All posts by IntentSpirits

Canvas Troubleshooting

 

If you have canvas tents or are thinking of getting some, you need to know something about canvas care as well as looking after tents in general. Some site owners avoid tents because of the maintenance – one should remember that they are tents after all and you can’t just put them up and not think about them when the Weather Gods are playing or let them sit unheated through the winter. If you want something with lower maintenance, best go for something more solid like a hut but personally, I think the romance, beauty and simplicity of nomadic tents, such as tipis and yurts, is well worth the effort.

tipi drip strip

Looking up in a tipi

So canvas…first I would advise you NOT go for cheap canvas however tempting it seems. A lot of the imported Mongolian yurts are made from a heavy canvas which is made for the dry climate of Mongolia but doesn’t adapt well to damp European climates and the canvas will quickly leak. Our main work is making yurt covers, and have re-covered many a Mongolian yurt barely in its infancy.

spirits intent

Sewing yurt covers

The usual canvas used in the UK is 12oz FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed) poly/cotton, Before 2007 it was cotton that was more popular, but the rot-proofing agent used in the proofing was banned, so a new one was used which was actually water-soluble! It meant that there was a batch of bad canvas around that time and we heard horror stories of canvas rotting after a year. Although a new rot-proofing agent was developed, the industry had moved into poly/cotton as it is more rot-resistant and stronger, with 50% polyester content it’s really a game changer.

It’s hard to say how long canvas lasts as it depends on many factors, so we don’t offer any guarantee on its life, but if looked after, one can expect 5-7 years for a tent left up all year. One consideration in pitching your tents is the choice of location. If pitched under trees, the canvas gets dirty from falling leaves and the run-off from tree sap and this can contribute to it perishing. Trees to be extra careful of are pine and willow. Also, obviously, if pitched in the shade the canvas doesn’t dry out so quickly and generally in the UK, the damp is more damaging than UV (although this summer has challenged that trend!) In hotter climates, such as Southern Europe the UV exposure continent, damages the cotton element of the canvas so it is worth thinking about alternatives to poly/cotton (see below about acrylic canvas).

Our Yurt and tipi garden in Israel

Next …general maintenance… we recommend reproofing the canvas once a year which can greatly increase its longevity. Before reproofing one should clean the canvas with a soft brush and warm water, no soap, no scrubbing, no pressure washing, but as long as you reproof the canvas well it should be OK. Remember that any cleaning will remove some of the proofing. (Obviously, white canvas shows the dirt and mould more than other colours, so many of our customers, when replacing yurt covers are choosing to replace white covers with darker colours, such as sand).

Reproofing is usually done with a paint-on solution when the tent goes up for the season – various products are available, but mostly only contain waterproofing and rotproofing agents. Recently the FWR proofing solution used by the manufacturers themselves has become available. (We can supply this at manufacturers cost). We have heard stories of tent covers being sent to professional cleaners, who have little experience of canvas and come back unproofed and sometimes perished although there are now companies who can clean and reproof for you.

Another consideration in canvas care is if the tents are left standing through the winter, they should be heated at least every few days, usually with a wood-burning stove (or open fire in a tipi) and, if the tents are not being used, they should be taken down when the canvas is bone dry and packed somewhere dry and rodent free. The summer before last we had a mice invasion on our site in Italy and we were surprised to discover that the mice chose to eat through the proofed canvas of the yurts rather than the wool blankets and mattresses inside. No accounting for taste. (Troubleshooting rodents and creepy-crawlies is for another chapter).

More yurt covers

There is a common perception that cottons are more ‘natural’ than synthetic fabrics, but people forget that they are proofed with chemicals. Our customers are choosing to go for acrylic fabrics as an alternative to poly/cotton as, although much more expensive, it is a better investment longterm, it greatly outlasts the poly/cotton as it doesn’t rot and it’s also stronger. The acrylic proofing isn’t in a coating but in the thread itself, thus doesn’t need reproofing the same way. It is a woven fabric so looks almost identical to the poly/cotton, yet feels nicer to touch and stays clean and new looking for much longer.

Acrylic canvas wedding pavillion

We are Spirits Intent, expert makers of nomadic tents and specialists in the canvas side of things, call on us if you need any advice on canvas or need new covers for your structures.

Sustainable Tourism and the “silent engine”

Its been a little while since I had time to sit down and write, with the event of brexit looming, and our work in conjunction with the Heartland Association in Italy there has been little time.

Europe has been thrown into disarray, for all of us with homes and businesses in the UK the event of brexit seems somewhat plucked out of a horror movie, so we chose this moment to bring a ray of hope into the future. 

We have been busy working out a new model, its sustainable tourism, although some things have been written about it before its largely a new field. Having worked in the the Glamping industry with some of the best campsites in the UK, and after those years of using those methods for rural innovation in marginal areas in central Europe (mainly Italy) we felt its time we bring this into fruition. We have developed a model for sustainable tourism that allows us to develop a small holding together with the owners to create the perfect equilibrium of life in the country.

Working on the European mainland in rural abandoned areas, really made us reinvent glamping into this little gem. The idea is novel because it takes our experience of 15 years, having spoken and worked with over 300 (I just made the number up as its hard to keep track how many campsites and private people we worked with) different enterprises, we now developed a sort of “silent engine”, a model for a small green havens in the country. The focus here is not only to create a sustainable sort of tourism for the client. The idea is to create a lifestyle business that allows one to live in the countryside with a steady flow of income, eating organically grown foods and offering local farms and obviously ones guests a point for cultural meeting, instead of having to run a glamping site that means you are running to keep your business running, we formulated the best investment ratios, the number of tents per site, and the best cultural exchange from our years of experience. 

So how does this work? SIMPLY. This new model is based on allowing one to come back to nature, we have synthesised all the that is good in a glamping business, and tailored it for a small site, offering the guests an unforgettable experience, whilst offering the hosts a lifestyle that is sustainable. The model calls for the cultivation of small organic parcel of land directly on ones site. Sure not every smallholding has that type of terrain that is suitable, but its rare one can not grow anything, even if its in a polytunnel. 

small scale sustainable tourism

Second this small site becomes a small hub for the local community, offering organically grown foods from neighbouring farms. In Italy having to work within the agriturismo system it is actually a law that food served must be locally sourced. We have found out it works as an amazing way to set up small havens of health and good food, allowing the site to become a small farm shop selling products that support the locals growing organic food and animal products. Now this small site is a little hub in the community, and you the potential owner a little local hero, making circular economy that supports what is important, in a sustainable way.

The next phase is opening up that special hospitality that allows people to come out of the city and enjoy your site, to live alongside you for a period. Here, to keep things ticking in the right balance we have used our experience of 15 years working with campsites, we know what business plans are likely to work, which ones are likely to end up as a headache, the idea is not to be running after the business anymore, its about letting it allow you to live that quiet life you chose to begin with. We came up with the right structures that are made either directly by us, or by a small group of selected companies we feel deliver the perfect product.

In Italy because this type of venture is new we enjoy the benefit of working with some of the best names in the business, we are acting as agents for some of those. But now we have decided to open up this program to everyone, to help others moving abroad into the mainland, either as a life choice, or because Brexit may mean being land locked in the UK, not that we think its really an eventuality but who knows, so we run this program now in other countries, focusing on southern and central Europe but not only.

Back in the UK, we want to take all those points to help focus on a new type of rural development, we have seen so  many of our clients try and battle their life style with running a small business, so much so that we decided to take the Heartland Association model and introduce it in the UK too, Glamping in the UK has turned into a monster, its an enormous economy, and while it still does what it says on the can, very often the owners of glamp sites end up losing the initial spark, and the whole industry ends money orientated instead of helping people to live happily in balance, what matters here is size of site, the correct structures used, the exchange with the guests. But more than all the role the site has in the larger scale of things, in the local rural community, we see those work best as small havens of social innovation, with high end quality food farmed directly at km zero, and so each site becomes a local centre for well being, bringing health back into rural areas, supporting a good and healthy lifestyle without the constant headaches for its owners (believe me this is a constant issue) and so it takes going back to nature into every aspect of its operation. Like that we feel we can finally give Glamping as an industry back its role for saving our countryside in a sustainable way.

Working abroad as a non profit we have found a richness we never knew existed, the farmers in Italy have grown ancient wheat grains with us, made organic olive oils, we developed up our own site, learned about working with groups of volunteers and much more, now we have bundled it all up into a package we can offer new or existing sites, from business plans to gardening ideas, we have developed a network of small tent makers that can offer maintenance and support with your structures, but the best part is that we now have small stocks of ancient grains and other products we have come in contact with in Italy, this small producer of top quality foods, and believe me it really is a whole other world of taste and quality, so at this time of fractions, where the UK is thinking of tearing itself apart from Europe, we instead are building a bridge, reminding us all what is important and what is good, the richness that we all have available and how we can all use and enjoy it in a way that builds it further.

The theory of diffusion of innovation as was told to us by one of our recent volunteers maintains that new ideas are hard to bear fruit, we know that, he worked with farmers in Zambia, trying to teach them new ways to farm and commercialise, he says you will see one person take to it, and years later maybe their neighbours would follow but its not really linear. 

So we guess this sort of program isnt everyones cup of tea. people dont really know what they are getting to when they set a glamping site up, people arent really aware of the reality of the dream of living in the country side. This program is our extract of all that is good in sustainable tourism, and we offer it to you as a package in which you get – 

  1. 15 years of experience tailored to your own site. So the perfect ratio of glamping structures to site running ability (so you dont have to be employing staff).
  2. Our experience of structures for Hospitality, be it yurts, safari tents or cabins, we can figure out with you the best return on investment.
  3. Full business plan including a design in setting up your farming or gardening parcel of land to feed yourself and your guests.
  4. A list of social innovation ideas to make sure your site operates as a hub of local transformation, creating circular economy.
  5. Being part of a network we have created of small producers and manufactures offering amazing organic food products, and obviously glamping structure solutions.
  6. A selection of operating possibilities to minimise your need for a big starting investment, things like rent to buy, franchising etc, we have come up with a few possibilities to help new sites into this program. 

There is obviously more, this program is a fruit of our work in promoting sustainable tourism in the mainland, especially in central Italy, with the heartland association we aim to work with new sites on the mainland, but now we are opening this program back in the UK too. because we feel its time we all help the Glamping industry take back a course towards sustainability as we feel it is losing its direction with a greed it developed.

Contact us for more details 

Harvesting ancient grains with a group of volunteers in Abruzzo

 

 

Sustainable development and the real star Grillo

This isn’t a yurt related post – it’s about the rule of sustainable development. As you may be aware we are developing a site in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, the land that God forgot about, but the fact he forgot about it doesn’t mean he didn’t love it when he made it, because Abruzzo has been blessed with it all.

Sustainable Rural development is a key word right now – Italy has been too forgotten: the election earlier on this month has shook the country, in fact it shook the whole of Europe, as more than 50% of the vote went to fringe parties. The power, you may say is going back to the people, Italy has grown so tired of bureaucracy and the biggest winner was the 5 star movement, trying to take down the establishment and start new initiatives like circular government, lower taxes and even to pay each citizen a salary. It is headed by Beppe Grillo the comedian.

The 5 star Grillo

But it’s another Grillo that is the real star of this post and it’s not a person but a machine, a 14 horse power motocoltivatore (as its called in Italy) and this is why we are going to talk about it a little, because alongside everything we are hoping to introduce to Central Italy, like ecotourism, there are some things we think Italy should introduce to the rest of Europe. Italy has become a world leader in small tractors and special terrain machinery, tractors that have been developed to suit a sustainable farming tradition, small plots worked by hand driven tractors, like our famous grillo, and tracked tractors which are suitable for mountain terrain. It’s this small scale production that we believe is the thing that may save Europe.

Those small cultivators are adaptable to a myriad of uses: pumps, small ploughs, grass cutters, they even are coupled to small propelled trailers to transport the old farmers about. It’s this small scale life style that is the real jewel of Central and southern Europe, a lifestyle that is disappearing, but it’s exactly the way we see development. We talk a lot about organic farming with locals, but sometimes driving around the small villages, I’m amazed, because with all the innovation we seek to introduce here, I look at the way they cultivate and realise that they actually have it all: they grow all their own food at times, from olives for oil, grain for pasta and bread, to tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Each old house has an orchard of fruit trees: figs and mulberry, lemon and orange, grapes for wine. It’s a self sustainable lifestyle driven by our famous Grillo, they don’t need a 5 star movement – their rebellion is a minimalism, their answer to progress, is to use machinery on a mini scale, and keep it small.

With the disaster that is modern farming methods, with the health hazard that modern wheat has become (i’m not joking but eating bread from modern wheat is like killing yourself by disintegrating your gut – read here), so this country we have come to sustainably redevelop, has actually taught us its’ old ways, and we hope those will take root elsewhere, as the mainstream for real farming, a sustainable living.

The model is very simple – you don’t need to be successful in a business to buy your dream home to retire in. Your home can be a relationship with the land, you live by cultivating organically grown food with minimum machinery, sure you can do it all be hand, but the marvel of small scale machinery means, that with minimal effort you can grow all your own food easily. So instead of becoming more rich and more removed, we decided to go back to the earth, to let Italy teach us about its farming. We aim to start offering Ancient grain from this region for sale (contact us if this is interesting to you) and I didn’t even start talking about the Olive oil, because the in the immediate locality of our site, is a special olive variety called Intosso, or Olive Grande by the locals. It doesn’t produce the highest percentage of oil per weight, but it produces one of the world’s best quality olive oils, a bottle of which can sell for £18 per litre.

So in this time of change in Italy, with Beppe Grillo leading a revolution in politics, and yes Italy does need an overhaul, but MY vote is for that other Grillo, the real motor behind sustainable development, and its called minimalism, live within your means. 

 

A Yurt Living Adventure by Sara Wheeler (Guest Blogger)

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’

Well, first let me introduce myself.

I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike.

We used to live in a nice house in Bristol, UK and realised that we were missing the children’s childhoods and working too hard to pay for it all.

One day, Mike suggested that we sell the house and travel round the world. I thought he was joking at first. Within a few months we sold the house, took the children out of school and set off with a one-way ticket on the trip of a lifetime.

On 2 October 2015 we flew to Indonesia and made our way around South East Asia, employing a strategy called ‘World schooling’ where children lead their education, sparked by curiosity of the world around them. We climbed mountains in the Himalayas and snorkelled with sharks in Belize. We scaled the Grand Canyon and camped on a beach amongst wild kangaroos in Australia.

Our trip was immense, hard work and awesome in every sense of the word. Increasingly though, our thoughts turned to when- and if, we should return home. We missed our family and friends and being part of a community. Most of all we DIDN’T want to fall back into the trap of working to pay bills again. Old friends of ours had a smallholding in Wales with a few acres to spare. For years they had suggested we come and live on their mountain. We skyped them from our beach hut and apparently they were serious. We’d split utility bills and the field was ours, if we wanted it.

We looked at converting one of their barns, craning in a container… but we had always loved camping and yurt holidays. Having spent over a year living in the same room and out of 2 backpacks, a yurt would feel palatial.

Mike set about researching yurts and we joined some Facebook groups to talk to people and get an idea of what we’d need to live fairly comfortably. With friends in the festival trade, installing infrastructure into our field was no problem so we focussed on what we needed from the yurt:

  • A traditional design
  • as big as possible to fit on the existing platform.
  • To future proof it, we’d need to get a high wall and roof so we could install a mezzanine for the children to sleep on for a bit of privacy.

Oh, and we wanted an ‘indoor’ toilet.

We ordered our 22’ Turkmen Yurt from Spirits Intent and that was our decision made. Updates on their Facebook page were exciting as we could see our new home being built from the other side of the world.

Mike was clever enough to bag himself a job when we were in Guatemala, so we had a deadline for the yurt build. We had to be moved in so he could start work on the 4 December 2017. After a whirlwind of reunions with our friends and family, we took ourselves to mid Wales on the 24 November as the weather forecast was… ok…We had been chasing the sun for 14 months and I think we had forgotten how harsh British weather could be. Anyway, this was Wales and we needed somewhere to live so we had to get on with it.

Nitsan from Spirits Intent arrived at our friends’ house, hungry and serious. He had been building our yurt with some volunteers and had come to stay the night before- sleeping in his van, to brace us for the hard work that was to come on Build Day. I felt sick with nerves as I heard the wind and rain battering at the house windows. I think the weather forecast for an‘ok’ day might have been optimistic. The whole family pitched in. We tried to ignore the hailstorm and Nitsan showed the youngest how to do a sun dance. Oddly, it seemed to work a bit even just to lighten the mood as we got battered by chunks of ice being hurled at us from the sky.

The trellis was up, the doors and rafters tentatively slid into place. We stopped to warm up with soup and I realise I had lost sensation in most of my body due to the numbing cold. We piled on the layers and the children decided to stay indoors after the rest of it (I couldn’t blame them)

We knew we’d start to lose daylight at about 3pm. So we hurriedly put up the felt insulation and lifted the canvas on with the last ounce of strength we had in us. Tying the fabric to the lattice was painfully slow as I had to cling to the edge of raised platform whilst my hands were frozen by the cold. Nitsan’s rallies of positivity were soothing, as our energy fell to its lowest ebb.

Then, all of a sudden, despite every sort of weather that the Welsh mountainside could throw at us, we had a yurt.

We were soaking wet and exhausted but we had a home all of our own. We waved Nitsan an emotional goodbye, as our team disbanded- the hard work cementing a bond between us. 

For the next couple of weeks we worked at sanding the floors, putting in the filtered water, installing a gas boiler, hooking up electric, building a kitchen, digging drainage ditches and laying pathways… lastly we brought in our furniture.

So, what’s life like in the yurt?

The day we moved in our furniture a blizzard came and covered everything in 6 inches of snow. We slept and woke up to a world that was like Narnia.

It looked beautiful but the reality was hard work. The first night the canvas dripped in multiple places as the seams had not had a chance to bed in…. the children were frozen from playing but it was hard to keep them dry and warm. We had no toilet, running water or drainage and icy drops of water falling on our faces when we were in bed.

After the blizzard though, normal Winter feels easy! We have learnt our lessons, dried out, and are enjoying nature as we fall asleep to flicker of the fire, the sound of the river and Barn Owls calling along the valley. 

We have found a rhythm and have learnt that with this life, you can take nothing for granted. We wake and start the fire. We have learnt to shower in the evenings when the yurt is warmest and appreciate that hot running water fresh from a mountain spring is a beautiful kind of sorcery. We keep the woodpile well stocked and keep muddy boots by the door. We have very warm duvets and wear lots of layers. We use ratchet straps to tie down the yurt as 80mph winds are quite common here. We empty the composting toilet every week and we have found that the Ultrasonic pest deterrents really work. Yes, we have found droppings amongst our dinner plates and had whole bags of clothes eaten by mice! Never again.

The horses in the field next door come and bray to tell us when the weather is bad and we all enjoy being connected to our surroundings.

There isn’t a day that we don’t open the yurt door and have our breaths taken away at the sight of the mountains around us. Yes, it would be nice to have conveniences like ‘heating’ but the amount we’d have to sacrifice for that just isn’t a price we want to pay.

At the moment, anyway.

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Thankyou Sara.

For more on this family adventure…see Wheelers on the Bus: Facebook page

And their lovely  Blog

Back to the land – a stewardship/apprenticeship program in Italy 2018

Wow, its been so busy…… I cant remember when I last got to write a blog entry.

Its been a really intense year this last one, working a lot on our site and sustainable rural development project in Italy, making yurts, meetings, events, working with people there has been so much, I felt at times like I was going crazy.

Having spent 3 years working on this Heartland Project, with our Main site in Italy I feel its time to start drawing conclusions, the first is that we want to focus more on real situations, and develop sustainability also on the level of relationship with people, what does that even mean? you ask.

It means we decided to focus less on events that we host, and little less on working with volunteers like we did, but start finding people that can integrate into the project for longer periods, On the Heartland site in the Abruzzen mountains, ive cleared a set of spots, its a place of outstanding beauty of nature so this year instead of pitching the yurts in a circle I want to try something we use to practice a million years ago when I lived in Tipi Valley (its a community in Wales that used to live only in tipis) Namely, pitching each yurt in its own dedicated field.

This way the yurt becomes the centre of a small area in Heartland, a place with its own eco system, and this way the yurt and the person living in it can focus on that special area as their own project, clearing the land planting gardens and herbs, etc.

As part of this project we have started dedicating some of the land plots to people we love, mostly nomads, or people we work with that have no place, so ive been giving them a little piece of heartland, because land with no people, is like people with no land. 

Back to the wild nature

Anyway to get to the main subject of this blog post, what we are aiming to do this year is to start a land stewardship program, through this program we want to invite people who can live for a period in a yurt in Italy, the terms of the exchange can be worked out, for example we can do work exchange, but the focus is sustainability, so we are looking for people who can dedicate over a month at a time and stay in a yurt, and look after the immediate area as their own little garden of eden, this way I feel, clearing the land integrates with a special opportunity that we can offer, for someone to go back to the land.

 

The other part of this program is apprenticeship, a part of the exchange could be that we teach people yurt making, so signing in so to speak for a couple of months or so next year can have an element of that too, where we teach a person to make yurts from a-z, peeling poles, steam bending, making wheels the whole lot. As we are now looking for people to make frames for us because of increased demand, this can also be an opportunity to establish a small self employed business once the person goes back home.

Yurt Making apprenticeship

We will be putting up the yurts in Abruzzo around may time, maybe a little later this year, so this program will open around than.

So many volunteers

Another part of program will be working with volunteers, as those are constant part of our project. We have a constant flow of volunteers, and they need looking after, sometimes they even need to be cooked for, but they are usually a lot of fun, and look after themselves, so although the focus is for people who want to go into pure nature and live there by themselves for a long period, having a constant flow of volunteers means that one isnt really usually alone.

Yurts in the wild

The person we look for needs to be ok with living outside, washing in fire heated baths, or using a heated bucket, because the yurts are going to be set apart probably this year cooking might take place in each yurt (we still need to figure this out). we want to emulate a more nomadic pattern over the site, so its possible also we will shift the yurts to new pastures so to speak. The site is very wild, so its not really Glamping, its more akin to living in a yurt in Mongolia, one has little furniture, sleeps on a bedroll, and nature isnt groomed in his or hers immediate surrounds, so all of that is part of the experience, so we are looking for people who can live at that level for a long period of time.

The amazing Lands of central Italy

The projects we are looking to focus on are mainly yurt making as part of the apprenticeship, Land clearing (this actually works hand in hand with the yurt making as a lot of the stuff we clear is yurt making ash), there will be some small scale farming, pruning and grafting fruit trees, looking after olives and planting of herb all over the site, possibly some building work. Through this program we are mainly looking for people who want to go back to the land, as an experience, that arent afraid of hard work.

I cant really describe the Heartland experience, but its often our volunteers leave here crying, and although we sometime make them cry, I dont mean they cry because of us, they cry because they feel they are leaving the last hold of freedom to go back to their lives, and thats what we want to start opening to a deeper integration. so we invite you to take part, learn how to be a yurt maker, live on the land by yourself without having to worry about bills, if the work exchange is clear we can offer you food too. other wise you will need to support yourself, but we get most of things in Bulk anyway so good organic food is cheap.

Heartland in the News

More and more people are interested in Heartland and our Sustainable Tourism project in Abruzzo, Central Italy – enough that Heartland has been featured in 2 of the UK’s biggest Glamping magazines.

The first was the June/July edition of Open Air Business Magazine. See page 22.

Digital Issues

The next was the September edition of the International Glamping Business Magazine, which coincided with the Glamping Show, an annual event for the Glamping Industry in the UK. It runs a whole feature on Glamping in Italy and we are on page 21 – and strangely there is a story of some other people who came from the UK to Abruzzo to start a glamping project.

Ready for the media…

The Journey of Heartland

So we lived for many years on the road in trucks or on the ground in tipis, as a part of a group consciousness process. We started making yurts in 2003, and set up Spirits Intent, making yurts and other nomadic tents in 2005, and at that time there were only a handful of other yurt makers in the UK, and the word ‘glamping’ didn’t even exist. We focused more on the canvas sewing side of things, as that was what seemed to be missing in the UK— our clients included other yurt makers, and obviously campsites, who need replacement tent covers, which we do from afar using measurements, whilst also supporting them with ongoing canvas care.

We always had an idea to build a new kind of campsite, with a focus closer to the origins of these tents, and as a base for the group consciousness process which we have part of for many years. The cost of land in Britain was prohibitive, so fast forward to 2015 when we packed up and left the little valley in Wales, where we had been living and working, and headed to Italy.

Who doesn’t have romantic ideas of La Dolce Vita in Italy: good food, a rich history, beautiful language and great climate. As we crossed the border into the Abruzzo region of Central Italy, we were welcomed by a magnificent double rainbow, so knew that this was going to be our place. We had never ventured this far south in Italy, and were amazed at the extraordinary variety of the land, with dramatic peaks over 3000 m just a short drive from the beaches of the Adriatic Coast, hardly any big industry, and hilltop villages with spectacular views.

Abruzzo is a land of mystery, who has never forgotten her history and origins: traditions, folklore, festivals and ancient varieties of grains and vegetables have stood the test of time. It still stands like a stronghold against the mainstream of Italian culture, like it did when the Samnites, its nomadic people, fought with Rome and is now known as the Green Heart of Europe with rich vegetation, forests and wild life: wolves and bears, deer and wild boar, magnificent birds of prey.

We found 12 hectares in an old abandoned farm with an old stone house, as we found that having a building on the land helps considerably with any project. The farm is called La Difesa, an ancient term that comes from its prior land use, where the feudal lord had a parcel of land, defended (difesa) for the grazing of large animals, feeding on the acorns under the massive oak trees, which were not allowed to be cut. As well as oak forests, it is abundant with fruit orchards and olive groves.

It stands on the doorstep of the Majella Massif, known as the ‘Mother Mountain’, whose views are so jaw dropping we still can’t believe we live here. It’s a wild powerful land, lying between two rivers and the nature is strong — the mountain has a rhythm of its own and it’s not unusual to have intense storms, interspersed with endless sun, never mind the myths of old goddesses lying asleep next to sulphur springs that are hidden in a grove 500 meters away.

To begin with, alongside our UK canvas work, we just focused on building Heartland, our site: clearing the land, restoring the orchards, making yurts, renovating the house, and running small non-profit events with a theme of well-being and sustainability. The local people were curious and overwhelmingly welcoming, coming to meet us and bring us gifts of their produce, the local priest even came to bless the house, and recently, the mayor of the local commune came and sat around the fire and joined in the singing.

We soon realised we couldn’t just focus on our project as we could help the local region, which like much of rural areas in central and southern Europe suffers from the disease of depopulation with outlying areas of villages being abandoned as the farmers compete with big industry on the plains and youth leave the villages for jobs elsewhere, taking with them ancient knowledge of the region. We realised that we could design glamping sites as a tool for famers and land owners to diversify and supplement income and bring energy to the area in a sustainable way. Glamping in Italy is no where near as established as it is in the UK, and still in its infancy in Central Italy, so a Glamping Revolution was born: GlampItalia. It started promoting Glamping products in Italy, and got names like Featherdown Farm, Outstanding Safari Tents, and others on board.

We started sitting in meetings with famers and local bodies, eventually gathering a whole network of small eco-projects and farms in Abruzzo, for the creation of an integration between sustainable tourism, and organic farming that has roots in the rich farming tradition of the area. Abruzzo is a well kept secret, and doesn’t need an invasion of mass tourism, but a slow tourism which supports the local culture. There is an opening to put together a methodology based on a concept that has transformed the hospitality industry in the UK, but here it can actually save villages from ruin.

Meanwhile we started hosting more events: yurt-making, healing arts, green building, with personal transformation work always an underlying theme. Living as a group around the fire in the quiet of wild, abundant nature is a profound experience. We intend to host two events every year, Spring and Autumn, and this Autumn we plan to raise the central canopy of our Zodiac Tent. We have always had a passion for tent palaces and, over the years, have made or been part of making several of the grandest. This tent is a reproduction of a court tent of the Mogul emperor Humayun: a grand 20 metre central tent (representing the celestial sphere) surrounded by 12 yurts in a circle (for the 12 Zodiacal signs) – a micro cosmos, and will form a magical venue for events for all over Europe but with a base on our own site – Heartland.

The site now has 4 yurts, a tipi, a kitchen area, compost toilets, outdoor wood-fired bathtubs and a Shepherds Hut under construction. As well as running our own events, we intend to open the campsite, including the Zodiac Tent, for groups of people to run independent events such as team-building workshops, bushcraft courses, and holistic health events.

Bureaucracy in Italy is agonising and about 20 years behind the UK, but the legendary red tape for planning permission has been surprisingly not so red, and can be as easy as liasing with the local Commune. Obviously the nature of permit is defined also by the activity, but there are options that do not exist in the UK, where tents can be pitched on agricultural land, or the commune can bypass a need for a change of land use with a simple declaration from the mayor.

The Italian tax system is more prohibitive than in the UK, but like many people that have moved here, the sun, food, culture and warm hearted people by far make up for it. It is important that a place inspires your love strongly and we advise people moving over to allow two years for the leap, and to work with a solid local team of commercialista, geometra, lawyer and architect. There are an endless amount of rural properties at a fraction of the price of land in the UK, and some villages in Italy are even giving away houses to reverse their abandonment. If you have a dream of moving out to Italy to start a glamping site or similar project, it is a good time now before Brexit as who knows what will be possible then? We are happy to offer advice and bring more projects onboard to create a sustainable tourism network throughout Central Italy, and a movement of visitors between them.

Abruzzo is unbelievably beautiful, and we are finding a balance between reversing the abandonment yet loving the quiet it produces – living in a myth of ancient Italy, on the verge of a new dawn of sustainable redevelopment. It’s a full, fulfilling life and a good cause to live by.

 

The Network and the Cure

Summer has been somewhat hot: some people even gave it a name “The Lucifer Heatwave”.

Its Obvious to anyone who have got eyes that global warming is already here. I am not scared about it, the earth will look after itself it always does: it’s us, the people, that will suffer. 

Don’t get me wrong I do think we should do something about it, but I have this approach to activism that is very simple: I don’t believe we can change it without changing ourselves. This takes me to the core issue I’m dealing with these days.

We are working on the creation of a very special type of performance/event series, the idea is one we have been working 5 years to realise, is to create a sort of tented camp, based on the nomadic designs, a sort of contained travelling city with a heart. 

Nomadic tent city

The heart of that city, or performance if you wish, is the Zodiac Yurt Palace. It’s a sort of tent venue that hopefully can address the real issue, that we, “the white race”, have lost our connection to this earth and to each other. It’s a blatant opposite to our work in the Glamping world – to take an individual into a sort of togetherness,  an experience that will focus on taking us into a connectivity. The idea behind this show, this series of events, is to take people back into a state of mind and of being which is primal, and hopefully to help address the real issue, that we have lost our place in society, our role as beings on this earth.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the fact that many people we know, take to other cultures as a solution to move away from where the Western world has got to. My experience from travelling for 16 years, and from studying other cultures is this – contact with the white race has always brought disaster, but also that the core of the issue seems to be that there is this mental disorder that affects everyone in western society, and simply being exposed to it seems to spread it to any other society or people, so I guess, to me it seems like an answer must come from the western world, from the white people. Like our friends, we hope to glean something that is lost here, from other cultures, and we wish to use it to find a way to help people back into a state of being that we never get exposed to anymore. In working with people at our events, we have noticed that it can take over a week for people just to shed off the problems of being in society, the city, the demands. It’s little by little that their natural inner being comes out again:  that’s why its all worth it, for those moments when they break through, when they go home and make a little difference.

I admire those friends that go and live with the Indians, people leave their lives and uproot into native and indigenous society but I feel like my place is here, in Europe.

And so this platform has come into being, we aim to use the biggest yurt palace ever made as a centre to take people into another state of being. It’s called together.

The yurts of the  zodiac tent are all in a circle so there is less room for each person to go into his separate self. Instead we each are almost pushed into being together, then the central arena is also a place that hosts performance, but the line between the public and the show is eliminated, so it’s a series of lead participatory workshops, where the performers and the public are one. 

The idea behind this venue is to try and work out a remedy for this mental Illness, to use Glamping for sustainability, and inner work as the torch bearer. We teach groups about telepathy, and inner psychic ability, how to affect others through service, and working together, but more than all we teach others about this space, the group mind, where miracles seems to happen, and so this performance we have been working on is the real focus, to raise this tent as a sort of hospital, where we can connect to our real network, to open up to a state of being that is lost in the West, and to affect the cure for the separation we all hold so dear. 

If you are reading this and this is something that inspires you, we are now working on two parallel groups: one in Europe and one in the USA. We are looking for people to be part of the logistics, the performance and the network that operates this show, so feel free to contact us to talk about it in detail. 

 

Forging the Heavenly Mill

In Ancient times there was a mysterious theme the one of the sky mill, it wasn’t a motif, it was a symbol for the change the ancient viewed in the sky over the ages, through the procession of the equinox, different constellations presented themselves to the eye in the sky at different times, the change was so slow as to take hundred of years to present a new constellation all together at the time of the equinox, yet the ancients understood and saw that changed and called the whole effect a mill.

In the norse epic the Kalevala That heavenly mill is called the Sampo, its a multi coloured article, a magical mill forged by a the best Smith.

We want to use this motif and develop it into a themed event this coming September, In the Heartland campground in Abruzzo where we are researching a new type of hybrid between sustainable tourism and personal development work.

The idea is to run another of those special events which are a mix of tent making, and promotional work, cutting edge performance and inner work, but all the while in the wildest nature of Abruzzo, the mountains and the open air, we will be raising 4 yurts, and be focusing this time of the central tent portion of the Zodiac tent, the Zome.

Because the theme happens to be The heavenly mill, we want for the cooking part of the event focus on food made from the ancient grains of Abruzzo, to develop a way to feed the event participant that connects us to a gluten free or at least gluten healthy past, when the local ancient grains where still healthy to eat….. Before modern Wheat, so we will make pasta, and eat Spelt grain for staple, make bread in the fire etc. 

The focus of this month long event will be to create a sort of alternative performance geared towards change Alongside a group of other people we are developing a type of activity that hopefully will turn into a participatory show, one that takes the spectator right into the show, like a sort of rite of passage from the past, the zodiac tent is going to be a sort of oracle edifice, and so we are working to have a sort of mix between challenging the self into deeper layers of connectivity, we hope to again touch on the subjects of telepathy, and well being, inner calling etc.

Like each of our events, there will be a sweatlodge to purify ourselves, this will hopefully take place around the equinox time, the moment of change.

here is a video of the last event we hosted in the spring, we hope to be holding two of these month long events every year.

Contact us if you feel called to participate, remember we will be living only in nature and sleeping in yurts, and the scope of inner work and this level of natural encounter isnt for everyone, its for people who wish to further into their psyche, for those of us that are willing to witness the mill of change and understand how it makes everything revolve, how it grinds the new age. 

Ancient Seed in neo-integration

There is a small slow revolution happening in Central Italy, you haven’t heard of it because it isnt spoken of loudly, but its happening …….

In Italy all the subjects of Glamping and organic farming and slow nature walks are less developed, but where they do take place the approach is very different, its deeper, its like people have gone all the way back to an old life that still lingers in small village communities, villages that still hold their cultural identity and history, something which is becoming hard to find now in the countryside in the UK, not to say our villages arent special they are, its the link with the past that is lost.

Because of our work in sustainable tourism in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, we have little by little, been exposed to a host of small eco projects,  always started by young people that have gone back to the land, and started farming the old way, usually with a twist, there is a wealth of ancient grain, cereal, fruit and vegetable varieties that are being harvested and preserved by these  projects, from tomatoes to cucumbers, apples, melons, but above all in Italy, its the ancient wheat, the secret indigent in speciality pasta, some of which is almost gulten free, and if you have heard of people with wheat intolerance going to Italy and eating pasta and noticing that for some strange reason they can digest it….. well there is a reason.

We have made some efforts with the Heartland Association, to get all those projects unified and create some sort of net, a net that can share and offer some sort of alternative, obviously our main focus is sustainable tourism, but its there in Central Italy that a small revolution is taking place, its not Glamping, its going back to the nature of two generations ago, and its there where the old and the new are coming together in a way we believe is more wholesome, no longer camping in nature is just a chic experience, its a whole way of travel into the past, into meaning and health, into foods we forgot existed. 

Having this window opened to us through our work in tent making, we felt that we need to help share it with others, especially now, as the UK is looking to be disconnecting itself from the Mainland of Europe, there is an option we must not neglect, and possibly one worth considering before (and if) the gates are closing, is that on the mainland and especially in the southern and central countries of Europe one, one can still reach back in time and develop a new way to socially innovate in marginalised rural areas. 

I dont want to put people back home off, there is much scope of this in the UK too, and actually we who have been responsible for the glamping industry taking such an important place in countryside development, should have been a little more responsible, so yes often things did go hand in hand and organic farming and country life did get enmeshed with the this new way of camping.

But im afraid the biggest problem is that in the UK, rural identity has been mainly lost, and so the old way of farming, the culture of place can no longer be integrated as equal parts with camping in nature, and so we focus more and more on new ways and new styles to spoil ourselves in the outdoors, which is nice of course, but to me seems a little lacking. 

This blog post is already quite long, but we havent even reached its main topic, and that is Ancient grains, hope you manage to keep on, we are almost there.

The vision we are trying to develop is where sustainable tourism is based on taking people into rural areas, developing a system of slow ventures into wildest nature, inner work, personal transformation, and all taking place in the framework of small scale organic farming based on local culture and most importantly local food, its food that can heal, its been cultivated by nature for us in an unbroken chain of the love of man and his surroundings, the toil of his soil and the mountains, the wealth of health these older food verities offer us is a link, and together with the cultural aspect of living in nature, one thats still holds in Italy undisturbed, you can reach back in time to pre-Roman inhabitants of the land, and thats the experience we want to develop, to take us all back into that primal connection that was lost.

So…. on our site in Abruzzo, we have been cultivating ancient grains, other have gone into this in more detail so here is a link to read further, most of these grain verities have been grown in the mountain regions of Abruzzo for over 1000 years, Solina (grano tenero) and Senatore Cappeli (grano duro) and others, those are wheats that have not been modified so heavily, and of course spelt the mother of wheat, it seems like what is the big deal, but you wait until you eat a plate of fresh Solina pasta, when you eat organic spelt whole grain cooked like rice, when your body accepts the right levels of gluten, and isnt poisoned by herbicide, its amazing to see our small whet field shining like gold next to the modern wheat fields of the neighbours, one of which we knew was sprayed with herbicides and is literally brown, and that should tell the whole story. 

So this year having grown all of those from seed on our site, Its amazing to observe this integration with the old and the new, and I feel sorry that we have lost the chance to have the same in the glamping industry in the UK, the Vision we should offer to clients coming to nature is of slow walks, of local foods, but more than all we should be able to bring back the foods that have kept us healthy, and the culture that has made us rich, those should be key elements I think in going on holiday in a sustainable tourism destination, I feel that as we are developing the concept from the ground up in Italy, we have a chance to make it slightly different, and I hope it will be more integrated.