation, the other side of the field was referred to sometimes as the “north pole”, as the north facing slope would not get any sun somedays, leaving the frost of winter on the tipi canvases, it was an unspoken way in which the community looked after each other, the stronger young people took to the less desired spots without having to be told, the pregnant, the old, and the single mothers got the morning sun. 25 years of living in community has taught them a tribal system, and in Tipi valley I could see how easy it would be for us all to come back into the the fold of the tribal, rituals and organisation was born naturally of necessity, living in tipis in the green wet hills of Wales.
But things were changing, to begin with the whole of the land across the river was in the process of being bought, which opened up the whole of the other side of the valley, and the south facing side at that. Much more than that was taking place though, yurts have arrived to the valley, and more and more people were living in them. Living in a tipi was still deemed purer, but years with acrid pine smoke and kids, nappies going black by hanging inside on the washing line because they froze outside in winter, had taken toll. The convenience of a yurt was alluring, living without drips and smoke, not needing to be as fussy about one’s wood were some of the reasons.
So I guess it stuck with me, I have always lived in a tipi, and seen yurts as secondary, felt like they were for people when they get soft. It is not that anyone can discredit them, having small kids you need to be dragging through the bog on dark afternoons and arriving home to a wet and smokey tipi could discourage one.
I have this dyslexia for meanings, and in regards to yurts, this dyslexia deems them as the harbinger of a more sedentary life, because now people started living in yurts, and that first unspoken rule that everyone should lived in a tipi has changed, other things started changing too, to start with people stopped going up the hill in the summer, something that was an underlying concept in the community, that followed with people not moving at all, and building cabins on given spots and claiming it as theirs, with claiming a spot came a more territorial approach, and the underlying flow has been disturbed. For a few golden years the two great tents of two great nomadic peoples stood side by side, yet for me it was the yurts that started the community on its sedentary phase.
It was like 4000 years of evolution distilled into a period of three years, the years I have lived in the valley.
I always seem to live in places when they change, I even thought for a while, in some sort of paranoia, that maybe it’s actually me that change them, but that would be crazy.
So from then on yurts stand for me as the reason for the decline of the warrior spirit, warriors live in tipis, and single mums and the elderly in yurts, and living in them means the end to nomadism, its doesn’t totally compute yet its an imprint that stayed with me, it was my direct experience.
Architecturally, a yurt seems to me like the fuller expression, there is nothing else like it. One can see the progression of concepts, starting with laying straight poles on each other, covering those with skins or felts, historically the first and simplest shelters were like that, and the tipi is the epitome of that initial design, given two smoke flaps to direct the wind away from entering the smoke hole, given a shorter cut at the back to sustain it with winds so it can always be pitched with its back towards the direction with the strongest winds.
A tipi is designed around the fire, not the other way around, and that makes it the best open-fire tent. Living with an open fire does not compare to anything else. Its a symbol for transformation or even the human heart, and having it right in front of you means you have to keep in touch with you personal transformation. It keeps a person a live, the food always tastes better, the smell of hazelnut wood, the crackling of pine against big oak feeders that burn into glowing red ambers. Having the most dynamic of elements right in front of your bed, there really isn’t anything like it.
From that basic straight pole shape, lying on each other in a cone came the second evolution, when someone took those straight poles, but raised them up on vertical ones, creating a straight wall shape, something that tipis lack.
Having straight poles with another set of poles set on top of them at an angle is very unstable, unless the vertical poles were driven into the ground and so creating a hut rather than a movable tent. That shape could not have laster for too long not as part of the life of a moving people. In order to give this form stability someone came up with the trellis walls, the first step must have been to lay the vertical poles at an angle and have them cross each other for strength through triangulation, and later tying the sticks to each other on permeant basis. Having the sticks tied like that meant that the shape again could not be moved, yet in a stroke of genius someone drilled a hole through both sticks at a regular spacings, meaning the wall is collapsable, so that new shape could be transported and erected again with ease every time. We can say that even architecturally the yurt in its design process must have had a short sedentary phase already, but now with the trellis it was movable again.
The new wall shape fold down neatly, and hold their shape when erected as long as they are held by a tension band or rope all around. This is how the yurt came into being. Finished with a central wheel, so restricting the roof rafters from being able to push further, and eliminating the need for trying them together, each rafter was held in its place by a square socket in the wheel, the top of the wheel was given a small dome that continued the bend, the bracing in it created a sun like design, at least with the mongols and the Turkmen.
And it was given a wooden door, in a collapsible frame.
It is really a work of art, each part is integral to all the others, and all holding together in tension. It is much more transportable because the lengths of the pieces are shorter. Although it would need a camel to carry a full yurt. But one did not end up with long poles dragging behind like the tipi.
There were some earlier forms for the wheel, of a circle of sticks that were tied together in a circle, in a ring of knots, so creating a wheel without one. But having to hoist the whole roof in one go was heavy, and only allowed for smaller tents.
The other form was dispensing with the trellis, used by the Sahsevan in their tents, with only the straight ribs going into a wheel, the Turkmen also had a similar shaped tent, one that was made out of old yurt rafters, and was either a cooking tent or used by poorer people who could not afford a trellis tent.
There was a village called kotuk, in which the Turkmen took that tent type called a gotdikme, they have given that tent shape longer rafter, and so it can have a wooden door now, the rafters were straight for the whole wall section, and then bent to create the roof, It is a very elegant tent, but again it created longer roof poles that created issues with transportation and again it needed to be pegged to the ground.
That is why the yurt seems to me to be the most complete architectural statement, the most advanced, and I do not only refer to tents because, timber framing, or even houses, never got anywhere close. Keeping to a simple a frame design, sticking to the straight poles balancing each other with some cross bracing, it is as if yurts have taken tent architecture into a circular dimension, while every other building form was still stuck in straight lines. It is complete and elegant, nothing more can be added, and nothing can be taken away. It is easily movable, yet its a craftsmanship feat of engineering, needing skill to bend each part after heating it in a dung fired stove.
There are two main yurt types, the Mongol and the Turkic, the first is usually made out of pine these days, and has straight roof poles, and the other uses willow in most cases, and has bent roof poles. There are other differences in the wheel construction and the trellis.
There is not as much known about nomadic tents as one would hope, Peter Alford Andrews, who we got to know and friend, is a humble Scholar who has spent years documenting nomadic tents in various locations in the middle east and central Asia. His work is unparalleled. He made it his life mission to preserve the knowledge of nomadic tents.
His work is also, even if indirectly, the reason for choosing the bent wood shape for what has become – the UK bentwood yurt.
In Felt Tent and Pavilions he takes us through the whole history of yurts, from their origin through a voyage of thousands of years into their interaction with the princely tradition. One follows the journey of man through structure, taking the nomads of Asia through a voyage of unparalleled romance, and change.
From being tribal groups, that lived in a special type of camp, with symbolic and ceremonial rules for each aspect of those enclosures, to being the rulers of empires, at which stage they also owned cities, yet a traditional thread was kept, a crimson trellis tent, a yurt in a colour which the ruler kept for himself, pitched in small city of other tent forms, awnings and pavilions, with cloth screens and walls, market places and harems.
Timur who saw himself as Genghis Khan’s heir, although not a direct descendant, still tried to invoke the former’s legacy, his tents were works of art,
It was as if the nomadic tradition was now elated to a symbolic form, poetic design, the trellis tent, the owning of which as always deemed to mean wealth and social standing, especially symbolised by the trellis, because that is what differentiated it from other tent types, was still kept as the seat of royalty, it was no longer just a tent, it was a symbol, or maybe we should say it was the home of nobility, because the seat of the emperor was usually in another sort of tent.
As if even being emperors, the nomadic roots we still taken to mean home.
Every part of the nomadic tradition took took deeper meaning with those rulers, the camp itself and its regulation, the nomadic was revered as a sort of poem of being, and each aspect was taken into a new high, with built in symbology, and meaning, the use of rich material, and design. The nomadic tradition has intersected with glamour.
Ruy Gonzales in his embassy to the court of Timur writes about enclosures and tents, describing 11 different enclosures or small camps separated by a street. Four of those enclosures supposedly were reserved for Timur and his household. In each of these camps there stood a trellis tents, a yurt, some as big that it used 200 rafters, which I guess will make it at-least 10m big, but potentially up to 15m or even 20m, although I will not think it was that big because smaller spacing on the trellis was usually used than what we are used to in the UK today.
Each of those camps belonging to Timur, his wives or his family was made in a different colour and style, with his own tents the most beautifully adorned, golden thread and arabesque work, windows and screens, the camp pitched in a circular plan. And if I make it out right, it seemed in some of the enclosures we also see adjoined yurts, but I cant not totally make heads or tails of all the descriptions, and in fact I would defer anyone interested in the subject to read Peters books, because no one has done the subject as much credit as he, and even trying to quote from his own work, I can not come close to describing the grandeur.
Describing Timur’s move to Bagh-i Shamal in Samarkand in the spring of 1397 he draws attention to how deep heavenly symbolism was brought into the life and court of Timur – “At the beginning of spring, when the sun in Pisces had moved from the southern half of the zodiacal sphere to the northern side, he occupied the noble and felicitous place of pleasure, and fastened the guy ropes of the imperial enclosure from under the Pisces to the power of the Ram.
In that Peter Alford Andrew draws our attention to the importance of astrology and symbolism, and how the heavenly and the earthly intermixed in the life and moves of this great tented nation.
Although they had cities of their own, the Moghul emperors in turn, direct descendants of Timur, still preferred to live in an encampment of tents, taken to even greater heights of richness and sophistication now, one their nomadic forefathers would never imagine, more royal tents and enclosures, moving with the seasons to the place of their choosing. It was said it took a thousand people three days to put up some of those cities of tents, It was like Burning Man festival in Nevada, a modern day art festival that comes into the desert every year and builds a whole city just to take it away, that is if we were to draw a modern day equivalent to allow us to try and understand what it must have looked like. Unique because it was a city of tents, with a richness never seen before or ever after, Yet still connected though an umbilical cord to a nomadic tradition, with the trellis tent, as the actual navel.
That Splendour was reflected best in the court tents. Each of the Moghul emperors commissioned his as a show piece, almost as if he tried to outdo his predecessor’s. The peacock throne, heavenly tents, canopies and pavilions, their tents bejewelled and embodied, with mythical creatures and scenery, sewn in gold thread, and speckled with precious stones.
The royal tents were made in crimson colour. We can try to imagine their lives, their love of art and architecture, the poetry and ceremony, we can see that reflected best in Shah Jahan, most notably remembered perhaps for the Taj Mahal that houses the tomb of his wife. Yet with all the riches and architectural genius, the amazing stone temples, they still loved tents, it reminds one of what the huns used to say about tents and stone structures, they say buildings made out of stone function only as tombs, and would not go into them, for them home was a tent.
The Moghuls loved to travel, although their nomadism was more like a sort of tourism now, they moved their city to special places in their empire that they loved, although obviously ruling the empire also meant they had to be in certain places, and fight wars, but they had spots in which they like to camp, to hunt, and hold court, moving with need or for pleasure, under the guidance of the stars themselves. We can see in their camps the nomadic form elated to a ceremonial high.
We can say that Glamping was invented by them.
Going back for a minute to their court tents, I would like to focus on what I think is their most amazing yurt palace. We have seen they had adjoining yurts for their own use, Gonzales wrote how in Timur’s royal enclosure he had a series of adjoining yurts, that is if I understand his description correctly.
The most amazing yurt palace though belongs to Humayun, who was somewhat of a dreamer I would say, rather than an organised ruler. An astrologer, he created his court tent as a miniature of the actual cosmos, built with 12 yurts in a circle representing each of the zodiac signs, covered by a larger canopy that was symbolic for the celestial sphere itself, it was called the trellis tent of the Zodiac, Peter Alford Andrews quotes Kwandamir in his book Felt Tent and Pavilions writing about this amazing tent palace:
“And among his inventions another is a trellis tent, which comprises twelve towers, to the number of the signs of the zodiac. And these towers are contrived with windows so that the light of the stars of fortune can shine through their holes. And the star of beauty of its arrangement and form shone on the pages of the events of the universe: the light of fortune shining through its windows, couriers of power hastening from its doors.
And another trellis tent like the sphere of spheres, which encloses the sphere of the fixed stars, surrounded the trellis tent on all sides, so as to to fall on it like a cover. And just as the crystalline sphere is free from the patterns of the fixed stars and planets this trellis tent also is bare of windows and trellises. Whenever they wish, they can separate the outer trellis tent from the inner, like the parts of the moving palace, and carry it from site to site. And this enchanted trellis tent is also coloured in several taints. A high platform has been constructed, divided into several fine pieces, so they can put those pieces next to one another whenever they wish; and when the trellis has been raised above it it finial, is lifted to the zenith of Capella”.
One can not conceive a more amazing yurt palace, so although Humayun was perhaps not the best at keeping his empire together, he did take the trellis tent, the yurt, all the way up to the heavens, and with that he completed the journey those amazing tents took in the lives of nomads, into a new position, an unimaginable romance of mythical proportions.
Unfortunately I feel like I better stop talking about the history of yurts as I am constantly unsure if I have got my informations correct, quoting Peter Alford Andrews seems to only belittle his giant, and the more I try to talk about the historical references the more likely I am to make a mistake. I have tried to make his argument a little more available to us all, in order to dramatise the significance of the yurt, yet I can not do his work justice, I feel that Felt Tents and Pavilions is a must read for anyone who wants to understand yurts in full, and his Nomadic Tent Types in the Middle East, should be a bible to any yurt maker.
The story of yurt making in the UK really started with Hal Wynn Jones, it was he that inspired a whole family of yurt makes. Being the first to make yurts in the UK, and also a good friend of Peter Alford Andrews and perhaps thus building on his work in documenting nomad tent types, it was Hall that gave the UK the bent wood yurt. These days people refer to it as the British yurt, which makes me laugh, its like some kind of Brexit debate, “we make local, hand made British yurts”, but it shows that this traditional craft is now practiced by local crafts people, and in a way these make some of the world’s nicest yurts, although I need to admit that the Karakalpak yurt makers have made much nicer yurts than we all do.
Hall taught a whole line of people how to make them in turn, and those have become the pioneers of the yurt making movement. People like Steve Plaice, and Toby Fairlove. Hal also made the first yurt palace in the UK, by inventing the Multi-yurt, its a shape the joins yurts like flower petals, each is two thirds of a yurt, open to the inside, something like the Zodiac tent of Humayun, except that the yurts are not completed on the inside facing part.
Toby Fairlove made a couple of those multi yurts with Hal’s permission, I remember seeing his first one on his website whilst we were still living in Israel, I told Lucy I would love to sew the cover for that yurt, and luckily enough when we arrived in the UK, we wrote to Toby, who brought his multi-yurt to a field in Wales where we lived, and we made his cover. We had to use a tractor instead of scaffolding in the middle. And so began our own love affair with yurt palaces.
Another person who we need to thank for the invention of the UK yurt type is someone who gave us the distinct canvas cover design. In the first days of yurt making in the UK, Alan Wenham, who later established Albion Canvas, was the designer of most of the canvas cover architecture we have come to know today, the distinct star cap, the way the tension band was made, turn buttons and D rings, sliding bar buckles for tension bands, and the whole construction of the roof and walls and their respective tying systems, he kind of invented of perfected them all.
Through the years as a company we possibly made over 500 new or replacement yurt covers, which just gives one the idea of how many yurts actually exist in the UK currently. We did take yurt canvas cover technology a little further ourselves, perfecting seams and certain elements, we also taught many other yurt makers how to sew, and although this resulted in us loosing business, it also saw the level of yurt covers in the UK reach its current standard.
Another person who contributed a lot to yurt making in the UK, was Paul King, and the fact he wrote the complete yurt handbook, which took an amazing amount of people into making their own yurts, simply by following his instructions, for years we used to laugh at this phone call that we kept getting, “hi, I have just made my 16ft yurt following Paul Kings book, can you make a cover for me?”. This book also saw the rise of an independent line of yurt makers.
There are others of course, many others, companies like yurtshop, who earlier on perfected the sawn wood yurt, through the use of spindle moulders and combination machines, making what I used to consider the best sawn wood yurt. Each area in the UK seemed to have his own local yurt maker, or it used to have one, because with the advent of online marketing, some companies came to dominate through google advertising.
It meant that some of the older yurt makers, who were the pioneers, relying on word to mouth and making sometimes a yurt a month, suddenly had no orders.
But yurt making is a tough business, because although it could be good money at times, revenue isn’t exactly assured, everyday a new yurt maker sets up, and competition seems to take out another company. So the companies who managed to survive had to diversify, and many of those have gone into yurt hire, seeing the rise of some of the most amazing yurts in the world. Big 42ft yurts, barn yurts, the country is now full of them, the biggest of them all to my knowledge is a 60ft yurt made by Castle Yurts. A giant wedding yurt.
Obviously even though we have been part of that world for so long, I do not know all the players, and I know that each company or person in this sector, brought something unique, they created the way that festival tent hire is run, the way campsites are designed. It’s a strange family of tent makers that seem to have changed the way people go on holidays. I do not think there is another country in the western world that has so many tent maker companies in this way. So the story of yurts in the UK is also very unique.
I think yurts came to Tipi Valley were I was first introduced to them, and the tent makers of tipi valley soon learned to make their own. Irish Steve who was a self taught tent maker, became the authority in the valley for yurts, it was him who taught me how to make them, although in truth, what he said to me when asked if he will teach me was “I’m not going to teach you, I’m just going to tell you what to do”. And so he did. I made my first yurt frame in under two weeks, setting a sort of record in the Valley, but everything was all ready, the wood was sawn, and all I had to do is follow Steve’s instructions. I kind of hated yurts because of everything I said at the beginning, so I never tried to remember everything I did. These days when I teach others, or work with my volunteers and they ask me to teach them, I just follow in Irish Steve’s footsteps, and tell them “I’m not going to teach you I’m just going to tell you what to do”, it seems to aggravate them to no ends, but I feel that in this way I honour my own teacher, even if he didn’t mean to teach me, it’s my attempt to impart some of the values I got from this great man.
It wasn’t until years later, when we were on the road and I decided to try and make another yurt that I needed to remember it all, but it was body knowledge, and so I realised that he taught it to me in a deeper way. I did have to reinvent the cover part, because we never made a cover for that first yurt, as we used a second hand cover from a bigger yurt. I had to teach myself how to make them from scratch, I couldn’t even remember totally all the different parts and how they came together, tents were just what we lived in, I never gave them the attention due. So I would say that yurt I made on the road was really the first yurt I made, I bought nothing to make the frame, it was kind of a challenge I gave myself, I used rope I found in a scrap yard, and coppiced beech. I stole a metal wheel from some abandoned building, to use as a jig to bend the ash on, and using an ads I hewn the planks out of an actual tree.
By then we lived in trucks, and although we still held the dream of living on the earth in tents again one day, I would say I preferred life on the road, and so I gifted that yurt to a friend, I felt more at home in a truck.
With the introduction of yurts and tipis to the UK, a new type of campsite and tourism was also born. None of us ever imagined that the whole of the holiday industry would follow suit, once upon a time we were hippies in a field, living under canvas, no one thought our tipis and yurts will pop up by castles and estates, that every person who retired to the country side would have their own little yurt encampment. Yet this is exactly what happened.
Talking to Jeni, who I lived with for over 7 years, one day in a small Agriturismo in Italy, I was asking her about Tipi Valley which was were we both lived together. We were speaking about the core mechanisms and the driving forces behind the community, what she said really opened my eyes, because I used to romanticise it a lot. She said the thing with Tipi Valley was that it was kind of funded (not founded) by the government, because everyone (or almost everyone) used to get child benefits or were on the dole. It was not really a self sustainble community on that level, I guess when I lived there and not being from the UK, I couldn’t get my money this way, so I kind of missed out what was going on.
So in order not to romanticise community living too much, although we lived in an amazing reality back then, with kids running naked into the small stream, and older people waking up in a wintery morning to rush into the snow, with smokey fires and communal meals. The question is about living on the land in a sort of direct symbiotic relationship. Indigenous cultures are now all conquered, and there is a sort of question if going back and living in tents, like native Americans or Mongols, is actually a way forward. In my mind in this “government funded experiment into tribal living” as Jeni put it to me, we have lived in a closer relationship with the land, the energetic rules of being a tribe seem to have arisen by themselves. A community that was not governed by any set of rules, yet followed guidelines of common sense.
Now years later the story of yurts and tents in the UK has moved on into a new format, it’s always a story of certain individuals, and how they affected the whole. Some of those individuals took the tents away from Tipi Valley and into festivals, into their own farms. And a new industry was made, maybe it is a sort of payback to mainstream society, from a group of people who lived on its benefits, maybe their gift was those tents. Yet with the advent of yurt campsites, and festival tent hire, the world of living in tents as a way to going back to nature started to disappear.
We ended up with a multi million industry, for people to go on holiday. Glamping was a word that was made out of two words, camping and glamour. It is not completely clear why it took hold so strong in the UK, after all the weather is not really that great for camping. Yet this new trend of camping in style seems to hit a chord. Living and working on a sustainable tourism programme in Italy I say that the way the country side is perceived is very different to the way we approach it in the UK. In the UK the countryside is seen from the upper classes point of view, even by people who actually work in it every day, so our holidays look something like an estate owner surveying his estate, we go to take the air, and walk the dogs, we want to live in style in a sort of mini estate, on which the grass is manicured, and where we can go back to nature like on a safari.
But are we really going back to nature?, in Italy, having tried to convince endless people that sustainable tourism in tents is the way to develop the countryside, I came across a very different approach, to the Italians the countryside is not where you go to holiday, its where you grandmother lives, its the symbol of poverty. Trying to convince them that they can keep their farms from falling into ruin, and diversify is hard work, because for them a holiday should be on the beach, eating good food in piazza. Not in a tent, and they do not want to go back to nature, they still try to run away from it, yet it was the Italians and especially living in the time capsule of the Abruzzo mountains that taught us the solution – Peasant farming
Another things that has made the countryside so illusive and desired in the UK is that our building and planing permission laws do not allow to build directly in open countryside. In Italy anyone with enough agricultural land can build almost any size house, so the restriction has meant people can not live in the countryside, and so it is more desired. I think and more integrated approach to going back to nature and tents, would be to develop the countryside in integration, using Glamping as sort of doorway to living and farming in the country, and to change our planning law to allow people to build directly in the open countryside.
Currently Glamping has peaked into such an extent, that people can own a second home, and put it to work for them earning money as a mini holiday resort, the touristic offer has to constantly get better, and so people expect much more these days for the same amount of money, and competition is very high, hot tubs and saunas, treatments and spas to name a few of the elements we have come to expect. I think that following the money has led this industry somewhat astray. I would have it go back to nature.
To me the whole romance of living in a tent is about the tribal, the primal touch, of living closer to the elements, we seem to have followed suit in the footsteps of the Moguls and now we have built yurt palaces, and glamour, people get married in massive yurts that may shame all the emperors of central Asia, except of course Humayun, as no one can shame his yurt palace.
I would have us all consider a different direction, in which those small campsites take us back to a feeling, one which we need so badly, the feeling of the camp, of being a part of a tribe, of belonging to the land, I would see Glamping go back to nature, in a sustainable system for rural development, because those are actually our own traditions.
Small sites with three yurts, allowing a family to focus on organic farming, and creating what I call a “silent engine” that gives them extra income, yet not taking all their focus. I would see a deeper integration with tradition and local identity too, farming ancient grains, and local food veriaeties and I would see those campsites as a window that allows visitors to enter into the countryside through a land based living approach, this could be achieved if we in the UK would wake up and realise that we no longer own an empire, and open up our planning law to more small holdings that can develop the open countryside to actually being lived in.
Our own history is not one of being nomads, our roots in the UK are of being peasant farmers, when we lived in community in nature, but although peasant farmers, makes one think of poor medieval people running around barefoot in muddy fields, it was actually a way of life of the highest magic, an integration with the land, in which we have created land races, where we took wheat cultivation to such a high, we made special varieties, we created those through selection, we raised animals in such a way that they had the most special flavours, whole parts of Europe were kept in such a way that our foods and lives were taken into an art form of living in nature, I will try to go into peasant farming in a dedicated chapter, so as not to repeat myself would leave that part now. So what I am saying is that it is amazing we have taken the nomadic tradition and their tents, to help us create a more movable and sustainable approach.
But the deeper truth is that it happened because the planning law is still set, not allowing us to really go back into the country side, and farming, I was on the phone yesterday with an amazing group. They are trying to convince the council to sell them one of their farms, and because its a question of money, the council will prefer if someone came along and turn that farm into a row of holiday cottages, than to have a group of modern peasant farmers take it over.
Yet I think the only real avenue of real rural development is by going back to that art form, and in truth I think that nomadic tents will need to be phased off into more local structures with time, I think that thatched huts are actually the greatest living space for the UK, allowing one to have an open fire and keep warm, they are superior to yurts on that level and reflect the landscape better.
I feel that we are at a cross road now, and that Glamping has gone as far as it can, and now we need to create a new integration with small scale organic farming, councils have woken up, they say in many cases, that its enough with the campsites, some areas have a Glamping site every 2 miles. So we are not really going back to nature, or working on rural development in any way, we are just keeping the countryside from being lived in, we do not help farmers to find new ways to make a living from the land, we have just postponed finding a solution, so although some amazing sites and projects have come out of all of this, I think its time to take it to the next level. To go back to the traditional, and the local, to go back to how people used to live in the countryside only a century ago, and learn from their ways before they are forever lost.