Friday, 28 December 2012

Oxford graduate quits society to live a hobbit-style existence in a mud roundhouse in Welsh hills

Meet Mrs Bilbo Baggins: Oxford graduate quits society to live a hobbit-style existence in a mud roundhouse in Welsh hills

Emma Orbach, 58, has shunned society, living in a mudhut she built herself. The Oxford graduate named her home Tir Ysbrydol, which means ‘spirit land’ in Welsh, where she has banned technology. She fetches water from a stream and keeps three goats, seven chickens and two horses

[Left] Enjoying a night in: Oxford graduate Emma Orbach plays the Celtic harp in her hobbit-style mud and straw roundhouse in the Welsh mountains.

Her straw and mud hut looks more suited to Bilbo Baggins.

But unlike the wandering hobbit, Oxford University graduate Emma Orbach is staying firmly put.

The 58-year-old has spent the past 13 years living with no electricity in her self-built roundhouse, generating her own power and growing her own food.

[Left]Independent life: Emma collects firewood for her eco-home which lacks electricity and running water.

Her daily chores involve tending to her vegetable plot and collecting fruit, looking after her three goats, seven chickens and two horses and chopping firewood.

VIDEO In her own words Emma just wants a simple life 

She gets her drinking water from a nearby stream and only rarely ventures to the shops for treats like rice and chocolate.

Her evenings are spent in the glow of her stove, cooking her dinner and playing music on her Celtic harp. 

The vegetarian then retires to her wool-stuffed mattress and wool covers at about 7.30pm.
Mrs Orbach said: ‘This is how I want to live.

This lifestyle makes me feel really happy and at peace and this is my ideal home.’

[Left] Unassuming: The hobbit-like roundhouse has been named Tir Ysbrydol which means 'spirit land' in Welsh.

Nestled in the mountains of West Wales, she named her home Tir Ysbrydol, which means ‘spirit land’ in Welsh.

When her children, who are in their 20s and 30s and live in  London, Bristol and Brighton, visit, they, like all guests at the roundhouse, are banned from bringing technology such as phones or laptops with them.

[Left] Living off the earth: Emma has banned modern technology from her mountain home.

It is all a far cry from the conventional trappings of Mrs Orbach’s background. Her father was a violinist and her mother a librarian. 

After graduating from Oxford  with a degree in Chinese, she  married architectural historian Julian Orbach.
Together they founded the Brithdir Mawr eco-community in the Preseli Mountains near Newport, in Pembrokeshire, round a 180-acre farm in 1993.

For five years they enjoyed a simple life, then a survey plane chanced upon the ‘lost tribe’ and they were plunged into a decade-long battle with officialdom. 

Officials were unable to find any records, let alone planning permission, for the mystery hillside village surrounded by trees and bushes and insisted the eight grass-covered buildings should be demolished.

[Left] The simple life: Emma keeps seven chickens, three goats and two horses at her eco-hut.

The eco-community endured a decade of inquiries, court cases and a planning hearing before their fight, backed by more modern support for green issues, finally ended in victory in 2008 when the roundhouses were given planning approval.

But by then Mr and Mrs Orbach had divorced and the commune split into three entities, including hers. Each community is independent and they co-exist as neighbours in a more traditional style.

[Left] Animal care: Emma milks one of her three goats as part of her daily routine.

Explaining why she set up her own home just before 2000, Mrs Orbach said she felt a ‘very strong pull to live life even more simply’.

She is in the process of building a sixth roundhouse there and has permission from the council to build four more, as well as a sauna, workshop and community building.

She runs a ‘healing and retreat centre’ on the site and usually has about five people living in the other roundhouses. 

They pay her a donation, which covers her £63-a-month council tax payments, repair costs and supplies of grain.

[Left] No stress: Emma relaxes in front of the fire in her hut before she heads to bed when it darkens outside at around 7.30 pm.

She said: ‘I don’t miss anything at all about what is normally called reality. The quality of life, in my view, is decreasing and everything is speeding up and becoming  more stressful.

‘Once or twice I have joked about getting a takeaway pizza delivered here when I am tired after a long day. But I don’t think anyone  would deliver a pizza across two fields anyway.’