Italy home

From time to time we are asked to help sell a local home, here is a nice family home in the amazing quiet contrada of Madonna del Roseto, which is named after the small church of the Madonna delle Rose one of the 7 incredible Madonnas of the Aventinto valley.

The price is around 90,000 euros, which is a steal for such a cute little mountain home, Torricella Peligna is 30 minutes from the sea, an hour from the Pescara airport, it enjoys the best of all worlds, not too hot in summer, as it is high at 900m but not so high to be cut off in winter.

The Aventino valley as a whole is one of those quiet maintained valleys, where local tradition and Italian lifestyle is still as it always was, we do have a selection of other properties that we have asked to help the locals, sell, unfortunately because many people have moved away, many families have ended up with more than one house, sometimes as many as 5, so it gives rise for really affordable homes in some spectacular scenery.

Madonna del Rosseto, 1

For more details and pictures –

The pictures don’t really do it much justice, and it is hard to understand how quiet this little location is, yet still only 5 minutes from the village itself. You can contact us about this or if you are looking for a place in the mountain villages in the area, as we do have some other similar properties come up.

Solina, the gold of the Abruzzi

Abruzzo has a secret, it’s called Solina.

We have been eating organic only for years, trying to have a small garden where our travels would see us long enough in one place. We had an amazing teacher in an Australian woman who was called Ashar, I met her one day in Israel, I was living on an open hillside outside the village of Clil, the only free village in Israel, bought field by field from the bedouins and local arabs. I was given 40 dunams (9.5acres) of land to live on, Lucy was still in the UK at the time, soon to join me. We were holding a market day, and all the people of Clil came up the hill. This Australian girl came up to sell her little “Shtilim” (her little veg plants) she lived with her boyfriend in a garden, her life was the garden.

I on the other hand, garden people, someone once told me that one can only be either a nomad, or a gardener. Being a nomad at the time, I felt like he was taking one of my loves away form me, because I also love gardening, my real work is with people though, so I say I garden people, and because most of the people I work with are actually itinerants, I say I garden nomads.

Juliette de Baïracli Levy who has led a semi nomadic life, and wrote endless books about gardening and natural cures, potions and indigenous people, said in one of her books, “even if you know you are going to move, plant some lettuces, chances are you will still be around to eat them when they are ready”. This was our motto, the way we garden on the move. When we could, we would put down a garden. Meeting Ashar in Israel was an eye opener, through the year we lived in Clil (in the Western Galilee), whilst making yurt after yurt which were always being sold the day we finished them, she taught us the secrets of the plants, she gave us Juliette de Baïracli Levy’s books, and she taught us of a life in the garden.

I “garden” nomads, because those are my people, at times I call them mutants, everywhere we went when we traveled we would always meet one person, as if actually the whole reason for us to be in any given place, was in fact that person. I call them mutants because they never seem to adjust to mainstream life, they have certain features, a power that does not allow them to integrate into mainstream society, those are the people I garden. They have always been my plants, I water them and at times when there is enough space and time they also flower, although usually after a while they get carried on with the wind again, maybe this too is how they get pollinated.

Ashar was one of those people, we used to go to her garden at night, Lucy who came to join me by then in Israel, once told Ashar that if she hears an owl call she will know that she needs to come to visit us, we would stand outside her garden and Lucy who could imitate an owl call to perfection, would call Ashar, and she would come and visit us the next day. On one of those nights, laughing our heads off in quiet, because the owls were in fact us, we walked back up the hill, we came back to our place, which was a few miles from hers on the outskirts of the village. There was a set of tipi poles, for a tipi we were making, seeing that every yurt we ever made in Israel on that hill was bought the moment we finished it, we needed another space, so still laughing our heads off like two owls, because actually we did not think there were any owls in Clil, we noticed a bird sitting on top of the poles, it was a small owl.

Ashar tricked us back.

So I garden people, and over the year of living in Clil we worked with Ashar, in return she taught us everything we know about gardening, she would wake up at 4am because she would never sleep, her dreams were always Lucid, and that frightened her.
I told her that Lucid dreaming is actually a power, and half of the people I work with try their best to become lucid in their dreams and practice dream control, she said it happens to her every night, and she hates it. So she would take to the garden instead of sleeping. The plants were her friends, she will take half a year to make her breakfast, silver beat with a sprinkle of olive oil and tahini, corn would shade her lettuces, she taught us about companion planting and much more. When we go on walks together she would always stop to pick some fresh cut grass, thinking about her compost pile, even dead animals to her were just a way to feed her plants and trees. She was our teacher.

When we came to Abruzzo years later, we naturally started making a garden, looking for local veg to grow in it, we are nomads yet we garden, but we never could garden like our teacher. Reading about local veg and produce we found out about the Ancient grains of Abruzzo.

Over millennia, the contadini (peasant farmers) in the hills and mountains of Abruzzo used to grow wheat. The heritage landrace of Solina is a wheat that was only grown in Abruzzo, a “soft” bread wheat , it favours the high mountain land, establishing itself in poor soils. It was called – “the mother of all flours, the one that fixes them all”. Sometimes a sentence like this gets stuck with me, I wonder what they meant?, when they said it fixes all flours, did they mean they mixed Solina, which is bread flour, with the other wheats they grew for pasta, in order to make bread?, it makes sense because, Durum wheat which is was also grown extensively, is harder, in fact it durum means that, hard wheat, and bread wheat is called tenero, meaning soft.

Lucy, who makes all of our breads, found that using heritage Durum wheat in her sourdough bread meant she ended up with a bread that was slightly crumbly, it would not slice well. Lower Gluten content, and the difference in comparison to gluten in modern wheat, was asking to be mixed with another flour, was this the reason that Solina was grown?, did they mean it fixes all flours, because they use to mix it with their Durum wheats, the ones they grew for pasta, to make a softer bread?, it does have a distinct flavour so maybe that was the reason or maybe its something I have not figured out yet.

I have followed a similar thread with the ancient wheats of Sicily, my favourite one there is called Tumminia or Timmilia, a durum wheat, grown by the peasants for millenia, it is the one used to make the black bread of Sicily, it was considered the poor man’s wheat, although I see it as the best of Sicilian heritage wheats for its flavour. The Sicilian had another heritage wheat possibly introduced by the spaniards called Majorca, in contrast this “soft” bread wheat was considered the rich man grain, because the rich only ate of it, it made fluffier breads and sweets. We have experimented with both of those grains, in order to understand the story for ourselves. Yet at times what makes one understand it all is a bite into freshly baked bread, and eating my first loaf of Majorca bread I saw how it all came about, how the white bread could have won over the dark, the soft over the hard. And I guess Solina has gone through a similar journey in the Abruzzo.

I make pasta from Solina, which melts in your mouth, Italians like their pasta al dente. Mixing egg with the pasta, makes it firmer, but Solina pasta is never really hard. Personally, the way it melts in the mouth to me is divine, but my Italian guests do not always agree.

So this is our love affair with ancient grains started, after being in Abruzzo for a couple of years, I met an Austrian guy, Nicolas. He lives with a woman called Federica outside the village of Tuffilo, on the hills that border Molise, the two of them have taken to cultivating ancient grains, their own veg and herb terraces, the guy is a genius, constantly researching ways to make small scale farming more efficient, no tilling, no water, smaller spaces and so on.
He came to visit our project on the foothills of the Majella massif, and he told me I have to plant wheat, I was trying to make excuses, saying I do not know if I’m ready for it that year, but he would not hear of it, he said its almost autumn, and its time to plant wheat. I am glad he did.

He showed me how to fence off a field so the wild boars wouldn’t go into it. We cleared small trees and bushes and piled them high, the thorns in the pile and its height would keep the wild boars out of the field. I cleared the land with the small Benati bulldozer, and me and the volunteers turned it by hand. The group I had at the time was mostly girls, and they took to singing, one would sit and sing to the rest of the group and the others would turn the hard packed clay soil, when one of them would get tired she would swap and became the singer, they all wanted to stop and sing, so the rotation time was quite short.

Nicolas later gave me a few kilos each, of his all grains, Senatori Capelli, Saragolla, buckwheat, and barley. we planted the whole field with our volunteers.
Because we also have an open field next to our other house a km away, and because Solina is the secret gold flower of Abruzzo, I decided that if we are already at it, Ill better plant that too, I got Marziale, our neighbour to plow that field for us, and we hand planted the Solina I got from a local organic mill in Moscufo by Pescara by hand.

Wheat has been domesticated over 11,000 years ago or so, In fact I would say that maybe wheat was really our first crop, there is a line with wheat that extends all the way back, it was the crop that made us all sedentary, it allowed us all as a people to live in larger communities, I guess because most of my adult life was nomadic, yet now trying to stay put in one place, It made sense to grow this primal crop.
Sustenance farming, or peasant farmers did not grow wheat for profit, maybe this is the reason we have lost so much of our ancient grains, because people became farmers, so if peasants grew food for themselves, farmers grow it for others, and for money.

Grain was brought by hand with people when they traveled to other lands, Saragolla was brought to the Abruzzo by a Bulgarian people, its name meaning yellow grain, it is derived from khorasan wheat, Bob Quinn has noticing that grain first in the Montana county fair in the 1960, decided to preserve it and he branded it Kamut, after noticing that people who ate it did not report the same health problems that they usually encountered from eating modern wheat.

It is said that it was actually Saragolla from Abruzzo that was the grain used to make Kamut, which is now a world renown brand, though I do not know if it is true or just another one of the local tales, as they take pride in their history, even if that grain was actually brought to them by another people in turn.
Ancient grains grown over decades, adapted to their terrain through natural and human selection flourished, becoming unique landraces. In her book Restoring Heritage Grains, Eli Rogosa, who spent years preserving ancient wheats from all over the world, speaks about the french term Terroir – the taste of the land. And Solina is the taste of Abruzzo.

There is something that is lost with modern foods, in the not so ancient past, all over the world, food was grown by the contadino, the peasant farmer. He had a special wheat to mix with his durum wheat, he had special cucumbers and tomatoes, saved from seed. His apples were small, and his chestnut trees gave strong flavour nuts. Everything that he grew, had thousands of years to adapt to its land, he chose the seeds of the strongest plants, he trained the plants like I train my nomads, he gave them little water, so they will be able to grow without it. Heirloom strains of vegetables grew in his gardens, everything was made to do well, to taste well, because he ate it, it needed to grow on his small patch, and it did not need to make big quantities or meet quotas. Once he was made to grow it for others, all of that did not matter anymore, what started mattering, is how well or easy it grew, and how much he could get for it, and often, he still grew a small patch of his ancient grains, even if now he also grew modern wheat.

One day I was at Marziale’s farm (our neighbour), we were in one of the small barns under his house, and I asked him about a corn his father used to grow, as I was told his father had a special variety of corn that was legendary. Marziale who had a pig at the time, told me he fed all the last of that corn to the pig, I was aghast, a thousand years of seed saving and contadini life had come to and end right in front of me, Marziale took me into another barn, he said maybe a few seeds fell on the floor, we looked in between the dirty terracotta tiles, and managed to find 10 seeds, and I took them to our garden, trying to save them, but although a few grew, they never produced ears, and it was symbolic for me, as if here in the Abruzzo, I was seeing the end of an older life. Right in front of us, the peasant farmer life is coming to an end, this time capsule of a place, the Abruzzo and its farmers, try to hack a living from the land, but their land was not meant for making a living, it is only suitable for living. The throw away a millennia of taste and ancient foods, and plant modern crops that make them very little money. And so the tastes and flavours of our foods disappear. I saw it first hand, it was happening right on my door step.

All of my neighbours farm wheat. There is a love they have inherited from their parents, a love for the land, like their ancient grains, a thousand years of growing wheat, has gave them too special genes, yet they go to the fields to plant modern wheat for nothing, they use to eat it, but these days they end up paying just to grow it, because they can never make enough money from their little plots to even cover their expanses. Some of them have gone a step back, and they grow wheat or barley to feed their animals, or to make their own pasta, but whatever the case is, they take to their fields every year, because like their Solina, the land is in their genes, and it calls them, I admire them for that, they farm for love.

Over the years, with the introduction of modern wheats, and the demands of pasta companies who are the ones usually buying the grain in small mountain communes, Solina has become almost lost, saved by a handful of traditional farmers. People who passed the seed to their sons and daughters, yet still this old landrace wheat was almost extinct.

The Consorzio Produttori Solina d’Abruzzo, based in Sulmona says that “Solina reflects the identity of the mountain of Abruzzo in the most authentic way, and its value, expressed through its centuries-old history and unique genetic and organoleptic characteristics, it has been acknowledged and extraordinarily exalted by the European Commission (Directorate- General for Agriculture and Rural Development).”
It is a reference point for the Abruzzo, a landrace wheat that carries its taste, the taste of the mountains, it was never grown below 750m.

A lot has been written by experts about ancient wheats, and people like Eli Rogosa has made it their life work to save it from extinction, looking for pockets where people still saved seeds from their fields, a thing that has become outlawed in many countries. The idea that a thousand years of tradition and work could be lost, a wheat that was chosen for its taste, that has adapted to the poorest mountain soils, selected by hand year after year, to produce a better crop on the next, creating a unique relationship between mountain and farmer, could be lost just because pasta companies would have cheaper grain, with better elasticity, as it is easier for their machinery is a crime. This is how we have lost the treasure troves of our foods, we have worked for 13,000 years to create the most special foods to eat, and have almost lost all the tastes we have created in the span of under 50 years.
It is said that it was the gods themselves who taught us how to farm, and that it was them who gave us grain.

Luckily thanks for the good work of the The Consorzio Produttori Solina d’Abruzzo, this Ancient landrace is saved, Italians have a love for food, possibly not equaled by any other people, and the Abruzzi love their mountains, Solina is like eating the power of those mountains, in a perfumed soft flour, that melts in your mouth.
A younger generation has also realised the benefits, and fuelled by an irresistible love for the land and its old tastes, they started using it in a few restaurants that pave the way, you can now eat Solina ravioli that would also melt your heart. Pizza is served with Solina base. And so this wheat is now saved.
One of the few of small pockets in the world, that has managed to save its landrace heritage wheat, Solina is very special, because most other wheats have been grown in a larger area, adapting to a more diverse terrain, but Solina is a love affair with the high mountains of Abruzzo, the only place that it has ever grown. Perfume by lime rock and almonds, figs and olives, proud like the tall mountains of Abruzzo, and like them it grows very tall.

It is a winter wheat, so we sowed our field in September, by growing tall, like a lot of ancient grains it has adapted itself to compete with the “weeds” sown in Autumn it is usually already well taller than any other spring weed in the field, it is usually sown with less than two “quintal” a hectare so about 180kg. But modern farmers have lost the knowledge of their forefathers, because Ancient grains unlike modern wheat can produce several seed-heads from one seed, if given enough space, each seed can spring into several tillers. But local farmers, having got used to modern wheat, sow it too heavy. So it does not grow as many tillers from each plant as it could, and the seed heads tend to grow smaller, a thing that convinces them that modern wheat is really much better, making championing ancient grains a little harder with them.

We sowed our wheat by hand, scattering it, that feeling of walking with a sack of ancient wheat in front of the sleeping goddess, majella, that gentle giant that hovers around central Abruzzo, is a romance, a love affair, in which one is allowed to taste an older life, this is the core feeling of being a peasant farmer, that love, the brisk cold of morning, and the smell of wet earth, growing wheat is a ritual that has been passed in our genes, and growing it to eat yourself, is also part of the magic, because by growing it for others, you remove yourself from the process, But that feeling of belonging is the core feeling, that magic is a big part of why our foods used to taste better, its a certain alchemy that has been lost, now that we grow it for profit, or in the case of the Abruzzi who grow it for no profit, it is hard for one to cultivate that feeling, and the wheat itself suffers.

Next to our fields there are two small houses that have been left standing ,although just barely, the plaster falling of the walls and the red terracotta tiles are all in disarray, yet the oak tree and the houses, the mountain and the hills, paint this picture, we walk scattering grain like the contadini. What a gift it is to be sowing their wheat, in the same fields where it used to be sown, next to their old houses. Only 50 years ago they themselves lived that life. Now it was left to us to appreciate and I was giving thanks while planting that wheat for the land that took us in, I know we are nomads, and maybe we will always be so, yet growing the first crop that took us from being hunter gatherers and turned us sedentary was also an attempt of sort for us to settle down.

Spring has come and our wheat was the tallest, because we live on a hill, going down into the Aventino valley, one can see all the fields on both sides of the river, each farmer has a few plots, so it is a carpet of different colours, green and yellow, at times it goes red with Sulla, and blue with the chicory flowers.

The year we planted wheat saw some of my neighbours planting modern wheat all around our little field. It was a remarkable contradiction, we were the foreigners, growing their traditional wheat, their landrace grain, while they planted modern wheat, using fertilisers, and herbicides.

One day in summer, I remember looking up from La Difesa, which is our bottom house towards the Solina field, I could see all the patch work of fields stretching up the hill in between the oaks, the modern wheat lay in big yellow patches, the field that was sprayed with herbicides in order to save the wheat for the combine harvester, was all brown, yet in the middle of this carpet of yellow, brown and blue, was a golden spot, like a small heart. Our Solina.

Italy is a country, yet its people hold their alliance with their own village, they are not a political people, thousands years of empire and government had taught them that their politicians would look only after themselves, they do not even hold much stock in their respective region, but their village is like a small nation, their pride. Coming here from the UK makes this very evident. In the UK rural identity is very lost, people have bought so much into the countryside it is rare it can hold its history, and tradition. The mountain regions of Italy is a small pocket where tradition and love for the land is still intact.
And Abruzzo is possibly one of the best preserved areas.

So being foreigners we appreciate it like magic, my heart goes to my neighbours, going out with their small tracked tractors, into their fields ploughing into the night, sowing with small lights going up and down the mountainside, rushing to get the hay in, sometimes only in the afternoon because they now have day jobs down in the valley. The love affair they have with the land is evident, they sign contracts with the local pasta factory every year, so they are bound to produce a certain percentage of protein, if the grain is tested below, the price falls, yet the mountain fields and modern wheat can only achieve that protein with chemical fertilisers, so farming has been enslaved by a system, and they can not break out of it because of the system that buys their grain, they get very little help from the government, yet they love farming, though their tractors are often 50 years old, the old tracks still squick up and down in unbroken rhythm every year, it does not matter that they make no profit, they still plough and sow, their land itself calls the, it takes one of them to plough and the rest as if caught by a spell have to go into the field, another year is turning, and the beckons to be tilled.

I have made it my little obsession, for which I am branded a lunatic, I have taken to advocate their ancient grains, every time my neighbours would drive down on their tractor they will stop for a chat, in fact this is one of the main reasons one can not get anything done in Italy, as there is always someone stopping to have a chat, to bring you some vegetables, asking or offering help. But living on the edge of abandon, by the domain of the wild boar king, I understand that if we don’t help each other, we and they could not make it through. I have pulled their tractors out of the mud with my 4×4 Mercedes truck, yet equally spent many a day in which my neighbour Marziale would come down because my digger was stuck, or suffering some mechanical problem, is these lands there is really only the person and nature, and if something goes wrong, and it does all the time, one is left alone, fending for oneself, and I can often hear the wild boar king laughing at me, my Benati bulldozer will be hanging on one track over a slope, or my truck would not drive up the hill, I would be stuck fixing the water pipe from the river, and I can hear him laughing as he knows, that here in the foothills of the Majella, nature still had the upper hand, I hack and cut, I trim and fix but nature is stronger, living in the last house in the commune on the edge of the abandoned lands makes for another sort of conversation that has taught me a lot.

I have spent hours, syphoning diesel out of blocked filters out of my own engines, and out of the neighbours tractors, there was one year, a neighbour would walk up to our house everyday because his tractor stopped again, we would crank open the banjo bolts on his fiatagri, and look for the blockage, I told him he must clean the tank, but because they needed to get the hay in, there was no time for it, so we ended up going through the whole fuel blockage every morning.

Although they have branded me a lunatic for it, I talk for hours with them while we are fixing their tractors together, or when they stop for a chat, trying to convince them to grow their ancient grains again. They told me that the problem is actually that in the current system no one will buy their grain. The other thing is that growing Solina organically means that the field is infested with weeds, and the combine harvester has to deal with those in the harvest, and although a mill can potentially deal with all the other seeds present in the grain and clean it, it is also a source of pride to produce a clean grain they send to the mill or the pasta factory, they love to see only the wheat in the field, once people grew grain for taste, amounts did not matter as much, because you could only eat so much, or barter so much with, an acre of land or two would be more than enough, and growing wheat is easy. I couldn’t argue with their logic, and I understood the problem is much deeper than them not wanting to grow ancient wheat, I felt like I’m trying to sell ice to the eskimos, but I also know that Solina is the secret power of Abruzzo, because it is unique. We came here from the UK, I knew if we can introduce this amazing ancient grain into the market back there, this healthier wheat, with its special taste, one that can be eaten by people with Gluten intolerance, we would had a winner.

I realised though that there is no way I can get them to grow it unless I could find a buyer, I talked to a local organic mill who agreed to try and buy some, even if it did not have an organic certification, something that would take time to achieve, and would need to prove its merits, but they could not take all the grain, as they were only a small mill. The answer came one day when my friend Nicolas sent me a contact that was looking for organic farmers to grow 3000 hectares of heritage wheats all over Italy.

I spent hours on the phone trying to convince the company director to come to our local commune and arrange to talk to the farmers, our mayor agreed to give us the meeting room in the commune and Marco Bertelli who runs the Programme came and talk to the farmers. it was a last moment affair, and we did not advertise it that well, so the room was not exactly full, but Marco gave a two hour lecture about ancient grains.

He spoke about their programme, of how they have created a system of selection that sees organic production yield more than modern, he offered contracts of 75 euro a quintal (100 kg) which is about 3 times what they were getting for their modern wheat. He talked about spelt, specifying its health benefits, telling the audience how modern wheat destroys the gut, because its gluten can not be digested in the same way, saying that all of our health problems actually start in the gut, which becomes blocked by this modern gluten, which is very different from the one present in ancient grains. He suggested that a simple the way to cure people would be be to mix wholemeal spelt that is milled with the husk, with another grain like Saragolla, so not only one will end up with a superior taste pasta, one would also heal the human race from its modern day affliction and gut problems on the way.

It was an amazing lecture. He brought with him a selection of grain they cultivate through the system, showing how through this Programme, by selecting the grain every year, through a machine that chooses only the biggest seeds, through fertilising each one directly with organic fertilisers they were achieving wheat seed heads that was three time the size. His wheats were long and big, he gave every person a packet of pasta of that same spelt and ancient wheat mix.

I ended up trying to get the locals on to that new contract, I was a little beyond my pay grade, I was trespassing into their livelihood, and pride. I did not want to teach them how to farm, but I really felt like this obsession I had of seeing them grow their own traditional grain is a dream that must be realised. We spent months of talking to a bunch of farmers, and driving around with my friend Angela Schmel who was worked with me on this programme, trying to convince people. We even tried renting fields that we can cultivate ourselves, if that was really the only way we can convince them, yet I got nowhere.

I had two neighbours who agreed to try it, but in the end one had no money for the seed, and the other already planted modern wheat for the year. I have lost another year in my battle for Solina.

I decided to try and plant my own Solina again, we spent a week harvesting it by hand, my two volunteers working in the hot sun with me, we cut the wheat with a sickle like farmers did for a thousand years. that was the fun part, possibly even more romantic than sowing it under the mountain gaze, cutting the tall sheaths of Solina, lying gold now in bunches we tied together with string. I filled the small corrugated iron shed to the top with our own grain, harvesting the small field with the grain Nicolas gave me, we had our own wheat.

But we needed to thresh it, such a small scale production does not merit the combine harvester even going into the field, and although I spoke with the local guy who harvests everyones wheat, he said that it will take so much time to clean the harvester completely, and that the grain will just get mixed with the other modern wheat. So we thrashed it by hand, beating the sheaths down with a stick, Bastonare, is how it is called, derived from bastone – to beat with a stick. We got a little over 200 kilos of Solina from that small patch.

So seeing I couldn’t convince anyone else to grow it, I decided I will plant my own grain again, Marziale my neighbour agreed to sow it on his fields, I offered to try to sell it for him later, and asked for my own grain back so I can have some to plant again, he offered me twice what I gave him, a friend from Teramo who also spent some years growing his own heritage wheat asked if he can plant his with ours as he lost his land. So we ended up sowing 3 hectares of land that year.
It was a relief not to have to prepare the field by hand, and knowing the wheat can now be also harvested by the combine harvester made me relax, we had enough quantity. And even if we could not sell it, we will have enough seed to grow all of Marziale’s 15 hectares on the next year.

The Solina grew well that year, although the summer was very rainy, and most of the other fields were almost destroyed, but the weeds were also very bad that year because of all the rains. even the tall Solina was having hard work competing. But with some strange stroke of fate Marziale became very sick and ended up in hospital, the combine harvester was going field by field harvesting everyones grain. But although they tried to get Marziale in hospital to answer his phone, they couldn’t get him, that with the fact that the field now was covered in weeds because the Solina which is very tall and matured a little earlier than the other wheats, has now lodged so was lying low, made their mind to leave it, the contadino lost to the farmer, here in Abruzzo, I was seeing the loss of the ancient gold, taken to an amazing perfection by mountain and man over millennia, the fact that it behaved differently to modern wheat, and needed to be harvested a week earlier, and my neighbour being in hospital meant that our wheat was not harvested.

I tried to get them to come back, I called Marziale in hospital, we tried to come up with a plan of how to sort the grain, but the rains have come back again, and the wheat was ruined. I felt a little dejected, but I argued that being part of the farming community was like that, I was going through the pains they feel every year, so although our 3 hectares were not even harvested, some of them lost hundreds of hectares, and thousands of euros, and It felt good in a way to take part in their pain, because this wheat will always be theirs, and I felt the pain they must feel losing their farming tradition, the battle they fought with the boar king, and a modern world, that has deprived them of their treasures.

I still tried to come up with a way to save the Solina, I thought after all the seed is still in the field, maybe we can somehow plough it or cut it so it will seed itself again. But because Marziale was sick, we could not try it in time, in the end he sold his fields anyway, because he needed to pay back for his new tractor.

It felt absurd my neighbour was selling his farm to pay for a new tractor. But this is the case of agriculture in Italy, small mountain villages can not compete with the farmers down on the plains, wild boars, and weather and the poorer soil are all set against them, the pasta factories tie their hand with contracts they can never achieve, and their old tractors are only fuelled by love, because I can see no other reason why they still function. Yet in all of this what is evident is a love affair they have with their land. And one day I will see them put that love into the landrace heritage wheat, their beloved Solina, because it symbolises that love, alongside the taste of the land, the fragrance of mountain, its the love of men, and his toil that has taken a grass and elevated it into a golden grain, through 11,000 years of selection and seed saving, taking small bag of seeds on his migrations, we now stand to loose in our modern world the whole voyage of love, man took with his seeds a genetic journey of perfecting this grass into the perfect loaf of bread into a bowl of heavenly pasta.
Solina is a story of men, the plight of the Abruzzi. The tall mountains and the oak forests, it’s the story of the peasant farmer in this wild wild land.

I have this dream, to create a restaurant serving the taste of the land, the real tastes of heirloom veg and cereal, and Solina combines all of that in itself. The secret gold of Abruzzo, will be the bread that I serve. So Terroir is the taste of the land, and love is what made it grow, the feeling of belonging, the millennia clock that ticks in our genes, my neighbours still hear it tick, the land calls them to plough, the gods had given us grains made out of grass, and with it they gave us, who were nomads, the feeling of belonging. So wheat is a story of our belonging.

We fight to save the last seeds kept on the terracotta tiles, before they are lost forever. Before we as a people would lose the taste of the land forever, and with it we will be made to lose our place, and made to wander again, the gods gave us wheat, so we can settle and belong. It’s a golden thread and for me it is called Solina, The gold of the Abruzzi.

Of Yurts, nomads and glamour and the traditions of the sedentary.

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.

The Case for Sustainability and the Two Drivers of History

Here is an excerpt from a book i’m writing:

I ask myself what is sustainability?

In our field of work, the term sustainable tourism is used a lot, yet I thought before we can look at what tourism is and how it can be sustainable we need to look at sustainability itself, to explore the relationship we have, as Humans, with some underlying forces that seem to interlace through history, weaving in and out of our evolution.

In the beginning of our journey we, as humans, were hunter gatherers. New evidence keeps coming up changing our timelines and new theories pop up almost everyday now, though it is clear we hunted or gathered for our needs, things were simple, and so were our drives.
We made shelters from natural materials, or lived directly in caves and small structures, living in a sort of natural relationship with everything around us. We hunted where animals roamed, and gathered where there were fruit, berries, nuts and honey.
This was our primal relationship in a natural environment.

Our religion or belief system back then was based on nature itself, animism, we venerated the actual phenomena and animals we lived in. We worshipped the sun and stars under which we lay at night. We noted the forces and their affect on us, yet we lived as a direct part of the natural system in which they occurred.

We then started to manipulate nature in an ever increasing degree following a need to create a sort of safety. In order to achieve a plateau of well being, we started not only to store our food, because in the natural stage we did all of that already, like squirrels do before winter. No, we started to manipulate nature itself, to provide us its substances directly without the need to go around and look for it and we invented farming.

The driving force that I am referring to here is the drive to accumulate. In this, our first stage away from the natural, we started accumulating food through the invention of farming and agriculture, in a way that allowed us to become sedentary, or semi-sedentary to begin with, because I guess we still liked to travel. That as a side note was possibly the beginning of tourism, (I am just joking). What I am saying is that in the start we kept on living as part hunter gatherers, part farmers. The domestication of wheat, the social crop, allowed us to become farmers, some mythologies say the gods themselves gave us agriculture.

Around 11,000 years ago as we were coming out of an unexpected mini Ice age we see the rise of strange settlements, like the one in Göbekli Tepe in the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey. I wonder what this sudden cooling of the earth for a relatively short period, ending in another global warming in a relatively short period, would have felt like to the people wandering in it.

There are many theories about what caused it, some argue that a massive comet struck the earth and so bringing the start of the Younger Dryas. But whatever the reason is, in Göbekli Tepe we see a people, thought to be hunter gatherers, in the very same area that wheat and grain domestication had first taken place, yet those people had been building temple complexes with pillars of stone 6m high, hewn into sockets they made into the bedrock itself.

Strange animals adorn those pillars, mostly symbolic for star constellations. I personally love to imagine what it felt like for those people. What did the earth feel like to them? Why did they make those temples? What were the importance of those symbols they worked so hard to erect in the enclosures on that hill? Why did they bury it again, and what made them come together as a large group of people, as it must have taken one to build such a thing?

We see people moving out from one stage of living with nature into another social organisation, bigger groups with a different type of belief systems. They are no longer roaming the earth in smaller groups but are now building settlements and temples, which must have meant they lived in the area for a long enough period, and had enough time and people to build such a temple complex. I guess we can try and imagine what the earth looked like for those people, suddenly cooling, possibly going through a massive destruction event, and then warming up again, into a sort of spring of new hope. But in any case we see the rise of a new type of social order, and another relationship with the natural world emerging, and possibly as a result our first ancient grains.

Why did we even want to live in ever larger groups? This question brings us to the other driver force of history: the power that brings people together, a sort of base urge, a desire of sorts, or maybe it is a power in itself.
Maybe we are pack animals, and like wolves, the power in numbers and the subsequent safety was the reason, because as an animal we compete with some predators only because we are better at manipulating the environment around us. I argue that this need we have to create larger groups of people is something inherent in us, primal, possibly more magical than just relating to our safety, and we can follow it as a thread through history. It is a search for power, the power of people coming together.

Yet this driving force is a little harder to highlight – it’s the actual force we feel together as a group. As it is rarely (if ever), spoken about as a thing of its own I need to borrow a term from the 13th century Scholar Ibn Khaldun again.

Ibn Khaldun speaks about Assabyia, the group feeling, the power of the tribe, and argued that it was the “driver of history”, and that nomads, because they practice a purer form of life that is closer to the natural cycle, always have more of it. They have a stronger group consciousness over sedentary people. As they possess more of it, they also find it much easier to conquer other people, and he argued that with time, that force becomes corrupted because nomads become sedentary too after winning over their neighbours. The easier life they practice in turn, because of the spoils they plunder or inherit, makes them vulnerable to a new group of nomads who have stronger group adhesion and consciousness, and so the cycle goes on.

With the advent of farming a new reality was possible and so we started creating villages, which later turned into towns, then cities, calling for an ever larger scale of farming and domestication, allowing a larger food supply to be made in any given locale. We can raise the question here already – was that a sustainable way to live? Obviously it raised issues, about over-using the land, about the need of grazing for bigger herds of domestic animals, about sanitation, about removing ourself from nature.

We can say that people started as small families, turned into clans and then into tribes, and that group consciousness, the feeling of being together, that power that allowed them to do so, or the feeling of an ever increasing body of family and blood ties has become a sort of commodity they started looking to increase on its own. Ibn Khaldun argued that blood ties are always stronger than anything else, meaning that when a person lives with a certain group but is not related to them by blood, his alliance with them would never be as strong, his was a first ever made research of that group force as thing on its own, highlighting what is social power, and how it is obtained.

In our next mutation away from the natural state, becoming farmers and starting to build larger settlements together, we saw the need to accumulate possessions and store food rising to a new high, and with it the search for an ever increasing grouping. So our settlements have grown into cities, so by definition, larger than 10,000, forming a chain of those into civilisations. Grain storage meant we can keep food for longer times, and social organisation over our farming allowed us to live together in even bigger groups, again I would ask why did we even want to live in such bigger groups. Has the drive to have a bigger pack, bigger group identity got so removed that we felt like we needed to be ever increasingly bigger?, was that sustainable?

Again many theories have been put forth, because it is strange how in seemingly a short period time (relatively speaking) we see humanity moving away from being, supposedly, hunter gatherers that roam around, yet a moment later they are not just building temples, they are building whole cities, and now, pyramids to strange gods.

It has been argued that all of this must have been caused by some interference, that the gods were actually from another planet, or remnants of an older civilisation that survived the impact that brought the Younger Dryas forth. That those more advanced people taught hunter gatherers and brought them together, but for whatever reason, and though personally I like to imagine those scenarios and ponder what the migrations of early man would have felt like, something big has changed in us, or someone bigger than us changed us, as some claim.

Civilisations needing us to come up with complex systems of organisation, to ease sourcing our food and farming in order to make them more efficient, enabling us to feed our cities, also saw the birth of whole social hierarchy and a new system of value that transformed actual commodities into units, or into point system, in other words, money came into being. Things were assigned values, a certain value can be bartered in exchange of commodity.

Our belief systems also changed, we moved away from worshipping natural phenomena like rain, and wind, cave and mountains, the stars and the heavens. A sort of abstraction took place, we started assigning governing forces of natural phenomena, something that possibly originated with the idea that the stars as they move through the sky control or affect the things that happen down on earth. We grouped certain stars into constellations because they looked like things we knew, and we gave them attributes, we believed they controlled the way things happened on earth, we were no longer simply worshipping the power of mountain and cave, or special attributions of animals, we started believing in an abstraction that governed those forces.

So if in Göbekli Tepe we brought down the consolations down to earth,
in some strange need to have heaven near us, so we can be amongst the stars that affected us so much, Civilisation in Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and Egypt saw us dividing the sky into equal portions and giving the heavenly powers the earth itself. The gods were now beings that we can see as people, yet they came from above, the sky was split into the 12 sections with the signs of the zodiac, into areas of influence. Each of those “gods” held a power over an aspect of earth, so heaven was portioned and each portion ruled a part. It was a mirror image of the social organisation that was taking place in order to govern over larger groups of people. It symbolises the birth of government organisations, and our first religions were simply that, systems that facilitated unifying an ever increasing body of people under the same heaven, and not the other way around, someone or something, used belief in order to take us into larger settlements as a way to group us in ever increasing body of people.

In Hamlet’s Mill, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend argue that our mythologies and belief systems all originated with astrological constellations, that our first legends were actually the movement of stars that we observed, stories of giants and hunters, Orion and Hercules, serpents and dragons.
We started believing in a personification of ruling powers, that controlled and governed natural phenomena, the birth of our first gods and goddesses, brought down to earth like falling stars to live amongst us.
As we can argue about what came first, our belief system or the social order that they facilitated, I am only outlining their relationship here.

Our new gods and goddesses allowed us to not to be reliant on nature, and it meant we can hold the group unifying feeling through a belief that was removed from nature itself, as after all our new system of belief was ruled by higher forces, it helped facilitate a move away from being nomads that travel the earth, worshipping the powers of the places that they travel through. We invented, or possibly inherited, or maybe even got given by someone else, a new system of faith, with a new pantheon of ruling forces that dominated the natural world around us.
Possibly it was part of us being dominated as well, by some more advanced race, but maybe instead of laying the blame elsewhere, we can simply say that we changed it.

The two drivers of history saw us arrange our belief systems to suit. We did not need the natural world to unify us anymore, we could worship through abstraction, powers that were distilled out of the constellations of the night sky into a race of gods. We built them pyramids and ziggurats, stepped temples, because they were in the heaven above us, and we were here down on earth, so even though we brought them to live with us they were still above us, at the end of a long flight of stairs.
In our newly made cities, now storing mountains of grain, and contemplating our first empires, we could do so much more together, but why did we want to? Was it sustainable for us to build a mountain of stones to gods that were no longer natural?

At the same time, this complex social organisation saw us needing a whole order of people to rule over us, to direct us, and the new belief system helped there too: we needed priests to talk on our behalf to the rolling forces that controlled everything. In an ever increasing pantheon every aspect and attribute was simply assigned a new god, a god of its own. Were those gods really descended from heaven, or did we just start inventing them? We even had a god for wine – was this some sort of early attempt at branding?

We can see how the driving force of accumulating in order to have safety out of the fear of scarcity, has become a force of its own now, a spiralling hunger – not only did we manipulate nature now, we also started manipulating the people that manipulated nature on our behalf, with the aim of amassing more.

Now that we were so efficient in satisfying our physical hunger, and we did not need to move like we did before as part of the natural system, the driving force that saw us safe through accumulating turned into a sort of endless need, to have more, but how much more is sustainable, what is the point of having an empire? Was it some strange ruling caste that needed to blindfold us, having us believe that we needed to be bigger and stronger, or was it simply us? And the power of being a people-together has mutated into something so big we wanted to be a nation, we wanted to be an empire, but what for? Were we better off? We seem to have lost our conversation with the natural forces at that point, lost nature itself and were now living in stone prisons, each assigned our own cells with walls all around us, worshipping a mountain that we built. Did that natural driving force, the pride and power we felt as small groups of people sharing a common identity turn too into a hunger that has driven us mad?.

We took to fighting and conquering our neighbours, usually people who were less advanced or closer to nature, still living in some sort of tribal grouping, and so smaller. A new type of relationship developed in which our belief system, and our way of life started being seen as stronger then theirs, our hunger to have more, now losing any proportions, could only be satisfied in the quick gain of taking from others, enslaving them. Who thought about this first?.

Were we ruled by some strange elite of survivors from another place? Were they not satisfied with how many of us they had to serve them, they needed us to go around and find more, how much food can one eat? If you already have a pyramid to sit on, and are dressed in gold, how many more pyramids do you need and how much gold is enough? I guess now that we have manipulated all the natural forces we simply did not know what to do with the drive to accumulate, we mutated nature, and our basic natural drivers and desires have mutated in us. Yet they have always been the same core forces. As if at any given point we can just jump ship, let the pyramid fall and go back to nature.

Because of the natural character of that force Ibn Khaldun called Assabyia, the group feeling was always stronger in smaller groups, in tribes that lived closer to nature, with less, holding a stronger cohesion, bound together by harsher living situations, by desert and mountain. And so although empires now have risen through our cunning and ability to organise and group new criteria together, they also fell, becoming corrupted by the excess, by the easy life that comes with wealth, and so we see that the hunger to accumulate and the need to become more powerful people are also interrelated with each other, and seemingly governed by some sort of fail safe mechanisms that regulates them, as if we too, are in an endless cycle of harvest. Our wheat grows into empires and is cut from the sheath, the fields of civilisation seem to lie empty, just to have new crops shoot up with golden grain rise just to be harvested by another people. It seems that no one civilisation reaped its own harvests, it was always cut by the rise of another, made out of groups of nomads, dying to try their hand at the empire game, the game of thrones.

Ibn Khaldun lived in the 13th century, we can see how at points civilisation brought an amazing wealth of well being, he enjoyed a sort of world peace that has never happened before, allowing new schools of thought to develop, yet still with an element of danger. The Muslim world view was divided between the Dar as-Salam, literally meaning the house of peace, also referred to as the house of Islam, seeing the Islamic world reaching from Morocco to deepest heart of Asia. In contrast with the house of war, Dar al-Harb, the world was divided into countries that held a treaty of peace or of non aggression and countries that did not.

Another famous Arabic scholar travelled that world of peace from side to side, over 30 years Ibn Battuta (a Moroccan scholar) saw himself moving from country to country, as a scholar, travelling without the need of money, treated as the guest of honour in every city or village he came through. It was a world of peace, that allowed thought and sciences to flourish. Yet with that the threat of the nomad in the form of the mongol horde still ever present. So It is easy to see how Ibn Khaldun could underline those two different ends of a process and how he came about to identify the group feeling or force as the driver that moves them. After all not only he was an historian he actually sat and interviewed Timur himself, the golden age of muslim thought combined with the dramas of Turco-Mongol conquest has outlined to him the power that makes and breaks empires and dynasties.

He wrote about it as a natural force of sort, and I tend to agree with him, I think that both those forces – the need to accumulate wealth and power, came out of a natural place in us, but as we lost our natural place in the world, those two have also lost a natural character, leaving us with the same basic hunger, but without a natural way to satisfy it, we started suffering from a social obesity, we ate countries and empires to satisfy something, but what?, was it sustainable for us, what was the benefit of it?. Sure we can do so much more as large groups of people, but who actually wants to do all of that. Was it a sort of experiment in trying to see what we can do?, amazing inventions and horizons have been reached, but was our life more sustainable, was our spirit purer?.

This system of exploitation is a simple basic urge too I guess, to take something from someone else, to work less, to have more. Tribal people’s all over the world were forever engaged in a system of stealing and waging war on their neighbours.

If you read about Native American plain Indians, you can see a whole social system that was built around the fighting of neighbouring tribes, that was how one advanced in his own tribe, constantly engaged in war with one’s neighbours. A question that has been asked, was if at any point in history those elements were actually sustainable?, it is obvious any given people were always engaged under those two driving forces, but did any of them learn to recognise them, did they learn to live sustainably with them?. Or was it always just a question of gathering more, having more power just to lose it to someone else?. Did we ever reach harmony with the forces that rule our fates?.

I have to admit that native Americans had a different sort of relationship with that cycle of power and wealth, maintaining some sort of values inside that system, like honour, like being a warrior, like courage, like generosity. The thing that mattered wasn’t so much what you gained, it was the way you went about fighting for it, it was your spirit and how you carried yourself in the conduct of war, how you managed to deal with those two basic drives within yourself, so although one was always going to take from others, one was also elevated in the social system for giving it all away, as if all that mattered was how it built your character, and not what you gained by taking through war.

So that system strengthened the tribal feeling, and because every tribe was somewhat engaged in the same activity it was much more cyclic, almost as if all the tribes have recognised in an unspoken way that they all will keep on fighting each other, knowing no one will ever win, but as a way to keep their young people brave, and their spirit strong, to keep the group spirit and tribal force always sharp and ready, they did not try to build empires, and it seems that their lives were almost regulated through this never ending tribal war, keeping them forever strong as a people.

Although the basic assumption was still that every tribe wanted to become the most powerful, to have more fighting man, to have more horses. There was a sort of recognition of the powers that ruled and worked through the system, the concept of the “giveaway” for example, it was seen to be more honourable to give away your possessions, so a warrior could come back from a raid with 3000 horses, yet keep two for himself, gifting all the rest.

And although farming was practiced, it was kept in balance with hunting and gathering. I do not know if a system that is built on constant war with all your neighbours is sustainable, yet I need to admit that there is some recognition of the values and how they work through the people’s life. So native Americans seems to keep themselves closer to the natural process, and although driven by that hunger to possess more, they gave it away to their tribe, and accepted without loss of too much that their neighbours would steal it back the next day, it was not just a hunger to have, it was a social system that kept their society fresh and strong, yet forever bloody.

Because this could be an endless field of research, and looking for tribal groups and how they managed to keep those drivers of man through history in check, and because I do not wish to have to defend myself out of lack of accurate information. I will just raise the questions here, did we ever know how to live together as a people? and did we ever live in a sustainable way, why do we always feel like we need more?.

James P. Beckwourth has written one of the best books (in my opinion) about living with the Crow Indians, he has even become one of their chiefs, yet as a modern man, although he has risen through the warrior ranks through his bravery, he also speaks about the constant need that they had for war, the blood in contradiction. It holds an interesting sort of conversation that takes place inside himself, because while he lived as a Crow, he was also engaged as a trader, and so through his work one can read the clash of values, with him swaying back and forth in-between two worlds and belief systems yet somehow strangely balancing them both inside himself.

Before we stray too far and as we just spoke about the golden age of the Arabic world through Islam, I think we should look for a moment at monotheism to explore the last mutation of our belief systems.
The rise of a singular god allowed people to group again in a new way. I am interested in it because I believe that it arose first as a sort of mutation, it was not just a direct progress of social order, it seems to be a special criteria.

Judaism was designed around a god that spoke only to the jews, its a perfect god for a people that travel into the lands of other people, so keeping themselves from mingling. Their god, I would say, is a sort of hybrid of that group feeling itself. Maybe in certain situations a tribe or a people has had such a strong group identity, it gives rise to an entity, a god born of the coming of a certain people, it was the sum total of their tribal feeling, their Assabyia, a tribal god. It is a different sort of god, because it is tailored specifically to them, and as they get stronger, seemingly it does too.

Their god takes them to a holy land, their personal relationship with it allows it to guide them through the desert as a pilar of smoke and fire, descending down on their holy tent, only to rise again and lead them again, to a land they are to take from another people. It was a special kind of criteria, although the obvious need to take and amass, to conquer the land of their neighbours and make it their own, is still the same as in other cases. The second force which is the need to amass a group feeling was kept on a certain kind of rein, because their god is only theirs through blood relation, it seems to ignore other people and so it stops them from growing exponentially, maintaining a sort of common factor that has seen them through history, always living in amongst other people, yet maintaining their identity. So maybe some people throughout history have created more durable self identity, but was theirs more sustainable?, even if they managed to keep themselves as a people, or a group, or a tribe for longer.

Jesus saw Christianity take this one-god-one-people and open it to everyone. Anyone who wished to believe in it could, it was a perfect solution to amassing an ever increasing number or people into one belief, yet it lacked in cohesion and national identity. And the same with Islam. The fall of the tribal systems through empires meant that the criteria that grouped people together has also changed radically. The prophet Muhammad in the Quran introduces a new system of faith to the Arabs, in a systematic call to move away from Jahiliyyah, literally meaning ignorance, a pre-islamic world in which people were divided into tribes worshipping idols, or practicing animism was being wiped clean. It is a good example showing us that religion is a sort of progress of human thought, of organisation into a new social structure, rather than a call for belief.

The Quran, meaning literally “the reading” of Muhammad is like a party manifesto for new society, one that is not aligned to the tribal anymore, so away from the powers that control nature or the power of nature itself into one power that controls everything, away from small or big tribes, away from national identity into something new, and like we said before just before the golden wheat of the Islamic world was cut down by invasion of nomads, it gave birth to a golden age with seeds of thought that still sparkle in each of our modern sciences.

So we have those two main themes interweaving and going through history, the magical ability that people possess to group together and form a bigger body, by group consciousness, and the human trait to horde and store things for later date, and the natural process through which they both seem to corrupt under making us weaker and giving rise to another system that is more powerful.

Our need to have more seems to weaken the ability we have to hold being together. Yet after we lose everything, we again have a strong drive, and a hunger, and that force makes us come together and own more again, in an endless cycle. That is the basic relation between the two.

As humans we horde more than we could ever need, we look for the enlargement and manipulation of natural forces beyond a certain point, and from that point onwards those forces go into decline and social destruction. the question here again will be, what is sustainable?. What is it exactly that we need, what are the values we hold and wish to maintain?. We sail through history in our little boats, so it is hard for each one of us to actually see the ocean, it is hard to figure out how to navigate its water, our immediate occupation with needs or the desire to become more has forever stopped us from figuring out how we can balance all the urges and needs and the powers within us and arrive at some balanced shore.

like in the story of the tower of Babel, god is looking down on us, scared we will reach the heavens, and what did we ever want to do in the heavens?, did we want to go amongst the stars that have become our gods?. Was it not enough that we brought them down to enslave us?.
God has given us too many languages and we can no longer speak to each other, and our towers always fall, can’t we see that every-time we build one of his pyramids or mountains from stone they end up falling down?. Cant we find a way that sustains itself, and lives in a sort of harmony with the powers around us?.

In the Old testament the motive to building the tower of Babel was the flood, the people who survived it gathered and decided to do so in order for them not to perish again or actually, scatter all over the earth, but is building towers better than roaming the earth?.

To drive this timeline to the current stage from the 13th century with its golden age of thought as a sort of zenith, to the current which is no longer tribal, nor even a people living in nations, into its final stage, globalisation.

For a while our famous Human drivers went underground, the devastation that came with the mongol invasion affected both the Islamic world and Europe, although the later was affected more through something else that came with mongols, the rats that carried the fleas that brought the plague. So for a while our social order and its voyage into building forever larger units of accumulation was halted, the house of peace was destroyed, and Europe was decimated, again the powerful nomads ran their sword of tribal unity through the soft lives of the sedentary. Laying to ruin a world of science and thought, and plunging Europe into the dark ages alongside in some sort of afterthought. There is this story of a Russian prince visited by an Eastern sorceress, she comes into his court with two warriors, and said to him “relinquish all your lands to me”, he laughed, the next day the mongol horde descended.

But like always, when destroyed we come back, forever hungry for more. With the building of ships that can cross the oceans and the trade wars between the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish and English the world itself (like the heavens before) was divided into hunting grounds so to speak, starting with the spice Islands, South America, and than North America, although at the start nothing of value could be traded or got from the later. The Spanish cashed in the whole of the Inca and mayan world, like a cheque they took to their bank.

And so with our new one-god religions, we simply went and took away everything from everyone, systematically enslaving them for our benefit. We made every indigenous society our serfs, we gave them our gods, and made them work for us. Maybe after all it did take us some 5000 years to come to terms with this amazing business plan, all those years to understand what was done to us by some visitors from another earlier civilisation, or as some claim, an alien species of gods, yet now we got it, we don’t work hard, we get someone else to work.

We have created pockets of wealth under that business plan, a system of organised plunder, pockets that were taken thousands of years to develop, mined from the earth, collected from a million of slaves, all those small units on our barter system put into a cache. Yes it had been happening all along in many different ways, empires have been doing it all along, tribal people were doing it all long, farmers were doing it all along, even hunter gatherers did, just that now we got stupidly good at it.

We ended up with a globalisation system, and a sort of command that we must modernise any people not taking part in it, maybe we are jealous that we lost our contact with nature and our own tribe and they still have both, maybe we see that they live a simpler life, and that they have values, they do not run hungry without the ability to satisfy their hunger. They are hungry but then they eat, we eat endlessly but are never fulfilled so we have become fat.

In our clever barter system if the value of money is one unit, and if we need to each have say, 100 units to live well, what does it mean that we have amassed pockets in which we store a trillion of those units. What can even be done with so much?, sure they are in gold, so they will never rust. But what is sustainable?. The gold was in a pocket in the earth to begin with, and now it is stored in a room that is locked, and no one can go into this room, the person who owns it will never need to use it, so was it not better that we left it in the actual ground to begin with? What is the big difference, between it being inside a mountain where everyone can get it but with effort, and it being inside the belly on the earth in a cellar in which no one can get to it and it is just stored, is that actually so different that we needed to enslave half of the earth for it?.

Did we want to lose any unifying identity, did we want to lose contact with the natural forces that surround us? what is actually going on? are we still angry that we couldn’t reach the stars? That our towers always fall?

In any case I have gone through this timeline in order to highlight the two main forces that seem to have been driving us all along, mutating into their current form as – wealth and political power.
In order for us to think more clearly about what is sustainability I thought I best ask it as a series of questions, because like I said at the start of this timeline, when people speak about sustainability it seems they can only think about curbing carbon emissions, but the whole conversation of what sustains us, and if we can live with it in a sustainable way evades them. Can we find harmony with the cycles and powers that rule our lives?

Bringing A Sustainable Vision to Glamping

This is a longer version of an article which was featured in the June edition of the International Glamping Magazine.

As a result of the number of different campsites we work with we have gained a unique insight into the Glamping industry as a whole. People often talk to us about their business ideas, about what structures work for them, how they set up, and also about their issues, even on an emotional level. Its quite eye opening, a lot of it is because we treat them like family, some have been our clients for over ten twelve years, so the trust goes both ways. We see the industry like being part of a large family and at times we feel like we bring them all together, because whilst they compete with each other (so to speak), we are their tent makers. 

So as we are trying to view this whole industry as a family we can look at it this way, the structure or tent makers keep selling their dream homes to others, and the site owners are selling their dream lives as a product, so Glamping is a product that we all provide, an experience of a dream life we create for others. 

As early as 2008 I was talking to a campsite owner woman in what was one of the most renowned sites in France, and the picture she painted was, that the success of there site, having been in the papers, turned it into a constant stream of people visiting, she said they were like vampires, all wanting to find out about her, and telling her how she is living the dream, but in reality she felt broken, like they sucked the joy out of that dream life, as if she was actually selling her life, and they came to her campsite for it, rather than to enjoy it, so what started as a really nice small campsite that enjoyed families with young kids and open attitude, lost its charm and she felt it also lost its appeal as far as she was concerned, and eventually the site was sold. 

 I am over dramatising a point, because this industry works with people in their best moments, when they holiday when they get married, or at a festival, so usually there is a general positive vibe, and people are happy, although of course people complain about tents and being in nature etc, but the case im trying to highlight is of where we all were and where we saw it going, as a vision that is somewhat lost in interpretation. 

Cornish Tipi Holidays: one of the original Glamping Sites in the UK (even before the word ‘Glamping’ was invented.

The Heartland programme starts with us all as a family, whilst trying to bring back the focus of sustainability to the thing that matters most, our own lives, and our dreams, as tent makers and as site owners, it seeks to bring back the values and meaning and the feeling of being one tribe, to create a reality that sustains the owners and tent makers, and one that has environmental sustainability as a core.  

For many years all of this was just something that took place while we made tents for our clients, we tried to make some changes and influence the industry as a whole as early as 2009 when we made the world gathering of yurt makers, it was meant to be followed by a similar event for site owners. But like other things running a small business and our own way of living took precedence and so although we felt strongly about all of this we did not take it further, everyone seems to be occupied in running their sites, and trying to hack a living from this new life style business. 

The Industry has grown exponentially since then, and we try to do our best by holding some kind of centre for it as a family, helping our regular clients with support and advice, because we are all in it together. We focus a lot on collaboration because it allows us to do more, and we like taking part in more projects. 

It has provided a good livelihood for us, one that is hard work, but allows us to see the results immediately, sometimes we reflect on a tent we are making, realising that some 800 people are going to have amazing experiences in it, so its rewarding, although at the same time we feel we have been doing it for so long, especially in the run for Easter, when we have to wake up at 4am for months to catch up with all the new covers for another spring rush, all our campsites clients are opening up needing those new covers. We hold our breath for some 50 different covers to match the frames we tailored them to. Every client needs his covers yesterday, and its demanding meeting all of their different needs at the same time, but we enjoy it, and having got to know so many of the site owners on a personal level, its like a game we all play once or twice a year, and it works.

 What we want to talk about in this article is are own unique vision for this industry, and so our story takes us to an exciting country, Italy.  We have branched out into Italy to start our own campsite because we felt like the UK is a little saturated and the land based link and vision with rural development was broken, as a whole, we felt like something was missing in all of it, a meaning. 

 Here was a perfect chance to influence a developing market in a more integrated way. Upon seeing where the country is at and especially in those marginal mountain villages that are spread along the dragon backbone of the Apennines, we decided to try and do something much braver than we set out in the first place. We decided to try to tackle the Italian depopulation and rural abandonment through the tools of sustainable tourism, and the truth is that it was not all easy.

 We have found first, that Italians do not understand the back to nature approach, and why should they, everyone has some nona in the countryside, this is where you go to get bored, not to holiday. There is so much to choose from, the whole country is up for grabs and especially in the mountains. In the UK you can’t buy 5 acres of land to develop, in Italy people were offering us castles for maintenance fee only. Yet they themselves will prefer to go and holiday by the sea and eat lazily into the piazzas, so it took some convincing to get them ignited, to get them to understand why people want to go and live in a tent where there is nothing. 

To further explain this issue, we need to look at why camping is so sort after in the UK, and the reasons to me are two, one is that as a trend the country side is seen as somewhere to enjoy, and although this is admirable it stems from the countryside not being available to live in, the UK planning law makes it really hard for people to go and build in the open countryside, and so prices in the countryside have become extremely high, and it is as if nature is a commodity we can only see but not live in. The other point is that the trend or attitude we have to the countryside in the UK is taken from the upper classes. People do not see the country as somewhere you go to work yourself to the bone, it is seen as somewhere you go to enjoy, to holiday, to take the air. 

Victorian view of Camping

Italy is almost the opposite, anyone can build in the open countryside if only he owns enough agricultural land, but one hectare is enough, the countryside is mainly lived in by lower classes, who view it as some sort of old life they must shed. I know I am again over dramatising a point, because I have not met any people who love their land as much as Italian farmers, but the general trend or view is of disregard to the amazing natural beauty, as if they need someone form the outside to come and help them appreciate it, this point is also why Glamping has not caught as much in Italy, and of course there are many other factors, like the amount of amazing properties available to renovate in the countryside, or simply to buy and move into.

After 4 years of work thorough the Heartland Association, and endless meetings we now run a successful programme in this amazing country, born out of a simple idea to have our own site in which we offer a special sustainable tourism experience, but turning into a whole system for rural development through sustainable tourism. 

The programme aims to treat the owners as the first circle, so we try to help people to build smaller sites, with about three units. We prefer to encourage people to open up as an agriturismo, because this amazing Italian scheme is more flexible than setting a campsite, and less restricting, but its the meeting point of organic farming, and using the site as some sort of local engine selling and showcasing the local surrounds, through food an activity, it creates a steady stream of visitors that can have a high quality, slow tourism experience, and it allows the site owners to live comfortably in the countryside, and enjoy it because a small family can run three units easily by themselves, where if those were ten, the focus will be on running the business and not on the lifestyle. 

yurts italy
Yurt at the new Cerchio Del Desiderio Glamping, Abruzzo

We focus on elements like transformational events, special forms of farm to plate of organic produce, and integration with local community and tradition. One example is the ancient grains of Abruzzo, something we tried to promote as a link to health and the tradition of local farming, We have fallen in love with some of the local wheats, and have some exciting ideas about bringing those into the UK, but that is a matter for another time, every place in Italy has its own produce, its own olive oil, and its own cooking, so its easy to see how this system can work.

Another thing we focus a lot on is volunteers, so getting young people from all over the world to come and take part in our project, to learn new skills and have a cultural exchange, and in a way this part was also the most successful one as far as I am concerned because I have found that getting to people at a certain stage in their lives, before they even get to University and showing them another way can change them forever. Seeing some of those young people change from one end to the other, showcases to me that being exposed to an alternative lifestyle can make so much difference, so those are the elements of this program, its a call for slower tourism, more linked to experiencing the real location, helping the site owners enjoy a country lifestyle.

Because we can not actually meet the needs of all the projects we work with, as we run all of this alongside our tent making, we have gathered an impressive array of structure manufacturers, names like Outstanding tents, Featherdown farms, hot tub, sauna suppliers and log cabin builders. We contacted estate agents in areas that we deem are of special natural interest and of need of rural rebirth, mainly in the Abruzzo region that we love. So we now also have lists of amazing properties to develop that we can offer clients and people interested in moving abroad, and it’s a way for us to help people find properties that they will not have access to otherwise, because we have found that while a lot of people dream of that house in the sun, upon coming to the country they face one estate agent and potentially miss out on their dream home, and its a shame because moving abroad is already a big step, and it should be done correctly, But all of this is also an important part of this program, its collaboration, because we run all aspects with a larger body of others, it helps create cohesion, at times sites even help each other, and people use the same architect, and structures from the same suppliers, and it creates more cohesion and a level of respect for each other’s space of operations.

I guess at some point like any successful venture this whole system has taken wings of its own. We developed this system around a simple model, a small campsite that becomes a shop window for the local community, it sells organic end product on the site, and so the ssite’s own product is actually an experience of a sustainable life.

It creates a system of small sites that have their owners well being and country living at heart, their sustainability and economic well fare first, than they also become something of an ambassador for the local village or town, working with farmers in bringing back old fruit and veg varieties that were grown in the past, weaving it with the traditional food and tradition that Italy is so rich with, and of course bringing a steady stream of visitors to place of amazing natural beauty with historical interest, and in Italy that is the main tool to fight depopulation and abandonment by creating a steady flow of visitors, yet here too the flow has to be sustainable, because otherwise it overwhelms those small local communities and they become overrun so to speak, losing their unique rural footprint.

A beautiful site for a Glamping in Abruzzo

With the success of it all some new questions came up, and being part of the industry for so long in the UK we asked ourselves, why don’t we apply some of this in the UK too? We always wanted to do things differently, to focus on a more sustainable approach, to bring this family more together. Glamping used to a be family of people we knew, something that has now grown into a massive Industry, yet lost for direction, a common vision, a purpose in the larger scheme of things.

The question is how can we bring it into a role in rural development, and how can we reconnect all of its elements into a larger family that moves in a similar direction? This programme is now running in the UK too, because we see a call to create a system for sustainable rural development and regeneration through tourism.  

As a first step glamping sites can simply create a list of add-ons that are sourced locally and sold to the client, from food to craft, exploring the tradition, history and nature locally, and a lot of this is already happening. But what could happen much more, is using glamping as a window to living in nature full time, not just as a holiday, because if you like doing it for a week, why not find a way to do so all year round, it could be like a revolving door taking more and more people into sustainable lifestyles, homes in nature.

We feel that this way two things can happen, people who run sites can find a common ground with their visitors and actually focus more back on the dream that took them into such a lifestyle business to begin with. The point is that talking to a lot of our clients we feel that through working with so many visitors they have had to distance themselves from the site, some owners (usually the ones who run the bigger sites) do not even go on site anymore. And I feel that the initial dream they set out with is lost. What if they could play a role in taking people back to nature on another level too, they could support rural economy by creating a shop window for all the local growers, and more than all they could bring themselves to be sustained in their own dream, because when we speak about sustainability that is the aspect that is ignored most of all, the human element, the person behind the program, the person who runs the business. 

Like I said being in the centre of this big family has given us a unique view into the industry as a whole. Often it is very driven by profit and we all forget to ask ourselves where are we going with it, some part of this big family have become very successful, yet talking to them on the phone some days I feel like we are missing something, that tribal feeling we used to all share in beginning sitting around those fires together. 

I feel that on some level we failed to create an opening in to an alternative way of life that is more sustainable as a whole, and this is what a lot of us miss, that commonality. It like the shoemaker’s kids walking barefoot, I guess we miss walking barefoot  (I’m just joking) Im just saying there is a sell-off and dispersal of the values and life we used to cherish because we all turned them into a product, and so the idea is simple to use the product to take us back to the same place we started at. 

Samara Hawthorn at her land, Bryn yr Blodau, Pembrokeshire

I have a friend who is on the on the very interesting one planet development program in Pembrokshire, she is called Samara Hawthorn, this amazing program in Wales has got some 30-40 families through the application process, allowing them to build their homes in the open countryside, they need to showcase they get 60% of their income from the land and the site directly, and it has a set of parameters for low carbon foot print etc. 

 I think it ended up that a few of those pioneers so to speak, end up working endlessly to showcase another way of life simply by living it, they break their backs to do something which should be more supported, I feel that although planners have done amazing work by allowing people to build in the open countryside that way, and that the scheme as a whole is exactly the type of development we would love to see more of, it could be more sustainable for those families if they taught the life style by creating an experience. Their product can be teaching others to go into similar lifestyle, instead the focus on having to make a living mostly from growing makes the program very hard, because although the land base connection is very important, it creates a reality which is a little like open air museum rather than sustainble, and again the Human aspect is not as sustained as it could be in it, or atleast this is my reading of the situation, and this is a shame because so much good work has been done through this program, and Wales is so proud of it, so I wish we can help planners see it and develop it further, into a more extensive policy of back to nature, and creating small households with an opening to others to enter that lifestyle through those projects, I feel this is a true symbiotic relationship.

Yurt on land in Powys, Wales

In this way Glamping is no longer just a holiday, you come in as a tourist and you end up with a possibility of living it full time on your own sustainable household.

To summarise, the Heartland Programme that has run so successfully in Italy, is now running in the UK market too, and although it’s an older market we feel it’s a chance for us to try and do our part in influencing a more sustainable approach. And through the tools of collaboration and innovation we aim to try and focus on rural development vision in the UK too now, we feel we owe it to this industry and to many in our extended family. I feel that the time has come for this industry to see its role in shaping the countryside in another direction, if we can get planners to understand the scope of it too, so much more can be done, because at times its like fighting an endless battle, with the house market as it is, and farming where its at, I think it is a mistake that a whole flow of people trying to get back into the countryside in this way, isn’t helped more, and that the scope of this industry as a vehicle is missed, the fact that a decision has been made to conserve the countryside and not allow anyone to build in the open, has created a steady flow, a need that people have to touch it, to feel it to be in nature, and that should tell us all, that actually there is an endless need for people to go back to it as a lifestyle.  

So you have read it here first!, and if one day you walk into an amazing housing estate that looks like a Glamping site, or you find a small restaurants in a yurt serving organic food that uses ancient local foods with some forgotten Scottish names, or if we all wake up one day and see a whole network of small campsites that teach a different way of life while they bring people into nature, teach people how to do the same. You will then know this program has taken root. its just an alternative future for us in the UK and it is a more sustainable one. And if we manage to solve the housing issue at the same time then it’s an added bonus, because the technology and the solutions are there already, and as a whole there is an amazing movement going this way and we just all need to help it a little, to find a way to work together like the family that we have become, and remember where we all want to go next. 

That is how we work at least and this what our dream and vision is for the industry as a whole.