Anne King visits one of the area’s growing number of eco-homes to find out what’s involved in living off-grid.
It was 16 years ago that Pat Bowcock moved into a tiny caravan in an empty pony paddock on the outskirts of Litton Cheney.
She had a dog for company, but no power or facilities, or, it turned out on the first night, even a torch.
She had been living in a lovely house in Litton. She was married to a head teacher, was a mum with two children and had a steady job with a GP.
But she felt an increasing desire to live in a different way.
Today Pat’s permaculture business Ourganics is on the five flourishing acres of ancient water meadow, which support her own lifestyle, and her business growing and selling seasonal fruit, flowers, vegetables and herbs.
Ourganics is a venue for permaculture courses and a place for people to learn and experience an alternative and sustainable way of living, all off-grid and off-mains.
There is a solar shower in the corner of the 27-metre long polytunnel, which is redolent with herbs and greenery. The lounge consists of an armchair and hay bales.
The fridge is a pot packed round with sand and pebbles, which sits in the stream — and the dishwasher, when needed, is a small waterfall.
Power comes from the sun, channelled through solar panels and stored in a battery bank.
The loos are a stroll across the field, where waste is composted with sawdust and a hay bale. The bathtub is open to the stars, water boosted to luxuriously hot by a log-burner to one side.
Pat says: “I wanted to live quietly, to live simply, to live off-grid.
“I wanted to clean up water, to grow food, to create a haven in what was becoming an increasingly busy world and just to make a beautiful space and look after the land.
“I had never done a business plan, and I had only grown in a little garden.
“This way of life isn’t without its daily challenges sometimes, especially as I get older. I made up a mantra when I arrived in the field — it was: ‘All my and the field’s needs would be met, they would just walk down the track — so I put in a track pretty quickly!’
“Our needs have always been met, though not always in the way I was expecting.”
A group of Plan B volunteers from the Bridport area’s permaculture group regularly comes to Ourganics to help out.
“Plan B days are a treat,” adds Pat. “Watching the field buzzing with people and sharing a lunch is heart-warming.”
Pat spent a couple of years living by candlelight in her caravan. Eventually a simple, highly insulated timber-framed building was erected on the footprint of a tumbledown stable block. It is now a colourful and cosy open plan home at the heart of which is the precious log burner: “The source of life when it’s cold and wet!”
She has worked out that 82% of her needs are met by living in the field.
As far as possible, cooking is done in the open-air fireplace fuelled by wood from the site. The outside kitchen is open to the elements, although propane gas now fuels a cooker in a small inside kitchen, for bread and for use in the worst of the weather. The shower in the polytunnel is powered by solar and gas and is “an absolute treat”.
Rainwater is collected and then filtered through charcoal for drinking.
Chickens roam free and beehives sit alongside the growing beds.
Wormeries for composting food waste work away efficiently in columns of old tyres packed with hay.
Pat says that the key to her scheme was water. With a stream running by the field entrance and the River Bride at the end of the field, the old system of sluices was reinstated, ditches re-dug and streams created, feeding the two ponds and saturating the flood garden when required.
She says: “When I have groups here, I put out a certain amount of water for them and it is amazing how, by the time they go, they have developed a consciousness of water, how valuable it is and how heavy it is to carry: whereas they say at home, they just don’t think anything of it.
“We don’t have a bath all that often,” she admits. “The full moon’s a good time! But when we do, the water can be heated up by a log burner next to the bath and it’s lovely!”
Pat has planted at least 1,000 native trees on the land, which also hosts a 14ft yurt (which doubles up as classroom or rather luxurious bedroom), and camping keyhole pods for those seeking a back-to-nature tenting experience.
A willow patch gets harvested in the winter as a source of income.
“I started off saying no to fossil fuels, no plastics, no vehicles, but my son said: ‘Mum, get a life! You’re going to be about 140 before you get it done’ — so I got a digger driver in.
“I had done a permaculture design course before arriving in the field, so I had got that under my belt and I had done a few pond-digging courses, and straw-bale building courses.
“The three ethics of permaculture are people care, land care, fair share. They just hit me somewhere inside and I thought: ‘Oh to be able to live using those, to run a business and have a lifestyle like that!’”
Pat says she has learned a lot since the early days and wants to say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to making Ourganics what it is today.
“And it has improved my sense of humour!” she admits.
“The joy of waking up and looking out at all this and walking across to the loo, even if it’s deeply frosty or pouring — it’s such a privilege.”