The Clearing is a vision of the future in the grounds of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Caretaker report

19 May 2017

Corinne and Wendy

We need to move out of the city.

We had an amazing week at the clearing. We would probably have happily stayed forever, but the next caretakers might have been a bit put out when they got there.

Arriving in the evening when it was nice and quiet, one of the first things we noticed was the wildlife and this continued through our stay. From the bats over the lake (we had a bat detector, I’m not sure we’d get the batteries for this in the future) we think there are daubenton, noctule, serotine and pipistrelle, great crested grebes with 3 stripy babies each having boundary debates in front of the deck, the very noisy geese, the also very noisy rat under the floor (who we did see one day), deer up near the sheep field when we went out for a walk and tawny owls calling at night, lots more but you can see for yourself if you visit.

We also discovered the dome itself is quite noisy. I guess as it’s made of wood and metal they must warm up and cool down at different rates so it creaks as it cools down at night and as it warms up in the morning (I know how it feels). There was also a dead twig from the oak tree rubbing on the metal when the wind blew and making a horrible noise, so that was the first job on the first morning to trim that off.

We found that relying on wood to cook as well as warming the dome was a challenge at times. Having to go outside and light the Kelly kettle first thing in the morning for a cup of tea, or realising you have to get the woodburner pretty hot to cook on it, we were staring at food for some time waiting for something to happen before we got the hang of it. It needs a bit of forward planning knowing that you need to get the fire going before you’re hungry, and then getting a bit too warm as the dome is so well insulated. Having to do this and carry water does make you think about your use of resources more.

Anne from Compton Verney allotment brought us some chard and rhubarb in the middle of the week, which was good as we were on to tins by then (I think there will be tinned food for a good while in the future as it will keep for years). We also had a visit from Stuart who is a volunteer photographer for Compton Verney, he took some nice photos and interviewed us and made it into a little youtube video (I don’t know if there will be youtube in the future).

Cutting firewood with a panel saw was a pain, it’s a shame we didn’t get a bowsaw before big Wilko caught fire. We were lucky that it was mostly warm when we were there, otherwise I think just keeping the fire going would take a lot of your day. Our week started cold and got warmer, we had one pretty rainy day, the dome leaks slightly round the windows in one spot and slightly somewhere behind the kitchen, but just the odd drip and it’s hard to see how it finds its way in.

We managed to do some other little jobs, like securing the kitchen tap a bit better, building a compost bin, planting out seedlings (and keeping the garden watered), fixing the compost toilet (the wee separator thingy was leaking and the seat was too far forward) and we built a Perspex box around the knapsack sprayer to help it heat up for showering. We put the plastic bag camping shower thing on the post by the lake for alfresco showering to be used after not swimming in the lake (not in the nuddy cos that’s not allowed either). We raised the metal ramp to the level of the deck so that people in wheelchairs can make it to the door to look inside of the dome. We made a drip catcher for the draining pots out of (I think) an old piece of garage door, it was described as “very Heath Robinson” by one of the visitors.

We had a steady flow of visitors on most days, they were all positive about the project and interested in what we were up to, we didn’t need to use the caretaker busy sign, but we popped out sometimes during opening hours if we needed a break. Many visitors were sad that the dome will go when the planning permission runs out, which is great; I was worried some people might think it was a bit incongruous in a historic landscape. We had lots of interesting conversations, for example a lady who invests in solar and a couple from Glasgow who are members of CND. Lots of the children didn’t want to go home (they had to be promised that they would come back). I don’t think some of the adults really wanted to go either.

In terms of entertainment (apart from wildlife watching) Wendy played her guitar and Corinne read a hard textbook about statistics, we played board games and went for walks around the grounds and the art gallery. We cycled into Kineton (very post peak oil) and saw a poster for a farmer’s market so we walked in to visit again on the Saturday, we think small scale trading will be important in the future, but we’re not so sure about Morris dancing.

The week has reminded us that we want to go back to a more natural way of life, we need to move out of the city.