The nomad hotel / the small alachigh

We have gone back down to Italy to do some work on our new land and to do some of our non profit work for the heartland association. In between all the Italian mountain madness, endless lunches, voyages to abandoned villages and so many meetings, we also finalised our smaller alachigh concept tent. We are […]

We have gone back down to Italy to do some work on our new land and to do some of our non profit work for the heartland association. In between all the Italian mountain madness, endless lunches, voyages to abandoned villages and so many meetings, we also finalised our smaller alachigh concept tent.

We are making this tent for an amazing guy called Andrea from the mountain village of Palena, who runs reenactment and historical events in costume. Over 5 years now we have developed an amazing idea, for a nomadic hotel, a new horizon in sustainable tourism, directed for rewilding and safari projects, but one that suits his ideas and work, and is prefect means to explore Italy’s secret region of Abruzzo, one of the wildest mountains regions in Europe.

Like our larger Alachigh concept tent this one relies on a rib and connector system, a welded stainless steel wheel, and bottom brackets. Arguably the bottom wooden ring could have been avoided if this tent was to be pitched on a deck, but because we want it to be put up at the end of a day journey at some of the most remote high meadows of Abruzzo, the bottom ring was needed.

You can see the bottom brackets better in this picture below. Its also a little clearer how the bolts work to hold the bottom ring tension, and to lock the rib.

We have set up a new company concept top deal with these new tents, as part of our work to make sure some nomadic tent forms would not get extinct, and like we said the Alachigh which is arguably the best looking nomadic tent in existence, has always too little attention in the west, whilst thousands of yurts were made or imported into Europe there are maybe ten to fifteen examples of Alachighs made, to fight this we have come up with a dedicated concept which we are now turning into the Alachigh company . I argue that whilst we are already building this new company, and looking for someone who may want to buy it as a stand alone business, I also wanted to explore new tourism angles.

I have spent days on end talking with Andrea on how we can create this nomadic hotel, and our 7m Alachigh model was the perfect tent in my mind. It takes one person to set up, the wheel could be lifted with one hand, the 4.5m ribs weigh very little, and can be transported on a roof rack of any 4×4 to the remote locations we see it pitched on. The idea for this new hotel, is to have groups travelling in remote areas, arriving at a secluded location, one that celebrates the best nature a region has, but at the same time I wanted it to take people into contextual tourism, exploring a region in a new way. Andrea has given me endless ideas, in fact it is hard to stop him sometimes, and focus on an end product as he seems to drift into fantasy. But the idea of historical context of a people in a given area, like the Samnites of Abruzzo as a way to explore indigenous culture as a new type of ecological tourism is something that I am really inspired by.

We aim to combine mountain journeys, with archeo foods, taking people into the wildest locations yet arriving at a tribal encampment, with hosts dressed in tribal clothing. Rewilding projects are now popping up like mushrooms after the rain, those are mostly efforts by larger bodies and estates, sometimes when traditional farming is abandoned, what we feel is missing out of most of those is the human element, a way those can turn into rural living schools, and so from a bespoke tourism point of view, teaching people how indigenous groups lived in a given territory, and allowing them to explore low impact and natural connection, travelling not only to a location but into another time is to me the highest form of innovation for ecological tourism.

I was going to end making this tent with the same door design that we used for our larger 10m Alachigh tent, but that morning Andrea again came to examine how I was getting along. He looked at the door I fabricated that morning and decided he did not like it at all.

He just came back from a large gathering of lord of the rings type festival, his mind full of elves and hobbits, he insisted we must be more artistic in our design, so we went for a double curvature on the door poles too.

This was a little of a nightmare to get right because of all the welded angels, plus it created a little pooling issue on top of the door, which we decided to deal with by using three arches on the porch/door.

All in all the tent took quite an interesting shape, even if I had to spend a few more mornings welding brackets at weird angles, it proved the point that the rib and bracket design could in fact accommodate and given shape which is its beauty and the design concept behind bringing those tents back. We replaced both the tension bands and the need for a central anchoring with this new system. I think a little more perfection of the angels top play between the various tensions could be perfected, but this would come with new trial. It is hard to strike a balance between new design and what the market is already used to. We are committed to bringing a higher level of tent design back into the centre of the tourism industry. Contact us to discuss these new tents, or if you also have an urge to create a new type of tourism experience.

The Return Of The Alachigh

There has been a little lull in the UK Glamping industry this year, coming on the back of it’s crazy drive to milk clients out of every penny, peaking with the insane adventures of covid era, and some bad decisions. This has seen a lot of our clients suffering, because of the actions of a […]

There has been a little lull in the UK Glamping industry this year, coming on the back of it’s crazy drive to milk clients out of every penny, peaking with the insane adventures of covid era, and some bad decisions. This has seen a lot of our clients suffering, because of the actions of a few, and even though they believe that those will fall by the way side, leaving people that actually have a passion for outdoor hospitality to rebuild, some damage has been done, in fact it still is being made not only by hospitality providers but by many retailers and structure providers.

We work with up to half of the UK tented campsites, some on regular basis. Our clients are reporting occupancy rates going down from 85% to 40%. This I am afraid to say was predictable with some of the low quality rush to make as much money as possible during covid. But this is another subject.

So although this meant some of our livelihood was affected, I do love those lulls in the industry. Because they push us to innovate, to rethink. In a sense I think there has been too much money thrown at this industry over the years, with some yurts being sold for 20 thousand, and remembering that when it all started over 25 years ago the very same yurts cost fifteen hundred pounds. So the industry has gotten a little drunk on money. Having a moment away from cover making allows us to raise our heads from the machine, and focus on some of the ideas that have been spiralling in our heads between all the seams.

We have started a campaign against the endless stream of retailers and structures that are currently flooding the market, aiming to bring those back into the hands of the makers. Our dream is to see people steaming hard wood again, sewing canvas, working with felt and stainless steel, forging elements, and bringing high quality hand made products back into creation. Above all we are dreaming new venues for giving people a little more freedom and imagination in hospitality, because the rustic, the love of nature, or more so falling in love under canvas, lying by a fire is what this is all about.

Our current project is focused on the Alachigh tent form, it is an Iranian tent, rumoured to have been created because of the ban on trellis tents, resulting in a rib (or rafter if you like) only tent. Peter Alford Andrews who is a good friend and the world’s authority on nomadic tent architecture, a person we feel is the unsung hero of the rise of nomadic tents doing such a comeback, has been an invaluable source of information over the years, has helped us a lot to think about this tent form. We have an aversion of people copying each other, or worse still stealing each other designs, which is another reason we focus on this tent, because it has seen only little attention in the UK and no where else otherwise, except of course in Iran.

It is one of the most elegant tent forms ever created, but it also always had issues. Its main problem was that the long rafters that it uses require long lengths of wood, which are not always available, this is truer the bigger it gets, with lengths over 4.5m. Steam bending such lengths though we have found out is actually fairly easy, in fact where we would usually use a dedicated jig, we found out we can easily form a couple of ribs, and after those have been bent to the right shape, using the traditional method of a wooden beam with two strong pegs to slowly shape the rafters.

Then we could easily use those initial rafters as a jig. Meaning that any given size of Alachigh could be made without needing to resort to making a new jig with a different diameter every time. Why does this matter? Because not only we are trying to bring this tent back into more focus, we are aiming to create a new business for making this tent form so it would not go extinct.

The next issue with this tent form, is that the long rafters tend to “spiral collapse” as we call it, a problem that traditionally was resolved by applying tension by pegging the wheel to the ground, a little like tipis are anchored.

The traditional method of stabilising the rafters was by using two bands that wrap around each rafter going from one rafter to the next, those are then lowered down and so tensioned to pull the rafters in at the bottom, keeping the curvature of the tent and maintain the rafters straight, so in a sense this whole tent functions under tension, where a yurt only has tension at the meeting of the roof rafters and the trellis.

The few examples that have been made of this tent in the country have at times missed that last part, resulting in the rafters not being held straight, or the tent itself being a little unhinged. There have been a couple of attempts to stabilise those with ground sheet sleeves, but those have not been sufficient.

From a design point of view we have looked into two modes of resolving this issue, in fact to deal with it we have had to make two structures, one which we tested on a smaller (7m) tent with long rafters to test the tension band approach, this was traditionally the biggest size used, with a 32 rafter being reported as the biggest size ever made.

The other which is much bigger (9m) applies a more modern approach of creating a fixed ring of wood and connectors. This approach has been tried with some modern Glamping tents, but in a way those we felt were a little too modular. As those tents use a CNC cut plywood for the wooden parts, and a screw on connector. They tend to leave one with the impression of being inside a kit car or a model shop rather than a nomadic structure.

In our minds if modern methods are used, one should not skim on the hand made manufacture feel to such a degree that the charm of the tent looses appeal. This happens all the time unfortunately, in fact as a manufacturer of framed tents (as opposed to velum tents which use guy ropes) for commercial ends, one usually looks to having a modular repeatable process, which is easiest done with having plywood cut to round shapes on a CNC machine. This is the approach for modular Glamping structures, and even some Shepard hut makers, and whilst this make a lot of sense from a business point of view which is important as hand made manufacturing has limitations when it comes to repeated multiplication, a lot is lost in the translation. As with it goes most of the charm of the tent, and its rustic beauty.

We tried to draw a line between going too modern and sticking too much to the traditional. This is because we could be said to be too much of the traditionalist at times, and in a sense more than the tent itself we like to push ourselves as tent makers into new places, where we feel it is easier to have made things in a certain way, or have all thew right machinery, we instead focus on keeping ourselves as small as possible as a company, and doing things with as little tools as possible to make the tent making art grow rather than the size of the operation, as after all we feel that a low foot print and nomadic flexibility have always been important to us. This approach meant that we have seen most of this industry come and and go, building companies and selling them, or worse going bankrupt, whilst we always enjoyed a central place in the industry. This is another design element we try to implement and encourage others to follow, and one we aim to install into this new venture which will hopefully become a stand alone business.

For the larger tent ribs not to end up as an impossible length, more from transporting point of view, we used a split rib and connector design and laminated the wood for uniformity, even though those can easily be steam bent too, if done correctly, trying to crate a more uniform shape.

For the wheels I’ve opted for welded mild steel or stainless design mostly because I have wanted to see if replacing yurt wheels with steel could also be done elegantly. Those copy that original form but allows for outer metal sleeves to hold the ribs from collapsing sideways too, and though the normal wheel with its square holes does this to a degree it does not do it well enough, which was a design defect traditionally, so steel has also offered a benefit.

The last major issue of redesigning this tent, was that of the doors. There was a similar looking tent used by the Turkmen, traditionally being a hand-me-down yurt with the trellis which was old being discarded and the rafters only used as a very low tent for cooking, or for poorer families who could not afford to have full yurt made. This form has resulted in a higher rib tent, like the Alachigh in one place that has eventually also used a wooden door. The problem of the wooden door was that it called for a rebalancing of the Alachigh shape, calling it to be made higher with more vertical upstaged at the bottom of the rafter, which took away some of the elegance making the tent more dome-like. It also asks the door to stand outside of the structure, even if the rafters are lengthened. A dormer door always takes away form the beauty of a round structure, in our view at least. Which is what we are working on right now, to test the different approaches we would probably end up with a fixed door for the bigger structure and look to develop a canvas door that mimics the Shasevan design.

Keep your eyes peeled as we complete those two structures over the summer, the large one will be up for sale as an event space, standing at 30ft diameter, and is the only one of its kind in the country. The smaller one is made for a unique business plan we have of a pop up hotel for nomadic expeditions so we would probably keep it for that purpose. Like many of our other projects we also intend to turn these into a business that could either work directly with us or become its own stand alone operation, in which case we would look to help its owner taking the design form of this tent in at least those two approaches above, and work with them on making a bespoke canvas cover with some exciting elements we have had in mind for a while whilst sewing over a thousand yurt covers. We have created a dedicated website for this new venture here hoping to turn it into a unique business we run or sell that can focus on bringing this tent into the market and so saving the most elegant of all traditional nomadic tents from disappearing. also look at our Handmade Hand page if you have a similar passion and have your own new tent design in mind, as we can help you with a similar product design process, as long as you commit to making it by hand.

Sustainable Tourism course, Part one

I was teaching a university class as a guest speaker for my friend Rita Salvatore in the university of Teramo in Abruzzo recently. My lecture was about tourism. Rita wanted me to talk about the gentrification of the countryside in the UK, and the impact of tourism on rural areas, a subject we both covered […]

I was teaching a university class as a guest speaker for my friend Rita Salvatore in the university of Teramo in Abruzzo recently. My lecture was about tourism.

Rita wanted me to talk about the gentrification of the countryside in the UK, and the impact of tourism on rural areas, a subject we both covered earlier. She also asked me to talk about the Glamping industry and how it started, as in Italy it is only beginning to take hold.

However, when I stood in front of the class, I decided to talk about tourism as an art in itself. Here im going to outline what is possibly going to be a course I am going to teach individuals on a one to one base, ill try to outline it in a chain of a few blog entries if time allows, hoping to develop it into a consultancy or a course for cutting edge innovation in tourism we can offer individuals, farms and sites.

To begin with I took the two terms – Sustainable, and Tourism and asked the class what do they actually mean? Seeing the class was of gastronomic students and they have already been studying the subject the answers were quite interesting. I told them I would like to redefine tourism as the act of exploring the otherness, the unknown, places or states that we do not know and ones that do not make part of our everyday life.

I defined sustainability as life itself, meaning the everyday. Saying that in order to have a sustainable system all we need to do in reality is to have an integrated life system, and that sustainability means we live it for long periods of time, as an example I gave them the contadino (peasant farmer) way of life, saying that although it is sometimes elated above what it actually was, the sustainable element in it was that people actually lived it for thousand of years, and as such had to create an integrated system both with their environments, but also as a socio-political entity of rural lifestyles, in fact most of the social system problems we faces in modern society could be attributed to the collapse of the oral tradition that held rural communities together and the push to the cities through globalisation and industrialisation.

I put forth the idea that sustainable tourism is basically an exploration of places and ways of life we do not know in order to bring meanings to our everyday, going to explore for the sake of exploring, I said, or trying to use tourism as a sort of infinite freedom, as new trends of a “care free life” offer, is not sustainable. Nor is sustainable tourism really about climate change, this is just the tail end of really bad social and economic practices, but not flying for your holidays, is not the answer to sustainability.

To understand modern tourism we need to understand the creation of the middle classes, and the industrial revolution as in a way the birth of the concept started with them, even though similar exploration existed forever. The move to urban industrialised life styles, created less contact with nature, but it also started a redistribution of wealth, when the economy was not tied to land based realities. The result was that more people had access to wealth, and could break away from the bonds of endless working hours, it could be said in a way that the middle classes were born from the industrial revolution because it allowed more and more people to not be tied to feudal contracts, which in a way is the classic definition of the upper classes.

Why does a class system matter to tourism? You may ask. Because tourism is an act of exercising our freedom to explore out of our lives. Tourism is an activity that was available to the public only started with the upper middle classes going abroad, emulating the ‘grand tour’ the upper classes took as part of finishing their education.

In my lecture I put forth that in the birth of any new field, as was the case for example with psychology, we usually meet the seed of what is good and what is bad, and so is with tourism. I gave as an example the name of two founders in the tourism industry, one was Albert Smith and the other was Thomas Cook.

The first has invented a sort of tourism that for me is revolutionary because it took people not to a place but into an experience, in the days before television and cinema, Albert Smith put on a 6 year show of his ascent to mount Blanc. The show took a London audience through the whole journey, recreating it scene by scene to a point that buckets of ice were placed in the theatre to recreate the alpine scenery. His show was said to be even better than the experience itself. I think that in it was a seed for another type of tourism that could have been developed much further. It was Thomas Cook however who influenced the activity into an industry.

It started as an attempt by him to find a way to get his local community away from the pub, saying that social gatherings do not have to include alcohol, he started organising group journeys by train (an important element in his later business). It slowly developed into an empire of affordable travel, where he would take groups into the continent and later to almost any place on earth, arranging for everything. By doing so he also created the first instance of mass tourism. The upper classes who used to frequent the same places, were now at a disadvantage, often meeting with groups of middle classes who seemed to want for nothing. It also created the first instances of impact by tourism on certain places, and very soon after hotels and even villas would take over popular tourist locations, bringing problems ranging from sewage to mass crowding. So many elements of the best tourism practices we present at the start yet they soon gave way to the impact of the “packaged tour” that created our modern image of tourism, real exploration was pushed further afield and the race was on to discover the last untouched places, and so exploration and education were forever divorced from tourism, which in truth was the art of touring the unknown.

Tourism was born as a repossession of our right to explore and roam, a right that was not accessible to most, first because of the problems of travel and transportation and second because most people had no means to afford such travel. The problem was that the trend, instead of being a repossession of freedom, actually turned into a watered down copy of an upper class activity, something that has stayed on, creating the idea that tourism means luxury or that exploring means freedom, partly because by exercising it people believed they were free from their class system. So now tourism and the everyday are two separate elements and so sustainability and tourism could never really meet again.

One example is the recent idea of digital nomads, which is now sweeping the whole world with the pandemic of working from home, something a lot of people think is desirable. The idea that you can live in any place without being part of it, and thus joining your work and holiday into one thing to me is a misuse of the concept, where in truth life should have more freedom and community in it so one would not try to escape from it, creating the idea that freedom is somewhere else, still follows from the days of the industrial revolution where people tried to escape the smog and the noise using their new riches, to live in a small hamlet or to go and take the healing waters in Europe. So what is wrong is the concept and the trend more than the activity in itself. Mass tourism, or tourism in itself has become an activity divorced from life. It also reshaped our idea of what freedom looks like, which to the few who achieve it, never meets the expectation.

In my lecture I turned to Italy, seeing that I was talking to a group of gastronomy students who mostly come from rural areas. This is my favourite subject, rural development in marginal areas and the role sustainable tourism has to play in it.

Italy has one of the most sustainable agri-tourism systems in the world, it offers the tourist too much and charges him too little. I used to laugh in the days when we introduced Ecological tourism and Glamping to Italy, because we told our clients that they can easily charge people 120 euros a night to stay in a tent. Most Agritourisms and rural hotels have spent hundred of thousand of euros, and used to charge a anywhere from 50 euros to 80 euros, accommodating people in rooms that would pass as high end, and giving them some of the best food Italy has to offer, I laughed because Italy did not need Glamping. Italy needed to simply charge for what they offered like anywhere else.

Recently I was involved in an argument with an Italian tourism professional who argued that Italy should follow the market and create the same offer as elsewhere, I laughed because that it exactly the thing with tourism it invents trends that make the market, Italy does not need to follow anyone it already is best, it just needs to recreate a trend around its tourism, or as I would have it invent a bespoke cutting edge new tourism.

Italy (unlike the UK) is a service giver not a taker, it is one of the traditional destinations for travellers, and it still offers all that the UK does not, the problem in Italy is that the tourism offer is too focused on the past. The other problem is that tourism in Italy is rarely a good economic venue because of the business mindedness that lacks in rural areas. People pay in a life time of work to create amazing experience, based on traditional life and typical foods, but they will never get their return on the investment. To Italians that does not matter so much, because their life and work balance is different, what matters is that they can manage to keep their family home, and work from it. What matters to them also is that they offer their guests a good experience, something that lacks almost everywhere else and so they are already leaders of sustainable tourism, because they are masters of the work life balance. Italy is an award winning destination, and teaching sustainable tourism in it, often is more about sitting and eating endless amazing meals and learning from locals.

To the class I was teaching I said that with all of that, Italy needs to reshape tourism into a new direction. It is a first in the world for bio-diversity, it still has a lot of what all other European countries seems to have lost : the sense of a sustainable life in the countryside.I said that to me it needs to lead the way in a industry-wide rethink, where we see tourism as the creation of a new life work balance. For the touristic offer I said that Italy need to get off the traditional train, because in truth tourism in Italy is only a tourism of the past.

Seeing that we work with ancient grains as part of our projects, resulting in me being introduced to some of the best organic growers in the world and of course all over Italy, I said that good practice, is not just taking all the past into the future, it is understanding the concept of sustainability and local product, and applying them onwards.For example, no wheat variety was local in Italy, which is now the hotspot for ancient landraces. Pizza, pasta and so much of the Italians food we love, were imports and creations of rural people that have plenty of love and endless ‘Materia Prima’ to experiment with. It is not hard to create new landraces, or foods. This idea of the endless strings of typical products Italy lives by, is a sustainable mechanism of the past, what matters is not the actual local product, but the mechanism of creating it. Find some old variety of food you like, grow it on the land you love, and turn it into an amazing food and you have created a local product, let your community eat it for a long period of time and tell stories about it and you have a typical product.

Italy exalts in the tourism of the past, like Albert Smith it transports people into something that is more than a local, in fact Italy has taught the concept to me. You can stay in an Albergo Difusso and experience life almost as if you were in medieval times, again the experience is too focused on luxury, but now a few leading hotels offer you a more down to earth experience, like Sexatnio in the small village of Santo Stefano of Sessanio that lets people stay in the small dark, stone houses of the historical centre, where one can really get into the feeling of life in a small mountain village, not as the upper classes but as the peasantry, again there are issues with buying and repurposing a whole village into a sort of medieval Disneyland, and the issues of impact on the locals could be infringing on sustainable practices, like it did in the 1800’s in many local communities that had pure nature or healing waters.

I am working on a similar concept in one of our projects, where people can first experience life as the feudal lord of a local castle, and next experience life as the lowest contadino (peasant farmer), because I think it allows someone to experience the land and historical social elements in a new way, asking the client to think about land ownership, about luxury and about life in itself, in one holiday that is actually two. It is a little unclear if I manage to carry it forward, because it involves buying one of the local castles. It also brought me face to face with what turned into one of my rule of thumbs, saying that not every part of the past should make it to the future, which is what I told the owner of the castle, before I fell in love with the idea.

Good sustainable tourism is an art, one that we are finally looking to teach, it is course in which one looks first at local area, and asking where the activity stands as a bridge between past and future, second it looks at sustainable life and asks a question, is there already an integrated system and active rural community? If there is one, the next question should be, its there actually a need for tourism, and would it damage the community? Only if the answer is no I think there is a call for the creation of a touristic destination, this is where true genius and innovation should be made, where dreams and freedoms are mixed into potion of an image of a life, a moment in time that takes visitors into something so potent it sends them back healed and revived, in love and inspired, but more than all it gives them the meanings that are so missing in their lives. In that stage one should also ask what is a good life and work balance, and my answer is rural Italy.

If you are interested in taking our course in reshaping rural tourism, or prefer to have a yearly consultation to help take your own campsite, B&B or even castle, please contact and also follow the thread of blog posts as I get time to write them. The idea is to teach others how to make a living in a sustainable way first, but more so it is about reshaping rural tourism, about taking it further than anyone ever did, it is about typical products, about dreaming new trends and rethinking local freedoms into a new platform of tourism which is in a sense the last freedom available to all.

In the last years I have had so many people asking me to give them advice or teach them, this usually results in a string of phone calls where I work with them more on life and work balance, than on their campsite. Most people do not even understand what tourism is, and so they simply follow a formula that gives no one anything, so the idea of turning it into an actual interactive course was born.

We are currently looking for about 10-20 sites and individuals to take part in this programme, people we can work with closely and on regular basis, some of the work can be on site and practical, and the rest could be done online as part of a course and possibly as a part of a group of others where we can also engage together with their issues, allowing all to learn and suggest ideas, and possibly also create a community of friends that can support each other for life, not to mention that as those are all tourist destinations an offer of staying at each others campsites as part of the course could be an interesting point too. I am hoping to focus on rural areas in the UK and in Italy, but anywhere else, providing the owners speak English or Italian.

This would hopefully develop into a year long course if we find enough people interested, or even longer if we deem it necessary, some of our campsites are now almost family. I argue that in truth if you can not teach people within a year or two what they need to learn than there is no point to continue, and you will be wasting their time and them yours, but often I find that our clients are happy to engage yearly and we support them like that, we visit each other, and so the idea is to open the family up to others too, taking rural campsites from the UK into Italy and vice versa.

The goal is to create bespoke cutting edge tourism which we tailor to any given place, where we can reimagine rurality and local community, and above all change the myth of a free life in the countryside into a sustainable reality.

Call or drop us an email (contact details are at top of page), if you too follow this passion, however if you are simply looking for someone to tackle planning permission or tell you how to set your campsite, there are many other people who offer consultancy, or in truth you can get most of this online.

Nomadic Tent Design – The mutant forms

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers. They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this […]

nomadic tent

Ardabil is an ancient city in northwestern Iran. In 1974 Peter Alford Andrews, who has now been nominated to receive the Burton medal for his work on the Eurasian tent, interviewed the only two Iranian Alachigh makers, They were brothers.

They told him that they were in fact the only two craftsmen who made this specific tent type, legendary because of its elegant curvature and flowing design, a tent that stands alone amongst all the trellis tents of the region, I mean that literally, as it stands alone without a trellis.

The two brothers claimed that the work had remained exclusively the speciality of their family since it was introduced eight generations earlier by Seyyd Bejan, they could name the makers in each of the eight generations.

Alachigh

 

What a lot of people do not know is about the way it all came about, did you wonder how come the UK has become crazy about yurts? To begin with we all owe the come back of nomadic tent types to a book, that not accidentally bears the same name, the fruit of Peter Alford Andrews’ work. In it he has covered all nomadic tent forms in the Middle East. He and his wife have traveled extensively and lived with the nomads themselves, documenting the tents to the inch, it is a master piece with exact drawing of the frame work, the felts, even the decorations on the door panels. 
Peter, who has become a good friend, never imagined that his work to document nomadic tents before they disappear will catch on like that, but that is exactly the point, for something to catch on it needs to have a story in it, he himself was inspired by a one liner from one of his lecturers who said, “no one has taken tent architecture seriously”.

Stories need to have a core in them, something that catches us, in the same way the American guy who coined the phrase “the Mediterranean diet” he never thought that it will become such a hit few decades later, nor did Thor Heyerdahl ever think that his original “back to nature” idea will become a movement, he even later laughed saying he was probably the first hippie.

Similarly Bill Coperthwaite, who had sadly passed some years ago, never imagined that his experimentations with yurts will ignite the a craze in the US. The point is that good design or good ideas always have some core in them, and all those above share a truth, which is a traditional entity, they are based on the lives of rural communities. Be it Italian peasants, Polynesians sea farers and navigators, and the great nomadic people of the Steppe. Their freedom, their rurality, their traditions are those that ignite this thing in us, the feeling of belonging to a wilder earth.

I have predicted two years ago that canvas tents in the UK will start disappearing and be switched over to cabins or wooden huts, and so does the trend seem to go. Meanwhile in Italy, people can not get enough of yurts, in fact after Covid importers can not even get them, my phone keeps on ringing all day.

Whilst Glamping has gone a little crazy, driven by bigger profits, moving little by little to prefabricated structures, or using some amazing design concepts that some small guy worked out in his shed and copying them into a plastic tent, in an industry where intellectual property has never been regulated all can happen.

The trend however is a move away from making yurts or nomadic tents by hand, away from the craft aspect. We would like to take things back to the original story, having sat with the women who invented the word glamping, or having worked with the first people in the industry, I feel also that the idea has been boycotted and executed in some very strange ways. What it aimed to achieve is to give people the feeling of mystery, the spirit of nomadism, and tribalism yet here in the UK. It was so successful the whole world copied it.

It was never a new concept, the mogul emperors invented Glamping generations before, they had cities of tents, that would put burning man festival to shame, court tents that reached the sky, two story decorated and bejewelled pavilions, cities that travelled.

We decided we would like to first take the concept back to its origins in Peter Andrews work, the idea was to not let those tent forms disappear, to be honest, the main Asian nomadic tent form – the yurt has been covered and done extensively, we would like to focus for a moment on some of the other tent forms in order to save their architectural concepts, more so because those are stories of mutant forms, a tribe or a people that had to redesign away from the rest. The Northern Afghan tribe alliance that translates into the 4 tribes in English, all had a double curvature yurt, some of them claim to be descendent of the Mongol army (the Hazzara) but why are they the only ones to use the double curvature? What was the idea behind its design, why the tall profile and the small wheels?

I have theorised before those are because it was in fact the first western yurt, when mongols moved west and encountered wetter climates, so the higher and smaller wheel could be open (each yurt has open fires in the past) and the form may have helped with smoke.

The same goes to the Alachigh, which like a yurt is a curved tent, but unlike it is only uses ribs without trellis, the genius of the yurt was that it allows for shorter pieces of wood and tied bundles that could be simply opened, in fact there used to be a form of tent that grouped all rafters together with a rope instead of a wheel meaning the roof could be erected like an umbrella almost, again it must have been designed around camels for weight. A lot of those tent design concepts have never seen a return, genius almost, yet now lost.

Afghan yurt concept

The rib tents of the Turkmen were reportedly adopted from older yurts, meaning a poorer couple would inherit the rafters and wheel of an old yurt, possibly when the trellis gave way, or older yurts had the roof only pitched on the ground to serve as an outside kitchen, at a few places those turned into their own design, and possibly this was the way the Alachigh of the Shasevan was born too. The Yomut or Turkmen of Iran, have taken one of those rib tents and made it with especially long rafters, so it turned into a yurt shape without a trellis, but high enough to stand with a wooden door. I would have liked to understand the design concept behind their thinking, and at times the easiest way is to make the structure itself, which we did a few years ago. That led to a break through in tent design but that is something for another time, plus advertising your design concepts for me usually means someone copies them before I get to realise them.

Kutuk tent

 

I pour over old accounts of travellers and avidly look for the mutant design forms, I think that in the last 10 years the industry have been in a design standstill, no new great concepts were actually introduced, the focus on creating prefabricated forms to keep up with demand has also wiped many of the crafts people who used to make structures for the Glamping industry, and little by little it too started to loose its appeal. The UK has always been the leader in this industry, yet now it lags behind, the passion is gone, and with it the joy of the great outdoors, almost as if people have given up on the country, own sustainability, on adventure.

In short Craft, tradition, great design mixed with natural materials will always work better, creating a story line that grabs the soul, where one can feel the gaze of the qirgiz nomads, a woman brining the hand of a guest to her heart saying you are home in my yurt.

We work with a small group of people who always led this industry, and yeah I feel like we all have gone a little astray because of the need to make a living, yet a new trend in tourism is waking up, like a wave, it wants true freedom. Once we were the only people living on the road, 10 years ago we travelled the UK in trucks seeing no one, yet no van lifers have been born everywhere, people are converting vans all across the country. Working as a non profit association in Europe (mainly Italy) also means I see a constant stream of people leaving the country, looking for rural areas and meaning, and so I know the battle for rurality is not lost, traditional ways of life will always win in the end, you can not bend nature away from itself, at the end it will go back to weather and man, shelter and rain. All this development craze and second homes will pass, it only works because people can not access nature in the UK.

Going back to nomadic tent design, I want to focus more on content, bringing sustainable tourism into being the most important aspect, almost the only way through which we can design rural areas back into community. Yet I want it to happen around the magical stories and some great design concepts.

nomadic tent

 

I would  like to leave you with an image of one of the greatest craft concepts in nomadic tents, one created by the Nogay.

tent was made like a yurt, except that it was woven, using two big rings around the walls which were fixed, going into a yurt wheel, it was made this way so it could be lifted on and off a small cart, and was only used by the newly wedded couple. This is a great metaphor also for the nomadic tent design and the state of the modern world, because now days the largest of all yurts made are wedding yurts, and the nogay wedding yurt was in fact so small it could be lifted on and off and made intact so it would not need to collapse, a great effort and nomadic tent design now gone. Again I would love to see it remade, in fact the idea behind all of this research is to focus again on making some great nomadic tent design, maybe use some modern materials where applicable but without losing the form and concepts. This amazing little tent can become the best Shepard hut even made.

Soon when time allows I would like to open up the possibility of working and teaching others, so we can together create some of those great tents of the past, we have some great business ideas, enough to allow for at least one or two new independent businesses. This we think would tie very well with the new emerging market of sustainble tourism, imagine moving camps as a safari on rewlibding projects in the highlands, yet done with nomadic tents instead of plastic, imagine arriving at the camp fire, and sitting inside a nomadic tent, the fire is lit, food is served, the magic flows through the wheel, and one can feel the hand of a qirgiz woman almost, going to her heart telling you, you are home inside my tent.

Nogay tent cart

Yin and Yang

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory. The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog […]

‘Bombs’ Marziale said, ‘first they throw bombs and then close everything up’, it was his conspiracy theory.
The gate for his charming ramshackle row of houses was closed behind him, I think it was more of a reflex because the dogs used to come out, but I don’t think he realised that the only dog that posed any danger has been tied for two years now. With a few of his dogs killed by the hunters and a few others gone missing.
The paint on the gate was old, but the tricolours of the Italian flag could still be seen clearly.
He has been our neighbour for over 6 years. His Italian is a dialect special to him only. He made me laugh, i’ll stop every time on the way back home, and even though our conversation would always be the same, as if we are rehearsing, I’ve come to appreciate it.

The fields were all ploughed, and though we usually spoke of our strategy for sowing wheat, it was as if time itself stood still, things did not make sense anymore. The Holocene has come to an end.
Winter was approaching, but the last few years it came late, climate change was everywhere. By ‘bombs’ he meant to say that the pandemic was back, that it was man made, it was dropped on us all.

There is a craziness in rural Italy, one that is hard to make sense of, especially for us that have grown up in the western mindsets. Families are the rule, and there is an ancient law that rules the land, and it all comes together in my neighbour in a strange way. We were leaving, or at least I think we were, something snapped inside me, we were leading a revolution by ourselves, a revolution I did no longer believe in.
So standing there with him outside his gate, the fading tricolours and 10,000 years of sowing wheat, the climate change itself even, and our plans to bring back the heritage wheats of old into production, where all on standby, as if waiting for some heavenly decision, ‘bombs’ he said, ‘they drop bombs on us and than they make new rules’.
This plan that I have convinced him will see him back into farming, more as a way to convince him not to give up. Somehow all of it came together for me, it is this imposing mountain we live under, it makes everything dramatic, everything seems big. I was sitting in the car, talking to the last peasant farmer of Torricella Peligna, about sewing wheat.
The revolution was none other but an effort to save the Holocene from collapsing on itself.
Wheat is what made the weather stable for over ten thousand years, no one really knows about it, because it’s not a scientific fact. It is a pact some long lost ancestor of us made.

One of his dogs set on the ledge of the second floor window, even the dogs here do not follow normal rules, the row of 4 houses were a progression from liveable, to quite broken, to beyond repair, with the last being the house were the dog lives on a window ledge, that dog used to have a brother, one was white and the other was black, the black one used to live on the roof of his house, but he disappeared one day. Then after the roof was somewhat fixed, the remaining puppy, I took to call Yang, because they looked like Yin and Yang, the white has a black head and the black had a white.
The remaining puppy used to sit on the upstairs window, as if he was mourning his brother.
Things were different under the mountain, and it made some dogs behave differently, Yang found a compromise, he only ventured as far as the second floor, his brother went all the way to heaven and disappeared. One needs to find a balance with how far it allowed the mountain to drive him into other planes of existence, the dogs knew it.
It was the time of the second wave and sure no one dropped bombs to infect us all, or so we we think, but it is also true that things stopped making sense.

Yang at the window ledge

It was a picture frame, his dog. Framed by choice over sensibility, the mountain pulls us into higher planes. Sometimes it seems crazy, the old laws of conduct in small Italian villages, so difficult to the outsider at times, that they almost broke me. I felt like I am being asked to make a ruling, here in this strange land of the past, medieval villages are suspended in mid air, dogs are pulled into window ledges, and wheat stands in question, the stability of the Holocene.

I drove back home, I have given all my wheat to local farmers to plant, I give them one seed and they give me two in return, that’s the core of the project. I could not really focus on wheat anymore, In fact I never could. I was running late for work, we have endless yurt covers to make. I wonder how we got to that point, we used to be free, on the road, with no work and no hassle, how come nomads can not travel freely, because they make yurt covers for a thousand campsites.

It is a strange occupation being a yurt maker, and a yurt cover maker (which is the majority of our work) even more so, it’s such an art. We make all of our yurt covers from afar, and believe me it is maybe one of the hardest lines of work. To know how much to add, how much to trust the client’s measurements, where to cut more, where to add less. The fact I was running up and down the mountain, did not help, the measurements of three different covers were turning inside my head to a point that I could not see the math anymore, Pythagoras was taking over but who knows what he was calculating. There are pictures in my mind, snaps, stories and they tend to come out when I sew.
The problem is that it is hard to bring them out to make sense, not so much to me, but to others.

I know what was going on, I know it was not bombs, but I also know my neighbour is not crazy, even though the locals sometimes say he is, he is the last link of a chain of a people, a way of life – the sedentary. I am his neighbour, yet I never belonged anywhere, and though I find it hard to deal with the issues of central Italy, I have found a belonging here. I am though more of a nomad and he, the last peasant farmer. The mountain frames everything in this dramatic sense, a romanticisation of daily lives.
If we did not buy our land with the last houses of the commune, he would have sold already. So I live in the contradiction, it’s the end of time, not because the world is ending, because it is not, what is ending is our pact with the creator.

Currently here, under the mountain where dogs live in their own abandoned houses, perched on window sills, me and my neighbour are facing this question together, can we save the climate?.
What is hard to explain, is that the climate we are used to is an agreement.
It is an agreement made by nomads at the end of the younger dryas (the last ice age) when in order to stop the sky from rotating, which they failed, they chose to live in one place. What they succeeded in, is making the chain of ice ages stop. They did it with wheat, they did it by stopping their roaming.

It is only in the contradictions, on the edge of abandon, or when everything seems to fall apart, something magical opens, like a door. In it you can see the making of ages. Italy of the mountains is ruled by something older, something that seems so foreign to the outsider, it is community.
What makes it hard to see, is that we have a sense of community that we gained from instagram, novels of a paradise lost, of other ways of life.
So it is hard for us to see it, because now, at the end of the Holocene, when all the agreements are falling down, we do not understand that the last guardians of a ten thousand year agreement, are small Italian farmers.

Nomads, it has been said always plunder the sedentary. We, in our own personal journey, have come to place after place like that, the rule of 5 (which also means something else to us) meant that we were used to pack our things and move within 5 minutes, if we deemed a place to be unhealthy. That still drives me crazy, the idea of living in a park-up, in a lay-by for 6 years. The Huns see houses as tombs, and I can not fault the judgement, houses are tombs for nomads.
I sit on a pile of yurt covers, there are only a few people who knows this art, the cover makers, most of which have been taught by us. We have our own language, seam allowances, and shrinkage. Sometime at the end of long day of chasing the illusive line between reality and craziness, trying to find the right place to end the canvas above the yurt door, not sure if to trust the client, or the figures they have sent us, it boils down to intuition, at the end of the day sometimes we have a small victory, a new way to pattern the roof pieces or
another way to stitch the cap. Sometimes we design another tent, but most of all it is impeccability of the trade, throwing yourself into the unknown of
someone else’s frame. Learning a to know from experience what can go wrong, and assume the worst, I laugh how my clients get amazed when I tell them how they took a measurement and why its wrong. To give them their dues, they work hard to measure their frames for us, and we send them back and back again to them to make sure they haven’t got anything wrong.

How did we get here, can nomads make the law for the countryside?, I remember when we lived in tents, and everything seemed sane, even if new age community is a monstrosity, with no real roots in existence, but we were the only people living in tents. The rest of the population lived in houses, we were poor, and once every few years we would sell our tent cover, or poles, it was our way to pay for a new home. which was again a tent, it was like a snake shedding its skin, and in order to afford the new one, he had to sell the old to someone else, this is how it all started.

How did we end up with a thousand campsites, and people in massive estates calling us to make them new yurt covers. Now they ask us how to run the countryside, but we alongside them have ruined it. We turned it into a chain of holiday homes and campsites, we sold them our community and they use it to repackage their massive estates, so we can never buy, or even rent in the countryside, and none of us is really happy, even though for a time they pretend it’s so much better solution to farming, its called diversification, I can call it diversify your attention from what’s really going on.

So you see, it is hard to strike a balance between the real and the made up, the lines are diffused, only a few yurt cover-makers know that art, only they understand. We live in a lie, because as long as we make yurts for sedentary people we can not travel, it is their way to keep us in place, they sell our art, and the country side with it to an endless stream of people who would never live in it. Together we have repackaged the land and made it less accessible to all.

We have no time to make up our mind, to lead the sedentary into another epoch, because there is always the next yurt cover to make, I am lucky because I have trained others to make covers with me, and it gave me some time to focus on something else. We dreamed together, but the pressure of making a cover after cover, yurt after yurt, broke their dreams. They feel like we will never find freedom, all that we have found is an endless pile of patterning, we got holed in small homes and workshops. Once the only campsites were where we lived, around the fire.

We all knew how to make our tents. Sure, none of us were very good at it because we only did it every few years. Now we sold our freedom, and we make the best tents in the world, I know things about pattern making that few do, Its an art, when you get good at it you can do it in mid air, its a space a few can hold, the patterns float, and you must hold them all inside you, balancing all the factors, holding all the measurements, the canvas shrink, the stitching. We sold our way of life and the community, and as long as we keep doing so, to people who re-market it as an experiential tourism, nor we or them can ever find it again.
The people who I’ve trained blame me, and maybe they are right. I feel like something is looming over us all. It is decision time. Underneath all this industry of selling the landscape as a package, there is a small family of tent makers, and most of us are related.

In central Italy the mountain rules all, I know that modern society is incapable of true community, it does not even know what it should look like. We have become accustomed to making belief, we convince each other community still exists. I have lived in the marginal, in the borderlands of society all my life, I have seen enough alternative communities to know nothing is different. Maybe I am the only one that will say it, but there is no such thing as sustainable tourism either. We sell abandoned lands as a dream, as a resource, when we aren’t willing to live sustainably in them.
I have been up since 5 in the morning, and I am on the verge of giving up on my (now) one man revolution, I know something else. It is just hard to speak about it, my “crazy” neighbour seems the only sane person around, ‘bombs’ of coronavirus, are the mark of the end of an epoch. Most of us are so distracted by Covid-19, that we do not see that the countryside itself is sick, the apple trees, the olives. This last year has seen a whole olive field next to our place in Italy, develop a new sickness. We are all so homocentric that we miss out, currently (it seems to me at least) all of the non local varieties of fruit trees are dying. Sure they always had less tolerance to sickness, but they managed, you do not expect them all to die within one year. After all the olive grove next to our houses have been there for 30 years.

I say I am a nomad, but there have been no true nomads for over ten thousand years. Nomadism as we know it is an offshoot of the neolithic revolution, the people of the steppe domesticated horses, and it gave them a trading power. They lived in yurts, and now I feel like their last descendant, I know things that only exist in contradictions. We have ran out of a design plan, our rent is due. I led a one man’s revolution, I have to make up my mind, but my mind does not function like other people’s.

In the long long ago, all mammals have been infected by a virus, not unlike we are now. ‘Bombs’ he said it, and it makes me laugh.
Some think he is crazy, but there is a sanity in how he sees things, in his dialect, it is a language of his own, made from being the last frontier man for so many years, farming the last farm of the village. The real edge of abandonment makes one sane in ways others can not comprehend, it is where nature writes Man.

All of our minds have been infected by a virus, and this is how we think. Activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein or ARC as it is known, plays a critical role in synaptic plasticity in our brains. With an important function in our memory. It has been suggested that it acts in a very similar way to a virus, self assembling into virion-like capsids that encapsulate RNA as it does.
It is thus theorised to be repurposed from a viral event somewhere in earlier evolution in order to mediate intercellular communication in neurones.
What?!! you may ask.

We have ALWAYS been thinking like a virus!!!, in fact thinking is a viral function, and that is what I am trying to say, what we deem crazy, is that some of us do not encapsulate in the same manner, our thoughts are not regular, and mine never seem to have been. We are humans, now scared of a new virus, always scared of the virus, yet it is the virus itself that taught us to be scared. We above all other animals, we are not the smartest, we just got more virused. That is why community is hard for us, we make separation inside our heads, the capsids we wrap around our thoughts and memories.
Yet that was then (million of years ago) and now is now, and now is the time for someone to make a decision, the trees are dying, and the Holocene is at an end, not because of climate change, but because we stopped honouring our agreement with the creator, when nomads come to farm.

Living in the marginal makes you see things that others do not, and it teaches you to not put stock in thoughts, or agreements, those work very well for people in the city, they live in a system, for me houses are tombs, and thoughts are a take over from another ancient pandemic, one that has changed mammals into new evolutionary strategy. So we think, and we think a lot, we remember also, but it is just the function of a virus from long ago, and even though it gave us brilliance, we still need to make our choices for ourselves, the trade off for that so called brilliance is community, what made us “better” than the animals, is not that we are, is that we think is separation, we can break the biome, we can encapsulate the idea of the individual, and they can not, they have been infected like us, but never got as sick.
My problem is that I need to decide for others.

Writing for me is a way to bridge all of that, where I live there are no rules. Simply because no one wants to live there. I was pushed all of my life to this place, the borderland, even as a kid. So now my mind works in a different way, and it takes a lot to balance it all, I have to wake up at 4am to think clearly. The hard truth about the virus that made us able to think, is that it gave us one mind only, and made us all share it. None of us think alone. I took me years to accept that fact. I was taught by others, the simple first steps into telepathy, and it almost ruined me. What was hard was not being able to hear other people’s thoughts, it was understanding that none of mine were ever my own.

So I guess since then the only place that makes sense is the marginal, the abandoned lands without design, where nature and Man hit on each other as waves. It is a contradiction – where nomads come to farm, to hold the last days of an epoch at bay, and because I do not like to decide for others, I find myself sitting on a mountain of yurt covers, that we make for a string of campsites, places that have “diversified”, or in other words, stopped farming. We are nomads and we never cared about farming. I mean we are all nomads, we only farm because there are too many of us to live freely, we killed too many animals. That is the story of the last epoch, that is why we spent ice age after ice age in isolation. The world was devastated in ways we could no longer fathom. Now we freak out because one degree celsius of change, at the end of the last ice age, our ancestors stood a much more nomadic earth. Their stories of the flood, and comets, of endless winters of starvation is what drove them to a new agreement, but even then it was not all of them who decided, it was a small group of people who came together to hold the sky from rotating. They tried to stop the heavenly mill from grinding the ages, and they failed, but they did manage something else, they managed to appease the creator, and they gave us the Holocene, they were as wild as we are tame, we fear a change of 2 degrees, which comes to show how stable our climate is.

I have to make up my mind, but I no longer trust the mind, I say this, if we are to make a new decision if we are called to turn the heavenly mill around again, our rent is due, and we can no longer find a house to live in, because houses are tombs, yet nomads are just horse breeders without an idea, that do not even grow their own food.

Nomads have been a threat to the climate, because the climate is an agreement they made, I write because I feel you too must have a say. In order to find sanity.
I always ran away, my mind maybe does not work like yours, I need a lot of quiet to hear my own thoughts, so much so, I usually do not trust mine, only at 4 am while the world is asleep. I know the thoughts are mine.

I have learned to trust something else, which is more akin to feelings.
I see truths in contradictions, where dogs sit on window ledges, where the crazy are actually the sane ones. Yang lives on the window of a broken house, mourning because Yin has gone to heaven.