Last year, my boyfriend Laurence and I gave up our jobs to go in search of an alternative way to live. I’m from London but had been living in Stockholm for four years, teaching textiles. I had a permanent job, my place was comfortable and warm, and I lived by the sea. But something about my life was unfulfilling. I felt that working full-time took up too much of my mental energy, and I was eager to discover if I could feel happier with less structure and more freedom.
I started to read more on the internet and it seemed that perhaps it wasn’t inevitable that I would have to work 9-5. We saved up for two years and talked about cycling to Ireland where Laurence is from, although we didn’t know what we’d do once we got there. I remember saying constantly: “But where will we live!?”
Then last summer we quit our jobs and flats, and gave away most of our stuff. Furniture and crockery went to a friend; shoes, bags and clothes to the charity shop.
The whole thing felt surreal when we were leaving with our bikes through the front door, setting off to cycle through Sweden, Denmark, England, Wales and Ireland. All I had was a small bag of clothes, camping gear and some electronics. We cycled 40-80km a day through Sweden and Denmark, (the distance increased as the trip went on). We had a small gas stove for cooking and and made most of our meals on it. In Sweden and Denmark we camped in forests, by lakes and on beaches, asking farmers if we could sleep in their fields.
Wild camping isn’t allowed in the UK and Ireland, so we ended up asking people if we could stay on their land. We were amazed by people’s generosity. We camped in gardens and one lovely old man let us sleep in a small chalet he had in his back yard. We then spent a few months WWoofing in the south-west of Ireland. WWoof stands for World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms, connecting small-scale organic farms, households and eco-villages with volunteers who work in exchange for food and accommodation.
I’d barely had a pot plant before and the concept of being self-reliant was alien to me. If anything broke in my apartment or a drain got blocked, I automatically called my landlord. But slowly I started to adapt. The thing that I found most difficult were the dirty tasks, like collecting decomposing seaweed to use as fertiliser from the beach, or climbing into a water-filled ditch to clear the slimey undergrowth. I think I had a fear of nature. At first I’d wear gloves to do everything but after a while I became less squeamish and could get stuck in.
I grew to love this new way of life, making things from scratch and growing the food we ate. It was brilliant and more than we had hoped for, a real contrast to my old life full of pointless meetings at work. I had felt under pressure to conduct myself in a serious manner and act professionally. That way of being didn’t suit me and had made me unhappy.
In March, we got an offer to look after three acres of land in west Cork, Ireland. We’ve been here ever since, getting to grips with pumping our own well water, rearing goats and growing vegetables. The first month here was incredibly challenging. Everything we touched seemed to break and even simple jobs turned into complex ones. We didn’t have anything we needed and it was hard to know where to start. I think we were a little daunted. The hardest thing was the isolation. It was really weird to see nobody but Laurence for days on end. We argued constantly, and seemed unable to cooperate. Things have calmed down a lot since then, as we have settled into a routine. It also helps that we have opened our place up on Airbnb, which gives us a small income and a regular influx of guests.
We’re still here on the edge of Europe, on our land overlooking the sea. We woke up this morning and had to jump out of bed because it was raining and we needed to protect a huge bale of straw, and the goats had managed to climb into a neighbour’s field. It’s certainly an alternative way of life – and I think I love it.