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Living in my Nordic Tipi.

Tuesday, 04 August 2015 at 12:00 pm

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We’ve received a fair amount of comments, emails and messages from people, keen to extend their residency in our Nordic tipis, and here’s a Post by Jilly Sherlock telling of her own experiences through the cold, wet and high winds of a British winter.  The temperate UK climate is heavily influenced by Atlantic weather systems, delivering their own challenges.  Here’s what you might expect if you’re tempted to give it a try.

Both the tipi and Jilly continue to stand the test of time.

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September

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The tipi is up! Finally after 5 months of living in a tent I can stand upright. I feel lost though on that first night with the dark floor of the groundsheet and the capacious soulless interior . I dream of being chased around the woodburning stove by a moustached man with a whip and top hat.  2 days later I’ve collected wood, have lain down reindeer skins on tartan rugs and have cooked my dinner on top of the woodburning stove. I have never felt so content. I have a moat. My friend always said you know you’ve made it in life when you have a property you can drive around. Well, sod that I can wade around mine! It’s always a challenge being in the upper valley renown for being on a flood plain. I should have realised with the marsh plants around. I find some wooden planks so I can access my home via a drawbridge.

October

Jilly_2

I’ve moved to slightly higher ground, well ground that is not covered in marsh plants. It’s sunny and beautiful, the farmer delivers me wood for my birthday, my friends buy me a coal bucket and fireside utensils, my mother sends me fire proof gloves after she sees the burns on my hands and the holes throwing out feathers at an alarming rate from my down jacket, my sister and niece an axe. I have got rid of the smelly groundsheet and have a carpet of grass. Who needs a floor hey? I eat my breakfast of porridge oats and watch an earthworm burrowing his head out of the earth and wriggling between my toes. I need a floor. Mud mud glorious mud. Mud is everywhere. My belongings are turning green, my books are curling. I need a floor. Oh god the wind has come. I have perfected a tipi in wind impression with my arms outstretched and wobbling from side to side. The forecast is bad. Hurricane ex-Gonzalo is about to hit. I chicken out and take my tipi down, store my life under a cheap tarp and sit out the night in my mountain tent. Tipi is back up. I regain my confidence. I search for wood. I never realised how much wood I would need. I trek across the fields after I get a tip off about some abandoned wood pile. I carry it back in relays in a Booths canvas bag, bowsaw strapped to my back.

November.

Dark circles under my eyes and a jaw permanently clenched: thankfully someone recognises my plight and suggests a more sheltered bit of land. I ask my cousin a joiner to build me a wooden floor. The tipi is up, it looks great, I have an even floor! The sun is shining but then one day it disappears. Where’s the sun gone?’ I ask the farmer. He looks at me as if I am slightly mad not knowing..‘End of February it returns’ he says and adds a shrug to my wide eyed astonishment. I am at breaking point. Up to my knees in water, hands plunged into icy waters trying to scrape through the bottom of a dry stone wall to let the gallons of water escape. My knuckles are bruised, swollen and raw. I laugh but I want to cry. But I won’t. I fear failure and told you so’s.  Someone steals my mattress I’ve left out to dry. I cry. I sleep on a wooden pallet, taking some relief from the discomfort with a folded duvet underneath me.. damp and mouldy but it works for now. The wind. I can’t bear it. It is driving me crazy. I sit and hear the roar, the ‘express train’ they call it here. I hear it rip through the trees, it screams, its so loud, it’s missed my tent. then it swirls round and then it hits. I stand feebly holding the pole which trembles violently. I pull on my rigger boots and sodden waterproofs and go outside in that dark dark unforgiving November eve: repeg guy ropes and dig again furiously under the dry stone wall poking and attempting to unclog the tiny channel of leaves with a branch of ash. It has got to stop this wind. I’ve cycled through Patagonia and suffered the mad bad winds there and been stranded on mountains in my one man tent, but living full time like this is hard. I feel alone for the first time in a long long time. The noise is unbearable but then a black shape dives under the flaps of my tipi and sits in my wood basket. I have a friend.

Jilly_3

Sheep. 150 of them. In ‘my garden’. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Herdwicks with a passion, they frame and have formed the landscape of the Lakes. But 150 of them? It is 2130 as I write this. One hour ago they began their journey to my tipi. Every night they retreat to the golden pyramid of light. They shit everywhere. it is mating season. the females on heat every 16 days. their backs are daubed in grafitti. blue and green so far , next week red. 5 tups in the field. They woo the yows at the back of my tipi, tripping over my guy ropes in their chase which twang like a giant elastic band and my flue trembles and I grab hold of the central pole which keeps my tipi upright. my shoes are caked in dirt and I leave a trail of sheep poo wherever I tread.

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December

There has been no sunshine on my tipi for a month now. My sleeping bag is green with mould. I am festering. My daily panic for wood has now increased to hourly. The winds have calmed for a few days. I wake, it’s late morning but so dark. Not a sound, the silence is oppressive yet simultaneously calming. I shiver. Something is not right. I open the zip.. SNOW!!

Jilly_4

I buy tinsel and fairy lights to wrap around the clothes rail. I wrap tinsel on the outer too. I am in a canvas christmas tree. I play the christmas album and Edith Piaff and make mulled wine on my stove and belly pork inside: I am adapting to the darkness. I buy hurricane lamps and learn to love the smell of paraffin oil. I buy a wee tree and make my own xmas cards. The snow goes but falls again on Xmas day as I climb the fells with friends. I eat and drink too much and love the place I call home.

Jilly_6

January

I return south to visit family just as the storm force winds hit. I get a phone call.. tipi not good. I despair, my life is within that millimetre of canvas. A severe weather warning is issued, campsites close and my central pole bent 30 degrees. But the tipi stays upright apart from a slight hunched look. Friends rally round and I am totally indebted to them as they mopped my floor, piled up my furniture and removed the pole and installed a steel scaffolding pipe in its place. I return. The cat is thin. I apologise.  ‘but you’re not my cat’ I mutter as it wolfs down a kilo of dried cat food I’ve carried in my back pack. The cold sweeps in. The glass of water by my bedside is frozen solid. Yet I am in paradise: the fells are wondrous contours of white. I climb, I rejoice, I warm my feet on pub fires and my soul with ale. I light my fire on my return and listen to the owls and occasionally unzip my door on a calm windfree night and stare at the stars.

February

Winter continues. The canvas has now 6 holes in it from soot that has fallen from the chimney. I stop the water coming in with seamgrip and pretend that the weak light that streams through are stars. Hail stones bounce off my stove as they fall through the gap between flue and canvas. My central floor is black and rotten. I buy a silicon flue cap – it sort of works but water still pours through the flue. I ditch the reindeer skins and replace them with cheap picnic rugs. I am in my tipi and something feels wrong. I look up to where the flue leaves the canvas, it is bathed in golden light. Shit. Fire!! No…… hold on I haven’t lit the stove. The brush of light sweeps down further and I unzip to see the wonderful sight of the sun that has returned – as promised – peeping over the fell. I have survived.

March

Castrated males (one year old sheep) are causing chaos. They jump on my tipi, trip over the guy ropes and rip my store tent in half.

April

it’s 6am and wet and windy. I stagger out and see the first one. oh oh shit it’s dead. I wait and watch the mother sniff and walk away. It just lies on it’s side black and wet. I wait. still nothing. I approach and gingerly touch it. I rub it gently and its lips tremor into a bleat. The mother returns and stamps her hoof at me. I retreat and watch as the lamb staggers to its feet and its head disappears into the warmth of its mother. Placenta everywhere. Lambing season is in full force. I am late for work as I watch a ewe give birth to the tiniest twins. A lamb suckles my kneecap as its mother looks on in frustration. There are dead ones and grieving sheep and my heart aches.

Jilly_5

May

I have a baby. She’s a few days old and she lies across my lap as the rain pours on us and she suckles hungrily on the bottle. So many days she seems unresponsive and huddles in the corner. I give her a hot water bottle at night to comfort her. I call her Lamb Henrietta. The cat that is not my cat has had kittens, thankfully on the farm a kilometre away. She still arrives every night, exhausted and drawn and sups on ewes milk. I take on another orphan. I call him Lamb Henry. Then I’m not so sure so ask the farmer in the pub. He looks at me with astonishment and mutters slowly ‘2 holes tis a girl, one and pair ov balls tis male’. I feel thankful my parents never paid for my education. I check again. I stick with Lamb Henry. The farmer appears with another sack of milk powder. I ask him to check. He chuckles as he pulls up the tail. She is rechristened Lamb Henri. I am deprived of sleep. They wake at 0514 and bleat loudly outside my tipi. I reinsert my earplugs and wrap my jumper round my head. Their cries are more urgent and they fling themselves at my tipi, sliding down the canvas and clatter on to the vintage oil lamps outside. I pull on my waterproofs, reach for the milk powder wincing at its sweet sickly odour, measure, light my msr stove, heat water, test, pour, shake, test squirt from 2 bottles and slowly unzip the tipi and 2 lambs leap upon my head. My sheep are my shadow, I am their mother: I am a poor impersonator of Little Bo Peep.

June

The meadows are in full bloom, 2 chubby lambs and 50 shades of green greet me as I unzip my tipi. Swallows in a conductor’s baton swoop and flick accompany the sounds of spring as they reach an orchestral crescendo: lambs call for mothers and mothers call for lambs, chaffinches, bullfinches, wagtails, pied flycatchers and robins chirp and chatter, twitter and warble, climbers on raven crag shout to the belayers below, farmers speak in foreign tongues to their dogs, farm machinery clangs, cattle grids rattle, helicopters whirr as they look for the fallen and lost, and they all join the chorus as bracken shoots and unfurls to the drama, hedgerows are daubed in a kaleidoscope of wild flowers, the air is sweet and fresh with regrowth and life. Spring may have arrived late this year but it is finally here.

I am content.

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More details of tipi life and Jilly’s incredible bicycle trips can be found here, on her Blog:

http://sherlocktales.blogspot.co.uk

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