Building has been occurring all over Whistlebare in the last few years. To begin with we extended the farmhouse as three bedrooms for a family of six was becoming very cramped. There were two unforeseen bonuses of this, firstly we acquired the fabulous ‘games room’ in which we can hold knitting events for masses of people, perfect timing as no-one can currently visit us! Also though, we now have room to accommodate wwoof volunteers. For those who haven’t heard of wwoof, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or from a host’s perspective, Willing Workers On Organic Farms!
We have had several very nice and very helpful volunteers since Christmas. Most particularly Kai from Canada who was our first wwoofer and who returned to us for ‘lockdown’ when he found himself marooned. Kai is very interested in all traditional skills. Since being here, amongst other things, he has made candles from our beeswax, he has vegetable tanned some hides and yesterday saw him cooking up lye from ash to make soap! His biggest project however, has been constructing a wattle and daub round house, affectionately known as ‘The Hut’.
Our oldest and youngest junior goat slaves were keen to build a den. I’m not sure whether the motivation for this was a desire to fill their time or to have a place to hide when jobs are being issued! Either way their desire for a den and Kai’s interest in ancient building techniques came together perfectly.
A suitable site was chosen down in the orchard near the poly tunnel. Small fence posts were knocked in forming a 7′ diameter circle. Willow was harvested from around the farm and woven between the posts. When the willow started to run out we moved on to hazel. The top of the walls was finished with a wooden frame on which to build the roof.
Possibly a roof, possibly a witches hat! Again made from willow constructed like a teepee. There was much concern at the time as to whether their thatching skills and indeed available thatching materials would result in a waterproof roof. So here our builders did vary from tradition as they chose to cover their roof structure with a modern breathable but waterproof membrane scavenged from our Studio extension site.
Back to the walls. Various daub mixtures were trialled. Clay was extracted from the field with a pick axe, dried in the yard and crushed with the roller. A plentiful supply of sand was found at the entrance to various badger sets on the farm. Conveniently this came ready mixed with vegetable matter adding structure. Finally fibrous material in the form of dried horse manure was collected from the paddocks. Many variants were mixed and tested but the perfect recipe turned out to be 3 parts clay to 3 parts sand to 1 part manure!
Much messy fun was had ‘daubing’ the walls. The resulting surface, after drying in the sun, was remarkably hard and robust feeling. The walls needed to be sealed next and there was a bit of a rush on as rain was forecast! Our house extension was built out of eco friendly, natural building materials so inevitably involved lime. There was plenty of quick lime left over so this was mixed with water to form traditional lime wash and the walls were painted. Window and door frames were also constructed and nailed into place.
Finally the roof. This was by far the most taxing as we really don’t have suitable materials on the farm. Whilst we have plenty of straw it is all chopped short by the combine harvester and so useless for thatching. We also have reeds which form part of our water purification system after the septic tank. The reed bed is not big enough though to supply the number of reeds needed for our roof. Eventually we settled for hand picking the long stems of coarse grasses growing in the lines of newly planted trees. It was a long and laborious process but eventually enough was collected to bundle and tie to batons on the roof.
Finishing touches included shutters and door along with a roughly woven, circular, grass mat for the earth floor. All rounded off with the most excellent pizza party to celebrate opening ‘The Hut’.
Since then the oldest junior goat slave has bet his friends that he can live in the hut for a week! He can just about lie down as he is only 6’3″ and he is cooking in our little pizza oven and over the fire. I’ll let you know how it goes!