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An industrial antidote: yurts and Wordsworth in the Lakes

Tafline Laylin

25th March, 2010

A yurt holiday near Wordsworth's ancestral home offers a chance to discover the Lake District's powerful beauty

Writing from the Lake District where he lived most of his life, William Wordsworth lambasted the Industrial Revolution's alienation of people from nature. In his poem the World is Too Much With Us, he writes ‘...Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away...'

In A Guide to the District of the Lakes in the North of England, Wordsworth wrote that early settlers found the District ‘overspread with wood; forest trees, the fir, the oak, the ash, and the birch had skirted the fells...' Not so interested in skirted fells, the industrialists turned the timber into charcoal and other fuel, while the granite, limestone, sandstone and slate left behind by 500 million years of geological processes were mined for building materials. ‘...For this, for everything, we are out of tune.'

Steppes to Rydal

Ben and Sarah Atkinson of Full Circle Yurts are trying to reverse how their guests interact with nature. Inspired by previous outdoor summer camps, where they taught children the value of community and sustainability, the tree surgeon and art therapist sought ways to introduce yurts to the Lake District.

Yurt is the Russian word for dwelling. Ger is the Mongolian word for home. Both words refer to the circular, wooden-framed tents that have for centuries provided shelter to the felt-people (nomads) from fierce conditions on the Central Asian steppes. The yurt's special construction of lattice walls absorbs the energy of gusting winds, while the felt-insulation and wood-fired stove protects families from subarctic temperatures. During hot steppe summers, the tent's dome is lifted to allow air to circulate while still providing shade from the elements. On the steppes, escaping nature is simply not an option.

Built in Mongolia and imported by Ulaan Taij, Full Circle yurts are only slightly modified from their traditional design to withstand the wetter English climate. Otherwise, they are decorated with the same symbols and scrolls that have been passed on for generations. In pursuit of leading people back to nature, the Atkinson family finally chose the stately Rydal Hall grounds as the site for their yurt campground. Once belonging to the Fleming family, the Hall now boasts a B&B, garden and teahouse, and is used to host conferences.

Sacred Space

Sitting across from me in a cozy yurt bedecked with ornate pillows and luxurious burgundy décor, Ben Atkinson quietly sands a pendant for his mother. Outside it is pouring. Inside the stove, central to the yurt, is cranking. I peel off my layers, and feel slightly squirmy sharing this intimate space with a complete stranger. We discuss how homes with separate rooms and halls stratify the families living in them. Architect Ben Ridley calls this kind of living situation a 'territorial envelope' where we shroud our bodies against the 'assault of intimacy'. In the yurt each person is enveloped in one room, exposed and almost forced to participate with everyone else in the circle. While this might be uncomfortable at first, the discomfort is quickly replaced with a powerful sense of unity. By bringing people back into a full awareness of themselves and the people they love, Full Circle holidays have changed lives.

The yurts have virtually no environmental footprint: Ben explains that they are 'never pegged down; there is no digging', and that the only fossil fuel used is propane for cooking. Lighting is provided by solar-powered fairy lights, drinking water is sourced from nearby fells, and the private deck outside each yurt is made from local timber. And, if necessary, it would only take Ben a day to disassemble the yurt and pack off to some other place.

Leave the car behind

To help guests fully appreciate their time in the Lake District, the Atkinsons encourage them to leave their vehicles behind entirely, or at least park them when they arrive. They even offer a 10 per cent discount to anyone who takes the train to Windermere Station and then catches the 555 bus that will bring them within steps of Rydal. With the quaint Victorian village, Ambleside, a mere 30 minutes stroll from Rydal Village, and enough trails and outdoor activities to entertain the most ambitious nature lover, cars really are unnecessary. Experiencing the sublime as well as the sunshine is a Romantic philosophy that requires a rewarding leap into the natural unknown.

Just beyond the yurts are numerous plunge pools, waterfalls, crags and caves to explore, and rock-climbing, kayaking, or mountain biking excursions are also accessible. For a comprehensive list of walking and biking trails, or for other worthwhile information about the Lake District, click here.

Finally, an evening tour of Rydal Mount, Wordsworth's home for 37 years, will bring you full circle. The tour includes chilled wine, famous Grasmere gingerbread, a walk through the poet's gardens, stunning views of Lake Windermere and Rydal Water, and, of course, a poetry reading.

Yurt holidays

Full Circle Yurts is run by Ben and Sarah Atkinson, tel: 07975 671928
Yurtworks in Cornwall, tel: 01208 850670
The Yurt Farm in Ceredigion, Wales, email: info@theyurtfarm.co.uk, tel: 01974821594
Hidden Valley Yurts in Monmouthshire, email: Amanda@hiddenvalleyyurts.co.uk, tel: 01600 860723
The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester, email: info@theorganicfarmshop.co.uk, tel: 01285 640441
Hunger Hill in Devon, email: chris@yurt-holidays.co.uk, tel: 01395 568454

Tafline Laylin is a freelance journalist

For ethical and sustainable suppliers of travel services check out the Ecologist Green Directory here

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