Living in an off-grid woodland cabin… in Amsterdam

How it all began: The Little Blue House

I spent 7 years living in the Netherlands, and while I adored the endless cycle routes, busy city life wasn’t for me; it was overwhelming, noisy and stressful. So when I came across a little blue cabin for sale – in the middle of a small woodlands and with a small adjoining garden – I blagged myself a loan and snapped it up as quickly as I could. Moving out of a small 30m2 one bedroom, balcony-less flat in the city to this little wooden cabin felt immediately right. I could breathe. I was home.

That was the best decision I ever made, and ended up diverting my life to an entirely new, amazing, exciting direction.

The Locals

I soon got to know all of the local residents – mainly the birds – who loved the seeds and snacks I left out for them. We had all shapes and sizes come to visit – from blue tits, to robins, woodpeckers, long tailed tits, wrens and jays. A family of herons nested in the woods running next to the house, and could be seen clumsily landing in the front neighbours’ tallest tree, squawking dramatically.

We put up a nesting box and watched in delight as a blue tit couple closely inspected it as a viable home for their young. That year we were thrilled to see they had indeed chosen it and raised a little family inside. We also shared our woods with foxes, owls and a buzzard family. One day, standing outside, a teenage fox cub strolled right past me as I tended to my veggie kebabs on the BBQ. All this in a tiny corner of a massive city, 45 minutes cycling to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s centre.

Just like the animals that couldn’t survive in the city, we had found an oasis of diversity and tranquility living in the wild edges.

My little blue house was off-grid, with a water connection turned on during the summer months. We added some solar panels to the roof for our energy supply, and crafted an antenna to pick up a wifi signal. Hot water was supplied by external propane gas cylinders, and we had friends install a lovely second hand wood burner for heating, with the wood sourced from a local furniture factory. As anyone who has the joy of a wood burner will know, many winter days were lost to gazing into the flickering, warm flames clutching a steaming cup of tea with a slightly smelly dog curled up at your feet. Bliss.

The Growing Game

I’d been interested in permaculture for a long time, but never had the capacity to really get too deep into the subject (living in a concrete jungle kinda takes the urge away). Inspired by Graham Burnett’s book ‘Permaculture – A Beginners Guide’, I set about building myself some raised beds, and sourced scrap wooden beams from a local tip, which I cut to size and supported in the ground with rods. With heavy clay soil and mainly shade in the garden, I also decided to make use of the vertical space I had available, growing in containers on home-made hazel trellises and weird-looking structures. Everything we used was free, given or adopted from a pile of trash we cycled past by chance.

Getting my hands in the earth and watching things grow from seed was such a deep-reaching joy that I knew would always stay with me.

I grew the weirdest things I could find, from meter-long squashes to heirloom vegetables that nobody had heard of or could recognise (or wanted to eat – except me). Some things fell victim to the army of hungry slugs, snails, rats, moles, voles, or my dog Lola, who particularly liked to pick strawberries and spit out the ones which weren’t quite ripe yet. Although not anywhere near self-sufficient, I learned so much, nibbled a fair few things, and figured out that growing was something I always wanted to be doing, and that my hands should forever be covered in soil.

I’d always been someone that desperately needed a connection to nature; I just didn’t fully realise it until I’d lost it in an urban jungle. While I was only able to keep the cabin for just over two years before we sadly parted ways, it made me realise the importance of keeping that connection in whatever way that I could, whether it be going out for more woodland walks, bike rides in the countryside, or just going somewhere peaceful in nature and quietly sitting there. I also started to see a future for myself; living off the land in a kind and regenerative way, self-sufficient and in balance with nature.

That little blue cabin in the woods changed my life by re-igniting my interest and love for the natural world, reconnecting me to something lost long ago. I’m now more determined than ever to live connected to nature; a true place that I can call home.