Continuing the Traditions of Kyrgyzstan – in Cornwall
The yurts are tucked into a fold of the valley, hidden from the path. I walk down a steep slope, glimpsing the curve of tunduks. Grass crunches under foot, crispy as it emerges from heavy winter snow. A river rumbles over boulders; delicate white flowers decorate the ground. I can see no other signs of habitation and hear only the water and pheasants calling across the fields. Here, on the edge of wild Bodmin Moor, where sheep and horses graze freely, I feel as if I am back in Kyrgyzstan. In this remote Cornish valley, Tim Hutton is creating a yurt camp where visitors can enjoy the peace of living with nature. He makes the yurts himself using methods learnt in Kyrgyzstan. In this secluded valley, the traditional crafts of Kyrgyzstan are being continued and celebrated.
I find Tim in his workshop, surrounded by slender stems of pale wood. He uses local ash for his frames, some of which he grows himself. In large “formers”, roof struts are gently being shaped. Round tunduks lean against the wall. “I saw a yurt in Alaska and decided that I’d like to live in one,” Tim explains. He went on a course run by woodsmen in Wales but wanted to visit the home of yurts to truly learn authentic methods. In 1999 he travelled to Kyrgyzstan and was sad to discover a dying, rather than thriving, tradition. He only found three yurt makers, on the southern shore of Issyk-Kul. They were family groups of craftsmen, yet the youngest was in his late 40s and Tim left with the impression that modern Kyrgyzstan was trying to move away from the yurt culture, perceiving it as backwards.
I hope that this is changing. With Independence, the Kyrgyz have become proud of their language and heritage and the craft of yurt-making is part of that. When I lived in Kyrgyzstan (from 2003-2005) I was aware of a renaissance of Kyrgyz traditions, encouraged by tourist interest. Felt making days and week-long yurt making tours were offered by NGOs such as Altyn-Kol. Pride in these precious skills was re-emerging.
Guests to Tim’s yurt camp can enjoy the magic of sleeping under a tunduk. The yurts are spacious and luxurious, yet maintain the simplicity and cosiness of the yurts I visited, shrouded by the majestic Ala Too mountains. I loved to look up at the roof struts above me, lulled to sleep by the mingling smells of wool and wood smoke, relaxed by the trickle of water. If you are unable to journey to the wondrous remoteness of Kyrgyzstan, all of that can now be experienced in Cornwall.
Each yurt has a stove, kitchen area and camp fire for outdoor cooking. I was especially taken with the bathroom yurt, a magnificent room with glowing orange walls and an elegant bath where guests can lie and admire the curves and joins of the framework. The water is heated by a stove; a successful combination of comfort and practicality. It may not be quite the Kyrgyz way but that hardly spoils the experience.
Tim and his family live for some months of the year in their yurt. They grow their own produce, keep hens for eggs, use solar power and employ a composting toilet, trying to make as little impact on their environment as possible. “We live lightly on the land,” Tim explains. “Visitors are attracted by that ethos.” As well as making yurts to sell, Tim runs bushcraft courses to teach land-based skills and awareness to others.
I visited on a warm April day and was inspired by the yellow gorse and springy grass; the pennywort growing between mossy stones in the walls; the privacy and peace. I wanted to stay and settle myself into one of the sumptuous yurts.
Of course, in Kyrgyzstan, there are the added pleasures of vast mountain vistas, koumiz and folk songs sung, which echo across the valley, to the strum of the komuz. But, if you want to stay closer to home and experience the magic of drifting off to sleep under the mesmeric contours of a curved roof and tunduk, I thoroughly recommend Tim Hutton’s Cornish camp.
Saffia Farr Biography
Saffia Farr started her working life as a lawyer, but gave up that career to travel with her husband, a water engineer. They have lived in Egypt, Denmark and Kyrgyzstan, where Saffia wrote Revolution Baby: Motherhood and Anarchy in Kyrgyzstan. She now has three children and lives in south-west England. She writes for various publications including Traveller, The Telegraph and Nursery World. You can find out more at www.saffiafarr.com