What leads a PhD Chemistry student to become a master yurt maker?
Durham alumnus Dr Rob Matthews tells Newswire of his journey from Durham to Andalucia, and the motivations behind his choice to live in a low impact dwelling in the Alpujarras Mountains.
This week, Rob will be a participant in the third International Felt Symposium in the Kyrgyz Republic. Described as an opportunity to “discover the secrets of Kyrgyz felt traditions”. This career move is dramatically different to the life Rob envisioned when he left Durham University.
Rob completed his PhD in Chemistry in 1993 and after a stint in Durham Waterstones, he left to begin a career in an IT software company. He went on to become a freelance IT consultant, and eventually established his own small internet company in London. At the same time he began a MA in Psychotherapy, aware that he wanted to move into a different career area. However, illness forced him to search for a warmer climate than the UK's, and he began to look at moving to Australia.
Some years later, with an Australian Visa application taking its time to come through, Rob and his wife visited Madrid on holiday. The vivacity and charisma of the people that he met there planted in his mind the idea of moving to Spain. Rob felt that Spain to be a passionate place, where the people are more alive. Two years ago the dream came true and he moved to Andalucia.
An interest in ecological living and low impact dwellings combined with the intention to run a retreat led Rob to think about the type of accommodation that he would like to offer his visitors. He began to research the yurt, a traditional, mobile dwelling from countries such as Mongolia. He discovered a master yurt maker who made yurts in the UK. He bought the first yurt, and then learned to make them himself from this expert yurt maker, who remains an advisor in yurt matters technical today. Rob started a business making bespoke yurts and selling them through his website, and is now converting his farm so that he can realise his original dream of providing yurt holidays in Spain.
The holidays are designed “for those who are fed up of the hustle and bustle of busy lives and are looking for something quiet and tranquil”. The accommodation is simple and peaceful, according to the website: “Getting back to nature, living close to the Earth is a great way to escape and revitalise oneself”. But it is not only the yurts that are low impact; the showers are solar powered, and the toilets provide compost. The family are about to begin taking bookings for the spring.
The inspiration for low impact living came partly from the outstanding setting of the Alpujarras Mountains, an area of natural beauty and rich in wildlife. This is due largely to the irrigation systems connecting local villages with the snowmelt, a plentiful source of water which was identified by the Moors as a lifeline to agriculture and sustained existence in the region. The Moors left an infrastructure which is still in place today and distinguishes the lush area from the barren, sun scorched neighbouring mountains.
The village nearest to Rob’s farm has only 60 inhabitants, and small, basic shops. There are certainly no large chain supermarkets close by; when one of his tools breaks Rob has an hour’s drive to replace it. He speaks highly of a slow pace, where quality of life is prized.
So what is next on the list for the Matthews family? A mud house, of course. Rob will be running workshops on how to construct mud housing in the new year, once planning permission has been granted for his own small mud cottage. He estimates it will take 2 years to build, but it will outlast the popular concrete buildings springing up around new developments in Spain. The techniques differ a little from Cob dwellings of the UK but the two countries do share a tradition, which is increasingly popular with those seeking to reduce the impact their lives have on the countryside around them. He is also looking at solar living, powering water heaters and electricity with the sun.
For more details on low impact dwellings browse Rob’s website, www.yurtworkshop.com, or call him in the UK: +44 (0)709 286 5761 or in Spain: +34 958 76 81 21