No TV, no electricity, no walls, no doors…we love our tepee

For Ann, her partner Chic and their two children, a Wild West-style tepee in the middle of a Welsh valley is home sweet home.

Imagine living under canvas all year round, without running water, electricity or gas. There's no microwave oven or television set. You grow your own food and pull fresh water from the well.

It's not most people's idea of comfort, but Ann and her partner Chic love their tepee home. It's set in an idyllic spot hidden in a Welsh valley, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


Chic and family

Chic, Ann, Zac and Kari

The valley is owned by about 45 people living in the tepee village. Scotsman Chic has lived and worked there for 18 years now.

"I came here here by accident," he says. "A friend invited me to visit but when I turned up he wasn't here so I stayed in his tepee anyway."

Chic never left the village, and met Ann there about 10 years ago. Now the pair, who don't use their surnames or keep track of their ages, have two children - Zac, six, who goes to a Welsh language school, and daughter Kari, three, who starts school in the autumn.

Chic earns a living making tepees - something he's learnt over the years - and he exports them all over the world.

"Life here is not so different to in a normal suburban home," insists Ann. "But everything in a tepee has to have a use as space is tight. Beds roll up and double as sofas during the day. Sheepskins that are used at night on top of eiderdowns are also used to sit on."

"The most important feature of the tepee is the fire in the centre - that's your central heating, your water heater and your cooker , all-in-one."

The smoke rises up the middle and out of smoke flaps in the top. You can open and shut the flaps according to the wind direction so the smoke goes out and the rain doesn't come in."

Everything in the tepee is of good quality - cheap rugs and bedding would have the family shivering and damp. "Rushes and grasses go on the floor first, then woolen rugs and the sheepskins go on top. Any tepees have to be moved every six months otherwise the ground underneath goes bad."

"You have to chop the wood for the fire, store it and then carry it down to the tepee. You can't run out of wood in the middle of winter - you'd freeze," says Ann.

"We listen to radio 4 in the morning and that provides all the news for the day," says Chic. "There isn't anything good on television these days, and we don't miss it."

But what about baths and most importantly - the toilet?

There isn't anything good on the TV these days, so we don't miss it

"Water is from our own well and has to be collected every day," says Ann. "Hygiene is very important. You have to wash things in hot soapy water and keep yourself very clean, otherwise illness and infection can spread quickly."

"We've got an old-fashioned tin bath. In the summer we put it somewhere with a great view - you just can't beat sitting in the bath looking over the valley."

For toilets they dig their own latrines for environmentally-friendly waste disposal.


But is a tepee a good place to bring up two young children?

"In summer they play outside until 10pm," says Ann. "It's totally safe, there is no traffic here and no strangers - just fields, streams, trees and open countryside."

"In winter the children are often happy to go to bed by 6.30pm - they follow their natural instincts instead of being driven by electricity."

The couple and other families who live in the tepee village are gradually becoming totally self-sufficient. They grow their own vegetables and rear their own animals. And now they're raising money to pay to bring disadvantaged children to the valley to show them what living off the land is really like.

"The idea is to take them back to nature and make them focus on practical living skills and perhaps put their own lives in perspective," says a spokesman for the Tyneside Tipi project.

People may think living here is too uncomfortable," says Chic. "Yet it's what you make of it. We have far less stress here and you can live far more cheaply. The only keeping-up-with-the-Joneses we have here is over who's the warmest on cold winter nights!"

Reprinted from Sunday magazine.