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Thank you, thank you, thank you, you lovely people!

Thanks so much to everyone who helped to create this amazing space! The memories and friendships which grew out of this build will last longer than the building itself, it’s all about the people you meet along the way, as always.

Big love, Matt and Wendy xxx

Finding the right spot – October 2011

     Levels and holes – November 2011

    The Henge – April 2012

     Raising the roof celebrations – June 2012

     All done – relaxing with a beer – July 2012

     Finish Exterior of the Roundhouse Kitchen

Finished Internal of Roundhouse Kitchen at the Bodgers’

The Chez Dev Rap!

Four lovely teachers have just left us after a five day stay in Les Abris and I wanted to share their entry in our visitors book as it made us giggle – wish you’d had time to give us a performance but we know you “museoes” are a bit shy!!

Anyway here it is along with a couple of inserts from arty guests!

     The Original Chez Dev Rap

The Chez Dev Rap!

Spending five nights in a couple of yurts,

Four English girlz   ~

We’ll tell you what we learnt………


Hip hop, a hip hop hap,

Giving the Meers the Chez Dev Rap.


Weary travelers in need of food

Wendy’s lush cooking uplifted our moods,

Served so well by a trio of dudes,

Who were even willing to refresh our loos!


Hip hop, a hip hop hap,

Giving the Meers the Chez Dev Rap.


On our trip to Aubeterre we had a minor mishap,

Navigation’s not our strong point (in fact we’re pretty crap)

Thankfully we found our way to Riberac,

And we couldn’t have done it without your trusty map.


Hip hop, a hip hop hap,

Giving the Meers the Chez Dev Rap.


We’ll miss the shower and we’ll miss the sun

We’ll miss rustic livin’ and alfresco fun,

We’ll miss the garden and all you’ve done,

We’ve come to the end….. We wish we’d just begun!


Hip hop, a hip hop hap,

This is the end of the Chez Dev Rap.

Elly (Kettering), Lucy (Bristol), Lydia (Harpole), and Rachel (Cambridge)  22nd – 27th July 2012

     La Cabushe

     The Pole-lathe down at the Bodgers’ 

Bienvenue Bodgers!

Our first Bodgers’, Susie and Ben have been and gone, but what a journey to get here!

With the help of my little digger I have managed to landscape around the new shower so that it is completely submerged. It has always been my intention with this project that it should have a very low visual impact, my hope is that people will walk along the farm track just above the roundhouse and not even notice it this time next year, when nature (in the form of ivy and periwinkle) has started to take over again.

 Ben sorting out the shower

The straw bale walls have compressed and settled very nicely but they were in need of a haircut so that we could have a good key for the render, so this was done using an old pair of sheep shears, the Bengineer turned hairdresser for the day! The render is a lime and sand mix which for the first coat was pushed and massaged into the straw (gloves on), before the second coat, using trowels and floats was applied. It could then be smoothed off to give you something that resembles a wall. It was great to see Adam, our middle son (aged 16) getting so involved with this alongside Ben and Sam.

 Adam lime-rendering the straw bales

While all of this was going on I was busy cutting up our firewood stockpile to give us materials for making cordwood walls, not sure how we will be heating the house this winter but needs must! All of the walls that won’t be buried will be made from chestnut cordwood, logs cut thirty centimeters in length and laid on mortar like bricks.  Aesthetically these highlight the timberyness of the building which I like.

 Cordwood Wall

Ali’s new project was to line the inside of the shower with sheets of OSB (large boards of chipped up wood – the OSB apparently stands fororrible shitty boards!).  Being a boat builder we thought he would be good at keeping things water tight!! This was a very complicated bit of carpentry, turning a very curvy organic structure into a cube that sits on a shower tray and fits perfectly together with no leaks.  In the meantime Ben was cracking on with his second fix plumbing, putting the sinks and shower tray in place and organising hot and cold water and all of the drainage.

 Shower constuction

All work had to stop on the roundhouse for a day so that we could transport Ali’s deck down to the woods and put the yurt up. It all went without a hitch but needed some muscles to carry the deck down to its plinth.

Laying the deck floor

 Putting up the Bodgers’ Yurt for the first time

Once sat nicely and bolted together we could put the yurt up and organise the canvas and all the rope work. The whole area was really starting to look amazing especially when you consider what we started with at the end of last year, but we didn’t have long before the first punters were arriving!

The Bodgers’ Yurt is complete

Inside the Bodgers’

 The Roundhouse Kitchen

On the big day when Susie and Ben were arriving, the morning was spent furnishing the yurt and roundhouse, clearing up everywhere, getting rid of two months worth of rubbish and accumulated tools and fixings, all the left over pipes and plumbing fittings and off cuts of different membranes. Then in the afternoon it was all hands to the pumps, putting down woodchippings on the pathway, terrace and pole lathe areas, gravelling the kitchen and doing all the final bits and bobs.

As our first clients arrived down the cleft oak steps, made and fitted so beautifully by Matty, Ali was leaving the area in the opposite direction having just finished sealing the shower and still covered in white mastic. Ben was driving the tractor off with a trailer load of stuff and helpers , Wendy and I were there to greet our first Bodgers in an atmosphere of complete serenity. Between us all we have created something truly beautiful!

 Terrace at the Bodgers’

 Bodgers’ Yurt and Roundhouse all ready for guests!

Susie and Bens’ comment in the visitors book when they left pretty much sums up what we are about and why we do what we do and reads as follows:-

“thank you for such a wonderful few days, it has given us time to relax, admire the views and to think. Your hospitality has been perfect. The ginger cake and breakfasts delicious! We are honoured to have been the first in the Bodgers’ Yurt and look forward to coming back for future holidays in these peaceful surroundings. It will be a shock arriving in Hackney later!”(Susie and Ben)

It has been a pleasure to have them both here as our first bodgers!

Best wishes, a relieved and happy Matt x

Work on the Roundhouse

The deadline for the Bodgers’ yurt is today and unfortunately we are not ready!  Thankfully my lovely wife is much more realistic and organised than me so she has secretly kept another yurt available in the event that we might need to juggle bookings around – not ideal but I can’t see anyone minding being in the Grand Abri yurt but especially at the moment as the sunflowers are out in the field just below, so the view is spectacular!

The problems started when we decided that the shower had to be positioned outside the roundhouse perimeter which involved digging another section out of the hillside.  This in itself wasn’t a big deal but by creating a cubicle we had our first corner, and therefore, stress point in the roundhouse. To overcome this we needed strong chunky carpentry again not a problem, just time consuming, so thanks Wendy for giving us that two week cushion!

To say that the last month has been busy is a massive understatement but it has been an absolute joy to see the building come on so quickly.  Once the main timber framing was finished, I went off in search of old car tyres, which lead to yet another classic french moment of me trying to explain why I wanted old car tyres, (well you try explaining about hobbit houses and earth-ship building to the man at the garage) it all ended with that gallic shrug and a mutter of “comme tu veut”.  Once in place they were rammed with stones forming the foundations of our straw-baled walls and they were then all compressed and spiked (with pointed willow rods) as best we could. 



The protective and waterproof membranes and also the land drainage were then carefully fitted as it is critical that the straw bales stay dry. It was decided at this point that Sam was the skinniest person around so he had to climb down between the bales and the excavated rock to organise membranes, drainage and careful placement of the soil, which was then filled up to henge level, compressing the bales still further and giving them a real feeling of strength and solidity.

With the bales in and safe from the elements, we could concentrate once again on the roof. After much deliberation we decided to use large willow wands in a swirling pattern (almost like french randing a basket) which had the effect of smoothing out some of the deviations in the rafter levels, creating a neat look to the underside. We could then carry on pulling the protective and damp-proof membranes over the willow before the soil went on  the roof – it took about 7 tons for the building to be sufficiently buried but the resulting structure instantly had a more cosy feel to it!

In the meantime Ben was busying himself with the first fix plumbing involving three hot and three cold water feeds, plumbing in our home-made solar panel and fitting it on to the roof to get optimum sunlight. 

And whilst everything has been busy down in the woods, Wendy has been tailor making the yurt cover up at the house. The walls are reasonably straight forward but the roof can be awkward and used to require several fittings.  Nowadays Wendy seems to be able to throw the part-made canvas on and make a few deft marks with her chalk here and there which makes no sense to me, bringing a mass of material back to her machine and turning it into a snuggly fitting roof cover with only three or four fittings, it’s a bit of a Harry Potter dark art.  She has also been very busy as ever sorting out all of the furniture for the yurt and roundhouse which involves lots of cleaning and restoration and painting as most of the stuff has to be lovingly restored having been found at vide greniers or brocantes, or donated for reuse!

Two weeks to go and even with the extra time it is going to be right down to the wire to get it ready for the first Bodgers!

Got to go and get on, next time I write it will all be done!

Matt x


The things you can do with an old tyre!

The roundhouse kitchen is now moving along at a rapid pace out of necessity – it feels a bit like build up at Chelsea or Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, all hands to the pumps.  Long, long hours being put in by all but no-one seems to mind, the atmosphere is great, with lots of good humoured banter – it’s turning into a really exciting project and everyone can see where it is going now that the henge and reciprocal roof are on.

We are starting to organise the landscaping and terracing of the outdoor space and we’ve discovered the delights of earthship building, using old tyres from the local lorry park – a great way to turn slopes into terraces in double quick time, and it looks great now let alone in twelve months time when it is covered in greenery, added to which it’s strong, long lasting and is recycling at its absolute best quite apart from being free.

The mains water pipe is now in place and I am so happy that I have convinced the Bengineer that he should take a temporary break and become a plumber for the next little while!  I’m not sure how keen he is but I’m so so relieved and it will be a good challenge for him!

The stone pillars are now in place for the yurt platform and Ali, the boat builder, is up in the cart shed busy building the platform. It’s a complicated structure that has to be built in four pieces for transport reasons so you end up with lots of angled cuts in the timber – hopefully it’ll fit together neatly at the end and marry up to the pillars down in the woods!

The yurt which was started by the lovely Dave and Alex back in January is almost complete. This is no indication that they are slow yurt builders just that they have got involved in so many other projects in the past five months.  It will however be worth the wait as I think that it’s going to be our best made yurt to date. And so it should be as I strongly believe that if you don’t go into a project with the view that you will improve on previous work perhaps you shouldn’t start in the first place!

In fairness, Dave went off to do aid work in the Congo for ShelterBox for a while and Alex has single handedly transformed the kitchen garden.  Sadly they are heading back to the UK, Dave is hoping for a permanent position with Medicine Sans Frontiers, so good luck to both of them, they will be greatly missed, thank you so so much you guys, you have been fantastic company and we hope to see you here again sometime soon.

Well we have a bit of designing to do as we don’t think the shower should go into the main part of the roundhouse as originally planned, it would mess up the yin and yang of the internal space so I think I’ll have to do a bit more digging to create extra space, but it needs a bit more thought so I’ll sleep on it!

Bonne nuit! Matt x

Here We Go Again!

The yurts are up and we’re ready for another season! The actual putting up of the yurts is the easy bit, it’s the moving of the decks and setting them onto their plinths which requires the most effort, luckily we have my trusty steed (Massey Ferguson 135) to help and with the aid of a few willing volunteers we can set up pretty quickly. It’s always a very teamy thing with plenty of buffoonery and laughter and a celebratory drink at the end of the day.

Many of the willow poles that were cut and graded in the winter have now been peeled and are drying ready for yurt building this coming winter.  We find that you can avoid lots of the fungal, mildewy problems if the poles are well seasoned before you start. In order to keep the poles nice and white, after cutting in the winter we stand them in water (the right way up) and leave them until the spring when they will begin to burst into life.  At this point using a shave horse and drawknife we can easily remove the bark revealing the beautiful white wood beneath. If the willow is dead the bark is much more difficult to remove and tannin from the bark is released into the wood giving it a buff colour.  When cleaning the poles I like to leave pimples and knots, worm zigzags, bumps and wrinkles and any other natural imperfections, as I believe that this tells a story of the wood’s life. Sometimes you can trace a woodworm’s life through the marking it has left behind and the route it has taken may end in a hole where a woodpecker has found the worm underneath the bark and eaten it!  I like the fact that we are not producing uniform broom handles with very little character even though it does make things more complicated further down the track when joining everything together, for me it adds to the overall beauty of our yurts.

Crickey I do go on a bit, sorry I’m just excited about willow!!

In other news, the kitchen garden and solar summer bathroom are coming along nicely.  We are already getting salads out of the polytunnel and the new pathways in the kitchen garden have really tidied things up – I knew all those wood chippings would come in handy!  I’m going to stop now before I start banging on about the joy that is willow again!

Time is Marching On

Well the daffs have flowered and faded since my last blog, which is an indication of just how busy we have been. All the willow that needs to be cut for this year has been cut and we have plenty of poles for yurt building which are now waiting to be peeled ready for next year’s yurts (we’ve even got long roof poles for 6 metre diameter yurts, which I hope to build one day). We have had a really good crop of Salix Purpureum for basket work and the Salix Triandra isn’t too bad considering the drought we had last summer and as a bonus we also have lots of willow chippings for mulches from all the off cuts as well.



We managed to run a couple of living willow bower courses down at the plantation, always a good day with a big three course lunch and wine to break up the physical and mental strain of forms, shapes and weaving techniques. It’s always a bit comical to see the bowers leaving on top of peoples cars at the end of the day, huge voluminous baskets precariously balanced heading off down the hill!!

Work on the roundhouse is gently moving forward, all of the verticals have been cleaned up and oiled after the worst of the winter weather and the henge is basically made but not fitted and all of the rafters are ready to go on.


We have done a mock-up reciprocal roof on the lawn to try to work out angles and spanning and the central opening size, it seemed to slot together well and was very strong, all reassuring stuff! The Bodgers’ Yurt composting toilet is now in position and a beautiful thing it is too, thanks Kit, great work!


The lambing is all but finished now with just one more expectant mum in the group, mainly singles this year but at least we’ve had a few more ewe lambs than last year to bring some young blood into the flock. Males in agriculture, as in life some would say, generally have a bad time of things ending up on the plate much sooner than females!

It’s not long now until the yurts will be up and running again, it all seems to have come round very quickly as usual, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore!

All the best, Matt


It’s A bit Brrrrisk!!!

When Dad said that winter was slipping into spring early this year he certainly wasn’t expecting this, two weeks of very cold weather, down to -16°C for long periods!

Luckily no major damage to report on the island but we did lose nearly all of our stored pumpkins and squashes along with the remains of the potatoes, and the onions have certainly been frozen despite it all being stored underneath straw in the barn.  Even the brassicas in the garden took a hammering, but our loss is the pigs gain!

In this kind of cold weather a lot of time is spent just keeping things ticking over, looking after the animals and keeping the home fires burning. 

The chickens refused to come out of their house for about four days and the sheep couldn’t wait to get back into theirs at the end of each day queuing up at gate in the field to come back under cover.  It’s all good fun for the kids though (old and young!), with snowball fights and sledging. Adam even managed to get onto his skis and ski down to the village, much to the amusement of all the locals!


Luckily we still have plenty of projects to be getting on with, building the new Bodger’s Yurt in the barn and a composting toilet in the cart shed. They will be transported to their respective plinths in the woods at a later date.

Wendy and I decided that this was as good an opportunity as any to take a couple of days off and head to Paris over the valentines day period.  We caught an early TGV from Angouleme and arrived in Paris a couple of hours later .  We walked for miles and miles and I have to say I was very impressed – the architecture and stonework is très magnifique and they haven’t spoiled the centre with modern, high rise buildings.  The last time I was in Paris was in 1989 and since then they seem to have dealt with the dog shit problem and even the waiters seemed pleasant, polite and helpful!

We stayed the night in Montmartre which was lovely and the following day we continued our tour on foot.  It was interesting to wander around the almost village-like area amongst all of the street artists, and one of the characaturists there stopped me to say that I had the perfect look for the work of a cartoonist – I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended!  Having notched up lots more miles and most of the sights, we caught the TGV home – it was a fast, comfortable and trouble free journey and we arrived in Angouleme when we were supposed to!

We now seem to be in the midst of a thaw so hopefully we can get down to the willow and start coppicing with avengence, there’s lots to catch up on before the daffs come out!

Best Wishes, Matt

Grandpa’s Guest Blog

We asked Matt’s dad (otherwise known as “Le Grand Poire”) to do a blog whilst he stayed with us in January to mark his 80th birthday – so here it is!

Grandpa’s Chez Devalon Blog, January 2012

Oh the joys of the Mystery Tour! I was supposed to be in Buxton – the only place in Britain north of the Arctic Circle – instead here I am, having been taken on to the sunny Dordogne. Oh Mr. Porter….. thank you for that! It was my eightieth birthday that provoked this happiness. My scheming wife Peta and wicked daughter-in-law, Wendy are the ones I have to thank for organising this joyous deception. Between them they engineered things so that I’d spend my birthday, 5th January, please note, in the ample bosom of my family.

On arrival here I was greeted warmly by Matthew and Wendy and my grandsons: Oliver, Adam and Harry. Also offering me a moist nose and welcoming meow were Tache the dog and Mimi the little black cat. Peta and I have been taking Tache for a walk each morning since our arrival. We follow the narrow road which winds between field and woods. Often we meet no-one on our two mile round trip. Sometimes a deer emerges from the woods and runs across the fields to seek fresh cover. There is plentiful birdsong to fill the air with music as we go on our way. At the moment the fields are either ploughed ready for spring sowing or green with winter wheat. As we go through woodland areas, enticing paths open up through the trees. One would like to explore but in doing so would probably fall over and cause the family trouble getting me out again. Ah, what it is to have grown old, and almost sensible.

One’s days are passed very pleasantly. There is mooching about to be done around the small estate. There are the sheep to observe, who repay the observation with dour looks of their own. There are the musical pigs to be enjoyed as they snort and grunt between bouts of truffle hunting in their extensive quarters under the trees, and there are the hens to be seen going about their daily routine. The vegetable garden and polytunnel are there to be admired, so far the growth is largely of brassicas, but more planting will happen as winter slips into spring – which it seems to be doing early this year.

During our present stay we have had several fine days with golden sunshine chasing away the valley mists. By lunchtime it has often been warm enough to eat outside – a delightful gift to those of us Northern-dwellers who have been trapped in gloom for most of the winter.

The afternoons present abundant opportunities for action if one is so inclined – or inaction if one prefers that! My favorite Spanish festival has increasingly become the Siesta. Nothing better than a rest with a good book I say (I know there are dozens of good books available here because I’ve brought most of them here myself!).

The evenings are perhaps the jewels of the Chez Devalon days. We assemble at the table to eat the delicious meals provided by Wendy. There are usually cheering quantities of wine or beer to wash down the nourishing victuals. Afterwards there is chat and occasionally music and song to enjoy, guitars, mouth organs, drums and even a clarinet can magically appear to add variety to the celebration.

Sadly tomorrow is our last day, the time when my glorious mystery trip will come to an end. It’s onto the Wednesday Ryanair flight from Limoges and back to Blighty. It would be boohoo time for me were it not for the fact that, God giving me the legs, I shall return to these blessed parts soon.

Best wishes, Grandpa David

It’s blowing a hooley!

Blimey!! It’s blowing an absolute hooley out there this morning, very strong, gusty winds with squally showers. This is weather that causes structural damage, the kind of wind that produces some amazing sounds and that you have to lean into to make any forward progress.

All of the animals were reluctant to be leaving their respective shelters as I went around feeding this morning. Luckily no damage on the island yet (I had to fix one of the poly-tunnel doors) but this kind of weather reminds me never to be too complacent when it comes to the power of nature.

Whilst travelling with my surfboard as a feckless youth I learned very quickly how insignificant we are when we find ourselves in extreme conditions, in my case big, big seas in Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia and days like this reaffirm those lessons learned for which I am always grateful. Having said all of that, today I will be working in the kitchen fitting new fire bricks into our beloved old rayburn and drinking tea, this is what happens when you reach your mid forties!

Since my last blog we’ve managed to dismantle all of the yurts and pack them away in the barn for the winter (on a day like today it’s comforting to know that they’re in there). I stayed a couple of nights in one of the (non-insulated) yurts earlier this month (December) without resorting to the onesy for warmth, it has been a particularly beautiful and very mild autumn.

Chris and I have coppiced all of the wood we’ll need for the hobbity kitchen down at the bodgers yurt and work is well underway now. Ideas are developing organically as we move through the project which is the way I like to do things. Sadly Chris has left to go back to England and pursue a career as a tree surgeon, he will be missed especially at beer o’clock time! There are so many things to thank him for, he is truly one of life’s “diamond geezers”, many many thanks Chris.

Well I must go now, my Christmas present has just arrived in the back of a van, it’s a tractor mounted woodchipper which will enable us to turn any waste wood from yurt building into mulches for the kitchen garden and pathways. I can’t wait to go and put it all together, it’s like meccano but on a bigger scale, the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys! The rayburn will have to wait.

All the best, Matt

Autumn on The Island

Well here goes, from this day forward I will no longer be a blogging virgin! Since Wendy’s blog last month I have made the new bathroom weatherproof, so that the building is water tight and hence safe and I have now put that project on the back burner – it will be a useful wet weather job for January or February.

     The Island

     All dug out and levelled

The leaves on the trees have begun to change colour or are falling off and the sap is down in the chestnut coppice so we can start cutting again. The ram is working hard to entertain all of the ewes (a male perspective of course) and I’ve just run out of the house to see the cranes flying south in the most beautiful triangular formations, an awesome sight that never fails to impress.

We have now started on the new yurt unit down in our small wood (the Bodger’s Yurt) which we will have ready for July next year. The good news is that our friend Chris from the UK has come over to help with the initial stage of the structure so I am delighted to welcome him onto “the island” again. We have cleared away a lot of the dead wood and brash and levelled a small area where the new kitchen will be built. We hope to complete the structure and make it weather-proof  before the end of the month and certainly before the winter weather sets in. As far as the design goes for the kitchen, it will basically be a roundhouse with reciprocal roof (Tony Wrench style) which we will then quirkify by adding outriggers and then semi burying it as much as we dare! We’ll post more on all of that in a later blog.

     Chris watching over ‘the burn’

Chris and I are just off into the chestnut coppice to cut all of the timber necessary for the new kitchen, we’re planning a BBQ lunch in the woods with our own lamb and veg and we might even gather a few mushroom on the boundaries and cook it all with our own charcoal, can’t be bad!! Oh my god, I’m fantasizing about lunch, I must be turning into a Frenchman!

     Perfect charcoal

I think that’s enough for my first attempt at blogging. Hopefully there will be regular updates on developments over the winter, particularly if it’s raining or cold outside!


A Blog at Last!

Well finally, as our season draws to a close, I have found a moment to sit down and write our first blog !  For many a month I have wondered what to write in our first entry but it’s been little more than a cursory thought as there is always so much going on in our manic lives!  So, what better time to start than now as things come to a close, other of course than when I should have done it, at the beginning of the season when we launched our website!

Anyway, our last two lots of guests are here, enjoying the most amazing October weather, day long sunshine matched with temperatures in the early thirties, the folks down at La Cabushe even told us they’d had to kick off their duvet last night! It really has been exceptional!

    Sunflowers at the Grand Abri

Well we’ve had a fantastic time over the summer, we’ve met some great people and made lots of new friends and all the feedback has been very positive, with lots of people telling us that we have created something very special here at Chez Devalon.  I certainly hope that over the coming years many of them will do as promised and return to stay again and witness the developments that we have bashed on about!  But don’t expect them all at once, it may take a while before you can take your turn on the bike, which is powering the washing machine with your clothes in it, whilst your partner is wallowing in the plunge pool!  And these amazing barriques (see below) may one day be converted into a two-man sauna and a hot-tub but not for next year as we are going to be really busy getting the third yurt unit ready with a hobbit-house style kitchen, all hidden away in our woods but you’ll hear much more about that in future postings.

     The House and Gite at Chez Devalon

This year in the middle of July we got our new yurt, the Petit Abri, up and running (see the photos below) – the idea of this new yurt is that it forms a double yurt, and is rented out only with La Grande Abri so that friends can “glamp” together.  Two yurts for two couples who want to share their holiday and can cook and have the odd drink together on the terrace yet still have the privacy of their own yurt.

    The Petit Abri

     The Eco Bathroom in the making