The Townie Farmer

Building the good life without knowing a sodding thing

Page 3 of 3

Window Shopping

Today was a very exciting day.

It was a Rowan Farm Road Trip.

To Gloucester.

To go shopping.

First stop – to see Nick at Ecohaus Internorm Windows’ Showroom.


These windows and doors are a glass act when it comes to their eco credentials. Their triple glazed, air tight formula is the gold standard in Passivhaus construction.


But as well as getting the green light for their sustainability standards…

They’re just plain awesome.

Beautiful to look at. Gracefully solid. And they do that delicate “shhhhhhhhhhhcluuunk” when you slide them closed.

Oli and I were so absorbed admiring the sound quality and craftsmanship, we failed to notice our son busying himself with the task of shoving at a window propped up against a wall.

Despite being so acoustically pleasing once fitted, they make quite a loud clang when they’re knocked over…

But it’s clearly testament to their quality that the window didn’t break. And therefore neither did the bank in having to replace it. And neither did Rory, who was fortunately safely on the other side of the fallen joinery looking very pleased with himself.

So having chosen our composite metal and wood window colours, handles and sliding mechanisms, we made a hasty exit before any Guthries had a go at breaking something else.

And it was on to Everhot.


These range cookers are again the go to option for sustainable living.


Conceived at this Mill and manufactured in the UK, it’s as if someone has taken an Aga and fixed everything that’s wrong with it.


It’s hugely energy efficient and designed to be used with renewables. The ovens are spacious. The hot plates are wide. The temperature is easily adjusted. It goes into eco snooze mode when you’re not using it.  It looks dead smart. And what’s more, it appears to be Rory-proof.





Scrapes And Ladders

It was a great metaphor for the highs and lows of building your own home.

Having been at the top of a ladder on site joyously surveying my newly installed first floor, I then found myself – nanoseconds later – sprawled in a heap on the concrete floor below.

I really could not have been more stupid. And it’s an excellent lesson in why all the Health And Safety Regulations I bemoan are, in fact, rather a good thing.

I arrived on site having purchased my first reclaimed sink at a junk shop:


I was full of excitement that Oli had been, that day, single-handedly putting in the first joists for our bedroom floor. Here are the horizontal joists (essentially the planks on which you lay a floor) and the fateful ladder in question:


Oli’s efforts meant I would be able to stand in the upstairs of our new home for the first time.

I was on a mission.

I hadn’t done a proper risk assessment.

I had a car full of small children watching.

After setting off up a ladder I hadn’t fully checked was stable and then feeling said ladder slip as I reached the top, my first thought before I plummeted downwards was, “It’s OK, Oli will catch me.”

And this ladder epiphany was rather an insight into my charmed existence as the Townie Farmer.

Because the truth is I am guilty of only sidling in for the glory shift.

I prance around enjoying myself in the tractor, while Oli is the one putting in the hard slog. Every day. He is on site no later than 7am (and often much earlier) and he works constantly until the light fades… When he gets back to his computer. He’s even working in his sleep and often wakes up thinking about what needs doing.

When I look back over my posts on this blog, Oli really only gets a mention for his comedy collapse into wet concrete.

But he is the beating heart of this project. He has thought twenty steps ahead on everything. He has neatly filed every document in smart ring binders. He is the one knocking the nails into place and drilling in the screws. He is negotiating with every supplier. He is pursuing with gusto every extravagant or bonkers idea I throw his way. He is felling and planking every tree. He is checking the safety of every ladder.

Oli is the hardest working man I know. And he isn’t just doing this because he is passionate about building a forever home for his family. He works this hard for every client we’ve ever had. Even the ones that don’t bring him cups of tea when it’s snowing.


Oli, Chloe and Me (heavily pregnant with Rory)

Unfortunately Oli didn’t catch me when I fell off the ladder. But he did blame himself vociferously for not doing so. And for not checking the ladder himself. And for not foreseeing my stupidity of clambering up an unsteady piece of kit.

I am so fortunate that he is there to catch me every other time I make a schoolgirl error. And there to put in the grunt work in our joint quest to build our family our own version of the Good Life.

Fortunately I don’t think I’ve broken anything. But as I hobble away on my swollen left foot I am humbled.

I have a deeper respect for what my husband does.

And a deeper respect for the hidden dangers of a building site.

Good Fellers

Take ’em out.

That was the instruction we gave to Yew Tree Landscapes And Tree Care Ltd.

The hit took place yesterday afternoon.


Although it may look like a senseless arboreal attack, this is actually a mercy mission.

Like two hoodie thugs, the ash trees we took down were in fact crowding out the old lady oak. They had to go if she was to survive and flourish.

They were also diseased and dangerous, like all good crims.

But we won’t let their downfall be nothing more than environmental vigilantism.

The useable timber from the felled ash trees will be planked up on site and used in the construction and fit out of our new home. And any off cuts will be stored to fuel our biomass boiler.

You couldn’t really get more local with your timber and fuel supply.

We are also busy planting many new native trees and other plants in an effort to improve the biodiversity of Rowan Farm.

So despite arranging a contract kill with Yew Tree, we are not the boonie mobsters those troublesome ash trees might have you believe.

Bad Calmer

It’s the one good thing that comes with a stillbirth.

Losing my daughter Emily was an emotional bushfire. The kind of experience that sorts out in your mind the stuff that really, properly matters. There’s no room for dead wood and detritus in the mental forest when you face such a death so squarely.

Emily’s legacy to me was a boat-load of perspective. And I try my best to honour that by not sweating the small stuff. Keeping calm and carrying on.

But every so often something happens that undermines that inner calm. Something that makes me aware of a build up of leaf litter on the forest floor. An irritation that highlights a need for a spot of woodland management to regain that precious perspective.

The repeated photographing of us and our workmen by our objectors is one such irritation. As is being shouted at from the footpath or libelled online and in the parish magazine. Those libels have included being called ‘dishonest’, ‘criminal’, engaged in ‘subterfuge’. One particular favourite of mine said we were just like ‘the creeping barrage of the Somme’.

So when I see a lurking paparazzo in the bushes it occasionally ignites my fury and I can feel a raging rant boiling up inside me.

But then I remember Emily’s gift to me.

I cannot possibly begin to fathom the personal miseries or internal battles that incite these people to harass us like they do. I do not live in Syria. Just look at the incredible place Oli and I will be lucky enough to call home and the wonderful life we will be able to provide for Chloe and Rory there.

Emily is buried under a beautiful oak tree at Rowan Farm. So she’ll keep me grounded there. And if I ever get frazzled, I’ll pop over to see her and imagine her telling me to calm down and pipe down and carry on. And I’ll thank her for the umpteenth time for her wise words.

Because I’m truly the luckiest mummy there has ever been.

I just wish Emily was here to tell me in person.



Thank Crikey McCloud’s Not Here

Big Kev.

That’s what we affectionately call him. The Grand Designs guru is bestowed with an almost god-like status in the Guthrie home. His show is property porn as far as we’re concerned.

So it was with considerable excitement that I found myself discussing filming schedules with one of his producers last autumn. They liked our story. Kevin McCloud would be spending a full six days with us. Our project would be documented by Grand Designs. GRAND DESIGNS!!! Coiled springs doesn’t cover it.

When the producer in question later sent me a Dear John email – citing logistical and editorial reasons for ditching us – I was gutted.

But as with so many break ups, what initially seemed totally devastating has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Inevitably with a conversion (or even any building project really) there have been unforeseen challenges; we’ve had to make decisions on the hoof; we’ve made some mistakes we’ve had to hastily rectify. When Oli walked on what he thought was a dry footing and fell Dawn French-style into waist-deep wet concrete we’d have looked like rank amateurs in front of the cameras.

But that’s the joy of this construction game. Every day’s challenging; every day’s exciting; every day’s a school day.

If only Big Kev were here to give a thought-provoking piece to camera.

Reflected Glory


This shiny beauty is our newly power-floated concrete floor.

Completed last night at 10pm sharp.

It’s one element of the project that I have been most excited about and I am totally bowled over by the roller disco result.

The Dream Team of Oli, Toby, Moley, Rob and Donk have been working towards this watershed moment for nearly two months.

But it was very nearly a complete disaster.

The concrete was booked to arrive on Thursday. It was a date that wasn’t flexible. Come hell or high water, Thursday was when 54 tonnes of the sturdy stuff was being dumped on site. Oli and the lads had worked like stink to get ready for this crucial deadline.

But on Monday of this week we had no one to help pump it, lay it or power float it.

Now being ‘can do’ sort-of folk, we had a brief moment of thinking we might give it a go ourselves. But after a quick consultation with those in the know – who told us in no uncertain terms that it would be borderline insanity – we had a swift change of heart.

Cue frantic phone calls to every concrete outfit Google could lay hands on. And like an angel on horseback came riding Danny from CBS Concreting.

I cannot recommend this company highly enough. They were delightful, great value and exceptionally hard-working. The CBS team got cracking at 7.30am and barely drew breath until they had a perfect surface well after nightfall.

And what a finish.

We haven’t even had it polished yet (which comes next) and already you could fix your lippy in it.


Barn Chance

It may not look like the best start.

Asbestos roof, willy graffiti from local school kids, decades of compacted animal poo on the floor… It would take even Kirsty and Phil a spot of imagination.

But somehow it feels like home.

It will be home.

After years of doing battle with planners and locals bearing metaphorical pitchforks, we finally have planning permission to live and work at Rowan Farm. It’s the chance of a lifetime.

Here is Site Manager, Chloe (aged 4), overseeing our first efforts to transform this run-down barn into our family home.



The build will be as sustainable as possible. We’ve already dug a borehole for water and worked hard to improve the ecology of the site, including planting an edible hedgerow and native trees and providing new owl and bat boxes.


Next up… Our building materials, energy provisions for our home, furnishings, interior fit out, life once we actually live here… Will all be as green as we can possibly make them.

But being green isn’t always easy. Just trying to find out exactly what the greenest options available are isn’t always very clear. So we’ve been busy doing a lot of homework and there’s yet more head scratching to do.

We will keep you posted about what we learn in case it helps others doing their level best to be fractionally greener than Jeremy Clarkson eating Blue Fin Tuna on a Transatlantic flight.

Watch this space.




The Townie Farmer

IMG_6113It’s all my ovaries’ fault.

There I was enjoying life as a broadcast journalist and London party girl, when WHAM! I met Oli. In a bar.

On our first date he told me his ultimate dream was to be a farmer. I laughed.

But something about this gorgeous, ruddy-faced boy stopped me from trying quickly and politely to get the bill and make a swift exit. Soon afterwards I fell head over heels. We both rashly quit our jobs in the City to pursue a life in the Hampshire countryside… And make lots of babies.

Fast forward to today. We’ve started an oak framed construction company; weathered Oli developing a frightening heart condition; had two beautiful, sunny, amazing children; together endured the devastating stillbirth of our second daughter; and we’ve bought a derelict farm in the most magical spot.

This is the story of how we set about restoring Rowan Farm and learning the ropes of how to grow and rear our own food.

My 25 year old self just wouldn’t believe where I have ended up ten years on. It’s been one hell of a ride. And it’s about to get even more exciting…


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