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Esc Hero #8: ‘Seeing what you can achieve with your bare hands’

21. What are you currently doing?

My name is Nick Weston. I am just coming to the end of 6 months living in a treehouse I built from scratch using natural and recycled materials in an exercise in low impact, self-sufficient living. Basically, living as a 21st century Hunter-gatherer in the Sussex woodland.

2. What did you do before this?

Before doing this I worked and lived in London doing freelance set-design and cheffing in the events industry for about 5 years.

3. How long have you dreamt of doing this?

For the last 3 years I have been trying to get into writing, which is how my blog www.huntergathercook.typepad.com (www.thetreehousediaries.com) started as a creative outlet. Having been born and raised in the Sussex Countryside, I always wanted to live as close to nature as possible and live a more simple life.

2. What was your Moment of Truth when you realised that you would actually do it?

I wanted to live a low impact lifestyle that was sustainable, I am the type of person that, if something can be done yourself, why pay someone else to do it for you? I was fed up of having to fork out cash for uneccessary things. I would say Ben Law (who built the woodland house on Grand Designs) was a big inspiration. The moment of truth was probably when I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford the next month’s rent and had no work from any of the 5 agencies I worked for, I think the recession gave me the shove I perhaps needed!

3. From a practical perspective, how did you plan for it?

Planning can sometimes get in the way of what you are trying to achieve. I found it easier to see what happened as I went along. The only real plan was a sketched drawing for the foundations with mesurements, then I ordered the wood for the foundations (had to be brand new for strength). My last £300 of my overdraft paid for fixings, the foundations, some stove pipe and recycled corrugated iron sheets from an old Sussex barn.  As most of the wood was recycled or natural, planning was an issue, I never knew what wood I would find in skips and builder’s yards, so it was a bit like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.

4. How are you funding it?

At the start, I funded it from whatever money I could scrape together. My “summer job”, which I did 1-2 times a week was to teach foraging at Safari Britain, a glamping outfit with yurts on the South downs. I was very fortunate to land a 6 month column with Reader’s Digest and eventually a Publishing deal with Anova for a book about my experience which is due out in May next year.

I don’t think you should let money get in the way of your dreams. Unfortunately money is something you need to survive in today’s world. Save up a little from whatever it is you are doing and go for whatever it is you wish to do. I would rather be happy in what I do and be skint, rather than be miserable and loaded: money can’t buy everything.

5. What was the hardest thing about making this happen?

Probably the unknown. I had no idea that I would end up writing my first book, but then one wouldn’t happen without the other, so it was about was a bit like jumping off a cliff and hoping for a soft landing! I had been living with my fiancée (recent!) for the last few years, so striking out on a project like this wasn’t easy for either of us, the separation was difficult, but we had some idea of what it would be like from my 3 months no contact Shipwrecked experience in 2008 when I took the role as “Survival Expert” for the secret 3rd island.

6. What has been the best thing about having made this happen?

There are so many things! No commute, no bills, big open spaces, no annoying schoolkids playing shit music on their mobile phones, no boss telling me what to do, having the creative freedom to do things that I want to do, but most of all: seeing what you can achieve with your bare hands.

RD inside treehouse-1

7. What advice would you give to other people who want to do something similar?

You aren’t getting any younger, property ladders and settling down happen later in life inevitably. I am now looking to build a proper house to live in long term, but there is no way I am going to fork out £200,000 for someone else’s house when I can design and build my own for £30,000! Do you want to look back at your life in your 30’s and realize it was a series of weekends spent in the city out in pubs etc or weeks spent living your life? Very little in London can be done for free, most things in the countryside cost nothing, life’s simple pleasures come in strange little packages!

8. What resources have you found really useful?

You can only be inspired so much from books, articles and websites. Be your own inspiration. If you want to do something, bloody well go and do it! I have a deep set admiration for the British countryside, it is the best thing about this country. Books like The New Poachers Handbook by Ian Niall, Ben Law’s Woodland House, Robinson Crusoe. Many people told me to read Thoreau’s “Walden: A Life in the Woods”, I found as inspirational as kick in the teeth, it did make good kindling though!

9. What else?

If you are stuck in a job you cant stand, day-dreaming is the best way to get through, think about what you really want to do, it could be one idea or several, work out which would be most feasible and get you heading in the direction you wish to take your life. You don’t have to start big, some people cycle around the world others just want to move out of the city. The one thing I have learnt about treehouse dwelling is that life is best when shared, I enjoy my own company, but only for so long… and there is nothing wrong with talking to yourself as long as you are alone!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzEb3YnL-TQ

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  • Nik

    Absolutely superb!

  • Sarah

    Absolutely brilliant, but how did you come by the tree?!

  • Ms. Pintueli Gajjar

    Rob…I have only one word : WOW! I really WOW you for having the courage to take ‘the road less travelled’ and do what you really wanted to do. You have inspired me to do what I have always wanted to do and am going to do it in the next 6 months. WOW….Thanks, Rob. I love you!

  • Rob Symington

    Thanks Pintueli… that’s kind of you. But you should be directing this message to Nick Weston – he’s the man in the tree-house! Good luck with your plans.